Avoiding information overload

One of the by-products of Internet business is information - huge amounts of it. Mike Thompson from the Butler Group has some...

One of the by-products of Internet business is information - huge amounts of it. Mike Thompson from the Butler Group has some tips on how to make your data deliver results

The role of Business Intelligence (BI) has to be clearly defined within an organisation. The competitive use of information is widely held to be a key differentiator in today's new markets. The greatest demand that any BI strategy will have on an organisation is the buy-in it requires at all levels of the workplace.

It has to be recognised that the BI which we are talking about here is not the simple presentation of reports, but the building of a deep-seated intelligence culture.

We can define the issues and problems in the following terms:

  • How to get the right information to the relevant person(s) in the shortest possible time.
  • Ensure that personnel do not sink under the weight of information overload.
  • Querying open sources for information.

    By taking the issues and problems separately, we can start to understand how an implementation should work. We will also see that issues do not exist in isolation, they form interconnected parts of an integrated whole - a true BI implementation.

    It has to be recognised that any information is only as good as the person who receives it. Information alone can be seen to be useless. It is the use of information that turns it into intelligence that can be used to advance the business case.

    Defining informational end points is not a simple matter. While it is easy enough to see that the results of a marketing campaign should be presented to the marketing department - giving them the ability to respond to any anomalies, there has to a deeper level of understanding of the total business process, in order that this information can be routed to other, less obvious recipients.

    Take, for example, a manufacturing and selling organisation. The product is manufactured on site, and is sold through a direct marketing/sales channel. Given that inventory control systems are so important to the financial well-being of a business, it should be clear that personnel tasked with inventory management are also aware of the effect of new marketing campaigns.

    Information that shows a marketing campaign is being successful is not there just to make the department who are running the campaign feel better. It is there to allow the inventory management team to be aware of future production requirements. Information has to be part of an internal workflow, with clearly defined distribution points that take in the whole of the business processes. It should almost go without saying that

    this informational flow is worse than useless if the information is not delivered in a timely manner. Reaction is the key to a successful e-business, and intelligence based on information is only usable if it can be implemented with as little latency as possible.

    How it works

    There are some parameters to work within when implementing a business intelligence strategy:

  • Any organisational security policy must be adhered to
  • Protection of the nature and confidentiality of the information requirement
  • Provide filters to information that does not directly relate to the request
  • Ensure that these filters do not create too tight a boundary to any request, to obviate the possibility of relevant information being missed
  • Create a solution that empowers the user

    Heavy Weight: Is your company suffering from Information Overload?

    Having defined the necessity for ensuring that all relevant personnel have the information they require, the easy answer is to define too many end points. This is the dreaded 'information overload', which has so many negative effects that it has to be given a high priority of concern when defining the end points.

    Information should be used to empower the workforce, not create stressful situations. Overloading recipients has precisely the latter effect by:

  • Seemingly increasing the perceived workload.
  • Making the workforce feel inadequate by presenting information that they do not understand (even though they would not be expected to).
  • Creating confusion by blurring the edges of role responsibility.

    As an example of this, and by way of a small test, it is worth considering your attitude to information distribution. When information is passed through your organisation is it done in a manner that clearly defines whether it is for informational purposes only, or whether it is to be acted upon? The former is designed to help people increase the own personal knowledge base, the latter is to enhance their business process.

    The bad news is that you have failed the information overload test, if you have ever sent an email to more than one person requesting action.

    Open information: Querying the use of multiple Sources

    Until now, we have concentrated on the presentation of information to relevant personnel. We also have to allow for employees looking for information. Good BI comes from having and employing a variety of sources, both internal and external. Defining external sources and managing them is an important issue that needs to be addressed in the following terms:

  • Source relevant informational sites.
  • Implement policy on access and usage.
  • Tie information from these sites into internal sources to create a larger information source.
  • Define those sites that are not to be used.
  • Manage external-source access in terms of roles and responsibilities.
  • Create a structure for ensuring source relevance is monitored.

    The plethora of information sources available demands a structured approach to access. Without correct management the BI strategy can become bogged down in conflicting messages. It is an extension of personal usage of the Internet for information. Most of us have favourite sites, but we tend to accept that sites which have provided useful information in the past will continue to do so. But as the business model grows and evolves, so the need for different intelligence sources changes.

    Any failure to recognise this change will leave an organisation isolated in terms of its BI strategy, which ultimately will lead to the whole business strategy being put under threat by this single element.

    Master plan: the importance of Implementation

    Earlier, we detailed some key points on implementation. Th over-riding factor is to retain sight of why we need a BI solution in the first place, and what use we are to make of it. BI will underpin the whole overall strategy of e-business organisations. It will affect the business down throught the layers from concept to implementation - from master plan to individual process.

    BI will also spread across the whole of the organisation. Every employee will be touched by it in some way, and if it is correctly implemented, it will allow them to perform to a higher level with a lessening of pressure and workload.

    Finally, BI will be reflected in the positioning outside of the organisation. Utilising BI internally will create a reflection in the organinsation. Utilising BI internally will create a reflection in the market place of an 'intelligent' organisation. This is the differentiator that was mentioned earlier.

    BI becomes a key driver for both better employee and customer relationships, as long as the implementation follows sensible guidelines, and the system is managed with exactly the same care that would be devoted to other more accepted resources.

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