Information Life Cycle

Information Life Cycle


Scott Andersen, Senior Architect, USMCS Microsoft Certified Infrastructure Architect

Lou Mandich, Program Manager, II Exchange Product Group

Microsoft Corporation

March 2007

Applies to:
   Information Management
   Intellectual Property (IP)
   Intellectual Capital (IC)

Summary: Organizations must get the right information to the right person at the time required to make the right decision. (15 printed pages)


Information Life Cycle
How Is the Information Created?
How Is the Information Delivered?
Managing Information Within the Life Cycle
Complexity Versus Management


An initial concept in this white paper is information as either connected or disconnected bits. This concept refers to the fact that information can be created formally (connected) or informally (disconnected), yet still lives within both the intellectual property/intellectual capital (IP/IC) capture process, as well as the broader IP/IC life cycle.

A second concept is the three evaluation criteria that we apply to information as it is considered for use. These three are relevance to the end user; impact on the organization; and proximity to the end user. As we move through the paper, we will return often to the themes of relevance and proximity. Impact on the organization is a predetermined aspect of the information life cycle. A good example here is the medical field, in which high-impact changes in medicine are often documented and their use enforced by an external group or body. Other examples of this would be SOX compliance or court-mandated information management.

An assumption of this paper is that the impact on the organization is controlled externally of the information life cycle—and, for that matter, of the organization itself—and cannot be controlled by the organization. As such, we assume that this component of the life cycle changes slowly over time, giving us plenty of warning when processes and procedures must be altered to adapt to the new regulations.

Within every organization, there are pockets of information commonly referred to as intellectual capital (IC). Information might be locked in the head of senior employees who have been completing a specific task for many years. That is called tacit information. Other companies have evolved past the expert system and begun documenting the information that they have created. An expert system combines knowledge and expertise with quick access and ease-of-finding expertise. An expert system is frequently based on an IM backbone with a method for extracting who is an expert (and what they are an expert in). The knowledge in an expert system is tacit, but the application moves more towards known or qualified information. This is called explicit or connected information. In all cases, information begins its life in a disconnected, tacit form. This is represented as a concept or idea that is generated by a single person or a group and is less structured. Frequently, this genesis is in response to a simple "Why?" or "Why not?" question. As information becomes more structured, it moves from disconnected to tacit and then, finally, to explicit.

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Figure 1. Information in the organization (Click on the picture for a larger image)

Information Life Cycle

We start with disconnected information. This information might exist in the head of a single person and might never be shared. As this information is used, it either becomes/remains useful or drops back into the disconnected bits. Managing information through this process becomes an exercise in knowing when to formalize, rationalize, and eventually discard information. We call this the information life cycle.

As information in its earliest form moves within a group of people, there are considerations about the application of the information within that organization. These considerations ultimately shape both the impact of the information and the form that the information will take.

This brings us to the overall concept of life-cycle management for information. Life-cycle management for information really presents the concept of the carrot and the stick for IC in an organization. The carrot is the encouragement of the creation and genesis of new ideas. The stick is the requirement that upon certain critical mass, information must be moved to the more formalized delivery systems. As an example of an expert system: John knows how to fix the copier on the third floor; ask him. In a broader case, John works for Company X that makes Copier Y. If you call their help desk and ask for John, he can fix the copier. The first example is tacit knowledge that is semiformal in that we know John can fix the problem versus the much more formalized call. In this call, the help desk of Company X opens a call, and John will fix the problem. If the same problems continue to exist over time, the company might formalize John's knowledge in an FAQ page for its customers; and, if they are still making the copier, they might in fact place all of John's "troubleshooting tips" into an FAQ section of the user manual itself.

These considerations for information include the following:

How the information is created

  • Systemic
  • Environmental
  • Trial-and-error (or ad-hoc)

How the information is delivered

  • One-to-many presentation
  • White paper
  • Web site FAQ
  • Web site informational
  • Web site directed (link sent with e-mail, and so on) to a specific Web site
  • Application-based delivery via managed expert system
  • One-to-one presentation:
    • Word of mouth
    • Ad-hoc communication

How the information is managed

  • Complexity of the information
  • Complexity of the creation process
  • Complexity of the management system
  • Financial impact of IP/IC creation

Type of information created

  • Tacit (created and stored informally):
    • Human memory
    • Local hard drive of the computer
    • Expert system (moving tacit information into a formalized structure)
  • Explicit (created and sorted formally):
    • Network share
    • Network Web site/intranet
    • Informal knowledge-management system
    • Document-management system
    • Formal KM system

Value of the source

  • Age of the information
  • Proximity of the information to the consumer
  • Source of the information, and previous interactions with that specific source

How Is the Information Created?

