corporate innovation
The information problem is ... not enough information ...

Corporate Innovation and the Hierarchy of Information Needs


Master the hierarchy of information requirements to unleash corporate innovation, with insights into problem-solving and the importance of knowledge management.

A common thread develops when cross-functional corporate innovation teams put together their long lists of projects and initiatives. In most cases, the business need is a perceived lack of sufficient information to effectively manage business units, streamline processes, or identify novel opportunities. I stress that this is a perception, not necessarily a fact; I like approaching problems with an open mind!

Innovation opportunities are often broadly stated, and a little more investigation is required for the corporate innovation team to get this into the backlog. A more complete problem statement will fall into one or more categories.

  1. The information [needed to solve my problem] does not exist (KM, BB)
  2. The information exists, but I do not know that it exists
    1. I am unaware that it exists (KM)
    2. I suspect it exists, but I do not know how to find it (KM)
    3. I suspect it exists, but I cannot find it (KM, BB)
  3. The information exists, and I know that it exists, but I cannot access it
    1. I am prevented from access due to security requirements (BB)
    2. I have no data access tool (BB)
    3. I have a data access tool, but I do not know where the data source is and how to connect to it (KM)
  4. The information exists, and I know that it exists, and I can access it, but I don’t understand what I am looking at
    1. I do not know how to use the data access tool (KM)
    2. I know how to use the data access tool, but I do not understand the domain, the terms, or the concepts (KM, BB)
    3. I know how to use the data access tool, I understand the domain, but I do not understand the data structures (KM)
    4. I know how to use the data access tool, I understand the domain, but the metadata is confusing (KM, BB)
  5. The information exists, and I know that it exists, but I don’t want to access it – I want my team to access it and feed me the results
    1. My team complains about the issues above (?!?)
    2. My team only answers my questions – they don’t do any proactive analysis (KM)

The root causes are diverse, and as you walk through this hierarchy, it is easy to imagine the range of solutions that could be applied. Solutions for these problems can be classified into two categories.

  • Knowledge Management (KM): This involves documentation, training, knowledge capture, and/or knowledge sharing.
  • Buy vs. Build (BB): This includes all technical work, like building a custom solution, buying and implementing packaged software, configuring the software, or creating the information store.

Interestingly, KM is required in almost all of the solution cases above, and a “technology solution” (I need to Build or Buy something) is required less than half the time.

What do you think? Can you add problem statements and/or examples to the hierarchy above? Let us know in the comments.

This timeless wisdom from 2010 has been updated with fresh insights …

25 July, 2023

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Your article is first of all spot on. The hierarchy as mentioned definitely reflects the problems as raised by the business.

    I would though add 1 significant element. IT solutions will only work if you align your processes/solutions/systems and information required with your practical “day to day” life and business. Otherwise you’ll shoot yourself in the foot almost immediately. Some examples:
    I am reporting backlog X but my true backlog is Y
    I am able to automatically replenish my inventory BUT my warehouse location structure (aisles, rows and bins) are different then my true physical warehouse structure
    I deduct/consume my inventory within my system (ERP) at a later point than physical – e.g. within my system I deduct my inventory when completing/finishing my production order but physically I deduct at the time my production cell starts

    This is right now what I am engaged with. We’re focusing right now at one of our BU’s in order to get the above mentioned fixed and back on track. Only then the information stream will stabilize AND become more meaningful.

    1. Yes, I think its hilarious and odd that organizations and/or people are willing to work around the system and _not_ model what is really happening. It’s actually a “canary in the coal mine” / early warning that people do not understand their jobs and/or the systems.

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