Monthly Archives: October 2011

Information Management Trends

Recently, while doing some research, I found in my documents a reference to an old Gartner report on knowledge workers productivity and its relationship to search. This report was from 2002 and stated that knowledge workers spent between 30 to 40% of their time searching for information, and they were less than 50% successful in their efforts. According to Kathy Harris and Regina Casonato – employees got 50 to 70% of information from other people rather than from their search results.

This referred to both electronic and physical documents. Physical documents are usually better organized, electronic often become quickly an information dump. Since then, there were new tools adopted and ratio of electronic to paper documents increased. With wide adoption of tools like SharePoint, instant messages, wireless phone texting, Tweeter and so on, there was a dramatic increase in amount of information that is being created and transmitted. Are we better now with the information management that then? I don’t think so. Although the search capabilities increased, and we use more powerful processors, full content search is still not the answer. Are we capturing more contextual information to help with targeted search? The answer is mostly – no – after seeing multiple implementations of SharePoint. Implementation of SharePoint sites became often too easy, without proper thought put into development of information architecture and governance. Very soon such installations turn into an information junkyard.

So what was the cost of lost productivity then in 2002? Assuming that average fully loaded salary of knowledge worker was about $ 80,000 per year, 30% will come to about $ 24,000 – per worker. These costs are mind blowing, especially if we take into account the success rate of less than 50%. So this raises a question – could be used in ECM business cases to support financial benefits, without accountants rejecting them as purely soft benefits? I touched on this in my previous blog post, and Jason White suggested interesting concept of using Business Intelligence tools to identify these benefits. But how to do it before we have ECM tools in place?

This relates to today’s report from Gartner on top 10 tech trends for 2012. Here are few interesting highlights relevant to information management:

–          Average teenager sends over 4,762 text messages per month – I am sure that busy executives with their Blackberries send less than this but it still shows how quickly volume of information is increasing

–          Context aware computing, using information about end user’s or object’s environment to improve quality of interaction – metadata and information architecture come to mind immediately, and its importance will be constantly growing.

–          Internet of everything with pervasive computing linking information generating input points like cameras, sensors, microphones, image recognition and so on. This is not only about the information volume but also about the privacy.

–          Next generation analytics – improvement in processing power will shift the analytics from data centers to end user platforms, including mobile devices. It will empower the end users to do lot of analysis themselves.

So what this all shows? It seems that the problems from 10 years ago were still not resolved, and information management is still trying to catch-up with technology. The focus of information management will have to shift towards proactive development of agile taxonomies, automatic tools to capture and normalize metadata, facilitating targeted search, as well as making analytics tools simpler for end users. This hopefully will turn into increased knowledge worker’s productivity.

Information as an asset – part II

Last week I wrote about importance of treating the information as an asset. The bottom line is that due to its intangibility, its value is difficult to measure, and thus more often than not, totally neglected and ignored. However, unless the value is shown, the managers will continue sidelining information management projects, unwillingly leading the organizations further into information overload chaos.

So is there any practical advice how to approach the value information estimation?  There is no simple answer as every organization perceives and uses information in different ways. However, like with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, certain set of rules could be worked out allowing building foundation for estimation model.

Why do we need it?

With hundreds of projects, that organizations need to allocate limited financial and human resources, information management projects, usually are low on the list. Exceptions are fancy pet projects, like for example – implementing latest trendy applications. Often such projects bring limited benefits to the organization comparing with costs and efforts invested. Usually their business cases have financial models built on shaky numbers, basing primarily on soft benefit estimations, often discounted by accountants.

The reason why we want to estimate value of information is to make sure that the scarce resources are channeled to these projects that address needs related to what is most important to the organization. The segmentation of the information value could be done from the following three perspectives:

–          Business need – when information is part of the business workflow; related to improvements in productivity; when information is taking direct part in marketing strategy or it needs to be visible to external business stakeholders. Key role here also plays ensuring single version of truth – when the organization wants to make sure that the decisions are made based on latest version of information. The business need also includes improvement of the productivity by allowing users to find the information faster, but also to spend less time managing information that does not have to be managed to the same degree (ex. transitional records). Pareto rule applies here pretty well – spend 80% of your time on managing 20% of the most important informational artifacts.

–          Risk – organization needs to comply with legal, regulatory or statutory requirements; needs to provide evidence of business decisions, activities and transactions

–          Costs – to replace the information or costs related to acquire information, licensing and subscriptions

The value of information is realized only through its use and this should be criteria for its measurement. However – the ‘use’ is totally subjective. Attempts to measure information value by representing it through more tangible dimensions like availability through business intelligence tools or data volume cannot be successful. For example, in case of BI – the way how well information is aggregated cannot determine capabilities of organization’s management. On the other hand, volume of data does not reflect its quality, content or ability to find information within it.

Valuation approaches

As mentioned above, the valuation of the information is often complex due its dependency on many, often intangible factors. However there are some situation that the straight valuation could be done. But first let’s put some groundwork. There are two types of approaches:

–          Qualitative – tending to be subjective, describing information in terms of some categorization, often informal

–          Quantitative – based on hard numbers and as such, more objective and reproducible

The information valuation fits somewhere in the continuum between purely qualitative and purely quantitative. The degree of how close it will be to either side of the spectrum will depend on type of information, how it is used, its purpose, type of business organization, risks impacts, organizational culture and so on. The organization needs to develop set of classes for its informational assets and categorize the assets accordingly. Once this is done, various strategies to manage the information and prioritization of related projects will be possible.


The development of such set of classes should be governed by some basic principles.

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Information as an assset

In some business areas, concept of an asset is fairly well developed. From one perspective the key motivator is usage and maintenance of the assets, from the other side, there is the financial aspect – how accountants perceive the assets and how they depreciate over time. The financial aspect is a great motivator to keep the process clean, as usually it is regulated and affects the bottom line of the company. On the other hand, the usage and maintenance of the physical assets, is less structured but easily understandable. You can see it, you can touch it, if you don’t maintain it, it will stop working.

Financial assets in certain way are different – however their management process is well developed as it is primary vehicle for increasing of the revenues, and mostly is regulated. The same motivating factor of proper accounting plays significant role.

Information as an asset – is much more difficult concept to grasp, and often neglected. One of the reasons is that the accountants don’t know how to book it, so the underlying motivating factor as described above, is simply not there. The only time when organizations dig-in their heels with regards to information – is during contract negotiations when it comes to protection of intellectual property. Otherwise the information is allowed to float with little structure, little oversight, protection and management. However, the information is the asset and as the asset it has its own intrinsic value. That’s true, it is difficult to measure it, nevertheless organizations need to define information as the asset and integrate its lifecycle with their overall operational and financial processes. It becomes even more important, when the focus of the company shifts from delivery of physical goods to services.

The same stages of the asset life-cycle are valid with the information:

  • creation
  • storage and preservation
  • management
  • use
  • disposal

Information shares some of the attributes with the physical assets – for example – being time variant. As it ages, information’s value usually decreases, and this needs to be factored-in when developing information value estimation model.

The most important aspect however is that the information value is realized only when it is used. Information that cannot be found is worthless. That is why ability to search and find information is key element of information management. Technology is less important here, development of right taxonomy, classification, controlled vocabularies with ability to tag information at the point of creation – play key role here.

Therefore to be successful, organizations need to:

  • Define information life-cycle and its value
  • Integrate the information life-cycle with overall operational and financial processes of the organization
  • Define information architecture and keep it up to date