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How to Manage Data and Information for Maximum Advantage

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The “four layer” model applied to unstructured content
by Robert Hillard

In my book, Information-Driven Business, I introduce a four layer model for information.  You can also read more about this model in the MIKE2.0 article: Four Layers of Information.

The four layer model provides a way of describing information in every organisation.  The model explains how information is consumed (layer 1: metrics), navigated (layer 2: dimensional), held (layer 3: atomic) and created (layer 4: operational).  Using this model helps to organisation to understand where it is overly dependent on staff or customer knowledge to manage information at any of these layers (such as summarising to report, or slicing-up in spreadsheets to answer questions).

Some people have commented that the descriptions I use in the book, and are used in the MIKE2.0 article, are geared towards structured data.  To help readers understand how the model equally applies to both structured and unstructured data, the following definitions of each layer may help

Layer 1: Metrics
For information to be used for management decision making, it ultimately needs to be summarised into a score or metrics against which “good” or “bad” can be defined.  This is the same regardless of whether we are talking about structured data or summarising a collection of unstructured content.  The metric for documents could be as simple as a count (for example, the number of policies) or a combination of factors such as the number of processes covered by a particular type of policy.

Layer 2: Dimensional or Navigational
While formally described as the dimensional layer, it is perhaps better described as the way that the organisation can be navigated.  At this layer we are talking about structuring the content in way that we can find in a systematic way (via a taxonomy).  It is from here that metrics, such as a count of policies, can be derived.  It is also from here that we go to find content in its general form (“get me all procedures associated with disaster recovery”).  For instance, in this layer policies can be cross referenced against each other.

Layer 3: Normalised or Atomic
In the unstructured sense it is better to use the term “atomic” for this layer which contains the content in its original form reference by the event that created it rather than a business taxonomy.  This layer is often handled badly in organisations but can be as simple as recording the time, author and organisational hierarchy.  It can also be aligned to business processes.  For instance, in this layer, policies and procedures should be fully formed but only associated with the scope that they are covering.

Layer 4: Operational
The fourth layer is the front line and refers to the situation and technology context in which the content is created or updated.  Examples include: social media, documents on network drives and email within the inbox of the conversation participants.  For instance, in this layer, policies are created (maybe in many parts) but have no context.

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