"Managing Information for the Competitive Edge"

Ethel Auster and Chun Wei Choo


Information has become a uniquely strategic resource for any organization, as vital as land, labor or capital, and yet imbued with its own special properties that enhance its importance. Labor or capital are depletable assets - the more one uses them, the less one has. Information on the other hand is a regenerative resource that not only grows with use, but can be used over and over again in different contexts to create value in multiple ways. Within an organization, the exchange of information and ideas among knowledgeable members can result in new insights that are more powerful than the individual pieces of information. Between organizations, the sharing of information and data can synergize relationships to dramatically improve the performance of the sharing parties. At the same time, the unmanaged spread of information can have debilitative consequences. Gossip and rumor can break the spirit of a healthy organization. Information dependencies between organizations can allow stronger partners to dominate the weak. In a sense then, information is also a risk-laden resource - there is so much information available, but one must be careful not to be misled by spurious information; there is much to be gained by sharing information, but one must be selective about what information to give away and what to hold back. The message seems clear: information offers both risks and riches, and the outcome depends on how well the organization manages its information resources.

Information management is the harnessing of the information resources and information capabilities of the organization in order to create and reinvent value both for itself and for its clients or customers. While information management is hard to define, there is no difficulty in spotting an organization that has managed information effectively. An information-savvy organization is an intelligent, learning organization that is skilled at creating, acquiring, organizing, and sharing knowledge, and that is able to adapt its goals and behavior to reflect the new knowledge. It thrives by the principle that the only sustainable competitive edge is that based on continuous learning and constant innovation. The information-savvy organization pursues information management as one of its core competencies. Information management enables collective learning in the organization. It develops know-how about the effective coordination and integration of the multiple streams of information, expertise, and knowledge that flows in an organization. It provides the memory and the foresight for the organization to adapt to and evolve with changing environments, and to continually renovate its activities and offerings. Information management as an organization's core competency is also difficult for competitors to imitate. While there are general principles guiding good information management, each organization must strike its own complex harmonization of its information assets. In practice, the task of information management is to plan, design, and develop the organizational structures, resources, and processes to realize these objectives. Ultimately, information management is concerned with nothing less than the creation of the brain of the organization.

The purpose of this book is to bring together a balanced selection of readings that address what we believe are some of the most salient issues in information management today. Are there systematic ways of apprehending the information needs of an organization? How do managers behave as information users? What strategies and tactics may be used to develop information management into the organization's core competency? How do organizations measure the value of information and information systems? How can the roles of information practitioners be re-engineered for the new information milieu? The book offers approximately equal servings of the theoretical and the practical - theoretical reviews summarize and synthesize our current understanding of information management while practical cases and strategies may be used to guide action and implementation. Reading the book should benefit information managers, practitioners and specialists working in a broad range of settings, from libraries and information centers to any organization whose products, services and activities are information-intensive. Students and instructors in library and information science schools, as well as business administration or management faculties should also find the volume useful.

Managing Information for the Competitive Edge is divided into six parts. Each part addresses a major theme, and is preceded by an introduction that summarizes each article, places them in the broader context of the topic under discussion, and recommends sources for further reading.

Part I presents two review articles that provide a theoretical background for the rest of the book. By drawing widely from the literatures of organization theory, management information systems, and management of information technology, they summarize where we are in our attempts to develop information models of organizational behavior. Many of the issues raised in this part form continuous threads that run through the other parts of the book.

Information management must be guided by a holistic understanding of the information requirements and information uses of the organization. The three articles in Part II attempt this: the first article by the guru of competitive strategy discusses how information is used in key organizational processes to create competitive advantage; the second offers a comprehensive framework to analyze the information needs of groups of information users in an organization; and the third discusses user-centered models of information needs and uses and their implications for the provision of information services.

Part III looks at an important group of information users - the managers. The articles in this part reveal clearly that managers are a distinct group of information users whose information behaviors are constrained and shaped by the contingencies of managerial work. The relentless pace and inherent uncertainty of managerial work condition managers to simplify and limit their information search based on experience and familiarity, and to seek solutions that are good enough rather than optimal.

The five articles in Part IV discuss a number of strategies for managing information resources and capabilities more effectively. Information and communication audits allow an organization to assess the fit between its information assets and communication structures and the organization's goals and functions. A practical technique for mapping the organization's information resources is also described. After taking stock of information assets, organizations should develop shared information networks to prevent information hoarding and encourage collective information processing. Many organizations failed at information management because they did not manage the politics of information - an effective strategy requires a political model of information management that best matches the organizational culture. Finally, in order to survive in an increasingly complex and competitive environment, organizations need to set up an intelligence system to capture accurate and timely information about the external environment.

Part V introduces concepts and techniques for assessing the value of information and information services in organizations. Both quantitative and descriptive approaches are discussed, including a number of ways that libraries and information services can add value to the information they provide; an instrument for determining the priorities of organizational users, that can be used to set criteria for ranking information service options and evaluating existing services; and an integrated set of measures, models and methods that essentially quantify the value of information in terms of time and dollar savings, and quality and productivity improvements.

Part VI presents two case studies of information management - one in Nippon Steel Corporation, the largest steel manufacturer in the world, and the other in the British pharmaceutical industry. Nippon Steel has weaved an intricate web of information structures and processes that is completely integrated into the operations of the firm. The information managers of ten British drug firms relate their successes and frustrations as they tried to provide competitor intelligence to their companies. Two other articles call for a redefinition of the role of information professionals in the new information organization - information professionals need to expand their repertory of skills to act as overseers of networks that link up information from internal and external, personal and impersonal sources.

With the widespread recognition that effective information management is the key to organizational innovation and productivity, it is perplexing to observe that information professionals in general have not been accorded the high status that one would expect given their training and skills in acquiring, organizing, analyzing and disseminating information. Perhaps this is in part because of the vision the information professionals have of themselves and their roles in the information organization. Many believe that their work is reactive, waiting for users to come to them with their information requests. Many believe that their contribution stops at providing information access, and shy away from involvement in decision making or problem solving. They are unwilling or unable to know and understand the detailed decision making situations in which information will be used. It would appear that information professionals have cast themselves in passive supporting roles on the organizational stage. To reinvent their roles, information professionals would need to break out of this mindset, and to move from being information custodians to information champions who have the entrepreneurial energy, the business knowledge, and the specialized skills to unleash the power of information. This attitudinal shift and role redefinition must take place in a framework of a deeper and more complete understanding of how organizations create, process and use information. At the same time, we need to know how to show and quantify the worth of information and information services to the organization. Information is not the domain of a single profession but is the result of a confluence of multiple areas of expertise. Paradoxically, we are concerned about the viability of the information professions in the information age. Surely information professionals who succeed in enabling their organizations to manage information for competitive edge would also have succeeded in ensuring the growth and survival of their own professions.