How to differentiate between data and information

Tom Allen
clock • 2 min read
A number without context has no meaning: it could be the height of a mountain or the storage on a disk drive
Image:

A number without context has no meaning: it could be the height of a mountain or the storage on a disk drive

Both are important, but one is useless without the other

The modern world generates and uses a truly astounding amount of data, but it puts less of a focus on context - to its own detriment.

Such was the theory put forward by Simon Ratcliffe, principal consultant at Ensono, in his session at Computing's IT Leaders Forum last year, focused on data strategy and literacy.

"One of the things we can be absolutely certain about in the modern world is that there is a lot of data, and we are all being driven towards using data to make our decisions," said Ratcliffe. But, he added, he's "not actually a huge fan of data." At the end of the day, "it's just a bunch of numbers." Trying to use those numbers to make decisions is quite difficult; what is important is information, or data with context.

This is not just a semantic argument, he added: it's about how we approach data and information, and how we create wisdom inside our organisations.

We talk about data all the time in the modern world: data scientists, chief data officers, data lakes and data warehouses. But sometimes, "we kind of miss the point," and must go back to basics to revise what we're actually looking for.

For example, it is too easy to end up with numbers without context. What is the number? What does it mean? But give it context, and the data becomes information: it tells us something. For example, the number 5,000 means nothing on its own. Add 'feet' and you suddenly know the number refers to distance. Then you can apply other information, or correlate it with other data inside your organisation, to turn information into knowledge.

"The last piece of the puzzle [(wisdom)] is key, and sadly I think it's the part that we quite often fail to unlock in our data strategies," Ratcliffe added.

"If we can derive wisdom from our data, it adds value to our organisation. Until that point it's simply fact without interpretation."

On-demand videos of the entire day - including bespoke research from Computing about data literacy and a case study about the use of data in a healthcare setting - can be found on the event website now.

You may also like
Regulation has made EU firms less data-hungry

Legislation and Regulation

GDPR has cut storage and processing

clock 21 February 2024 • 2 min read
'Insurers are the original big data companies,' says AXA UK data chief Paul Hollands

Big Data and Analytics

GenAI has created a step change in data perception

clock 12 February 2024 • 7 min read
Most read
01

Intel splits in two, signs deal with Microsoft

22 February 2024 • 7 min read
03

Cambridge University hit by DDoS attack

20 February 2024 • 1 min read
04

Gemma: Google unveils open AI models

22 February 2024 • 3 min read

Sign up to our newsletter

The best news, stories, features and photos from the day in one perfectly formed email.

More on Big Data and Analytics

Gemma: Google unveils open AI models

Gemma: Google unveils open AI models

Includes safety tools as standard

clock 22 February 2024 • 3 min read
Sora: OpenAI unveils text-to-video AI tool

Sora: OpenAI unveils text-to-video AI tool

Access is currently limited to researchers and content curators

clock 19 February 2024 • 3 min read
'Insurers are the original big data companies,' says AXA UK data chief Paul Hollands

'Insurers are the original big data companies,' says AXA UK data chief Paul Hollands

GenAI has created a step change in data perception

Penny Horwood
clock 12 February 2024 • 7 min read