3. How do we identify the information we need? (Page 2)
3.4.1 Principles of information
Having identified the decisions required to mitigate the risks which might hinder
us achieving our objectives, we can look at the information we need.
We’ll look at each principle in the sections below.
We need to concentrate on the information which leads us to the best decision. That’s
In our example, we need details of trains and planes going from London to Amsterdam
which will get us to our meeting by 11:00 at the latest. We want to minimise the
risk of being late. Is a train timetable the information required to make the best
decision? No – because it doesn’t tell us what seats are available to book. There’s
no point in deciding on a train or plane leaving at a specific time if we can’t book
a seat at an acceptable price. We need times of trains and planes with seats available
for us to book at a price we’re prepared to pay. So the best, relevant information
is likely to come from an enquiry on the web, which has the latest information.
We therefore must be very specific when requesting information from others, including
websites. This can cause problems, as some web search engines don’t handle specific
searches very well.
The information we receive must be complete – so we need details of flights out of
all the London airports we could easily reach.
The information must be simple. We don’t want complex web pages which are difficult
We often consider accuracy to be an indication of “rightness” or “wrongness”. But
in practice, when measuring, for example, a distance (kilometres), profits (dollars),
or time (hours), there can only be degrees of “rightness”.
The accuracy with which we can measure something not only depends on our measuring
apparatus (kitchen scales or scientific balance) but on what we are measuring.
For example, how far is it from the centre of London to the centre of Amsterdam?
According to mapcrow it’s 222.16 miles (357.52 Km). This answer uses the latitude
and longitude of each city and is probably the most accurate available but even then
the accuracy depends on the definition of the position of the centre of each city
(see below). Thus there is an inherent inaccuracy in any answer which limits us
to an accuracy of about ½ mile. (The map maker can be more accurate than this but
isn’t bothered about a definition of the centre of each city.) But this answer is
not relevant because it is not the distance we have to drive.
Let’s try Google. Using the E40 road, this gives us a distance of 331 miles, although
the Google map bases the centres of London and Amsterdam on streets which would not
be considered as the centre of those cities by their residents.
The fastest driving time is estimated at 5 hours 50 minutes, but 6 hours 10 minutes
at the time of writing, due to traffic conditions. This assumes we take the car on
Eurotunnel and not a ferry, and that we don’t have to wait. We’ll also want to stop
In our example, we want to decide on whether to drive. The Google information informs
us that it will take most of a day (which is the level of accuracy we actually need)
and therefore we’ll have to travel the day before and day after the meeting.
Google also estimates the fuel cost at £66.59.
So while Google provides very useful information about distance, travel time and
fuel cost, all are quoted with a greater accuracy than practically measurable.
So accuracy cannot be absolute and we need therefore to consider why we need the
information, i.e. what decisions are to be taken, before defining the accuracy necessary.
The distance isn’t relevant to us, other than to calculate the travelling time, which
is very important, but not needed to the nearest 10 minutes. Knowing the fuel cost
to the nearest £10 would be more than adequate, and more realistic.
There is a tendency to ask for information as soon as possible. The speed that information
is required seems to depend on the seniority of the person requesting it. But, there
a contradiction here; the more senior a person is, the more they should be looking
into the future and making strategic decisions. Since strategic decisions are often
arrived at over a period of several months, during which information is gathered
to support the decision, that information is not required urgently.
Surely we need to make decisions urgently? Not necessarily ― other required information
may not yet be available, (i.e. it isn’t complete); the decision may not take effect
for many months; or more urgent decisions must be made. There is also the possibility
(probability?) that the information will lie on our desk for some time before we
look at it.
So information needs to be available at the time we make the decision.
So how do we put these principles into practice - see the next page.