I am trying to figure out the difference between information and conceptual models. For me, both terms seem to mean be the same, but I cannot find a reference where this is established. They are never used together; maybe because they are from different domains?

My question is: What is the difference between information model and conceptual model?


Conceptual model:

A domain consists of objects, relationships, and concepts we commit ourselves to a specific way of viewing domains. [...] In the field of information systems, this commitment to viewing domains in a particular way is called the conceptual model. [Antoni Olivé. 2007. Conceptual Modeling of Information Systems. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg.]

Information model:

An information model is a representation of concepts, relationships, constraints, rules, and operations to specify data semantics for a chosen domain of discourse. The advantage of using an information model is that it can provide shareable, stable, and organized structure of information requirements for the domain context. [Y. Tina Lee, Charles R. McLean and Yan Luo, Information Modeling and Model Implementation. In: Proceedings of the International Simulation Conference, Italy, 2006]


2 Answers 2


Conceptual Modeling, Information Modeling and Data Modeling are all terms that more or less specify the same. I do not believe there is a common consensus about these terms.

When reading the articles of the authors you refer to, I get the impression that (for these authors) Conceptual Modeling is broader than Information Modeling.

A Conceptual Model can contain actors other than only computers (e.g. humans), can contain time aspects (e.g. events, and the required reaction to these events, called Behavioral Modeling by Olivé) and can contain concepts that will not necessarily translate into a data model (“we use the name conceptual modeling for the activity that elicits and describes the general knowledge a particular information system needs to know”).

An Information Model, as used by Lee et. al., has a more narrow scope (“The initial phase for developing an information model starts with the definition of the scope of the model’s applicability. The scope specifies the domain of discourse and the processes that are to be supported by the information model. It is a bounded collection of processes, information, and constraints that satisfy some industry need”) and his modeling seems to limit itself to a subset of the conceptual model. Lee et. al. also write their article with a particular industry in mind, manufacturing, where Olivé does not limit himself to an industry.

For example, a Conceptual Model could model a company including less tangible processes such as Strategy development an Marketing, and an Information Model could model some key process of the company derived from the conceptual model, for example purchasing and logistics.

I did not read their full article. I just did a scan to find where they apparently seem to differ and, as said, there is to my knowledge no clear consensus about what each term exactly means.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for your answer! I had the same impression, but since they are never used together, I thought that there must be a difference. But it is maybe not... $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 11:37

Due to my experience it's quite easy to understand the difference, though for me the difference wasn't obvious for long time.

Let's consider yourself sitting on a chair in your kitchen looking at a table. On the table there are 10 apples of different sizes of two sorts: 3 apples of one sort and 7 for another. Also there are 3 knifes, 2 lemons, and 4 credit cards.

Obviously, we can identify concepts or types like: Apple, Lemon, Knife, Credit Card, Kitchen. We can go from generalized concept "Apple" down to subconcepts of "Apple" of each particular sort, giving definitions to recognize them in real world with our senses. It's obvious that every Apple, every Apple is unique, has identity if we try to compare them precisely, - we'll find they are different. Right?

And this is Conceptual model or Type model or Domain Model where real objects play major role. This model provides structure for natural language used to talk about problem domain . And your above definition is right. We IT guys and analysts require it to be build precisely to get rid of ambiguity, errors, fictions, misunderstanding, slang and etc we normally face on every project where there is no terminology or it's outdated or all the knowledge is in peoples mind and not formalized.

As we are sure with what things/concepts we deal in a problem domain and how they are related, based on the automation task specifics, we can design proper information model. Goal of information model - is to represent structure for collecting information about concepts required for task being automated. Information model can be represented as sheet of paper or database. That's not important. It's just about structure of records about reality required for specific task to be automated.

Can be represented as lines of text on a paper:

  • 3 apples of sort X on table #1 in kitchen #1 at location #1
  • 4 apples of sort Y on table #1 in kitchen #1 at location #1
  • ...

You get rid of each apple identity and record quantities of things of a kind, sort at specific location and etc. Technologically we cannot record every apple as unique, because there is no way to get and record it's identity. Even if we find and record 100 apple characteristics, theoretically there can be two identical with all 100 properties the same. In reality we have an option to find characteristic #101 to differentiate, but information model is mostly static (AI changes this sure. I talk about std information systems). So you have to quantify things.

But with credit cards situation seems different, but generally the same:

  • 1 Credit card #1232233 holder DDDD in kitchen #1 at location #1
  • 1 Credit card #2334234 holder FFFF in kitchen #1 at location #1

We rely on card number pretending it's unique. However due errors theoretically and practically there can be 2 cards with the same number and holder and other properties at the same location. So in information model you'll also record it's quantity if you really want to record reality.

So, the main difference between conceptual/type model and information model is that in inf. model there is strictly saying no possibility to talk about object identities at all.

PS: And what about Primary Keys, Unique Constrains and so on? They are all artificial. In other words you can constraint your info model/database to have just one credit card of each number. But in case someone will issue the same credit card or duplicate and insert it into the same ATM your where near 10 minutes before with your original card, how will you recognize it in information system? No way.

But if two "identical" credit cards are lying at the table before us, we can try to differentiate them by doing precise and long comparison. We can thing and talk about each card as about different objects even without knowing where they are different. It is de-facto assumed in conceptual/domain/type model.

Hope this will help to understand such tricky difference.


  • Definition of Information model you've given I think is correct, but not the best.
  • Axiomatically someone can argue that there is a possibility to create two completely identical objects... Maybe it's possible. Personally I don't know how to employ the same atoms and electrons for two different things looking completely identical.

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