Data vs. Information vs. Knowledge vs. Wisdom

This is about data vs. information vs. knowledge vs. wisdom in IT.

You’ll learn:

  • What Data is
  • What Information is
  • What Knowledge is
  • What Wisdom is
  • The differences between them

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

What Is the Difference Between Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom?

A recent statistic stated that approximately 55.3 million people worldwide would be working in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry full-time in 2020 (pre-coronavirus). 

Those 55.3 million people probably understand the terms data, information, knowledge, and wisdom and how they relate to IT.

But do you? 

What is Information Technology?

You might be wondering what Information Technology (IT) even is.

In general terms, IT is everything that transmits information. This could include everything from symbols and pictures painted on cave walls to something as simple as a single number. 

Fast forward to the invention of computers, and the definition changes a bit.

Computer Notes described it best: “IT is the study, design, development, implementation, support or management of computer-based information systems, particularly software applications and computer hardware.” 

We were using IT before computers were even invented.

However, over time, IT has evolved into digital information technology. 

What is Digital Information Technology?

Digital information technology is a subset of IT that works with the digital aspect. 

What does “digital” mean?

The Cambridge dictionary shows two definitions:

Digital is the “recording or storing information as a series of the numbers 1 and 0, to show that a signal is present or absent.” (This is called binary data, but you’ll learn more about this later.

Digital is the “showing of information in the form of an electronic image.” (This is what computers do by taking binary data and transforming it into information you can see.)

Digital IT has become a necessity for many businesses and organizations, as most rely on computers. 

Why Do Businesses Need IT?

As of October 2020, almost 4.7 billion people were active internet users. That’s a whopping 59% of the world’s population. And it’s only continuing to grow, adding 1 million new internet users per day. 

IT supplies the technological framework for most companies. The majority of businesses today need computers to create, save, store and send necessary information to external customers and internal staff members. 

Most employees perform their tasks on computers and wouldn’t be able to properly contribute to their company if they didn’t have them. Many people (at least in the U.S.) would think you’re living in the stone ages if you never use a computer throughout the day. 

And where there are computers, there is always a need for IT assistance. 

IT departments consist of individuals who work together to manage and process information and find solutions to technical problems that arise.

These specialists typically solve technology issues within businesses or organizations, often supporting the internal staff members with their computer needs.  

People often underestimate this field’s scope, usually thinking IT departments are who you call when your computer malfunctions (or often, when you just need someone to tell you to reboot). While this view isn’t entirely false, there’s a lot more to IT than just that. 

IT offers businesses an extensive list of services. Here are several they commonly provide: 

  • Tech support (also known as the 24-hour help desk you know and love)
  • File server or cloud-based server management
  • Cybersecurity 
  • Data backup and restoration
  • Computer repair 
  • Remote access 
  • Network equipment 
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) such as Office 365 or other email software used by a company 
  • Anti-virus protection

Benefits of IT for Businesses

If you haven’t already figured it out yet, IT plays a critical role in the success of many of today’s businesses. There are plenty of benefits that many people (even business owners) don’t realize. IT can offer the following advantages:

  1. Improves Communication: IT makes it possible for you to quickly and seamlessly communicate with internal employees, customers, vendors, clients, and even your mom (hey, no judgment here).
  2. Enhances Security: It’s a dark web world out there, and you don’t want to leave yourself vulnerable to cyberattacks. Malware, ransomware, viruses, and hackers are all lurking around the interwebs, waiting for an opportune time to strike. IT is the hero that saves the day when this happens and prevents future intrusion.
  3. Saves Money: There’s no doubt that partnering with an IT company can be costly; however, it’s definitely worth the payout. IT helps simplify and organize operational processes, saving time and money in the long run. With a reliable IT team on your side, you can do more faster (and avoid expensive downtime).
  4. Increases Efficiency and Productivity: IT allows employees to produce quality work quickly and efficiently through streamlined operations. It also provides collaborative online work environments and shared storage, making it easy for teams to work together on projects of any size. And when something goes wrong, the IT help desk is always available to provide a timely solution.
  5. Boosts Brand Exposure: You’re practically unstoppable when your company has access to a quick internet connection! With all the technical tools you need right at your fingertips, you can easily promote your brand and communicate with your target audience through a designated online marketing strategy. 

