There is just too much information!” If you like to start a fun debate, just throw out that statement to a group of 5-6 people at a party and you’ll have great entertainment. Add a few comments like: “Kids these days” and “always online.” Get a drink, lean back, and enjoy the show. Outside of small tech circles many people are still struggling with the new possibilities of mobile access to information. Some of that struggle results in really questionable activities like Volkswagen blocking email 30 minutes after a shift ends or the Atos CEO making claims to stop internal email at all. Those are nothing but populistic actions to distract from the real issue: Context! Since when is information a bad thing? Since when do we declare a great invention a problem, just because we’re overwhelmed by its success? There is a popular belief that we have too much information, and I disagree.
There is not too much information.
The idea that there could be something like too much information is already the problem. If we had all the required information we wouldn’t need to send emails to 20 people to ask a question, we would simply know. Providing information in a reverse chronological order might be a problem as it lacks any context and is most likely not relevant the moment it arrives. In an ideal world we would have full access to all information prioritized around our context, e.g. traffic info when we’re on the road or the sales forecast when entering the management meeting. When somebody says that we have too much information they're implying that we should have less information. So what information should we not have? The latest forecast? The date of your wedding anniversary? Believe me, you don’t want to go there.
When someone complains about too much information they're actually complaining about there struggle to prioritize. And they’re right: why should every person be in the business of prioritizing information? Applied to an organization, that struggle magnifies and leads to a huge loss in productivity. Information needs context!
Last week I met a customer that is dealing with a major market shift. The regulatory and political framework is shifting, the financials are not easy and their employees are asking a lot of questions. It doesn’t matter how much information those employees received before, now they need information to gain comfort, confidence, and a sense of transparency.
The same is true for very tactical situations like we see in retail. When a local competitor is changing prices, you need your people to know. Being able to capture that information fast and share it with the right group of people –in this case, the manager of a segment or aisle at the regional stores- is extremely powerful.
From Activity to Productivity
Providing the right context is a huge challenge. We see great ideas like Google Now, Microsoft's Cortana assistant or Apple’s Proactive. I personally enjoy the support I get in a consumer context. In an enterprise situation we need something similar. Of course we need to expand the data pool beyond personal data and include backend systems (like SAP, SharePoint, Office 365, MS Dynamics, etc.) to provide the right business context. Knowing what KPI requires my attention is huge. Knowing what engagement metrics are currently most important might make a big difference. And simply having the most relevant information aggregated in a productive fashion will make my day more productive.
I know this will lead to more information and more complaints about that extra information; but believe me, you don’t want to miss the opportunity to prioritize your people to focus on the really important things. While it is early, I see a shift from activity to productivity when it comes to information. And I see the technology supporting the shift towards more context. And I am also a little proud that we contribute to make work better.
What do you see?