Figure 1 shows the concept of a mass (disconnected bits) that represents ad-hoc and tacit information. The connected bits represent the organized components of tacit information (expert systems), but they also represent formally created IP/IC in the organization. Disconnected bits can become connected bits within the organization, if the need for the IP/IC increases (relevance). Connected bits can become disconnected bits over time, as solutions can morph and change—leaving pieces and components of the previous solutions as IP/IC bits that are no longer connected to their original source.

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Figure 2. Information process flow (Click on the picture for a larger image)

With the introduction of disconnected bits, tacit knowledge, and explicit knowledge, we can now show the initial creation process for information and how all of this comes together. An idea that might start life on a napkin in the disconnected space will move into the tacit space, as it becomes more accepted/leveraged. This represents the component of knowledge in an organization known as intellectual capital (IC). This capital might never become explicit knowledge (we will discuss this later). As we move from tacit to the more formal explicit knowledge, we begin to see the structured management of intellectual property within the organization, as shown in Figure 2.

This leads us to our initial concept for this IC/IP in an organization.

How Is the Information Delivered?

Organizations must get the right information to the right person at the right time to make the right decision.

Consuming Information

Information flows within the organization are based on both the relevance of the information and the overall creation process. Organizations with excessively formal IP-creation processes often tend to have a longer gestation period for their IP. During this gestation, the IP tends to live in tacit form, with a heavy reliance on expert systems for information delivery. A more informal organization might respond more quickly to the IP in terms of its formalization, but then has a less formal delivery system. This balance between creation and reuse is critical.

There are considerations around the following:

  • Can the information be easily consumed? (Is it in a format that the consumer understands and can use?)
  • Can the information be easily applied directly to the problem/issue that is being researched?

Limiting factors in the reuse of static IP/IC are often consumption and application brought about by the failure of the search process. When two people interact in a system, the "expert" or person providing the information provides the relevance of the information by simply starting the flow at the moment required, based on the initial user's question. Essentially, when two humans are communicating, there is a fluid and almost infinite exchange of metadata to find, communicate, contextualize, and consume the information. Automated IP/IC systems cannot do that today, as it would require a massive management system for the creation of the IP/IC.

So, we look for a balance in the creation and management processes. By seeking balance, we in effect create a layering process within the organization around the concept of IC/IP. By creating this layering, we balance the creation of IP/IC against its relevance and the management requirements.

There are four tiers to the life cycle of information, which are relevance, timeliness, ease of reuse, and the impact of the information on the organization.

I often use the concept of a baseball to discuss this "dissipation" of energy within information. A baseball that is thrown 66 feet (from the pitcher's mound to the catcher) can average a speed in excess of 90 miles an hour. If you push that distance out to 132 feet (or double), the average speed of the ball decreases. How far the information that a user requires is from what they need determines the proximity and timeliness of that information. For example, pitchers' mounds are always 66 feet from home plate. If you doubled the distance, the pitcher would not be as effective and would have to leverage a completely different type of pitch. In an organization, a user might experience one of the three failings of information proximity:

  • Inability to find the information easily
  • Inability to validate the source personally/professionally
  • Inability to use the information in its current format

A good example here is an IT professional attempting to resolve an issue with designing a new solution for the infrastructure. Searching internally for something that is completely new will result in no information. You might ask a few coworkers; but, because this is something new for IT, there is not a lot of information. You can always ask the only person in the company who has heard of this solution, but you do not know that person. So, you ask the vendor for information on the solution. You are writing an architecture plan, project plan, and risk document. The vendor sends you a white paper on specific features that you will not leverage in your initial implementation, as well as a video. In this case, you can see that it was not easy to retrieve the information. You were able to validate the source by leveraging the vendor of the solution, but the information that was provided to you was unusable.

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Figure 3. Relevance of information to the user (Click on the picture for a larger image)

In the baseball analogy, we talked about the effect of changing the pitcher's distance from home plate. Baseball pitchers train for years from the same distance, and any change quickly throws them off their game. The same is true for the use of information. Mentioned previously were the four components of the life cycle: relevance, timeliness, ease of reuse, and the impact of the information on the organization. Couple this with the cost of IC management and creation, and we have the table shown in Figure 3. Our first consideration is the relevance of the information to the end user. Simply put, relevance of information means that:

  • The information applies to the problem that the end user is facing.
  • The information is easily consumed and applied to the problem.