Computers vs. Human Brains

Have you ever felt like your computer was smarter than you?

Well, in many cases, it probably is. In others, maybe not. Computers are processing machines that many believe function much like the human brain (and sometimes better). 

Computer vs. human brain—who would you bet on in a competition? The two are undoubtedly incredible in their own ways, but is one of them better overall? 

The answer is: it depends on the task. Computers are faster at logical calculations, while humans excel at imagination. Either way, both can crunch some serious data. 

There are many evident similarities and differences between computers and the gray matter between your ears. 

Similarities

  • A new study by John Hopkins University has revealed that computers detect 3D objects in the same way as the human brain.
  • Both have the ability to adapt, learn, and understand.
  • They both use on/off switches (neurons for brains and binary data for computers).
  • They each have input/output channels (senses for the brains and monitor or speaker for computers).
  • Both require energy to function and send messages.
  • Both have a memory that can increase.
  • Both can get sick (viruses for computers and diseases for brains).
  • They both process data.
  • Both are able to store data.
  • Both are valuable assets to humanity.

Differences

  • The human brain’s memory never reaches full capacity.
  • Computers have an off button, but brains are always actively transmitting signals (even during sleep).
  • The brain is creative and innovative. Computers are logical and systematic.
  • Brains have built-in backup systems, while computer backups must be created manually.
  • Brain memory can grow instantly through synapses, while computers require memory chips.
  • Computers use more energy during processing than brains do.
  • The brain stores data in electromagnetic form. Computers store data in the form of numbers of symbols.
  • Computers have limited processing power, while brains are unlimited.
  • Brains process slower using neurons (nerve cells that send and receive brain signals). Computers process faster because they use transistors (silicon components used to amplify or switch electrical signals).
  • The brain is constantly organizing itself, while computers are preprogrammed.
  • Computers use electricity to transfer data, and brains use chemicals.

So, there you have it. In a battle between flesh and metal intelligence, it’d probably be a tie. Both have phenomenal capacity and capabilities and are useful in different ways. 

What is Data?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word data means “factual information (such as measurements or statistics) used as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or calculation.” The singular form is “datum,” if you’re interested, but no one seems to use that. 

Data by itself doesn’t mean anything; it must be put into context. What is data in simple words? Facts or figures that can be measured, collected, reported or analyzed. 

In the tech world at its most basic level, data is simply a bunch of ones and zeros, otherwise known as binary data. Here is an example: 01101101. Cool, right?  

Binary data is essentially a computer language that tells the computer what to do. Whenever you tell your computer to do something (I hope you’re not talking to it, unless it’s one of those spiffy, voice-activated ones), it converts the instructions into binary data, and voila! You have beautifully-processed data. 

The simple binary format allows it to be digitally created, processed, saved, and stored on a computer. Then it can be moved to another computer through a network connection. 

Fun fact: only computers can interpret most binary data. Sorry to spoil your Saturday night plans! 

In sum, data is everywhere all the time, from the color of your shoes to the dollar amount on a gas station sign. 

Quantitative and Qualitative Data

What are the different types of data in the real world? It’s important to first note that data is separated into two distinct categories: quantitative and qualitative. 

Quantitative (note the resemblance to “quantity”) data includes numbers, quantities, and values. It is numeral in nature and can be counted or compared. Quantitative data is often used to answer the questions of “what” or “how many.”

Examples of Quantitative Data: 

  • A piece of letter-sized paper is 8.5 x 11 inches
  • The baby weighs 7 pounds and 4 ounces
  • Jim is 6 feet tall
  • Yesterday, the coffee shop sold 50 bags of ground coffee

Qualitative data (note the resemblance to “quality”) represents qualities or features. It focuses more on adjectives and descriptive words and is usually discovered through observation. This type of data is more difficult to measure, as it is open-ended and conceptual.

