Thursday, July 13, 2006

July 17, 2006


I have been doing a lot of reading lately regarding the latest fads in the industry, particularly in the area of "Agile Methodologies," "Business Rules," "Information Architecture," and "Enterprise Architecture." There is a considerable amount of material to wade through. Of interest, I have noticed all stress the importance of requirements and warn of the consequences if they are not defined properly. This sounds nice, but I found them all to be very evasive in terms of describing the inherent properties of information and how to document them. I guess this shouldn't come as a surprise as the industry for years has been wallowing in how to define information requirements. Many think it is nothing more than a set of data or output specifications; others see it as nothing more than a programming spec. Rarely, does anyone want to take the time to truly understand information requirements and prefer, instead, to get down to the business of programming where they feel more comfortable. It should, therefore, not come as a surprise that requirements definition is left to the interpretation of the individual. Inevitably, this leads to inconsistencies and errors. For something that is supposed to be so critical for success, information requirements definition is too often taken for granted.

Let's see if we can clear this up by describing the characteristics of information and end with a definition. This may all seem very elementary, but the problem of requirements definition is very real. Perhaps a simple description of the properties of information may provide the insight needed to adequately perform this vital task.


First, information is not synonymous with data. Data represents the facts and events of a business consisting of primary values (such as "Customer Number," "Unit Price," "Name," etc.) and generated values ("Percent Complete," "Net Profit," "Total Ordered," etc.). By itself, data is meaningless. It is only when it is put into a specific context, at a specific point of time, and delivered to a specific human-being, does data transform into information. From this perspective, let's consider the fundamental characteristics of information:

A. Information supports actions and/or business decisions.

This is a critical characteristic that is vital to define. If an action and/or business decision cannot be made from the data presented, it is not information, it is just raw data. In this world of application development there is a tendency to produce too much data and not enough information.

During my "PRIDE" classes I usually illustrate this point by describing a "bookmaker" or "bookie" (slang for someone who accepts wagers on sporting events). Among the bookie's actions/decisions include paying off bets, and collecting on bets. Using a blackboard, I would write down the following scores:



I would then ask the students to play the role of a bookie and asked them if what I wrote on the blackboard could support their actions and decisions. Of course they said, No, that they needed more data; to which I wrote down:

New York - 6
Chicago - 5

Cincinnati - 4
Los Angeles - 3

Still not satisfied, they wanted to know what sport I was describing; to which I added:

Sport: Baseball

New York - 6
Chicago - 5

Cincinnati - 4
Los Angeles - 3

Since a city can have more than one team, they also wanted the team names.

Sport: Baseball

New York Yankees - 6
Chicago White Sox - 5

Cincinnati Reds - 4
Los Angeles Dodgers - 3

They also needed to know who the bettor was, so I added:

Sport: Baseball

New York Yankees - 6
Chicago White Sox - 5

Cincinnati Reds - 4
Los Angeles Dodgers - 3

Bettor: John Doe - $30 - New York Yankees - Odds: 3:1
123 Main Street, Tel: 123/456-7890

They then said they had the information needed to fulfill their actions or decisions (e.g., they would pay $90 to John Doe for betting on the Yankees).

This example demonstrates two things; first, information is data that is arranged in a specific context, and; second, it is based on the actions and decisions to be supported. This means we must first have a clear understanding of the actions and/or decisions to be supported before we can determine the required data elements (primary or generated). This is an area commonly overlooked in application development. If we cannot act on it, than it is not information, it is just raw data.

B. Information is a perishable commodity.

Information has value at a specific point in time. This is because we must make certain actions/decisions on a timely basis; e.g., daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, or upon request. Using our example above, the bookie requires his information daily; having it delivered weekly, monthly, or annually will not satisfactorily support his actions/decisions. It thereby becomes important to define "when" actions/decisions have to be made.

