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Information management (IM) entails collecting data and learning from it through the application of computer science and information technology methods, including data analytics. IM is a broad field with many applications.
Companies rely on information management professionals to help craft a business strategy and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace. Information management improves record-keeping and efficiency and also reduces costs. All businesses can utilize the data and analytics gleaned from information management techniques to improve their bottom line.
Informatics don't just impact business practices, however. Healthcare information management professionals, for example, gather and study data to find more efficient and equitable care practices. And such practices aren't limited to healthcare. Many corporations utilize information management to pursue social change and meet sustainability goals.
If you're looking for a career in which you can promote inclusion and social responsibility, a Master of Science in Information Management may be a good fit. This article discusses how. It also addresses:
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the idea that businesses must address social issues in addition to focusing on profits. Engaging in this form of corporate citizenship improves what's known as "the triple bottom line": profit, people, and planet.
Are you a cynic? Then perhaps you think the purpose of CSR is to signal that businesses are doing the right thing to leverage positive sentiment and sell more products. Fortunately for people and the planet, the end results are similar regardless of the motivation.
Big businesses contribute substantially to the world's environmental challenges. In recent years, corporations have improved their environmental performance by focusing on sustainable development through three approaches.
The first is to utilize fewer natural resources. The second is to recycle the resources they utilize. The third is to offset their carbon footprint (typically through planting trees or donations) to make up for the non-renewable resources they consume. For example, Amazon plants trees in the Amazon rainforest to offset the paper goods it sells. Creating a sustainable business can also help profits, especially as consumers become more conscious about the planet's well-being.
Many businesses struggle with ethical responsibility—the fair treatment of people (including employees and consumers). Ethical responsibility includes paying a livable wage and not purchasing products made by factories violating basic human rights. For example, Facebook recently faced ethics scrutiny for work conditions in its Kenyan content moderation center. Companies with the most forward-thinking corporate governance may move their manufacturing facilities to the United States, which has stronger labor regulations and unionization protections.
Many companies donate to charitable organizations. According to Digital Information World, businesses that donated the highest percentage of their wealth in 2019 included Gilead Sciences, Goldman Sachs, and Pfizer. Philanthropy isn't always entirely altruistic, of course; the New York Times reports that donations help the ultra-rich hide their wealth. Further, many organizations do not disclose where donations go. Providing greater transparency is an area in which information management professionals can improve philanthropic ethics.
This is where companies follow through with their goals vowing to forego (some) profits in the name of social good. Economic responsibility combines the responsibility categories we've previously discussed.
Businesses can use information management strategies to increase transparency. This could increase social good while boosting competitiveness in the marketplace. As an old saying puts it: sunshine is the best disinfectant.
Information management approaches to improving ethics and social responsibility are not new. One 2007 article entitled "Environmental management systems: Information management and corporate responsibility" concludes organizations looking to improve their environmental impact must provide better information to stakeholders. The right data can aid in the decision-making process to create new environmental management systems and improve sustainability.
Data can also be instrumental in diversity. According to the EW Group, diversity data offers insights about the makeup of your company's workforce (including sexual identity and race). Decision-makers can then utilize it to improve company policies. For instance, this data can show how inclusive hiring initiatives are working. Information management professionals need to establish data gathering systems in impactful but non-invasive ways, which can be a difficult dance.
In a 2018 paper entitled "Unpacking the Role of Data in Philanthropy: Prospects for an Integrated Framework" Bixler et al. discuss how organizations (they don't specify corporations) rely on metrics to answer questions relating to the who, what, where, and how of money distribution. For instance, when benefactors and community leaders evaluate data together, they can establish a more impactful resource allocation plan than philanthropy organizations that simply guess where money should go.
The impact of social responsibility policies comes down to the people who implement them. If you work for a company just looking for a tax loophole, it can be tough to make a difference. All the same, success stories exist.
One post on the University of Washington Information School blog discusses how a MSIM student, Alan Butler, utilized his information management skillset to bring many Afghani refugees to Washington state. According to Butler, the master's degree he completed helped him see beyond the data sets to his work's impact on real humans.
Another post blog discusses how Leticia Y Romo Bueno, who took refuge in the United States as a child, is using her master's degree to help others struggling with immigration. As someone who arrived in the US as an undocumented immigrant (she now resides in the country legally), Romo Bueno experienced first-hand how poor access to information hampers immigrants' efforts to integrate, advance, and access needed service providers. "I’d like to try to bridge the information need that's out there for communities like mine," she explains. "Having that personal experience and gaining knowledge through the MSIM program will help me do that."
This depends on your program. The average length of a full-time graduate degree is two years, but it's possible to complete some programs in 18 months or less. Earning your degree part-time takes longer but has benefits. Students currently working in the field can put their education into action immediately. Pursuing this pathway may mean spending several more years in school.
Your master's program application will probably include standardized test scores (unless your school is test-optional), a bachelor's degree, a personal essay, letters of recommendation, and your official transcripts.
You'll be better qualified for a program with a relevant computer science or business background. Some schools ask inexperienced applicants to complete remedial coursework to catch up. The University of Washington offers different tracks for experienced and inexperienced applicants.
MSIM programs do not follow standard curricula. One institution may have a business focus, while the other may center around new technology. Students can have wildly different experiences based on track and electives, even at the same school.
That said, MSIM programs typically cover common subjects. For one, you'll learn how to database creation and management methodologies. You'll take deep dives into data visualization, cloud computing, network administration, information organization, and web app development. You'll learn leadership and project management techniques, explore case studies in various ethical scenarios, and study business laws and ethics.
Many programs offer opportunities to specialize. These tracks typically require additional core and elective coursework, plus a thesis or capstone project, allowing students to bring their education into the real world. Specializations are sometimes called tracks or concentrations.
Opportunities differ by school. University of Washington offers six specializations, including business intelligence, data science, user experience, information architecture, and cyber security.
Top master in information systems programs include: