Information becomes more valuable when somebody can make a good decision based on it. A list of winning lottery numbers may be worth millions before the drawing and nothing afterward. The correct information at a doctor's fingertips may save a patient's life.
To discover, generate, collect, store, protect, mash up, analyze, distribute and retire information, we use technologies to manage the information lifecycle. Notice that we just defined information technology.
Some information has unique properties. When I buy milk at the grocery store, I pay $3. I lose the money but get the milk in exchange, while the merchant loses the milk and gets the money. But when information is shared, the source may not lose anything -- it still retains the information -- while the other party gains.
This is a positive sum game and one of the key elements that made the Internet and open source a huge success. By opening up and sharing some of their information, companies can create rich external ecosystems that process and mash information from various sources to unlock its hidden value. This sharing can be very beneficial to the source of the information too.
[ Are you investing in your past? Or planning for the future? See My Theory Of IT Reach. ]
According to Gartner, the four great forces in IT today are mobile, social, cloud and information. I disagree with these categories, because the first three are part of the more fundamental fourth category of unlocking information's value. Mobile delocalizes information. Social creates opportunities to share information and an environment for innovation. Cloud decouples technology from information, putting the emphasis on the "I" in "IT." This PricewaterhouseCoopers article discusses the "I in IT" concept.
My experience is that few companies have strategic plans to unlock the hidden value of their information. Few shops ask: Why shouldn't we share this particular information? How could we make our information more valuable?
This isn't just a dilemma for companies. As IT gets consumerized, we're not only setting up wireless home networks, but also being forced to answer questions like: What sort of information should I share to maintain my privacy while making technology more responsive to my needs?
By sharing information we can create new industries. In 2000 the U.S. government made high-quality GPS signal available, spawning roadside sensor networks that gather traffic data (Waze, for instance, crowdsources real-time road conditions). When combined with digital maps, that data provides new value. Based in part on all of that work, self-driving cars, a potential trillion-dollar business, according to a Forbes contributor, are becoming a reality.
My view is that unlocking the value of information is a "slow hunch" (see Stephen Johnson's TED talk) and may be the greater force underlying Gartner's four forces. Slow hunches tend to reach a point where the curve turns from linear to exponential. Remember the adoption of the PC and Internet? Are we at the turning point of unlocking the value of information?
We must go beyond "faster and cheaper." As you evaluate your company strategy, consider whether you have plans to make your information more valuable. See if you could share some of that information or use information from others to unearth hidden value.