An overview of personal information management

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Personal information is typically any information that is related to either an individual’s personal or professional life. This information can take many forms including data files, emails, browser bookmarks or other digital assets. If a business is trusted with their customers’ personal information, it is important that a knowledgeable information scientist is hired to defend that information from being compromised. Allowing this personal information to be lost or tampered with due to mismanagement or malicious activity could have significant negative repercussions for the customer, such as identity theft.[3] A key strategy to help ensure greater data security involves implementing personal information management systems that allow for the safe and efficient storage, management, retrieval and display of personal information.

A significant responsibility of any information scientists focuses on reducing the complexity of personal information management tasks for themselves and their colleagues. This can be accomplished by incorporating the latest information management systems and techniques. For anyone interested in the field, it is important to build a detailed awareness of both the benefits and risks associated with personal information management.

How Can Computer-based Personal Information Management Systems Be Used?

For the purpose of managing data, information scientists must understand that personal information can be classified into six broad categories:[1]

  • Information owned by an individual
  • Information about an individual
  • Information directed toward an individual
  • Information transmitted by an individual
  • Information relevant to an individual
  • Information about an individual’s experiences

Depending on the circumstances, each category of personal information can be used in different ways. For example, information about an individual may be a name, Social Security number or address. This data can easily be entered into a personal information management system and used to quickly pinpoint a single person or group of people within a massive database. At a more complex level, personal data collection could be used by performance tracking software. This type of information can then be leveraged, for example, by manufacturing firms to monitor the production of employees and systematically rank those employees based on performance. Those rankings could be applied to career advancement decisions, policy redesign and a host of other organizational initiatives.

Applying this type of information through computer automation and specific software saves a vast amount of time when compared to manual alternatives. It also delivers more usable information. This demonstrates the value of finding innovative ways to ensure that personal information is correctly archived, organized, analyzed and made accessible.

The Risks of Personal Information Management Systems

Compared to just a few decades ago, the volume of business interactions that occur online is massive and growing. Cloud-based storage has eliminated the need for physical storerooms. Social media, email, video conferencing and instant messaging have almost entirely displaced traditional communication methods such as physical mail. Most notably, sales payments and other financial transactions are routinely carried out online. These digital interactions could contain private user information that, if stolen, may lead to personal identity theft, compromised business operations, falsified personal documents, or the loss or unwanted distribution of sensitive data.

There are many ways in which personal information can be criminally accessed or compromised. A disgruntled employee may use network privileges to covertly steal important files (75 percent of inside employees stole material they were authorized to access[1]). Security flaws in a network may be exploited remotely to steal important data. For these and other reasons, information scientists should routinely review their firm’s information security policies to ensure that firewalls and network authorization protocols are being utilized to prevent unacceptable behavior.

Personal Information Management Practices

Sometimes, personal information management systems do not provide everything individuals need to perform their jobs well. To supplement the effectiveness of these systems, there are other smaller-scale actions that employees can use to safely and efficiently manage their personal information. In a study by, a group of industry researchers determined that the following methods of personal information management were of the most reliable[2]:

  • Capturing information for later use prevents the consequences of forgetfulness.
    • Capturing pictures of important notes or events via smartphone
    • Emailing notes to oneself
    • Keeping specific notes for each project or topic
  • Systematically organizing information makes data easily accessible.
    • Organize information by project (one folder per project)
    • Standardize folder/file names across all devices for easier searching
    • Rely on strong metadata and computer search functionality to find personal information
  • Sorting tasks allows easier management of attention/productivity.
    • Use calendar applications to manage future events and set reminders
    • Keep a running master list of all major tasks
    • Keep important computer windows open as a reminder to complete tasks
  • Limiting clutter of personal information prevents data fragmentation.
    • Store all files in the cloud, rather than in multiple locations/applications
    • Be specific when naming files to prevent confusion about file versions
    • Move all old and inactive files to archive subfolders

As the ease of accessing and utilizing personal information increases, so does the amount of time that firms must allocate to protect, secure, organize, analyze and correctly leverage that data. Through a Master of Library and Information Science degree, students can contribute to key innovations in the field of personal information management. They can learn how to observe the actions of their colleagues to identify which computer-based tools and individual practices can be used to improve business productivity through effective personal information management.

Learn More

Information means more than knowledge, it means solutions. When technology, people and information intersect, society and industry benefit. You can harness the power of information with our online Master of Information degree at Rutgers University.

Recommended Readings:

How Data Is Stored And What We Do With It
The Future of Big Data: Data Wrangling
4 Impacts of Data Analytics on the Success of a Company