Examples of Qualitative Data:

  • The dogs’ fur is white, yellow, brown, or black. 
  • Cindy drives a Ford F1-50
  • Ryan lives on Pinecrest Drive
  • Most of the people who attended the conference were Canadian

How is Data Processed?

Computers process data through central processing units (CPUs). A CPU is the brain, if you will, of the computer that is responsible for making decisions and executing instructions. Data processing is the core of a computer’s function, which receives and sends out data.

The faster it goes, the faster your applications will go. This is why your IT specialist asks you about your CPU usage when your computer programs are running at a snail’s pace. 

How is Data Stored?

Computers store data in internal or external storage devices. Internal means that data is stored inside the computer, and external means data is stored outside of the computer. 

Random-access memory (RAM) is an internal storage device that stores the data you are actively using in an application at a given time. RAM can be accessed quickly and is only stored temporarily. 

Hard drives are where computers store long-term data. This can include the documents, photos, videos, and other files you save on the computer, drivers (specific files that allow other hardware devices to communicate with the operating system), browsers that enable you to access the internet, and the code for the operating system itself.

There are also a variety of ways you can store data outside of a computer. You can do this through:

  • Universal Serial Bus (USB) 
  • External hard drives
  • Cloud storage (this has become extremely popular within the past decade, freeing up valuable space on hard drives everywhere)
  • Printing (for all the hard-copy lovers out there) 

Data Examples

Data can come in a variety of forms. Check out these examples of raw data: 

  • Characters or symbols—letters, punctuation marks 
  • Text—names of people, job positions, street names 
  • Numbers—weights, prices, scores 
  • Images 
  • Audio clips
  • Video clips 

What is Information?

Now, we are taking a step up from data and moving on to something bigger and better: information. This term is considered the second level of the intelligence hierarchy. 

Information is “what is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things,” according to Google’s dictionary. It is essentially data that has been converted and organized into a more functional form. It recognizes and presents the relationship between data after thorough analysis. 

What Are The Two Purposes of Information?

Information can be used and interpreted in various ways by many different individuals and groups. However, it serves two primary purposes:

  1. To inform (provide facts)—You can’t learn without information. 
  2. To make judgments—You can’t change behavior without learning from information. Information is needed so you can decide how to act. 

How Do You Convert Data Into Information?

Once you command your computer to perform a task, it will calculate, manipulate, or organize the raw data into something easier to comprehend. Then, it displays this data as information for the user to see. 

An example of this is when you click Microsoft Word, and the program pops up on your monitor. 

The terms “data” and “information” are always being used interchangeably. However, each of these words has separate meanings. Data is useless until it is analyzed. Once sets of data are interpreted, they can become useful and are transformed into information. 

Let’s review: 

  • Data is not technically information (yet). Data is raw materials that can’t become information until arranged in a meaningful way.
  • Information is technically organized data that answers a specific question.

If you want to get visual, think of it like you’re building a house. You’ve got the raw materials (data) you need, and now you’re setting the foundation and framing the data up in a way that makes sense (information). 

Both data and information are connected and depend on each other to provide meaning. 

See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? 

If you’re still struggling to process, here are a few more examples:

  • Test scores are the data. The average score of the class is the information. 
  • Prices are the data. Your grocery receipt is the information. 
  • Dates are the data. Your calendar is the information.  

Why do Organisations Collect Data and Information?

Everyone uses information to some extent; it’s simply a part of life. You’re even downloading information into your brain as you’re reading this. 

Over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created per day. Yes, you read it right. Quintillion.

Businesses and organizations everywhere collect data, develop that data into information, and use it to make decisions for their company. These decisions vary widely and can include things such as: 

  • Improving customer service techniques
  • Discovering and learning about new or prospective customers
  • Growing customer retention
  • Tracking marketing efforts such as digital ads, social media engagement, and conversions 
  • Projecting sales 

Why is the information important to them? Because it helps them analyze the effectiveness of their current processes. You can’t improve something if you don’t know there is an issue. 

Data and information are critical elements of businesses that enable them to understand their consumers, improve processes, view performance, solve problems, and make smarter decisions overall. 

