Data are the raw bits and pieces of information with no context. If I told you, “15, 23, 14, 85,” you would not have learned anything. But I would have given you data.
Data can be quantitative or qualitative. Quantitative data is numeric, the result of a measurement, count, or some other mathematical calculation. Qualitative data is descriptive. “Ruby Red,” the color of a 2013 Ford Focus, is an example of qualitative data. A number can be qualitative too: if I tell you my favorite number is 5, that is qualitative data because it is descriptive, not the result of a measurement or mathematical calculation.
By itself, data is not that useful. To be useful, it needs to be given context. Returning to the example above, if I told you that “15, 23, 14, and 85″ are the numbers of students that had registered for upcoming classes, that would be information. By adding the context – that the numbers represent the count of students registering for specific classes – I have converted data into information.
Once we have put our data into context, aggregated and analyzed it, we can use it to make decisions for our organization. We can say that this consumption of information produces knowledge. This knowledge can be used to make decisions, set policies, and even spark innovation.