Intelligent information Featured

11:21am EDT August 20, 2004
The Internet world that businesspeople operate in today makes a vast amount of information available. The endless flow of e-mails, reports, white papers, spreadsheets, data from enterprise applications, phone calls and "guidance" from many sources are supposed to make workers more effective in their jobs.

The irony is that this constant flood of information doesn't make the process of making good, sound decisions any easier. The challenge lies in being able to extract the information that is valuable and setting aside that which just isn't important to the task at hand.

Studies show that many professional employees spend up to 60 percent of their time in activities related to gathering information, essentially clerical activities, in order to make the decisions that are really the heart of their jobs. So we are faced with two related problems -- an overwhelming volume of information to wade through and a lack of coordination around delivering information effectively. This lack of effective management of information affects not only the traditional decision-makers but all workers throughout the organization, from the call center to the executive suite.

A new kind of supply chain management
Because of these problems of control over information, at Innovative Consulting, we've begun introducing the concept of "Intelligent Information" to our customers. By Intelligent Information, we simply mean managing information intelligently -- providing all workers with precisely the information they need, without overload, in a form that fits the way they use the information.

Intelligent Information can be viewed as supply chain management (SCM) for the information assets in your company. In the SCM systems in place today, processes and technology are used to manage and streamline the flow of raw materials, intermediate products and finished goods among suppliers, companies, and distributors or customers. Intelligent Information sets in place processes and technologies that manage and streamline the flow of an asset that is just as important as any raw material or finished product -- information.

The key to effective SCM is to get the right asset, in the right condition, at the right time, for all steps in the process. The key to Intelligent Information is to get the right information, in the right context, at the right time, to all of our information workers.

You're probably saying, "But we share information every day. We couldn't do business if we didn't." That's true. But businesses have been around for a long time without formal SCM systems in place. It is equally important to have good management and control practices for tangible and intangible assets.

In both cases, the goal is to be better at something that we already do, something that we've been doing for so long that we don't even think about it.

Plan for change
Intelligent Information isn't focused only on technology. It's about realizing that everyone in the organization both consumes and produces information. It is critically important for each of us to get the information we need to "consume" to do our jobs, and that the information that we "produce" arrives where it is needed and is not wasted.

The first step to deliver Intelligent Information in your organization is to develop an Enterprise Information Strategy (EIS). It is critical to understand what information should flow from person to person, role to role and team to team within the organization and with external parties such as customers, suppliers and partners.

The purpose of the EIS is to identify the information that all parties need and map it to the processes that make it happen. I'll discuss the EIS in more detail in next month's column.

The bottom line is that information is a critical asset for any company, and needs to be managed as such. Intelligent Information represents an approach to making sure you get the best value from this asset.

BRYAN McCLAIN (bmcclain@icimail.com) is the business intelligence practice manager at Innovative Consulting, an IT services company focused on delivering business intelligence solutions. Reach him at (610) 725-2101.