Information modeling: what it is and why you need it

September, 2008

Information modeling is the art of conceptualizing the knowledge, data, processes, and outputs needed to answer a question or solve a problem. Traditionally, it has been performed by IT staff (people with programming experience), but with the proliferation of electronic information formats and the appearance of end-user development tools (e.g. SharePoint), information modeling is now a must-have skill for knowledge managers as well. In this article we show why models are needed, describe their components, and give some tips drawn from a recent experience with one of our clients.

Why use information models?
Suppose you manage an information center that responds to questions from public-facing staff (e.g. PR, sales, customer service), back-office staff (e.g. finance, IT, manufacturing), and R&D staff. To answer the questions, you must consult a variety of internal and external published documents as well as talk to experts and subject matter specialists. Many of the questions are repetitive, so you keep the answers on file with periodic updates when necessary. You are responsible for keeping master files of certain organization assets (e.g. lists of subject matter experts), providing training in the use of new information tools, and contributing information to your intranet as well as certain external business partners.

Even if your organization has no information center as such, it probably has similar needs. The trick, of course, is to facilitate all these information flows with data that is accurate and timely while minimizing the time required to re-find, re-use, and re-format.

Now think about the available tools. What most of us have is a patchwork of often overlapping and incompatible formats with gaps that require massaging and integration.

Created on 9/18/2008 l Updated on April 27, 2009