What are management information tools?

    Effective business management in a modern global, open economy without active information consumption is impossible. There is so much information that it is impossible to do without some special devices, programs, algorithms and techniques for its collection, processing, analysis, storage and dissemination. Such tools whose task is to achieve a useful effect when “influencing” the information necessary for management are combined into a separate group of “information management tools” (hereinafter referred to as “ tools” ).

    After we figured out that they are tools- What are they and why are they needed, we turn to the issue of their classification. It allows not only to better understand what information management tools are, but also to compare them as necessary, based on distinguishing features.

    How many tasks do we solve?

    The tool can be quite simply evaluated in terms of the objective functions that it implements. Some tools allow you to solve fairly narrow specialized tasks, while others are suitable for solving a wide range of problems from various subject areas based on some general (typical) approach.

    According to the functional-target coverage, information management tools can be divided into:
    1. specialized - effective for solving specific complex and labor-intensive, but algorithmically well-formulated tasks;
    2. universal - effective for solving problems of a general type without specialized algorithms and rules, but with a set of some common techniques, devices, hints, rules that are used in combination selected by the user;
    3. complex - effective for solving interrelated tasks of different levels of complexity and detail, but united by one semantic, resource or procedural base.

    It is no coincidence that the word “effective” is used in the definition of each group, and not, say, “designed” or “developed”. The user has the right to use any tool for various purposes, but the effect that he will receive will be appropriate. It is difficult to expect from the use of a universal tool a significant effect where a complex one is needed. So, the use of the spreadsheet editor for accounting will be completely unproductive.
    Most often, the tool can clearly be attributed to one of these groups. The predominant criterion is the number of tasks implemented with its help.

    What operations do we perform?

    Information management tools (especially those that are implemented using software products), regardless of the number of tasks to be solved, always simultaneously offer several opportunities to carry out various operations with information. Since it is information tools that are considered , this is an important classification characteristic.
    Having compiled an extended list of operations in which information plays the main role at the input and / or output, it becomes clear that a number of tools allow you to perform only their limited composition, while other tools quite broadly and fully enable you to operate with information flows.

    The sequential list of information operations that the tool can implement is as follows:
    • selection of information sources - definition and criteria selection of one-time and regular sources of information (data, information);
    • information collection - organization and receipt of information from selected sources with its simultaneous input filtering;
    • primary information processing - receiving secondary (calculated, aggregated, compressed) information;
    • secondary information processing - obtaining, convenient for use, information based on the results of processing primary and secondary;
    • structuring and classification of information is a special way of processing information at various levels for its ordering, indexing, etc .;
    • information quality control - control, selection and transformation of information, taking into account the assessment of its quality level;
    • formation of analytical information - obtaining an expert level of information based on special processing techniques with the formulation of conclusions and hypotheses;
    • selection of information to be presented - selection of information in a complex for its distribution among the target audience;
    • visualization (representation) of information - giving information a special form that is convenient, understandable and effective for the target audience;
    • information dissemination - the organization and implementation of the transmission of information to the target audience, including the transfer of information to an acceptable medium and bringing information to the consumer.

    Based on the capabilities inherent in the tool to successfully support the execution of certain operations, it can be attributed to one of the following types.

    According to the predominant implementation of operations on working with information, information management tools are divided into groups:
    • private tools - allow you to perform separate (or separately) operations for working with information;
    • procedural tools - allow you to perform and maintain a consistent (or fragmented) set of individual operations within the framework of solving one problem;
    • high-grade tools - allow you to organize, implement and maintain a full cycle of operations in the framework of solving a specific problem.

    This classification correlates with the functional-target division into groups from the previous section. But if in that case the main characteristic is “the number of specific tasks to be solved”, then in the latter case, the main one is the characteristic “quantity and quality of information operations that are available when solving each individual problem”.
    For example, a spreadsheet editor is a universal solution for functional target classification and a private tool for operational classification.
    Spreadsheet Editor Note
    In the cited examples of this publication, it should be assumed that the tools in question are evaluated in terms of their direct, unfinished functionality. A well-known spreadsheet editor using programming can be easily transformed from a universal tool to a specialized one. But each tool has its limits and, sometimes, a programmable spreadsheet editor doesn’t even help out macros, functions, and entire classes when solving special problems.

    What information do we work with?

    While universal tools , most often, allow you to work with any information, specialized and comprehensive tools are usually developed to work with information from a specific subject area. Obviously, the more universal the tool , the more subject areas and tasks it covers and the more in depth it allows you to work with them. But sometimes only universal tools allow you to combine tasks from seemingly previously incompatible subject areas.
    Since management tools are considered, then the target subject areas are most often: accounting and reporting, economic and market analytics, logistics, marketing and consumer behavior, turnover, project management, human resources and corporate interaction, financial flows, resources and the like.

    By the coverage of subject areas that the tool allows to solve, it can be assigned to one of the following groups:
    • target tools - designed to solve a specific problem from a specific subject area;
    • standard tools - designed to solve several specific related tasks from a specific subject area or one relatively typical task from several subject areas;
    • system tools - designed to solve different types of tasks from one or more subject areas.

