Guest post from Allan Foster, information industry consultant and writer.
For 22 years the Business Information Survey has been charting developments in business information use through an annual survey of information managers. It is published each March in Sage’s quarterly journal Business Information Review. The focus of the Survey has changed over time, from a concentration on sources of information to key issues in corporate information management.
The methodology has also changed, from an open, widely distributed questionnaire to a series of in-depth interviews with a small number of senior corporate information managers. These are mainly based in the UK but many work for global businesses and have responsibilities for international services. It is a kind of ethnographic survey, a series of ongoing conversations with trusted colleagues, trying to chart year on year changes in their services, roles within their organisations and strategic priorities. It has only been possible to do this and to get brutal honesty from respondents by honouring a rule of strict confidence and aggregating results so as to avoid disclosing any identities. Most but not all respondents are involved in the Survey each year. The 2012 Survey included fourteen of the interviewees from the previous year whilst eight were new participants.
Although the respondents represent a range of corporate information, library & research services, across industrial sectors and of varying sizes, the Survey has no statistical representativeness or significance. But, given the seniority and frankness of the respondents, the findings provide a rich narrative of current practice and future intentions.
This year’s respondents are, on the whole, cautious about the likely fortunes of their companies and of the information/knowledge and research units they run. However, there is considerable evidence that they are tackling their managerial challenges with realism, imagination and gusto. But there are also warning voices about the sustainability of the conventional model of information services delivery. Here are some of the key issues:
- Resourcing – content and staffing budgets under pressure but have stood up very well. Generally stable.
- Integration of external and internal information
- Mobile digital devices – expand tailored information delivery and service support
- Externalization – more working with partners, third parties, individual contractors. Implications for licensing, vendor relations and support
- Encouraging collaboration – sharing of explicit/tacit knowledge, removing silos, encouraging communities of practice, the rise of SharePoint
- Retaining human intellectual capital in severe organizational turbulence, in particular in mergers and de-mergers
- Service style – innovate, excite, engage, pro-actively rather than reactively
- Vendor relations undergoing major change, including content licensing, negotiating and service supply issues
- Outsourcing/offshoring has expanded and has become normalized as standard and mature service model
- Major push to improve search and data mining capabilities.
- Enhancing analytical skills of IS/KM staff, either direct or via outsourcing contractor
- Continue to improve position of IM/KM in company’s value chain, including understanding rather better how to add more value
- Mergers/de-mergers have significant effects on IM/KM cultures
- Growth of workflow systems as crucial back of house vehicles for extensive, globally distributed information services
These and other issues are developed much more fully in “Let’s integrate” – information services, content, technologies and collaboration: The Business Information Survey 2012. Business Information Review 29 (1), March 2012.
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Allan Foster (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an information industry consultant and writer, previously Director of Information Services at Keele University and a senior information manager at Manchester Business School, Lancashire Polytechnic, Sheffield Polytechnic and the British Institute of Management. And a long time member of SLA. (Twitter: @allanfoster48)
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