There are three attributes to timing:

Frequency - specifies how often the actions/decisions have to be made; e.g.,
4D - four times daily
1W - once a week
2Y - semiannually
R - Upon Request (anytime the user wants it)

Offset - specifies when the cycle should begin; e.g.,
8H - on the 8th hour (8:00am)
7D - on the seventh day (end of the week)
Note: There is no scheduled offset when the Frequency is "Upon Request").

Response Time - specifies the maximum amount of time to deliver the information; e.g.,
5S - Five Seconds
1D - One Day
Note: This should not be confused as a measure of machine throughput.

These timing attributes will ultimately influence the design of the system and software. For example, if information is needed "Upon Request" with a five second response time, than in all likelihood it will be an "interactive" type of application. Conversely, a weekly process with a one hour response time will likely result in a "batch" process (maybe even a manual process).

C. Information is a consumable commodity.

Information is received, acted on, and life moves on. But there is little point in having information if it is not acted upon at the time it is received. It means actions/decisions will not be performed as required.

This brings up a point, information is consumed by human beings, not by machines. True, machines process data but only humans require information. I get into a lot of arguments over this concept. Let me see if I can clarify it. Let's imagine a totally automated company (what I like to call a "company in a closet") whereby customers interact with a computer through a network connection to place orders for a product or service that can be delivered electronically. The owner of the company is retired and spends most of his time playing golf and checks on his stocks and other investments. I contend the machine is just processing data and will continue to do so until there is some sort of mechanical malfunction. However, under this scenario there is still a need for information by such people as:

  • Customers who want to check prices, product/service availability, terms and conditions, order status, and to report problems.

  • Vendors who offer upgrades or additional support.

  • Government regulators who need to know about sales volumes and taxes.

  • And the owner himself who needs to know about how his "company in a closet" is performing, thereby making decisions regarding modifications to the business.

Processing data is one thing, making business decisions and taking actions is something entirely different. Until such time as machines become true freethinking entities, they will only need data, not information.

D. Information is not stored, it is produced.

Information is produced and consumed as required. On the other hand, data can be stored and retrieved as required. We have long touted the concept that:


This simply means there are two basic variables in the production of information; data (the facts to be processed) and the process itself (the logic). Assuming this is correct, if the data remains the same, but we change the processing, then the information will be changed. Conversely, if the processing remains the same, but we change the data, then the information will also be changed. This means it is important to manage the resources needed to produce information, which is the premise of Information Resource Management (IRM). If we can control the resources, we can manipulate them accordingly to suit the information needs of the business. Therefore, "Information Management" is a fallacious concept; we are not truly managing information as much as we are managing the resources needed to produce it.

E. Information changes.

The actions/decisions of the business are greatly influenced by such things as:

  • Customers and Vendors
  • Government/political changes
  • Economics and competition
  • Market expansion/contraction

As an example, suppose the government decides to impose a new regulation on a company's manufacturing process or institutes a trade embargo on a country the company does business in. Inevitably, this will cause a change in the actions/decisions of the business, thereby affecting information requirements.

Let's also consider the affect new shipping methods might have on keeping the company competitive. Again, this will undoubtedly affect the company's information requirements.

In a static world, information requirements would not change. The reality is we live in a dynamic world. The more we know about our external influences, the better we can adjust and adapt our information requirements.

F. Information is conveyed through outputs.

Media such as screens, printed reports, and audio/video represents the human interface by which information is transmitted. Hence, the temptation by a lot of developers to think of outputs as the starting point for specifying information requirements. The business rationale for the information is much more important than physically how it will be delivered. If we do not understand the rationale for the information, we will inevitably make erroneous conclusions regarding the outputs. Also consider this, there is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between information requirements and outputs. One information requirement may be implemented by multiple outputs, and one output may be used to satisfy multiple information requirements.

Knowing the relationship between information requirements and outputs, existing screens, reports, etc. provide a convenient road map for documenting requirements. Simply ask the user what the business purpose of the output is and what he/she will do with the information (better yet, ask him/her what would happen if you took the output away).