    What's in the box?

    Let's not forget that the look at the management information tool is somewhat wider than at a simple program or management automation system. Simplified tool can be imagined as a certain technique embodied in the program, adapted for practical use.
    An automated system (application) is a direct implementation of a technique, but not the technique itself. And if management forgets about it and shifts the emphasis in choosing tools only towards the “code”, then the problems will not be long in coming.
    A little explanation
    Compare: the automated system “accounting program” and the management information tool “accounting”.
    In the first case, a specific application.
    In the second case - in addition to the program, it is obvious that there is a formalized accounting technique.
    It will look very strange if you try to apply a “accounting program” in business without knowledge and application of the “accounting” methodology.
    But there are toolsthat have less obvious and unregulated methods. For example, CRM. So why does a business allow itself to purchase such management automation software products without an active understanding and application of the techniques incorporated in them (standards, regulations, technologies, templates, methodologies, algorithms).

    In the management information tool, we outline three components:
    • methodology - the theoretical basis for influencing information (its changes or measurements), embedded in the instrument and proceeding from a number of basic assumptions (hypotheses) about achieving the desired beneficial effect for the purpose of managing the organizational structure;
    • program - an algorithm for influencing information implemented in the format of convenient use by the user (via the UI - user interface) or in automated processes (via the API - application programming interface) based on the results of the routine execution of which the desired useful effect is achieved;
    • practice - the practical part of the use of a tool to influence information, which forms the optimal way to use it separately or in conjunction with other information or other tools to achieve the desired beneficial effect.

    The technique is the knowledge necessary for the competent use of the tool . A program is the ability to effectively obtain a consistent and controlled result. And practice is the best experience of using the tool and embedding it in business processes (including some training issues).
    Talking about a full-fledged high-quality tool , in the absence of one of its specified components, can be relatively arbitrary. But if the tool is operational (that is, it is applied with the result in practice), then to one degree or another all the components are in it - the question remains to what extent they are formalized and understood by the business (executors, managers).

    Based on how clearly one or another of its components is present in the instrument, we make the following classification:
    • tool theory is a tool in which only a technique is present, but it is not implemented in the program and in practice (a kind of theory about the possibilities of influencing information);
    • application practice is a tool in which there is only an understanding of a certain practical impact on information for which there is no theoretical assessment and, moreover, there is no implementation in the form of an appropriate program (good application practice is a good starting point for developing a tool);
    • a simple program is a tool in which some poorly formulated methodology is implemented in the program format and is not properly confirmed in practice;
    • an unprepared tool is a tool in which a formalized technique is implemented in the form of a program, but without understanding the essence and method of its effective application in practice;
    • an extra-program tool is a tool in which a formalized technique is confirmed and understandable in practical application, but for which a program has not been developed that allows it to be applied a lot and effectively;
    • a simple action tool is a tool in which a program with a certain practical application is implemented, but for which the technique is not clear and not obvious (theoretical basis);
    • a high-quality tool is a tool in which a well-developed technique is present, a convenient program is developed and the practice of its application is defined.

    And what is the conclusion?

    The classifications of information management tools discussed above in this publication can be supplemented by a few - minor ones:
    - classification of tools by information media (information flows, analog media, documents, etc.),
    - classification by types of processed information (digital data, audio, texts , video streams, etc.),
    - classification applicable technical and information technology means (distributed network cloud technology, an encryption application, digital jet turirovanie information, data types, indexing and the like),
    - the classification of information treated by volume(file of data, average data streams, big data, etc.),
    - the classification of the complexity of algorithms implemented in software (just checking recalculation algorithms, branched algorithms, complex multi-parameter algorithms, adaptive algorithms, etc.).

    The list goes on, expanding the area of ​​attention and delving into details. However, the main classifications (which are discussed in detail) make it possible to understand what should first be paid attention to when comparing some tools with others.

    A comprehensive comparative assessment of information management tools can be carried out using such a special matrix:

    On the working field of the matrix, you can specify the position of specific tools (two or more), which will help to understand which class of tools each of the bottom relates to and how they relate to each other.

    At the same time, it is convenient to indicate the position of the tools using symbols

    Here is an example of a comparative assessment of several tools on a similar matrix:

    It can be clearly seen that the “G” tool allows you to solve problems in more subject areas than the “B” tool. And the “A” tool possessing the best “operational” qualities is slightly inferior to the “G” tool, but at the same time it has poor application practice.
    Next to the designation of the tool, you can put down the cost of its acquisition and ownership. In a certain sense, this will help in making an adequate price decision on the choice of an instrument.
    The final choice for the business is which tool to take into service and how much to pay.
    But understanding the essence is easier to consciously choose the right toolwhich is suitable for a specific business and allows you to solve really important problems of organizational management based on the use of relevant information.

    Information management tools are different and allow solving various problems. The right tool choice for a specific task is one of the important competencies of any professional, who in the management system can create an equally important competitive advantage for the business as a whole. And the right choice of a tool for solving an urgent task depends on the ability to evaluate its key characteristics, advantages and disadvantages, features and limitations in use.

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