Data are Carriers
In the usual sense of the term, data are considered carriers of information and knowledge. The flow of data in organizational processes among the functions that carry out process activities takes place through various media, particularly, paper, digital electrical impulses (e.g., electronic data interchange systems), analog electrical waves (e.g., telephone), electromagnetic waves (e.g., radio), and air vibrations (e.g., face-to-face conversation). Data can also be stored for later use on different storage media, such as magnetic media (e.g., hard and floppy disks), paper, and volatile digital memories (e.g., RAM memory in personal computers).
Data are either transferred or stored through a process of "changing" or generating perturbations on a given medium. A blank sheet of paper, for example, can be used for data storage (e.g., to write down an address of a friend) or transfer (e.g., to write a memo to an employee by applying ink to paper). Or, from a more business-oriented perspective, if a machine operator wants to tell his supervisor about a problem with a metal-shaping machine, the operator can approach the supervisor and speak face-to-face. In doing so, the operator uses vocal cords to generate vibrations in the air (volatile data) that will be received and decoded by the recipient through hearing organs.
Data will only become information or knowledge when it is interpreted by human beings (Kryt, 1997) or, in some cases, by artificial intelligence. (See Russel and Norvig, 1995, for an example.) As data can be stored and transferred by process functions through applying changes to storage and communication media that will be interpreted by other process functions, an operational definition within the context of process management might be as follows:
If John performs an organizational function, such as carrying out an activity in an organizational process, then the data are permanent or volatile changes applied to a communication medium by John to store or transfer information or knowledge. These will later be used by John or someone else (or an artificial intelligence agent) to perform an organizational activity.
The measurement of data depends on the medium used to store or transfer it as well as on the code used. In most organizational processes, data can be measured in words or symbols, when the medium used is paper, and in bits or bytes (1 byte is a group of 8 bits), when the medium used is a digital one.
In many ways, a bit can be considered the smallest and
most fundamental unit of data. It can take only two values: 0 (or false) and 1
(or true). A group of 8 bits forms a byte; and, since the number
of possible bytes is 28 or 256, there can be a direct correspondence between bytes and certain symbols (e.g., the letters of the English alphabet and other alphabets). One such set of symbols, which is largely used to convert alphanumeric characters into bytes and vice-versa, is called the ASCII code (American Standard Code for Information Exchange). Most computer operating systems use the ASCII code, or an extended version of it, to map symbols that have meaning to human beings (e.g., letters and numbers) into bytes stored in any of the computers' data storage devices (e.g., RAM, hard disk, etc.).