Greetings from sunny (in the afternoons) San Diego! We’re just wrapping up our Catalyst conference where I moderated an end user roundtable on information overload and attention management. I did my best to shut up and not influence the proceedings in order to find out what the 18 attendees from mostly large organizations would bring up. I was a bit surprised.
If you read anything on information overload you’d think email and being distracted by mobile devices at dinner and the beach are all people want to talk about. They may be easy targets, but discussions of the dangers of duplicating information took up most of the time.
The group keyed off the most important goal that is being compromised: making good and timely decisions. People need to have trust in the information they find, whether structured or unstructured, to be confident in their decisions.
For structured information, the problem is "personal business intelligence": people making their own mini data warehouses from downloaded and manipulated data. When several people do this, they may come to different conclusions because they downloaded data at different times or with different queries. One attendee from a university addressed the issue through a master data management program – identifying a single path to get key data and restricting ability for individual manipulation of it.
The problem also existed on the unstructured side, in the form of multiple versions – sometimes forked – of documents. Someone searching for information can be inundated with versions, not knowing which is the "correct" one. Plus, if 15 versions of a document are returned in a search it can be difficult to discern that there’s a second document of interest buried in the results as well. MDM for unstructured content seems to be needed.
I was very happy with the discussion as it was decidedly different than the repetitive complaints about too many emails and work/life balance that I read in the popular press. The discussion validated that an enterprise-specific angle on the problem with the right people in the room (information systems owners) can yield some targeted and actionable issues that can lead to real improvement.
That’s right – actionable enterprise issues, with nary a dismissive mention of our poor "caveman brains" unable to handle the flow. Just getting down to the business of helping information consumers separate the wheat from the chaff. Wonderful!