Managing Information for the Competitive Edge

PART 6: INFORMATION WITHOUT BOUNDARIES

Introduction

Originally, this part of the book was to be devoted to articles that represented the very best examples of information management practices. Being from a Faculty of Information Studies, we hoped that these articles would show information specialists playing a prominent role in achieving the goals, influencing the decisions, and contributing significantly toward the productivity of their organizations. We sought exemplary articles that would demonstrate how information specialists were at the forefront in anticipating the needs of their managers, supplying them with relevant, synthesized, analyzed information using the appropriate internal and external, personal and impersonal, local and far-flung sources regardless of the technologies involved. We were convinced that information specialists had the knowledge and skills to satisfy even the most information-hungry organizations. The problem, then, was simply to find a few articles to confirm our convictions.

After extensive and repeated manual and online reviews of the literature, discussions with colleagues, consultants, and other experts, we finally acknowledged that our quest for the perfect articles demonstrating information specialists spearheading the information services of their organizations was a futile one. We found few articles devoted to an organization-wide view of information management. What we did find were many brief descriptions of a particular aspect of an information service, and numerous hortatory pieces suggesting what information professionals ought to do to become more valued members of their organization. In some cases, the most intriguing material appeared in proprietary consultants' reports or other sources that were not readily reproducible. We also found that the practice of information management in some parts of Asia and Europe was more advanced than in Canada and the U.S. and that in the case of Europe, especially Britain and Scandinavia, these practices were extensively documented in the open literature. In the end, we consoled ourselves with the realization that had there been an abundance of articles describing exemplary practices, the need for this book might not have been as urgent.

Although we are still convinced that information specialists have the potential to play a central role in managing information in organizations, we have also come to realize that there are still deterrents to overcome before that bright future is realized. The constraints or boundaries that act as inhibitors are attitudinal, geographical, organizational, professional, and technological.

For too long, information specialists have been isolated both literally and figuratively from the critical policy and decision making processes of the organization. Too many still operate in a reactive mode, gathering, conserving, and storing information. Today's organizations, forced to review the necessity of all functional areas, require professionals to be proactive, accountable, and team players. It is no longer enough to have the largest, most current collection or provide access to commercially available online services or networks. Organizations want their information to be analyzed, synthesized, and customized and to contribute directly to their productivity and profitability. Information professionals are expected to work as active partners with other information professionals such as data analysts, systems designers, hardware and software engineers as well as professionals in research and development, planning, and marketing to ensure that the information environment of the organization is fully integrated with the mission and ultimate success of the firm. Many librarians are already performing in this mode and achieving unprecedented recognition and awards. For others, a seachange in attitude will be needed.

In addition to attitudinal changes, information specialists will also need to expand their geographical horizons. The xenophobic tendency of North Americans to disregard developments in managing information beyond our shores cannot be justified. There is much to learn from organizations in Asia and Europe who have used advanced information management strategies to become formidable competitors in the global marketplace.

In North America, many organizational barriers remain to be breached. Too few decision makers and senior managers really appreciate the need for planned, integrated, networked information management. Nor is the relationship between information and innovation, information and productivity, or information and profitability fully understood or supported. For their part, information specialists must be prepared to function at all levels of the organization, contributing to information needs across functions, processes, and even countries as required.

Successful information specialists will embrace new technologies as indispensable tools that enable them to create, organize, and deliver information in innovative ways. They will go beyond existing databases to shape systems and networks that become a critical part of the intelligence of the organization.

Last, as professionals, information specialists will use their wide-ranging skills and knowledge to provide vision and direction to the other professionals working with information and to the organization as a whole.

The first article, by Tom Davenport and Larry Prusak, reinforces many of these views and extends them further. They too contend that too many librarians continue to view the library as a warehouse or an expertise centre when they should be operating as overseers of a multi-media network providing access to internal and external, personal and impersonal sources. They urge librarians to align themselves with others in the organization skilled in both information content issues and the infrastructure of information provision. In their view the library as a physical entity may well become unnecessary whereas the roles of librarians may indeed expand to become more important than ever before. They go on to outline how this may be achieved.

According to the experts, few western companies have truly embraced the notion of information management as a vital component of business success. Rather, it is the Japanese who have recognized the interrelationships between information and competitiveness and have closely tied the role of information systems and services to the achievement of corporate business strategies. B. Bowonder and T. Miyake have written one of the few articles that describes in detail the internal operations of a major Japanese company. They analyze the process whereby Nippon Steel Corporation, the world's biggest steel manufacturer, creates and sustains competitiveness through information management. They show how the company uses environmental scanning and analysis, multilevel information systems, information accumulation, horizontal information flow structures, organizational learning, information fusion and concurrent engineering to integrate functions, centralize control, decentralize decision making, build competence, and foster new business development. They illustrate how the strategic applications of IS and IT combine to transform Nippon Steel from a resource-based to a knowledge-based industry that can maintain its pre-eminent position in the global marketplace. The Japanese example of information management that is totally integrated into the operations of the firm is indeed impressive. However, as the authors point out, it has taken years to evolve to its present form and relies on a business culture that emphasizes team work, information sharing, and achieving harmony between information management strategies and those of the corporation as a whole.

In the west, it is the highly competitive, research-intensive industries such as the financial services firms and the drug manufacturers that have developed sophisticated models of information provision. The role of the information professional in providing competitor intelligence to the pharmaceutical industry in Britain is described in the article by Bijel H. Desai and David Bawden. They interviewed the managers of information units in ten companies to determine the place of Competitor Intelligence in the units' activities; the importance of CI to the organization; the way CI is provided; the sources used; how the value of CI is measured; whether CI is integrated with other information systems; and the extent to which technology is used in providing CI. The comments of the managers as they chronicle their successes and frustrations make compelling reading for information professionals struggling to provide actionable intelligence to the diverse user groups in their organization.

What becomes clear from the literature is that managing the information requirements of organizations has acquired a new urgency as firms compete in a global environment. Information needs are complex and the skills required range across professional domains that have previously been quite distinct. J.E. Herring, the author of the last article in this volume, argues that effective information management in the future will necessitate a convergence of professions. By analyzing advertisements for jobs in healthcare information management, he provides persuasive evidence to prove that qualified candidates will have to combine knowledge and skills in information analysis, information resources, information storage and retrieval, information technology, systems analysis, and strategic management. For those who have the requisite expertise, the future is indeed bright.

Further visions of the directions in which information management in general and libraries in particular are likely to go as we approach the 21st century are included in the Additional Readings.