What is an information model?

Informatiemodelleren 1

Information models are powerful tools. They help us dissect complex problems, design solutions, and share information, allowing us to better understand the world around us. But what exactly is an information model and how do you create one? In this series of four blog posts, we explain in a simple and understandable way what an information model is, why information modeling is important, and how to create an information model. We conclude with an example of how information modeling is applied within the education domain. In this first blog of the series, we explain information modeling in a simple and understandable way. We base this on the Metamodel Information Modeling, a standard for describing information models in the Netherlands.

What is an information model?

A model is a simplified representation of reality made for a specific purpose. Models are pragmatic tools, but they do not have universal validity. An information model is a model that describes the data needed to support a certain process or function. An information model is like a simplified map of reality, made for a specific purpose. Imagine you are making a map of a city to find your way. You could include every small detail, such as every tree or lamppost, but this is not necessary for your specific purpose. Instead, you could focus on the main elements for this purpose such as streets, buildings, and parks. This is what an information model does, but for information about objects from reality instead of the physical objects themselves. Below are some of the main elements that an information model consists of according to the Metamodel Information Modeling:

  • In an information model, we describe the main 'things' or concepts in a certain domain. We call these 'things' object types. For example, in an information model for a school, object types could be things like Student, Teacher, Class, and Subject.
  • Each object type has certain properties or characteristics, which we call attribute types. For example, a Student can have attribute types such as Name, Age, and Student Number.
  • Object types can also be connected to each other. We call these connections relationship types. For example, a Student 'follows' a Subject, or a Teacher 'teaches' a Class.
  • Sometimes we have groups of attribute types that together form a logical whole. We call these data groups. For example, Address Details could be a data group that includes Street Name, House Number, Postal Code, and City.
  • Finally, we have value lists, which indicate the possible values that an attribute type can have. For example, the attribute type Gender can have a value list with the values 'Male', 'Female', 'Other', 'Unknown'.

All these elements are displayed in a diagram, similar to a city map, where the object types are the buildings, the attribute types are the details of the buildings, the relationship types are the roads between the buildings, and the value lists are the possible colors of the buildings.

In summary, an information model is a simplified map of reality, made for a specific purpose. It consists of object types (the 'things'), attribute types (their properties), relationship types (the connections between the 'things'), data groups (groups of properties), and value lists (possible values of the properties). In the next blog, we will delve deeper into the usefulness and benefits of information modeling. So keep reading!

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