Information Examples

Here are several examples of information you probably see on a daily basis! 

  • Report cards 
  • Receipts
  • Honors lists 
  • Schedules
  • Worksheets
  • News articles
  • Tickets
  • Books
  • Calendars
  • Contracts
  • Instruction Manuals

Which is More Useful: Data or Information?

As previously mentioned, data is meaningless without context. Context gives data value. Data can’t turn into useful information without it. Period. 

However, you can’t have valuable information without data, to begin with. So, the answer to this question has to be neither. 

Raw data is not beneficial unless it’s organized into information, which can then be used to produce knowledge. 

What is Knowledge?

You’re a pro at data and information. Now, it’s time to talk about knowledge. 

WARNING: you’re entering complex territory. But you can handle it! 

How do you explain knowledge?

Dictionary.com states that knowledge is “acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report.” In basic terms, it’s what you observe after gathering data, applying context, and organizing data into useful and valuable information. 

How Do You Convert Information Into Knowledge?

When a computer (or person) acquires knowledge, they can understand patterns within information and data and apply these ideas to future scenarios. Knowledge also allows for increased adaptability and learning. The more you know, the more you grow!  

You can have data and information without knowledge, but you can’t obtain knowledge without data and information. It wouldn’t be possible. 

If you’re into math, maybe this will help Data + Context + Information + Analysis = Knowledge.  

Are you noticing a pattern here? Hopefully, you can gain some knowledge after reading this information (that was produced using various sets of data).

If you’re still finding this hard to wrap your brain around, try reading this quote by an American astronomer, Clifford Stoll: “Data is not information; information is not knowledge.”

What Are the Three Types of Knowledge?

Knowledge can be categorized into several types, including:

#1 Explicit Knowledge

Explicit knowledge refers to something that has been fully revealed without question. In simple terms, it’s what you know. This is the most basic type of knowledge that is articulated through words, numbers, and symbols and can be easily expressed, stored, and transferred.

Examples of explicit knowledge include documented information found in:

  • Dictionaries
  • Encyclopedias
  • Instruction manuals
  • How-to videos

#2 Implicit Knowledge

Implicit knowledge refers to something that is understood without being expressed. It’s the knowledge you have when you know how to do something.

This type of knowledge is much more challenging to transfer, as it is more of an instinct and internal application that often happens unconsciously.

Examples of implicit knowledge include more instinctual or practiced information such as:

  • Knowing how to walk or ride a bike
  • Learning a choreographed dance by watching an instructor
  • Knowing how to play basketball 
  • Understanding how to change a lightbulb

#3 Tacit Knowledge

The final type of knowledge is tacit knowledge, and this comes from experience and context. If someone asked you to describe it or show it to them, you probably wouldn’t be able to do it.

Tacit knowledge is often showcased through performance and imitation.

Examples of tacit knowledge involve more feeling than the other types and can be noted in the following situations:

  • Your grandmother’s apple pie. You tried to recreate it, but it just wasn’t the same. 
  • Your co-worker knows how to synch a sale. Why? Because over time, they’ve learned how to talk prospects into becoming real customers. 

Can Knowledge Be Turned Into a Database?

First, you need to understand the definition of a database. A database is “an organized collection of data that is stored and accessed electronically from a computer system.” 

Databases consist of data in raw form, which still needs to be examined before being applied. So, can knowledge be turned into a database? 

Hey! This is your chance to use the knowledge you’ve acquired from this article! 

The answer is no. Why? Because knowledge is a more advanced form of data. If the data hasn’t been organized into information yet, then it can’t become knowledge. 

However, there is an interesting caveat. 

There are things called knowledge bases.

These are repositories where information is housed, arranged, and shared. Some are created for people to learn from, and others are made specifically for computers. 

Knowledge bases are company hubs that can help internal employees and external customers by answering their questions quickly. Both gain knowledge about the company’s products and services, ultimately reducing the demand for customer support and improving employee training. 

Knowledge Examples

  • Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
  • Process guides
  • Video tutorials
  • Documented internal company policies and tools 

What is Wisdom?

