Allan Foster, Information industry consultant & writer, kindly shares the results of the 2013 Business Information Survey in the first of 2 parts.

The 23rd annual Business Information Survey was published in the March 2013 issue of Sage’s Business Information Review and produced results which were as profound as any in its history. First of all I must make clear that I claim no statistical validity for these results whatsoever. It’s a qualitative study based on in-depth confidential discussions with a panel of senior information managers. It produces rich data on the development, or otherwise, of these corporate information services because of the trust between me and the respondents. The 2013 Survey is a detailed look at 20 information services and how they are resourced, managed and deliver services to their respective clients. The respondents are from a mix of industry sectors and range in size from a ‘one-man band’ to a huge service with a budget of many millions of dollars.

A typical respondent has a content budget for business & business related information of between £250-500k; manages 8-10 staff directly, sometimes with sector specialists who might be embedded in business groups; they may have some work outsourced and offshored; they are part of a broader information group globally within the company in which there is some co-operation but little overall strategic information management or integration.

The services carry out a range of activities for their audiences including content procurement and management, dissemination of key data, enquiry answering, research & analytical tasks, competitor monitoring, compliance work, contributing to technology development, user training. Some will have a more explicit KM/collaborative & knowledge sharing role. One respondent summarised their function very economically – “general research, buying & managing content, and ‘integrity’ (compliance work).”

Corporate information management in crisis?

As I started data gathering, I was immediately struck by the starkness of some of the responses. One or two of my regular respondents weren’t able to contribute. Their services had been wound up or they were about to leave the company and didn’t feel they could go into details of why. Others were telling a gloomy story of resourcing and use. It initially seemed like a seismic, transformational change might be happening, more serious even than after the 2008 global financial implosion and crisis.

I quote two vignettes in the article.

1)      Head of Information & Research in a bank who said things such as: “After a review of the service by consultants, staff were given notice of redundancy. No one was eventually sacked but 20% of the posts went through natural wastage. The trend in enquiries is down. Business units increasingly scrutinise every item of charge back for services and have restricted use of the service. Staff morale is low. There is too strong a focus on cost control. We are losing some very important research work.”

2)      Head of I&KM in a law firm. “Before the merger I had 4½ staff including a professional support lawyer. The new management swept all this away although I was reprieved. Now I spend most of my time trying to track down and catalogue resources in the new merged company. I’m trying to re-build the KM/IM service from pretty much scratch.”

Were these to be bellwethers of the 2013 Survey overall? Fortunately, later interviews modified this impression somewhat and showed up examples of effectiveness and good practice.

Key pressures

The fundamental challenges are due to a number of key factors

  • changing user needs including direct access to data from desktops (“Users have to do much more for themselves” said more than one respondent)
  • disruptive technologies (social media, big data, enterprise search, data mining …)
  • role competition – from IT, data analysts, business intelligence, corporate communications
  • managerial scepticism about value being added by information managers                                                                                                                                                                            And of course
  • ever increasing pressure on costs & central overheads

You might say “it was ever thus” in terms of the last two quoted. But some factors are clearly newer and are beyond the influence of any individual manager.

As are mergers. A number of our respondents over the last couple of years have identified the enormous change that mergers can have – in terms of culture, technologies, senior management attitudes to IM & KM, and  on information management practice.

In the 2nd part of this blog I will report on content & vendor matters, staffing, survival issues, risk factors, outsourcing and the effect of some of some of these on the ‘professional pipeline’ of talent. Finally, the Survey identifies successful strategies and approaches which have worked for some information managers which have kept them still at the heart of their businesses and somewhat more secure in resources, effectiveness and reputation.

Please read the full article for in-depth coverage of the issues discussed here:

Add value or die: the fate of corporate information services – the Business Information Survey 2013 in Business Information Review, 30(1), March 2013 p8-26          http://bir.sagepub.com/

The Business Information Survey 2013 podcast  http://bir.sagepub.com/content/30/1.toc

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