ICT: The difference between data and information
- Levels: GCSE, AS, A Level
- Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB
When study ing ICT it is important to understand the difference between "data" and "information". This study note tells you what the differences are and outlines the main types of information.
Think of data as a "raw material" - it needs to be processed before it can be turned into something useful. Hence the need for "data processing". Data comes in many forms - numbers, words, symbols. Data relates to transactions, events and facts. On its own - it is not very useful.
Think of the data that is created when you buy a product from a retailer. This includes:
- Time and date of transaction (e.g. 10:05 Tuesday 23 December 20X3)
- Transaction value (e.g. £55.00)
- Facts about what was bought (e.g. hairdryer, cosmetics pack, shaving foam) and how much was bought (quantities)
- How payment was made (e.g. credit card, credit card number and code)
- Which employee recorded the sale
- Whether any promotional discount applied
At its simplest, this data needs processing at the point of sale in order for the customer to receive a valid receipt. So the data about the transaction is processed to create "information" - in this case a receipt. You can imagine that the same data would also be useful to the manager of the retail store. For example, a report showing total sales in the day, or which are the best-selling products. So the data concerning all shop transactions in the day needs to be captured, and then processed into a management report.
The above example demonstrates what information is.
Information is data that has been processed in such a way as to be meaningful to the person who receives it.
Note the two words highlighted in red - "processed" and "meaningful". It is not enough for data simply to be processed. it has to be of use to someone - otherwise why bother?!
Uses of Information in a Business
Businesses and other organisations need information for many purposes: we have summarised the five main uses in the table below.
|To plan properly, a business needs to know what resources it has (e.g. cash, people, machinery and equipment, property, customers). It also needs information about the markets in which it operates and the actions of competitors. At the planning stage, information is important as a key ingredient in decision-making.|
|Information about each transaction or event is needed. Much of this is required to be collected by law - e.g. details of financial transactions. Just as importantly, information needs to be recorded so that the business can be properly managed.|
|Once a business has produced its plan it needs to monitor progress against the plan - and control resources to do so. So information is needed to help identify whether things are going better or worse than expected, and to spot ways in which corrective action can be taken|
|Performance must be measured for a business to be successful. Information is used as the main way of measuring performance. For example, this can be done by collecting and analysing information on sales, costs and profits|
Information used for decision-making is often categorised into three types:
(1) Strategic information: used to help plan the objectives of the business as a whole and to measure how well those objectives are being achieved. Examples of stategic information include:
- Profitability of each part of the business
(2) Tactical Information: this is used to decide how the resources of the business should be employed. Examples include:
- Information about business productivity (e.g. units produced per employee; staff turnover)
(3) Operational Information: this information is used to make sure that specific operational tasks are carried out as planned/intended (i.e. things are done properly). For example, a production manager will want information about the extent and results of quality control checks that are being carried out in the manufacturing process.
This revision note has outlined the main kinds of information. It is important that you understand the difference between data and information, explain the role that information plays in a business, and distinguish between the main kinds of information.
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