The first and foremost objective of any communication is to inform. The dissemination of information covers a wide range of areas, both internal and external. People within an business organization have to be kept informed about the organizational goals, objectives, procedures, products, processes, systems, plans, priorities and strategies. They also need to be informed about the developments relating to the industry, competitors, changes in regulations and feedback from customers’. Equally important is the objective of ensuring effective external communication with customers, prospects, collaborators, suppliers and the public about products, plans, services, initiatives, happenings, events, failures and achievements. Businesses have several stakeholders and each of them need be kept duly informed. It is against this backdrop that organizations, depending upon their nature, size, diversity and spread engage themselves in the process of finding, evaluating and processing information. The information needs within the organization take on different nomenclatures—market-related information, product-related information, client-related information, employee-related information, executive information, management information and regulatory information.
Each of these has its own purpose, and periodically such information addressed to each segment should be provided in measured doses and in an easily understandable language and format. Both too much and too little of such information would be equally counterproductive. When information provided is short of what is relevant, the purpose would not be achieved. At the same time, excessive information and dumping of memos, circulars, reports, studies and voluminous booklets and brochures will lead to information overload making the receiver wary of all such communication. In fact, with increasing usage of copying machines, computer stationery and printers and e-mail facilities, people in organizations tend to overindulge in providing not so relevant information. If people keep receiving voluminous information at very frequent intervals through print, compact discs (CDs) and e-mail attachments, they tend to ignore most of it.
An important principle to be observed while sending information is to ensure that more important information is not packaged along with other less relevant and voluminous data. The information provider should be cognizant of the degree of importance of every bit of information provided to the receiver and the most appropriate manner or format in which it should be made available. Information should be provided in a duly classified manner. Communication is essentially a participative process and excessive and irrelevant details fatigue the reader and result in diminishing returns.
Effective communicators learn to limit their communication in line with the receiver’s receptivity and avoid excesses. Given the expanse and variety of information that is relevant in large business organizations, people in these organizations spend considerable time and efforts in finding, evaluating and processing information. Information also covers communicating or receiving knowledge related to data in the form of facts, figures, news and events that is presented in a processed form to facilitate meaningful interpretation for analysis and decision making. In business organizations, organized efforts are made to collect raw data from various sources, evaluate it in terms of its reliability and usefulness and thereafter present them in a processed form. Management information system (MIS) deals with the process by which raw data gets transformed into reliable information. Finding, collecting, storing, retrieving and processing data for the purpose of studies, analysis, exchange and decision making is indeed a very vital function in today’s business organizations.
When we talk of finding information, we are basically referring to collection of relevant, adequate and reliable information that is of value to the business organization.
Depending upon their size, expanse and diversity, organizations need to find and collect varied and voluminous data. Some common areas for which organizations need to collect relevant data include markets, customers, prospects, competitors, products, pricing, employees, suppliers and several such details of significance that are helpful in running the business effectively. Data requirement generally covers physical data, economic data, financial data, market data and historical data. Each of these has its own sources, both internal and external. While most of the data are to be collected periodically, some information may have to be collected occasionally or on an ad-hoc basis. As we have noted earlier, there are essentially two sources of data viz., primary and secondary. While the primary sources are collected through the questionnaire method and the observation method, the secondary sources are collected through both internal and external data sources.
Large organizations are spread across varied functional departments and multitudinous regions and even countries. Hence, even internal data is widespread within the organization and will have to be collected in an organized manner. Data relating to employees, managers, budgets, goals, achievements, expenses and a host of such items has to be collected internally on an ongoing basis.
This apart, data from numerous external sources such as studies, published reports, newspapers, trade and industry organizations and market bulletins should also be collected periodically, depending on the requirements. Finding information consists of several steps such as planning, locating, collecting and capturing data. It is worth noting that, generally speaking, voluminous data are available on any subject of business value. What is essential is to seek and access the requisite data. In order to decide what information is to be collected one must first study and understand what the gaps in information are. As the first step in finding information, organizations need to make an information gap analysis. Given the cost of finding information, no information is located and collected without any purpose.
Information is always required for a specific purpose. More often than not, it is for the purpose of decision making, analysis and comparison. The difference between the data required and the data available is information gap. Planning of data collection is based on gap analysis. One should be clear about what information is required and for what purpose. Having identified data requirement, the next step would be to locate the data. The data, as we have noted already, may be inside the organization or it may be outside.
Let us take the example of a bank. Some relevant details relating to its customers may be lying in the application forms at various branches. This may include the data of opening, occupation, residential address, contact number, outstanding balances and so on. Having located the data, the next step in finding information is to collect or capture the relevant data. In the example given above, it means collecting the requisite data from the branches manually if the branches are not computerized and by using appropriate software in a fully computerized environment.
Data as we have noted are collected from numerous sources—primary or secondary, internal or external.
Quite often, the sources of data may be biased and unreliable. Data may be polished to present a better picture than what exists. Or, when the source of date is not known, one cannot be sure of the quality and reliability of data. All this implies that any data that is collected and captured will have to be evaluated. Those who wish to use the data for the purpose of any worthwhile analysis or comparison or decision making have to necessarily do some evaluation. Evaluation of data or information is done by verifying the sources of data and also by a process of validation. Different data sources have different degree of reliability.
Some are very authentic and reliable, some are partially reliable and some are far from being reliable. The users of the data are often aware of the extent to which data can be relied upon. Validation involves studying the sources of data and assessing whether sufficient care has been taken in locating, collecting and interpreting data. If the data are based on a sample study, to that extent the reliability is limited. If the agency that has collected and presented the data is relatively unknown, the users may find the information not very dependable. Similarly, when data are collected internally, it is subjected to a process of validation. Test checks are done to ensure that the data are captured, tabulated and presented correctly. If the process of validation suggests any lacunae of shortcoming in data collection, the information is not put to use till the shortcomings are set right.
Data that are inaccurate or incomplete are obviously of little value. Proper validation is a must. Another important criterion determining the usefulness of the information concerns the age of data. If the data are stale and does not relate to the present, data quality suffers.
Subsequent to the collection of data, if several developments have taken place, the available data lose their relevance. In a fast-changing and dynamic world, what was relevant 5 years ago or 10 years ago may not be so today. Further, it may so happen that the data were collected or captured sometime in the past, but they have been tabulated and presented much later. Here again, the information becomes stale or dated.
Processing means preparing and presenting the information for the desired use.
Having collected the required information and having ensured that it is properly evaluated to ensure its authenticity and dependability, the next step is processing. Processing refers to various steps that will ensure that the information is shared with the appropriate authority for their knowledge and analysis or decision-making purpose, as the case may be. Processing of information may involve cleaning, conversion classification and presentation. When we refer to data or information, it may take many forms. It may include facts, events, figures or numbers, news and statements.
All these need to be verified, converted into appropriate charts, tables, graphs, etc., segregated into relevant and irrelevant, and presented in an appropriate form. Businesses need voluminous data and classified information so that executives, managers and others can use them for their study and analysis. An executive or a manager may need to go through a number of reports, statements, returns, studies and so on. All these are data captured, validated, processed and presented as information.
What in the past used to be statistics departments confined to just submitting statements, returns and reports have now been upgraded into very sophisticated management information systems (MIS) departments undertaking the job of finding, evaluating and processing information. It is worth mentioning that in most business organizations, management information systems are fully computerized such that they are in a position to access, classify and present information through appropriate computer applications. Given the increasingly computerized environment concerning information processing, the business communicator should be familiar with the concepts and tools relevant to this subject.