An end user might spend more time looking for more relevant information. If it directly solves the problem, the research time is worth the result. This brings us to the second bubble, which is the impact on the organization. This allows us to build out the concept of the nature of the issue/concern/problem and the cost of the solution. It's cheaper, over time, to solve the same problems in the same ways (as long as the solution does not cause the problem).

Issues that have great impact on the organization should be documented and addressed by the solution. They become structured. There are two factors that define impact to the organization in the world of IP/IC. The first, as we documented earlier, is a formal external requirement on the organization. This provides the organization with no other recourse than to complete the required or mandated process. The second impact on the organization is the time to solution (TTS) that the IP/IC system provides. When people consider a solution, they evaluate the three factors that we've discussed in this paper: relevance of the information to the specific problem, impact on the organization, and proximity of the information when selecting the information that they intend to use.

We now have the four critical components that drive the two bookends of cost of creation and cost of management.

Managing Information Within the Life Cycle

A critical path for most organizations is the life cycle of the information that they leverage within their organization. This can manifest itself as a knowledge-management solution or as a compliance effort within the organization. In Figure 3, we see a view of IP/IC within an organization. In this view, we see that there are three toppling factors that have a greater influence on the IP/IC than they are often given credit for: cost of management, cost of creation, and value of the source.

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Figure 4. Cost of IP/IC management (Click on the picture for a larger image)

Cost of Management

The first area to consider is the cost of IP/IC management. Within the life cycle of IP/IC, there is a creation process. How that process moves information from the lowest to the highest levels requires a management system. In Figure 4, the two primary factors that drive IP/IC management complexity of information are:

  • Required or mandated process.
  • Type of knowledge (tacit or explicit).

Within the life cycle of information, the path that the IP/IC takes within the organization is fairly consistent from a management perspective. This simplified view of IP management within an organization is achievable and manageable. Going back to the original concept of connected and disconnected bits of information, we can now minimize the complexity of the creation process, which will allow for rapid information flow throughout the life cycle. Yesterday's discarded idea might be the IP/IC that saves the company tomorrow! This comes from the concept that an idea never really disappears. An idea does not have a physical essence that ceases to exist when the idea is "no longer relevant." Some component of the idea—or even the entire idea—might be recycled, to be used in another idea or concept. Hence, the concept of yesterday's discarded IP/IC might be the next great idea!

Cost of Creation

The cost of the creation process then becomes an issue. Many organizations rush information from its tacit state to a formalized state much too quickly. The reverse is also true with organizations that slow the IP/IC creation process.

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Figure 5. Cost of IP/IC creation (Click on the picture for a larger image)

In Figure 5, we have a rough view of a simple IP/IC creation process that allows for a high-level costing model. The cost of IP/IC is relative to two things: the management process and the potential loss if the IP/IC is not applied in time. The validation piece is simply a determination of the impact of the information on the business. IP/IC that generates significant cost savings or rapidly decreases the time to solution would be fast-tracked through the validation process. The overall management process then ensures the quality of the IP/IC while moving from idea to solution.

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Figure 6. Decreasing simplicity and increasing IP/IC cost (Click on the picture for a larger image)

We can make our simple IP/IC life cycle more complex very quickly by adding additional gating. One of the value propositions of the information life cycle is the containment of the management process, which allows organizations to shepherd critical information through the system. By adding additional buffers (which might be required in some instances), you add to the overall complexity of the IP/IC creation process.

There are many critical factors that influence the cost of IP/IC creation. What we see from Figure 6 is two of these factors. The first factor is the overall cost of lost time for an organization. The medical profession is a good example of this. Surgical life-saving procedures that are significant changes from what has been done before can be quickly shepherded through the information life cycle. Information that is no longer relevant can be quickly pushed out of the critical systems and into less critical systems, pending their eventual retirement. The other side of this concept is the FDA, which maintains long approval processes for new drugs that at times can cost lives. The two sides of the coin, then, are light process (publication in a journal), which quickly moves a life-saving surgical technique to a larger population, and heavy process (FDA), which might drag on for years before allowing a life-saving drug to emerge.

The second factor is complexity within the various systems that ultimately interact with the IP/IC that is being produced. An example of the impact of complexity would be "the one that got away." An idea and the implementation concept behind the idea can often be fleeting. Complexity or blockers applied early in the information life cycle can force good ideas to escape without ever being realized, or not realized in time. Like the previous FDA example, the complexity might at times inhibit some people from benefiting from the life-saving drug.

Value of the Source to the End User

An interesting concept with human beings is the assigning of value of source. The relevance of that source to "our problem" can actually affect the use of an IP/IC system. If people don't trust the source of the information, they are less likely to use the information. Add this to the additional components of IP/IC age and proximity, and we see that the value of the source can have a huge impact on the life cycle.

