What is Data?

Datum is a single fact. A simple number, a specific date, a single amount, a zero in the right place, or a one somewhere else. Datum is the singular form of data or a collection of facts.

Data is inherently chaotic. It's disorganized, jumbled, sometimes measurable and sometimes just a feeling. It's everywhere! In and of itself, data has no meaning and is practically useless.

And no, I'm not talking about him.

Here's an example.  Let's say you're a purchasing manager and you need to know what you've paid for a commodity over the last three years. A single hand-scribbled figure is delivered to you by your lead buyer:


Okay, you'd have no idea what this means. There's no other context than the amount itself. Is it an average? Is it the last purchase price? What was the quality, quantity, or unit of measure? When was the date surrounding this transaction? As information, this is meaningless. You need more data! You need more facts to provide context and to potentially understand its meaning. 

So by itself, data has no relevance, but in IT, we're very, very obsessed with data. It's found at the very bottom of things - a foundation that is the basis of everything we do in IT. We backup data. We recover data. We analyze data. We mine data. We walk data. Our strategy for managing an Information System begins at understanding how every datum gets recorded!

Seeing its importance yet?

Take into consideration the following four pieces of data:

$3.87  $3.56   $3.78  $3.63

Only one of these is accurate. Only one of this is the right, true piece of data. Which one is it? How can you tell? Which one is the real piece of data? Which is true? Which is false?

  • And if we kept the bad data and used it as a basis of reporting, wouldn't the reports be suspect? Like, the reports would be bad? Generating erroneous information?
  • And wouldn't the decisions our employees - relying off of the reports - make be bad? Wrong? Inaccurate?
  • Wouldn't inaccurate information - fed to our internal decision-makers - impact the expectations of our shareholders and private investors?
  • Then won't our bad decisions lead to internal losses, missed opportunity, or disappointed customers? Who then relate their frustrations to friends and family through word-of-mouth, damaging your brand, ruining your reputation? 

GIGO, right? Garbage In, Garbage Out?

Understanding the role Information Systems plays in your business begins with thoroughly studying the first and last datum stored. Managing the information system means stepping back, all the way back through your assumptions, to see how data is being accurately captured, recorded, preserved, and maintained. Do you know this? Where your data comes from? How it's accuracy is guaranteed?

Next: What is Information?