Okay, now that we understand the characteristics of information, let's try to devise a definition:

Information - the understanding or insight gained from the processing and/or analysis of data. Information is created as a result of the collection, processing and analysis of data in a prescribed manner. Information supports specific business related actions and decisions. The accuracy of information depends on the validity and completeness of the data and the processing logic used.


It is true that defining requirements is the Achilles heel of any development project, but a lot of people are vague or have different interpretations of what this means. In the "PRIDE" world, it means supplying the end-users with the necessary intelligence to support the actions/decisions of their end of the business. The more we know about the business, the better we can service it; see:

No. 77 - "Enterprise Decomposition" - May 29, 2006

Concentrating on output specifications is nice but it doesn't supersede the need for accurately defining information requirements. Frankly, users do not particularly care what physical form outputs come in; it is immaterial to them. All they are interested in is: Do they have the necessary information to support their actions/decisions; is it timely, and is it accurate?

Finally, it is fallacious to believe, "Users do not know what they want." They may not know how it physically should look or be delivered, but they most definitely know what they want. You're just not asking the right questions.

OUR BRYCE'S LAW OF THE WEEK therefore is...
"Companies run on information, not data."


Folks, we've just released a new book on management entitled, "The Bryce is Right! Empowering Managers in today's Corporate Culture." This is a frank and candid description of the state of the art in management and includes essays on the problems in management today, along with some pragmatic advice on how to deal with them. Basically, this is a condensed course in management. As such, it is suited for managers, either those aspiring to become a manager or for those who need a refresher course. It will also be of interest to young people entering the work force, and is excellent for college curriculums.

Charles Cole of Lyndhurst, OH, said it is a "Very interesting book. Good work! It reminds me of some of the early works I read by W. Edwards Deming. Too bad the American corporate gurus of his day didn't pay him heed."

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We have also just produced a new one-day training program of the same name. For more information on both the eBook and course, please visit our web site at:

While there, look for our new MS PowerPoint presentation describing both the book and the training program.


The British Academy of Management will be holding their 2006 Conference at The Waterfront Hall and Hilton Hotel, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on September 12th-14th. For information, contact Clare Saunders in their London office at +44 (0)20-7383-7770 or visit their web page at:

The Society for Information Management will be holding their SIMposium 2006 on September 17-20 at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, Texas. For information, contact SIM headquarters in Chicago at 312/527-6734

The International Institute of Business Analysis will be holding their Business Analyst World conference at the Boston Marriott in Burlington, MA on October 30th through November 2nd. This will be followed by a similar meeting in Chicago, IL at the Crowne Plaza O'Hare on November 13th - 16th. For information contact the IIBA at 888/443-6786 x 228 or visit their web site at:

If you have got an upcoming IRM related event you want mentioned, please e-mail the date, time and location of the event to


Friends, I don't know if you've seen it yet, but we've added a Frapper map to the "Management Visions" web site. Frapper is a free mapping service offered by the folks at Rising Concepts, LLC, and allows you to plot yourself on a worldwide map. This is a great way to keep track of our listeners and I encourage you to try it out through our web page or by clicking HERE.


Last week I discussed the problem of junk mail. This week I would like to discuss Junk Faxes; you know, those irritating ads and offers that propagate on our fax machines. First, I believe fax machines have outlived their usefulness. Rarely do I ever use it, except for those obscure situations when someone needs to send us something. Most of the time I am communicating by e-mail or telephone. But even for a small company like mine I sure do get a lot of faxes. This is the main reason I no longer give out our fax number unless somebody positively, absolutely has to send us something. Nonetheless, our fax number inevitably gets on a mailing list and we suddenly get swamped with faxes; seems like a waste of paper to me.

