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Science, Maths & Technology

The world according to Google

Updated Sunday 1st January 2006

The information within many organisations is in a mess. Prof. Elizabeth Daniel explores the importance of information management and offers some tools for clearing up the confusion.

The mission statement of Google, 'Organizing the world’s information and making it universally accessible and useful' must sound pretty ambitious to many organizations that find it difficult to organize their own information, let alone that of the rest of the world. It is estimated that the average knowledge worker spends around 10% of their working time trying to find the information within their organization that they need to do their job.

These difficulties are caused by:

  • too much information, much of which is often out of date
  • too little information about what is really important to the organization
  • conflicting information

The time wasted in reconciling conflicting information has led to many costly investments in large data warehouses (if you don't understand the term "data warehouse", why not put it into Google?) for storing corporate information in a bid to ensure 'a single version of the truth'. However, these have often just resulted in even larger stores of out of date, irrelevant or conflicting information!

Whilst individuals using search engines such as Google to pursue their own interests may be happy to trawl through hundreds of hits to find the information they want, staff within organizations are rarely so patient. So, what should organizations do? Well, whilst technology can help, the most important factor is ensuring that the organization is collecting and maintaining the right information in the first place - after all, the most basic maxim of computer use is ‘rubbish in, rubbish out’.

Lots of organizations have recognised that information is a key asset. Many of these have sought to bring the same discipline to bear on the management of information as to their other important assets. Adhering to the five principles of information management can provide this discipline.

The five principles of information management are:

  1. Ownership – all information within the organization should be assigned an owner and that owner’s name should be displayed with the information. Effective stewardship of that information should form part of the individual’s annual appraisal.
  2. Identification – the owner should also be responsible for labeling or tagging the information so that it can be classified and most importantly easily retrieved by anyone seeking that information.
  3. Lifecycle – as with other assets, information has a finite life. All information should therefore be reviewed at pre-agreed intervals and archived when no longer current.
  4. Storage – considerations for information storage should include ease of access by relevant staff – ‘store once, use many’ being the maxim of many organizations – as well as issues of security and business continuity.
  5. Audit – finally, organizations should regularly review their use of information including cost and value.

As these principles illustrate, information management is as much about people and processes as about technology.

A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention

Gartner Group has estimated that the digitised information stored within a typical organization has doubled every year since 2000. Effective information management can improve the information available to staff within organizations. However, given this rapid growth in volume, organizations will still need to address ‘information overload’.

One strand of my own research over the last few years has been on the systems that many organizations are adopting to address this challenge: enterprise portals. Enterprise portals seek to do what consumer portals and search engines such as Google do on the internet, that is provide easy access to a multitude of information, but within a single organization.

Enterprise portals can tailor the information presented to staff according to their interests and responsibilities. The relative ease with which other programs or applications can be integrated into enterprise portals ensures that it is not only static information that can be presented to staff. Information from applications such as customer databases, accounting systems and purchasing systems can all be presented through the portal. This feature allows staff who are unfamiliar with the underlying applications to easily access the information they need.

The future of Google: advancing on all fronts

So, the information within many organizations is in a mess. Is this of interest to Google? You bet. In addition to the many other innovations Google is currently pursuing, including internet telephony, mapping and digitising whole libraries, they are turning their attention to helping organizations access their own information. To this end they have recently developed a version of their desktop search tool, which lets individuals search the information on their own PCs in the same way they search the internet, that can easily be rolled out across an entire organization.

Secondly, whilst they already sell both hardware and software that allows organizations to deploy Google search across their own intranets, they have stated, that they are keen to develop these services further ultimately leading to systems similar to current enterprise portals.

The current success of Google has caused some commentators to question if it could even threaten the mighty Microsoft at some point in the future. If Google can build as strong a presence in the enterprise market as it has done in the consumer market, then the unthinkable seems just a bit more thinkable.

Further reading

  • Managing information – you’ve got the data, but how do make the best use of it?
  • Radical innovation – sometimes a new idea changes the landscape, and even well-established companies struggle to cope
  • Mastering Information Management by D A Marchand and T H Davenport, published by FT Prentice Hall
  • Information Rules by C Shapiro and H R Varian, published by Harvard Business School Press
  • Future Perfect: Findings of an International Delphi Study of the Future of Intranets and Enterprise Portals by E M Daniel, J M Ward and P Miller, published in conjunction with the Intranet Benchmarking Forum
 

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