  • Age of the information
  • Proximity of the information to the consumer
  • Source of the information, and previous interactions with that specific source

These three factors create the value of any specific source. For example, knowing who has the answer to your question makes you more likely to take on a tough task. But how do you know what another person knows? Normally, this comes from previous interactions with that person. However, of the three factors in the list, that one in fact is the least scalable going forward.

Organizations can control the age of information and the proximity of that information to consumers. Controlling the age of information is simply best handled by applying a security principal known as TTL (time to live). Each document that is created should include a time that it is relevant. Then, upon updating documentation or information, that TTL can be changed. The issue with proximity is to control the access to—and the location of—the source. My favorite example of this type of requirement is again from baseball. When a player standing at home plate hits a pitch and the ball heads towards the shortstop, the shortstop, depending upon the number of people currently on base, must make a decision about where the ball will go. But the shortstop knows that there are only four choices, and each has a specific impact. Based on that, the shortstop knows exactly where to throw.

As with cans of green beans and pop, there should be a label with every piece of information. This label, or metadata, would identify both the source of the information, as well as include a "freshness date" for the information. Adding this information in today's world would be cost-prohibitive. However, the result would be a more managed set of information within the organization. So, we have to start peeling the onion by looking at information and how the source appears to the consumer.

Metadata in and of itself can have a significant impact on the overall IP/IC life cycle. Its primary focus area is the proximity of information to end users. The concept here is the overall reduction of the time to solution (TTS) by the use of metadata. Tagged information can provide the end user with a greater range of searching options, which reduces the overall impact on the organization and increases the hit rate (proximity) of information for the end user.

The relevance or value of a source is much harder to control and manage. This is a balancing act that requires both understanding of overall life-cycle requirements for the information and an understanding of the impact on the information. You can train a shortstop to make the right decision the majority of the time, relative to the small number of choices and options that person might have in the context of the particular play. What you cannot do is train the shortstop to throw the ball to first base, if they know that the first baseperson will never catch the ball. The value of the first baseperson is less, because it is known that they cannot make the play. This applies to information, in the sense that it's difficult to understand who the expert is. Expert systems can help with this issue within an organization, but they take time to implement and manage that adds to the overall cost of IP/IC system. Communities are another option, with the subject-matter expert (SME) system leveraged, but they also take time and add to the overall cost of the management solution. Perhaps the cheapest solution is the constant iteration of information, which adds to the cost of IC/IP creation and management, but at the same time creates a rhythm within the IP/IC consumers' community.

To me, this brings us back to the original list with which we started:

  1. How the information is created
  2. How the information is delivered
  3. How the information is managed
  4. Type of information created
  5. Value of the source

The source of the IP/IC sits in these five buckets. The drivers become how the organization handles the three drivers of the relevance of IP/IC: relevance, validity of the source, and proximity. You need a life cycle within the organization that can nimbly respond to age and relevance requirements, while at the same time keeping the overall proximity to the user. Applying these three simple concepts to an organization allows us to create guidelines:


  • Is the information current?
  • Information needs both a time to live and a time of expiration.
  • The cost of refreshing information must be managed.
  • The cost of managing old information needs automation.
  • Formal validation system (not required for all IP).

Validity of the source

  • Does the information solve the problem quickly?
  • Is this is a known expert?
  • Is the information easily applied to the problem?
  • Formal validation system (not required for all IP).


  • Is the information consumed easily?
  • Can the user access the information easily?
  • Is the information consistently distributed for ease of reuse?
  • Is the source managed, so that critical changes are reflected in such a way that previous users can just skim for changes?

Complexity Versus Management

A filter that we can apply to information is complexity versus management. Simply put, this represents a set of information that will be created and the management capacity required to maintain that information. A good example of this is a surgical technique that reduces patient fatalities during brain surgery. The management requirements for this type of information would be high (peer-reviewed journal, validation and acceptance prior to publication) and the complexity also would be high (level of information gathering prior to the production or genesis of the new information). The value of the information would be extremely high, and the issue then would be the source. That would require a validated and accepted source for the information, such as the New England Journal of Medicine. We can draw an initial assumption out of this concept, around the concept of information complexity versus information management.

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Figure 7. Information complexity mapped to management (Click on the picture for a larger image)

  1. As information complexity increases, management requirements also increase.
  2. As relevance of information increases, the management requirements for information also increase.

