Seven Characteristics of Computer Information

By Janice Uwujaren

You can store it, retrieve it, withhold it, protect it and it is sometimes worth a lot of money. Information has become the cornerstone that connects the world. It is everywhere -- from the largest mainframe computer to the tiny Android or iPhone in the palm of your hand. Information transforms into computer information when it is stored in a system to support calculated decision-making. There are certain characteristics computer information must possess to be useful and meaningful, work for the consumers of that system and is critical to effective system design. Computer information must be designed to be relevant, complete, timely, accurate, accessible, understandable and valuable.


Information, to be considered relevant, must meet the requirements of the information consumer group. This means the system contains data the consumer can use or is of value in some significant way. Relevant information also contributes to the overall success of a system. Irrelevant information could result in system mortality because consumers will not use the system if the information is not necessary or has no value. System designers can avoid this fate by evaluating computer information for factors of relevancy such as importance and alignment with business or project objectives.


Information must be complete to provide consumers with a full and operational picture. Similar to a blind spot when driving a vehicle, incomplete information is a serious problem that can render a system unusable and significantly impair a user's or business' ability to make effective choices or draw accurate conclusions. Information that is not complete is as bad, if not worse, than having no information at all, because it represents a misleading or skewed view of the data. A computer information system should include a measure for managing, handling or preventing missing data


The need for speed and timely access to computer information is paramount in this digital age, especially for businesses. To be timely, information must be dynamic and available when needed. Timely computer information can give an organization an advantage over the competition, which can positively affect the bottom line or be financially profitable. Alternatively, lack of timely information can cause costly delayed reactions. An effective way of ensuring your computer information is timely is by employing data modeling techniques or identifying patterns in your data to enable predictability.


For information to be meaningful to consumers, it must be accessible and within reach. If information consumers are not able to access the data when they need it, it can lead to frustration. An example of an issue that can cause computer information to be inaccessible is performance. If a system is slow or goes down periodically, it can affect a consumer's ability to perform job duties effectively. Organizations can benefit from implementing a framework that enables easy access to computer information. This includes ensuring users have the proper permissions to view, add or manipulate information contained within a system.


Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) is a computer science reference that effectively illustrates how data quality can affect a system's output and can hamper effective decision-making capabilities. A system is only as good as the data you put in it. Verification of the accuracy and completeness of the computer information is crucial to ensuring the computer information meets business needs.


Unambiguous and understandable computer information means it is explicit, clear and concise. There is no chance the data can be misinterpreted or misunderstood. On the other hand, ambiguous information can result in multiple interpretations of the same data, which can cause confusion and discord in a system's framework. Even if the information is clarified, the damage to a consumer's perception of the data may be permanent or may take time to reverse.


Valuable computer information is tied closely with an organization's business objectives and drivers, so much so that many organizations are demonstrating value by classifying and treating their computer information as strategic assets and employing information assurance techniques to protect that information. The value of computer information can be measured based on an entity's reliance on such information or how much an entity is willing to pay for information.