I don't know if you actually look at these junk faxes, normally I don't, except to lookup a number at the bottom of the fax where you can call to be removed from the sender's mailing list. Most of the time its a toll free number, other times its a clever ruse to pay for a phone call. You have to be careful.

I recently investigated this on the Internet and came upon an interesting site called "" which gives some valuable tips on fighting off junk faxes.

For example, they list the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 ("TCPA"); let me read it to you:

"The TCPA (47 USC § 227), and its implementing FCC regulations ( mainly 47 CFR § 64.1200) prohibits the transmission via facsimile of any material advertising the commercial availability or quality of any product, service or property to any person without that person's prior express permission or request.

Under the TCPA, recipients of unsolicited fax advertisements can file suit in state court to collect the greater of $500 or actual damages for each violation, and/or obtain an injunction (a single junk fax can, and often does, contain multiple violations). If a court determines that the violations were willful or knowing, the damages can be tripled at the discretion of the court."

The web site also provides instructions for filing a complaint.

Well this sounds all well and good, but who is really going to take the time to report some trivial faxes? Not many people that I know of; not unless they are being bombarded by faxes every few minutes. Most people just rip them up and throw them away, or call the fax removal numbers at the bottom of the sheet. All the junk faxes do for me is push me a little closer to pulling the plug on the machine altogether. If you really want to get hold of me, there are basically two things you can do: give me a phone call (I am one of the few remaining souls that don't believe in voice mail unless I am truly out of the office), or send me an e-mail with an attachment. Otherwise, forget it.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.


We're pleased to announce the release of a new book on our "PRIDE" Methodologies for IRM. Actually, we've created two versions of the same book, an eBook version (in PDF format), and an Audio Book (in MP3 format). Both compliment the Internet version available through our corporate web site. The eBook version is 363 pages in length and includes full tutorials on Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, and Project Management, complete with examples and a quick navigation to guide you through the book. The Audio Book is an abridged version which includes over nine hours of audio. The eBook version is priced at $49 plus tax, the Audio Book is priced at $54 plus tax, and a discounted packaged price for both is $93 plus tax. The book is excellent for both corporate developers as well as at the university level where it complements a college curriculum.

Summers Hagerman of Cincinnati says, "This book provides management with a complete set of powerful tools for managing the largest information systems projects."

Check it out at:


I received an e-mail from an AC Kemper in Athens, Ohio who wrote me regarding last week's essay entitled, "Homo Sapien Ass****".
AC writes:

"I was somewhat taken aback by your slang in last week's broadcast. But looking past it I see what you were driving at. And, Yes, I have met a lot of HSA's out there."

Thanks AC for your note,

As I mentioned in last week's broadcast, I apologize for the use of profanity but it was done to make a point; our perceptions, right or wrong, dictate our actions. I had given a lot of thought whether to use this piece as I knew it might make people uncomfortable but, in the end, I felt its conclusions were important to share with my audience.

Again, Thanks for your e-mail. Keep those cards and letters coming.

MBA is an international management consulting firm specializing in Information Resource Management. We offer training, consulting, and writing services in the areas of Enterprise Engineering, Systems Engineering, Data Base Engineering, Project Management, Methodologies and Repositories. For information, call us at 727/786-4567. For a complete listing of my essays, see the "PRIDE" Special Subject Bulletins section of our corporate web site.

Our corporate web page is at:

Management Visions is a presentation of M. Bryce & Associates, a division of M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. The program is produced on a weekly basis and updated on Sundays. It is available in versions for RealPlayer, Microsoft Media Player, and MP3 suitable for Podcasting. See our web site for details. You'll find our broadcast listed in several Podcast and Internet Search engines, as well as Apples' iTunes.

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Copyright © 2006 by M&JB Investment Company of Palm Harbor, Florida, USA. All rights reserved. "PRIDE" is the registered trademark of M&JB Investment Company.

This is Tim Bryce reporting.

Since 1971: "Software for the finest computer - the Mind."



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