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ICT - What is good information?

Author: Jim Riley  Last updated: Sunday 23 September, 2012

Not all information is helpful to a business. Alternatively, it might be detailed, but has been obtained for too much cost. What are the main features of good quality information in a business?

The table below summarises the key characteristics of good quality information, and suggests ways in which information can be improved if it is not quite up to standard:

Quality Required Commentary
Relevant The information obtained and used should be needed for decision-making. it doesn't matter how interesting it is. Businesses are often criticised for producing too much information simply because their information systems can "do it". A good way of ensuring relevance is to closely define the objectives of any information reports. Another way to improve relevance is to produce information that focuses on "exceptions" - e.g. problems, high or low values, where limits have been exceeded.
Up-to-date Information needs to be timely if it is to be actioned. For example, the manager of a large retail business needs daily information on how stores are performing, which products are selling well (or not) so that immediate action can be taken. To improve the speed with which information is produced, businesses usually need to look at upgrading or replacing their information systems.
Accurate As far as possible, information should be free from errors (e.g. the figures add up; data is allocated to the correct categories). The users of information should be informed whenever assumptions or estimates have been used. Accruate information is usually a function of accurate data collection. If information needs to be extremely accurate, then more time needs to be allocated for it to be checked. However, businesses need to guard against trying to produce "perfect" information - it is often more important for the information to be up-to-date than perfect.
Meet the needs of the User Users of information have different needs. The managing director doesn't have time to trawl through thick printouts of each week's production or sales listings - he or she wants a summary of the key facts. The quality control supervisor will want detailed information about quality testing results rather than a brief one-line summary of how things are going. It is a good idea to encourage users to help develop the style and format of information reporting that they require.
Easy to use and understand Information should be clearly presented (e.g. use summaries, charts) and not too long. It also needs to be communicated using an appropriate medium (e.g. email, printed report, presentation. Businesses should also consider developing "templates" which are used consistently throughout the organisation - so that users get used to seeing information in a similar style.
Worth the cost Often forgotten. Information costs money. Data is costly to collect, analyse and report. Information takes time to read and assimilate. All users should question whether the information they recieve/have requested is worthwhile
Reliable Information should come from authoritative sources. It is good practice to quote the source used - whether it be internal or external sources. If estimates or assumptions have been applied, these should be clearly stated and explained.


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