Complexity and relevance drive the management requirements for IP/IC within the organization. Additionally, cost is a factor in the sense that IP/IC that is expensive to produce must have a longer life cycle than information that can be cheaply reproduced. A good example of this would be the concept of schematics for a jet airliner. You would not want to reproduce those every week. However, usage manuals for the onboard video system might be something that you update often.


Figure 8. Logical presentation of information within an organization

Now, we introduce the painful concept of unmanaged IP/IC. In a life-cycle process such as this, there has to be an IP/IC cliff where previously useful managed IP/IC falls off the cliff into the unmanaged space. By unmanaged, we are now applying a filter to organizational data. Within the life-cycle process we have established relevance and reuse and the previously discussed component of a search process.


Figure 9. Organizational search

Both the expert and the formal KM systems must be easily accessible and searchable. Simply put, this is the foremost information that is related to the topic in question within any organization. You always want people to find easily and effectively both the "premier Information" and the premier expert on that topic. By coupling that with a relevance scale, such as reuse and applicability ratings, you can begin to manage the information in the top information tier.


Figure 10. Information being removed from top-tier systems

Heading from the formal information in the top tier, we now look at the less formal information in the lower two tiers of the system. There is an information-relevance question that we will not answer in this paper, but that we would like to throw out for people to chew on: "Does information ever die?" We see in our system diagrams and flow charts that information loses relevance. But does it ever completely cease to have any value? That question is outside the scope of this white paper, but I am sure it will spark many a debate offline.

Relevance and proximity are the critical components of the top tier. The lower tier is more reactionary and includes a level of "brainstorming" that is simply not feasible (or advisable) in the higher levels. This brainstorming is often the response to the question "Why?" or "Why not?" How organizations manage these lower systems can be stimulating to the environment or can stifle the brainstorming and creativity that is required in the initial levels. The real formality in these types of systems has to be around the way the information moves from the ad-hoc system to the informal KM system. In this step lies the concept and the process of documentation or formalization of the information. In the formal system, a document should contain references, a table of contents, and legends for all tables and graphics. But in the initial phases of creating information, that would be just too much information and would in fact slow the process. In this initial phase of questioning and wondering, a simple mind map might in fact be more than enough—a mind map in this case being better then a napkin, in that at least it can be carried forward from its original electronic form.


Figure 11. Initial phases of creating information

This brings up the overall question of tacit knowledge and how it moves through the system to become documented information or explicit knowledge. For example, how do you handle information that does not currently have an electronic component? The perfect example of this is the genesis of an idea on a cocktail napkin. While documented in its current state, does it have value? The other side of this is the expert system tacit knowledge, such as "Only Anna can fix the copier" or "Frank knows how to get office supplies." Based on the life cycle, this information might sit forever in a series of tacit systems. From a simple system—such as asking your mentor, friend, or the person next to you who can fix the copier—to the more complex resolution of business problem on the napkin, this type of information lives outside the formal system for IP/IC in the organization.


Figure 12. An IP/IC ecosystem

Looking at Figure 12 one last time, there are a couple of areas that come to the front. First of all, organizations have a formalized/informal process to capture IP/IC in their organization. Many companies have rigid systems that jump too quickly into the managed end of the spectrum. Other companies spend far too much time incubating their ideas and often lose them. Creating a normalized flow for information becomes the driver that is the information life cycle.


From disconnected bits to the broader organizational pain of "Organizations must get the right information to the right person at the time required to make the right decision," how an organization shepherds information through its life cycle can quickly determine the impact both of their IC/IP and the retention of that information. The critical factors that apply are the relevance of the information, the validity of the source, and the proximity of the information. This allows us to move through the IC/IP life cycle, taking us from the disconnected bits of intellectual capital that "might be a good idea" to the applied solution of intellectual property that has worked time and again to solve a specific problem. We see how information can flow in the organization, starting by improving existing IP, or by a wholly new idea that will affect the business.

How we track, manage, and encourage the creation of the "disconnected bits," as well as how easily users can leverage the "connected bits," are by-products of the information life cycle. Depending upon the information and the nature of the business will determine the path for the IP/IC. Some information, such as new surgical procedures or life-saving processes, might require a formal life-cycle validation system. But all information lives in the life cycle. Like a gardener, the organization must shepherd the information through that life cycle.


This white paper started life as a disconnected bit in my head, while running. I have spent years as an IC/IP manager at Microsoft. For three years, I ran our internal U.S.-wide IP/IC system. During that time, I listened to people who were not submitting to the IP/IC system. They felt that the taxonomy and other requirements were too stiff and rigorous. Yet, on the other side, the same people complained that the search was ineffective. Balancing this incongruity is the information life cycle.

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