In today‘s technology driven world, the terms "data" and "information" are often used interchangeably in conversations. However, even though they are closely related concepts, there are some fundamental distinctions between data and information that you should understand.
In this comprehensive guide, I will clearly explain the key differences between data and information across multiple aspects like definition, purpose, collection methods and more. I‘ll support my explanations with relevant examples and statistics so you can fully grasp how data is different from information.
By the end of this guide, you‘ll have an in-depth understanding of data vs information and how to use them effectively in various applications. So let‘s get started!
Defining Data and Information
Before diving into the differences, let‘s clearly define what data and information mean:
Data refers to raw, unorganized facts or details that act as building blocks for analysis and research. Data by itself carries no meaning unless it is processed and interpreted. Common examples of data include numbers, words, audio, video files, readings from sensors etc.
Information is organized, structured and processed data presented in a context that gives it meaning and relevance for a specific purpose. Information enables insights, discoveries and better decision making. Examples of information include research reports, financial analyses, weather forecasts, driving directions etc.
Simply put, data is a raw ingredient while information is the finished dish made from processing data.
With clear definitions in place, let‘s compare data and information across several key dimensions:
Key Differences Between Data and Information
Data is collected and used for research, fact-finding, analysis and discovery. It aids in investigation and forming hypotheses.
Information helps communicate insights, findings and recommendations clearly. It aims to reduce uncertainty and guide data-driven decision making.
For example, a pharmaceutical company may collect data on different chemical compounds. By analyzing this dataset, they generate the information needed to determine which compounds show promise for developing new drugs.
Data is gathered through quantitative and qualitative techniques like surveys, sensors, web analytics, lab experiments etc. The specific methods depend on the type of data being collected.
Information is derived by thoroughly processing, analyzing, validating and contextualizing raw data into meaningful interpretations.
To illustrate, a retail chain collects sales data from its stores. By analyzing trends and patterns in this sales data, they obtain valuable information on which products have peak demand during certain months.
Data is collected and stored in formats like numbers, characters, images, audio, video files, etc. Structured data is organized in fields, records and files such as databases.
Information is presented in human-readable formats like reports, infographics, documents, dashboards, graphs and tables. The format depends on the intended usage and audience.
For instance, a tech company may store user activity data in server log files. The analytics team then processes this into user engagement reports, infographics and dashboards for the executive team.
Data is objective, factual and precise. It is highly structured and rigid by nature.
Information can be presented in different context and formats flexibly depending on the requirements. It is more subjective in nature.
Let‘s consider product manufacturing – the testing equipment may generate data on dimensions and tolerances. This data is objective and fixed. But the quality control information derived from analyzing this data can be tailored and presented in different ways flexibly.
The value of data on its own is minimal until it is processed into useful information. Data acts as the raw material.
Information holds significantly more value since it conveys knowledge, insights and enables smart decision making. Information is the finished product.
For example, a census survey collects demographic data from citizens. Once analyzed, this data provides valuable information on population trends and segments which guides important policy decisions.
Data depends on some level of guidance from information for it to be collected properly and effectively.
Quality information relies on relevant, timely and accurate data. Information is only as good as the underlying data input.
Therefore, data and information have an interdependent relationship. Useful information propagates more data collection, and more data enables new discoveries in information.
Data analysis typically requires specialized skills like data science, statistics, modeling, computer programming, etc.
Information is relatively easier for the average person to understand and directly utilize for tasks like decision making, content creation, planning, and predictions.
For instance, analyzing raw genomic data requires bioinformatics skills. But a doctor can utilize the information extracted from the data analysis to diagnose and treat patients.
Examples of Data and Information
Let‘s look at some common real-world examples to clarify the differences between data and information:
Examples of Data
- Number of visitors to a museum each day
- Historical stock price figures for a company
- Lab measurements of chemical samples
- Call logs from a call center
- Sensor readings of air temperature
- Locational coordinates from GPS trackers
Examples of Information
- A research report analyzing results of a medical trial
- Weather forecasts predicting heavy rain and flooding
- An executive dashboard showing key business metrics
- A map displaying nearby restaurants and cafes
- Driving directions to a specified destination
- Nutrition information on food product labels
As you can see from these examples, data consists of raw facts, stats and figures while information entails processed and structured data aimed at delivery insights.
