Information Management, what the heck is it?

I have a masters in ‘Information Management’ from the University of Washington and yet I still find myself continually wondering, what the heck is information management. When I try to explain the information management program at the UW I usually explain that you can think of it like the TMBA (Technology Management MBA) but the difference is the percentage of focus (This could also explain why it feels the EMSIM/MSIM program is often fighting to recruit the same students)

I imagine the TMBA might have a 70% business focus and a 30% technical/IS focus (I don’t know this for a fact, this is my gut feel from looking over the curriculum). And the MSIM program having something like a 30% library science (yes the MSIM program is under the ‘information school’ which is kindof a red headed step-child like program under continuing education, you can definitely feel this when you are trying to register for classes) 30 % business, 30% technical/IS knowledge  and 10% HCI type stuff focusing on the ‘human needs’. Actually the program is more fractured than this, but you can get the general idea.

To me it felt like the program was trying to be everything to everyone, a shotgun approach to learning. The description of the program notes that degree holders work in fields from web development to CIO, from database management to training specialist.

Don’t get me wrong though, the program wasn’t too bad. I did find though, that the greatest learning was from working with the other students. They were very high caliber. Since the program professes to ‘integrate’ so many different disciplines, you get a great range of people who are enrolled (a beneficial side effect of a strangely designed program). This meant that even though we were possibly working on a somewhat stupid project, learning did happen. Not about what we were studying necessarily, but from the process itself. Maybe we were really part of some double blind study, seeing whether we could learn in spite of how they were teaching it.

Now, of course, this is all a matter of opinion. I think I prefer more structure to my learning, at least at first to establish a foundation to build upon. Some Lego learning building blocks.

Instead I was met with shifting sand, moving targets, large inconsistencies, vagueness, smoke and mirrors. Once again maybe that was the point, life is not cut and dried, in the real world deadlines and requirements and feature creep etc… is everywhere and commonplace.

Maybe I was just not prepared for the ‘real world’. But to me there is good chaos and bad chaos. Good chaos being experimenting, learning from failure, exploring, playing, combining, synthesizing, focus, real world experience, creating something real. Bad chaos is unplanned, unprepared, miscommunication, varying expectations, politics interfering with learning, unqualified teaching, lacking of real world experience, creating smoke.

I can deal with chaos, but the MSIM program had a little too much bad chaos for my taste. Trying to be the chimera of all degrees is the weakness and the strength of the program. Its strength because it brings together a wonderful group of people, its weakness because each of these people are expecting to learn such very different things. It’s almost a bate and switch.

Focusing more on connecting each nebulous blob of learning might help. Better informing your students about what they are getting into can’t hurt. Figuring out some core competencies and focusing on them might help. Or go to the opposite extreme, create an individual, custom program for each student.

I completely got sidetracked from my subject of ‘what the heck is Information management’, but it seems that the definition is completely different for each individual and each organization. What is its scope? Why everything of course. So in preparing to study information management realize that everything is within its scope. That’s very powerful, but also lame. What are you studying? Well, everything of course. The meaning of life, the universe, and everything. 42


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