Riding an information wave, the question arises as to what is actually valid. Since the beginning, IT has struggled with the difficulty of pulling together data from multiple sources into one report to compute the data found and generate the final report from the results. As long as there is only one report, discrepancies are not apparent. Creating reports from independently running IT systems on the same issues brings unpredictable inconsistencies to light. The leading causes are the differently understood and independently recorded data sources and paths.
Reliable data increases the quality of a report.
One storage location Redundantly stored data inevitably leads due to erroneous input to inconsistencies, uncoordinated meanings, and different target dates. Global networking allows relevant report data to be stored in one place at a specified time. Plausibility checks minimize inaccurate entries. Eventually, costs are reduced with one storage location and, additionally, through avoiding errors and rework.
Standardized data format Different formats need to be cleansed (data cleansing) before they can be computed. Text fields need to be made computable, non-uniform units converted (orders of magnitude, such as thousands or millions; units of measure, such as meters and yards; currencies, such as Dollars and Euros), and an agreed number of decimal places supplied. Just deadlines in setting exchange rates blur values in reports. Predefined tables for conversion reduce inconsistencies.
Coordinated meaning You cannot see in a number what it is supposed to express. Different perspectives lead to distorted figures and statements. Let’s take the number of employees as an example. Are only permanent employees counted? As full-time equivalents or headcounts? Do temporary and part-time employees also count? Do interns count? Do external freelancers, consultants, and personnel leased count? The purpose determines the counting method. Does an area want to be more productive, or should the headcount be high? Before generating internal reports, the meaning of the term employee should be aligned. Otherwise, wrong conclusions will be drawn.
Synchronized reporting dates
Reporting figures follow a local logic, serve the local management for control, and are determined by the conditions on the spot. It means that the creation by the local IT systems and the associated processes lead to an on-site up-to-datedness of the data. If it is retrieved on a centrally determined deadline, it may not match due to different periods. For example, if the local monthly values vary on the last business day due to various time zones – Wellington, New Zealand versus San Francisco, USA.
Prepared cross-checks Additional info can lead to different results. A hint provides the totals of the overall or unit results, which differ due to the mentioned difficulties or due to the varying views that do not match. If the expected numbers turn out too high, numbers may have been counted twice. If they turn out too low, numbers may have been misinterpreted or are simply lacking. Cross-checks are always needed! If we only have one report, the errors go unnoticed.
Continuous adjustment As errors only become apparent over time, data quality should be continuously observed. As soon as discrepancies occur, they should be understood and corrected, starting with the following report. In this way, you will eventually get a reliable reporting system.
Bottom line: If multiple data sources are available, input errors, fuzzy checkpoints, and different interpretations of data lead to hardly understood mistakes. If there are repeated mismatches, the readers no longer trust the report and the reporting party. Reliability is enhanced by ONE data source, a reconciled and processable data structure, unambiguous meaning, a synchronized target date, prepared cross-checks, and ongoing adjustment when errors are identified. The well-thought-out calculation path provides a correct result that is wrong if the data quality is poor.
A few people will find a book in their bookcase that they cannot decipher. As long as one does not know Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or Greek, one has no choice but to look for someone who can read, understand and transfer the scripture into an understandable language. The meaning of the hieroglyphs could only be deciphered in the Rosetta stone, in which a text was engraved as hieroglyphs, demotic and ancient Greek symbols among each other. There are books like the Voynich manuscript that could not be understood in the past six hundred years. Eventually, we realize that meaning can evaporate without translators, explainers, or experts – what a text means; how to make or use a tool; what purpose a monument like Stonehenge pursued; or how other people see the world.
With the current search for truth and the attempt to regulate language within the framework of political correctness, questions arise regarding meaning.
What is the meaning?
Meaning is the very essence of people, things, locations, eras, and ideas. It is about the characteristics, the material, and immaterial characters of everything – what we perceive, think, exchange with each other, and do. These can be memories from the past, expectations about the future, and all sorts of abstract concepts. Means of expression are primarily words, images, haptics, smells, and tastes, or a mixture of these, like systems that are consciously or unconsciously shaped or emerge on their own. Meaning can be an idea, a theme, a concept/model, a plan, or a realization and describes
– building blocks that make up the whole,
– relationships between the building blocks,
– processes that consist of individual steps and have beginnings and ends,
– qualities that describe the merit of the named components,
– as well as all other aspects that go beyond everyday worldly wisdom.
To paraphrase Ludwig Wittgenstein: Meaning … is what an explanation of meaning explains” (PI560).
Where do we find meaning?
Meaning is found everywhere and always in people and things. The essence of people comes from their outer appearance, social situation, visible and psychological behavior, relationships, and social impact. Things contain meaning through form, function, and their prestige. However, only people can make meaning visible since there is no tangible entity containing meaning with the essence of everything. It takes observers to interpret and communicate meaning – without ancient Egyptians and especially the Rosetta Stone, it would not be possible to access the meaning of hieroglyphics until today. The context provides further clues – the time reference (yesterday, today, tomorrow), the place, or the culture.
How do we acquire meaning?
We perceive our environment with our senses: visually, auditory, kinesthetically, olfactory and gustatory. The pathway into our consciousness is still unclear. In the end, external stimuli expand the mental models that everybody has. In the so-called first-person perspective, each person thinks for itself. The resulting thoughts are only accessible to the respective self. Exchange of views is only possible by providing personal interpretations and transferring associations of the deep structure into the surface structure (e.g., language, images, or sounds). In the process, the message is distorted, generalized, and parts are deleted. The recipients perceive everything with their senses and open it up again for themselves. The meaning is created in the mind of each person. Due to the first-person perspective, however, it can never be verified since it can only be conveyed to others via the distorted statements of the surface structure (see meta-model of language).
What is explained by meaning?
In general, we associate meaning with information and knowledge. Only sensually perceptible stimuli and data are tangible – written documents, pictures, films, sound recordings, things and the like, as well as digital data (e.g., 01001101011001011011010110010100001010). Information results from data that have meaning (e.g., memes – human behavior analogous to genes). When many pieces of information come together, knowledge is formed (e.g., memetics is the study of information and culture based on an analogy to Darwinian evolution). Once knowledge creates beliefs that enable decisions and evaluations, then we speak of wisdom (e.g., Viral marketing exploits the insights of memetics). Meanings resonate at all levels, providing circumstances with beings.
Lost in meaning?
As soon as we leave the first-person perspective and speak of shared meaning, we always deal with the lowest common denominator. And since the rest, i.e., the understanding of the individual, is inaccessible, we have to live with the fact that there are countless interpretations (i.e., meanings) for everything. All for themselves are right. Therefore, for us to understand each other better, it is not enough to distribute our surface structure unedited, but we must shape our messages in such a way that counterparts can understand them – by using their language and jargon, familiar symbols, and so on. Analogies that make the fuzziness manageable supports this. Now, if we can manage to accept other opinions for what they are, filtered statements of first-person perspectives, we will not be Lost in Meanings.
Bottom line: Understanding what meaning is, where we find it, how we can reveal it, and by what it is represented, then it quickly becomes apparent that meaning without people hopelessly vanishes. The Voynich manuscript is a good example. It is physically available, but no human can interpret the signs and images. Whether it means anything, and if so, what is unattainable for the moment. However, this bound parchment has been shown to survive for centuries. To what extent our current flood of data lying on IT storage devices will survive the next one hundred years is pure speculation. Or, in other words, the meanings contained in all these people and things are ephemeral because they do not survive time. The Voynich manuscript, however, has shown us that the meanings of tangible data are also volatile.