Key Stats Comparing Data and Information
According to IDC, the amount of global data created and replicated will grow from 33 Zettabytes in 2018 to 175 Zettabytes by 2025. 
Unstructured data like text, video, and images comprise 80-90% of all data according to Dimensional Research. 
According to NewVantage Partners survey, 85% of senior executives say Big Data initiatives deliver tangible business benefits. 
A Verizon report found that poor data quality costs US businesses $3.1 trillion per year. 
Per IBM, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are generated daily from sources like social media, sensors, purchase transactions etc. 
The McKinsey Global Institute estimates there will be demand for 2.7 million data professionals just in the United States by 2020. 
These key stats demonstrate the exponential growth in data which in turn is driving greater need for processing data into actionable information.
Challenges in Managing Data and Information
While data and information provide immense value, organizations face some key challenges:
Data Quality – Ensuring accuracy and completeness of data from diverse sources is difficult. Social media data suffers from bias, noise and ambiguity for instance.
According to Gallup, poor data quality costs the US healthcare system $700 billion per year. 
Information Overload – The deluge of data, content, notifications and communications makes it hard to identify what information is genuinely useful.
Data Security – Protecting proprietary data from unauthorized access, leaks and cyberattacks is an escalating concern.
Skills Shortage – As per IBM, there is shortage of nearly 400,000 skilled data professionals nationwide.  Developing data, analytics and information management talent remains a challenge.
Integration Issues – Bringing together data from legacy systems, siloed databases and disjointed workflows is difficult and resource intensive.
Compliance Needs – Evolving regulations on data handling, storage, privacy and sovereignty require changes to information management policies and systems.
Adoption Resistance – Lack of trust in data, insufficient data literacy and information overload hinder adoption of analytics and information systems by business users.
By being aware of these challenges, organizations can design mitigation strategies and invest in technologies to enable smoother data and information flows.
Key Differences at a Glance
Here is a quick recap of some key differences between data and information:
|Objective and raw
|Structured and contextual
|Statistics and facts
|Patterns, insights and trends
|Research and analysis
|Decision-making and planning
|Actionable in present
|Specialized skills needed
|More accessible and usable
|IT and engineering
Information Holds More Organizational Value
Both data and information hold tremendous value in the modern digital economy. However, in most organizations, synthesized information is more directly valuable than vast amounts of raw data.
The reason is simple – decisions are made and operational processes flow based on insights derived from quality information. While data fuels the creation of this information, simply having oceans of data does not automatically lead to tangible business outcomes.
Information is the last-mile delivery of processed data to the people and systems that utilize it – like executives, customers, planners and front-line employees.
Therefore, expertise in data science and analytics is crucial to transform opaque data into transparent insights. Information serves as the bridge between raw data and real-world decision making.
Organizations that recognize this and invest in smooth data-to-information flows will gain competitive advantage.
Emerging Technology Trends
Ongoing technology innovations are rapidly accelerating and amplifying the importance of data and information:
Artificial Intelligence – AI algorithms like machine learning can analyze extremely large sets of data to uncover complex patterns and relationships not detectable by human analysts.
Augmented Analytics – Platforms that automate data preparation, insight generation and data storytelling aim to make information more accessible to business users beyond just data scientists.
Blockchain – Distributed ledger technology provides tamper-proof, highly secure ways to record transactions and other data while maintaining privacy.
Edge Computing – Processing data near the source of generation like on IoT devices and smart sensors enables real-time insights and minimizing latency.
Cloud Storage – Virtually unlimited and elastic cloud data storage along with computing resources like AWS, Azure and GCP empower massively scalable information systems.
Open Data Initiatives – Governments, universities, tech firms and other institutions releasing public data fuels innovation, research and entrepreneurship.
Key Takeaways on Data vs Information
Here are the core takeaways from our in-depth look at data vs information:
- Data constitutes raw facts and figures without context while information entails meaningful, interpreted data.
- Information aims to provide insights for driving decisions; data enables investigative research and analysis.
- Data is objective and precise compared to more subjective and malleable information.
- Data requires technical skills for collection and analysis unlike more readily usable information.
- Information holds exponentially higher value than raw data for most business use cases.
- Advances like AI and cloud computing will further expand our data and information capabilities.
- Organizations should focus on effectively leveraging data for insightful information.
I hope this guide gave you a very clear and thorough understanding of the essential differences between data and information. If you have any other questions, feel free to reach out!