Intelligent Information
by Ronald C. Lazof

Data in its raw and discrete form is understandable, but unusable in the decision making process. When summarized, sorted, and stored, data becomes information, and when immediately available in an accessible and organized format to support the decision making process, becomes Intelligent Information.

We are besieged with data every waking moment of every day. Each of our senses continuously receives sensory input raw data respecting our environment through sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. When all of this data is then sifted, sorted and stored it can become information. Information by itself can not be intelligent, it is only the assembly and use of information that can be made intelligent by thoughtful data management. What distinguishes information from data is that raw data is not pre-sorted, predigested, pre-collated, pre-sifted and pre-ordered. What distinguishes information from Intelligent Information is that the information has been distilled and ordered so as to allow the user immediate and organized access to what is important to a designated reasoning process, i.e. the making of a business decision at its most advantageous and timely point the highest, practicable P.V.D.

In making a high level decision about asset allocation in order to maximize a company's R.O.A. (return on assets) today's business manager need not start with first order data, i.e. by counting the company widget inventory. Instead, he can start with the summary information shown on a balance sheet, high order data, and drill-down to only that level of detail needed for a specific purpose. Data, when compiled properly and thoughtfully and stored for use in a manor rendering it immediately accessible, sortable, and capable of multiple level summarization and drill-down, becomes Intelligent Information.

The key to taking data and converting it first into information and ultimately into Intelligent Information is the care and order used in its compilation and storage. The more ordered, organized and thoughtful the process, the higher the data value will be in usable information and the easier it will be to take the stored information and apply it to a specific decision. We know such data accumulations today as information warehouses or databases. They exist both in analog and digital format. However, because of speed of access and the multiplicity of the available sorting, calculating, and summarizing functions that are available in a digital, computerized format, these databases provide a true advantage to those decision makers who take full advantage of their capabilities.

When a senior manager requests a memo or report on a specific operational function or issue to be used as a basis for a decision he is in fact asking for a summarization of base data, filtered through the intelligence and experience of the report writer. The report will consist of Intelligent Information if:

  • it is based on current data and made available in a timely manner to the decision maker;
  • it is concise;
  • it is without extraneous information;
  • it is reliable and based on fact; or
  • to the extent that it is based on opinion and experience, such nonfactual basis is indicated.

Information that is not timely is without value to the decision process. To be timely, both the data and the process of summarization must be current. Information that is accurate but old is historically interesting and can be used to explain post occurrences, but is not predictive and cannot be Intelligent Information useable for a specific decision. However, historical information will always be valuable as a component of Intelligent Information if it is coupled with currently rendered data such as trend analysis. A by-product of currency in information is that of necessity such information is incomplete in the sense that it is imperfect. This follows as although much of the information required for a decision comes early in the process and complete information on any subject is only available as history.

Concise information is more useful because it is more readily assimilated into the decision process providing it has been validated in its summarized form. Much like current accounting software will permit the company President and C.E.O. of a large international company to see a summary operating statement or instantly, in real time, with a few keystrokes to view any level of detail desired down to a single invoice or a scanned and digitized copy of a check received, all reports should permit access on demand to the back up factual data upon which the information was derived so as to provide verification and immediate answers for questions which may occur to the reader. When a manager needs to know how much inventory is in a particular plant and asks the question correctly, he should receive a single numerical answer not a 500 page computer print out showing each item and quantity on hand. The responsibility, therefore, for the delivery of concise information rests equally on the shoulders of the manager requesting it and the provider. It is the specificity and accuracy of the question which should, in the hands of a skilled listener, determine the level of summary required to provide a concise answer.

There is a difference between asking "what time is it?" and "how do you build a clock," or even "is the concept of time in space philosophically useful." Too much summary will not provide the Intelligent Information needed for the decision at hand, while too little will not be concise and will require more effort by the decision maker to take the information provided and reduce it to Intelligent Information.

All, or at least most managers know that the information received from some of their subordinates is more reliable than that received from others because of built in bias, unstated secondary agendas, lack of experience, or the failure of the subordinate to have truly heard and understood what the communicator was trying to request. Of course, it is easier to blame the receiver, but truly the fault is with the sender because part of a sender's communicator's obligation is to seek acknowledgment feedback that the message sent was the message heard.

Over time your experience in repeatedly receiving reliable information which has been distilled from masses of raw data and focused for use on the decision at hand by the intelligence and experience of some subordinate managers, allows a senior manager to forego the necessity of validating at least some portion of the multiple inputs required to make a decision. This in turn allows more time to spend on validating the less certain information components and for training the remaining subordinate managers in how to better provide constantly reliable self validating summaries for future use. In fact, one of the best ways to encourage concise reliability from subordinates may well be to promote managers, in part, based on the usability of their information.

Information is fact based and free from extraneous data when it bears directly on the decision at hand and is fully supportable by accessible and understandable analyzing data gathered from a database without bias, opinion, or prejudice. To the extent that prejudice and variance is introduced by the writer's experience or opinions in the data gathering or collating process, it must be noted and explained so that the decision maker can make appropriate judgments.

From a manager's viewpoint, all data should always be stored in a manner permitting easy access by multiple decision makers, and in a format allowing it to be easily summarized or retrieved. The more flexible the database, respecting ease of sorting, the more valuable the stored information will be in the decision making process. This, of course, always assumes that the data is validated before storage so as to avoid erroneous results based on fallible data G.I.G.O. or garbage in garbage out. Intelligent Information not only speeds the decision process, but increases its accuracy and reliability.

Without Intelligent Information decisions cannot be made which will ultimately lead to Planned Performance through the successful implementation of a company's Sound Strategies.

Ronald C. Lazof currently serves as a managing director of Prism Advisors, LLC, a management advisory and consulting organization. Prism focuses its attention on the entrepreneurial, emerging growth and mid-sized privately held corporate markets. Mr. Lazof served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Behr Process Corporation from 1996 to August 2001, playing a key role in the company's move from a private family held business to a publicly held multi-plant manufacturer and distributor of paints and coatings. Contact Ronald by e-mail: and visit .

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Copyright 2002 by Ronald C. Lazof. All rights reserved.

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