IT intelligence: finding and using information

Robin Fisk continues his series about how best to find and use information.

People who work in IT can be infuriatingly logical and pedantic. We can turn a reasonable request into a semantic minefield.

The problem is that our brains have been trained by years of developing software and logical thinking. When you mix that with the more subjective art of running an organisation, it can result in unexpected misunderstandings.

The range and complexity of information systems run by charities mean that it can be difficult to form a picture of how well an organisation is operating. Accounting systems, databases and websites provide us with data that could be turned into useful information but which is not always easily comprehensible.

It's particularly common for misunderstandings to occur when people in management positions request information from data systems. Imagine a fundraising manager steeling himself to ask a database manager for statistics on face-to-face fundraising for a particular year. The database manager could do one of three things: take the request at face value and produce pages of data, thus giving the fundraising manager what they asked for, not what they wanted; laugh; or ask for more detailed information. For example, the database manager could ask useful questions, such as: "I can show you the statistics, but do you want to analyse them against another year's figures?" By working with the information consumer in this way, the database manager can provide a succinct but meaningful report that can ideally be run again on demand by the fundraising manager whenever it's needed. It engenders a greater sense of cooperation and trains both parties to bridge the communication gap.

Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.

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