Way to go! You’ve reached the top of the intelligence hierarchy!

Wisdom is the “ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, common sense, and insight.” It’s something you can acquire through personal experience and involves an understanding of principles.  

It controls the choices we make, from what movies we watch to the kinds of relationships we pursue. Wisdom is a deep-rooted concept, often related to a person’s ethical and moral behavior and personal identity. 

Wisdom is influenced by knowledge. It’s impossible to be wise without knowledge. 

What are the Two Kinds of Wisdom?

Aristotle noted that two types of wisdom exist in society. Both are equally important in problem-solving and decision-making. These include:

  1. Theoretical Wisdom: This is knowledge of why something is true in a situation (notice the word “theory”). It’s focused more on the reasoning and beliefs involved in specific scenarios. When applying this type of wisdom, people observe others’ successes and failures to see what went right and what went wrong. Theoretical wisdom applies to things we can’t change.
  2. Practical Wisdom: This is knowledge of how to act in a specific situation. It’s focused on putting knowledge into practice and acquiring hands-on experience with real-world events. People using this type of wisdom are concerned more with doing rather than observing. Practical wisdom applies to things we can change. 

How Do You Convert Knowledge Into Wisdom?

Observation is vital when it comes to transforming knowledge into wisdom. You can decide the best way to approach a situation after examining past experiences or listening to others who have experienced the same thing. 

You (and many computers) can process data, organize it, extract meaning from it, and use it to benefit yourself and others. Many researchers have differing opinions about whether or not computers can be considered knowledgeable or wise. 

Wisdom Examples

“Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.” -Albert Einstein 

Humans have been chasing after wisdom since the dawn of time. Some have found it. Others are still searching. According to one of the world’s most famous theoretical physicists, finding it is a lifelong journey. 

You might be wise if: 

  • You know when to ditch your plans and be there for a friend in need. 
  • You know when you should spend money or save money. 
  • You know that tomatoes are fruit, but you refrain from putting them in your fruit salad. 
  • You know what to do when a female in your life starts crying. 

But remember, you can be totally aware of something (knowledgeable) and still not make a wise decision. 

Which is Better: Wisdom or Knowledge?

“Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when to say it.” -Unknown

Similar to data and information, wisdom and knowledge are often used interchangeably. However, as you’ve seen, they also have distinct differences in meaning. 

Knowledge is simply knowing facts. You can gain knowledge quickly by reading a book or listening to an expert. 

Wisdom, on the other hand, requires discernment and perspective and is usually acquired over time. It’s also the ability to know what the most pertinent information is in a given scenario. 

At the end of the day, you can’t have wisdom without knowledge. Nonetheless, wisdom is king, as it’s the highest level of intelligence.  

What is the Relationship Between Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom?

All four of these concepts are interconnected. Well, except for data. It’s the only one that can stand on its own, but it doesn’t really have much of a purpose when it does. 

Data, information, knowledge, and wisdom, are different in that they each have their own definitions. 

Data consists of facts. Information is an assembly of the data. Knowledge is the awareness of the information. And finally, wisdom is the accumulated knowledge to make appropriate decisions depending on the situation. 

What is the similarity between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom? 

They have one thing in common: all are required to gain insight.

Data + Context = Information

Information + Analysis = Knowledge 

Knowledge + Discernment = Wisdom   

Examples of How Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom Work Together

It’s truly a team effort to understand! Listed below are a couple of real-life examples of how these terms coincide:

Imagine yourself as a hiring manager for a local marketing agency. 

Data: Ages of employees: 20, 32, 45, 63 Names of employees: Emily, Monica, Derek, Brian

Information: Emily is 32. Monica is 45. Derek is 20. Brian is 63. 

Knowledge: The average retirement age for men is 64. 

Wisdom: Brian is planning to retire soon, so you should start training one of the other employees to take over his position. 

Imagine yourself hungry on a Saturday night. 

Data: You have 3 candy bars in your kitchen cabinet. 

Information: Each candy bar has 30 grams of sugar. 

Knowledge: Eating a lot of sugar can cause weight gain.  

Wisdom: You only eat 1 candy bar.