I am a parent, futurist, and technologist. My career has spanned the birth of personal computers to the rise of cloud computing.
I keep hearing that we've entered the information age. But there is so much information I cannot get to, how can that be the information age?
We are currently in the middle of the digital transformation age. I do not believe we are in the information age yet. I have a very clear definition of what I think the information age is; we have the initial information age tools. We have the initial information age network (the Internet). We still are missing a lot of information. So today, we will talk a little bit about digital information silos. At this point, if you look at virtually every company and government agency on earth, they have data silos. In part because of security. In part because it isn't that easy to pull all these silos together. It isn't easy, isn't hard, but the other side of this is it just isn't done.
So first, let's define a digital or non-digital information silo. Silo is an agricultural term. It refers to usually circular but sometimes of other shapes, tall towers on a farm or Farm Bureau where people store agricultural materials for later use. Simply put, it's a storage system. However, let's consider the reality of the silos. They normally stand on the property of a Farm Bureau farmer, a government agency, or a warehousing area, and they are independent. They're not often ever interconnected. So the concept of a digital or non-digital information silo within an organization is a very apt use of the agricultural term. Information exists in these silos. Sometimes, these silos are large buildings with billions upon billions of pages of printed material. Sometimes they are digital archives, computer hard drives within the company that store information. Getting the information out of those digital silos and into the hands of people that can do something with the information is the reality of knowledge management.
It isn't an easy process today. It's often quite difficult to get the information from the silo. Sometimes it is hard because of security. Sometimes it is hard because of gatekeepers. Sometimes it is hard because no one ever asks for the information. There is information that just can't be made publicly available due to the nature of the information.
An example of this might be how to build an atomic bomb in your basement. That's not good information to have readily available. Any item that ultimately could result in the death of many people probably should not be in generally available information stores. When you get to the world of killing people, that information should remain in a secure silo. Beyond that, the other silos aren't always required. That silo world keeps us from the information age.
This is not about information that shouldn't be available. This is about information that should be, and yet still isn't!
I do realize the inherent issue with my previous statement. That information is what's keeping us from the information age. Perhaps it's best if I define the information age. At least my definition of the information age. I believe the information age is that time in human existence when information is easily and readily available to all people. All is an interesting word, and I chose it very carefully. All means, everyone. There are more than 7.7 billion people on planet Earth today. A minimum of 3 billion do not have access to the Internet. Another 1 billion probably have limited to less than effective access to the Internet today. So by definition, we have 50% of people that can't get any information. When you couple the 50% that can't get information because the information that exists is often in silos, you begin to see the problem. There is no easy way to traverse the silos and easily provide information. I have worked on and led many KM projects for many customers. I can tell you that there is no easy fix to this problem. We have to get 1/2 of the people connected, and likely more than 1./2, the information needs to be made available digitally.
As we wander in the desert of digital transformation, we have to continue to consider what we will do to get out of the desert and into that lush green garden that is the information age. First off, we have to get Internet access to the 3 billion people who do not have it today. Even as simple as making sure that every human being on earth is old enough to understand how to use a cellular phone as an initial solution. Of course, the other side of that is that you also have to have access to a cellular network, and we have to make sure that cellular networks are low-cost enough that those using them can afford them. I suspect if you consider that information is important, but dinner is much more important, you realize that part of the problem is we have to deal with food first. But we also have to make sure that the information is out of the silos. Now there is information that must remain in silos forever. My banking records should be in a silo. While it is important to me, it is not information that should be available to anyone anywhere.
We are beginning to see projects breaking down silos. One of my favorite digital transformation projects, Project Gutenberg, scanned and entered millions of classic books as text available for download. That is a great step towards the information age. When you can read the works of Roman general Marcus Aurelius, or the collective thinking of Sun Tzu, the Chinese general, we have moved closer to the information age. That ability to access ubiquitous information is the last critical step coming out of digital transformation that will be the first steps humans take out of the desert of digital transformation. The next step will have to be removing the many sources of disinformation currently populating the Internet. I have spoken many times about the need for an Internet Veritas engine that presents data to you and gives you both sides of the story. Not just one side, because one side can often be disinformation. It is ultimately an expansion of "trust but verifies." Try this experiment next time you read an article where the person says we are in the information age. Find somebody that doesn't have access to the Internet, ask them if they believe they have access to the information they need. Because ultimately, I believe that is the last step for humans to enter the information age. When you can ask any of the seven billion+ humans on earth, do you have access to the information you need? We have reached the information age when that person looks at you, smiles, and says yes.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
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