Exploitation and Discovery

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A few years ago, the department of information studies at the University of Sheffield invited me to be a visiting professor. At every visit, I find myself challenged and stimulated by the questions I am asked by undergraduate and postgraduate students. The department already uses a video they made of me talking about my vision of information management for use at Department Open Days, and yet still the students come to hear me in person, which is very gratifying. On a recent visit, I talked to an undergraduate student who was starting to look at what might be her first step on a career in information management. Like so many information professionals, I got into the business by accident, after discovering that I was not really that good at chemistry. While not uncommon, that approach is difficult to commend to a student.

On the train home, I started thinking about where the new career roles would be in information management. I came up with two new roles: information exploitation manager, leading eventually to senior VP of information exploitation.

This idea came as a result of reading an excellent report from Capgemini in the U.K. (www.uk.capgemini.com) titled "The Information Opportunity." The report summarizes the outcomes of a survey of senior managers in the U.K. corporate and public sectors. The main finding is that a broken information culture—that is, the values and behaviors associated with how they collect, use, manage, and share information—is endemic in the U.K. and is believed to suppress performance by an average of 29%. This equates to an annual £46 billion (about $90 billion U.S.) missed opportunity for private sector profits and £21 billion (about $41 billion U.S.) in administrative costs across the public sector.

The author of the report is Ramesh Harji, head of information exploitation at Capgemini U.K., and it immediately struck me that this is a role that needs to be replicated in every organization. Time and time again, I find that there is no one person charged with responsibility for information management in an organization, leading to there being no quality standards for information and no serious sponsorship of the intranet.

However, information exploitation must go much farther than an intranet. The role must be about the systematic analysis of information requirements and assets and ensuring that these assets are exploited to the maximum extent by the organization. The skills needed include a sound understanding of the business processes in the organization and the decisions that need to be made within these processes. The Capgemini survey found that 63% of survey respondents faced making crucial business decisions without the correct information on a daily basis, while 28% experienced this frustration up to five times a day.

The second role is that of information discovery manager. There is now mounting evidence that enterprise search is broken. Dion Hinchcliffe, a well-known business strategist and enterprise architect, remarked earlier this year that workers are still left with literally no choice but to pull their information from the web or to sequentially rummage through various silos to piece together what they need instead of putting a few keywords in an enterprise search engine and scanning the results (http://blogs.zdnet.com/ Hinchcliffe/?p=157).

However, search is not the only way of discovering information. Search has to be placed in perspective, with due account taken of the benefits of effective information architecture for all information applications, the achievement of good usability, and effective version and metadata management in document and records management systems. I’d have to say that over the years I have been singularly unimpressed by the engagement of chief information officers in anything other than nicely normalized SQL databases. In general, they define "information" in a very narrow way. I would expect that all the senior managers interviewed by Capgemini worked for organizations with someone in the role of a CIO, even if not the job title, and yet managers are making decisions based on gut feelings rather than on quality information.

Both of these roles are ones to which information professionals should aspire, and their professional organizations should be lobbying for them. In the case of the U.K., that is unlikely to happen in the next decade. By then the U.K. will have wasted more than £600 billion (about $1.1 trillion U.S.) if the Capgemini figures are anywhere near reality. I suspect that it is worse than the survey indicates. What is really needed are some visionary companies to create the post, appoint from within, and support for more than just a few months. Broken information cultures take more than a Band-Aid to fix.