The explosion in the volume of data available is changing the way companies acquire and process knowledge. Meanwhile work on improving the presentation of the aggregated data is also intensifying.
Information management has become a matter of enormous importance not only to commercial businesses but also – in countries such as the United States and France – for public institutions as well, some of whom have appointed Chief Data Officers. Now a report entitled ‘The Past, Present and Future of Information Management: from a physical to digital information world – how the data revolution is driving competitive advantage’ from US business research and risk solution services firm LexisNexis summarises the importance of information management from the viewpoint of managers themselves, starting out from the principle that “information content is the raw material of the 21st century, and one that we need to secure long-term competitive advantage.” The time available to seek out information is getting shorter and some traditional methods will have to change if organisations are to make proper use of data that is now being produced at unprecedented speeds.
The LexisNexis report is based on in-depth interviews with senior information executives, supplemented by a pan-European survey of more than 500 people working in information services. Their feedback on the various types of tools used to gather information demonstrates the changes that have been taking place. Those polled revealed that over the last five years the use of instant messaging, blogs and online networks as channels for obtaining information has more than doubled. Meanwhile, such resource providers as libraries and trade magazines are no longer able to compete with web-based search tools. The respondents report that use of RSS feeds – an automated tracking tool rather than a simple means of source consultation – has also doubled.
The increase in the velocity of information, combined with the expanding volume and variety, is making the task of data management increasingly complex. Once collected, information now needs to be aggregated and synthesised if it is to be any use. For example, in order to manage a brand or e-reputation it has become essential to monitor Twitter, with its 500 million tweets a day, despite the obvious difficulty of processing all that information. What emerges however is that there is very little correlation between the volume and the value of the information obtained. Moreover, the vast increase in data volume calls for different ways of presenting results as deliverables nowadays need to be finalised as quickly as the information is generated – in other words, urgently. The traditional ‘dashboards’ put out at fixed intervals look very outdated now that managers are often ‘on the go’ and want to be able to access information from a mobile device. In short, new types of dashboard and new visualisation methods are needed.
The section of the report that looks into the future points up the problem of presenting relevant content when information volumes are increasing exponentially. Some 37% of those surveyed strongly agree that if online information sources continue to grow, the impact of this will be that “it will be important that I present information in ways that can be more easily understood by others, e.g. visualisations and dashboards.” As research data becomes ever more complex, information layout clearly counts. Some 72% of the survey respondents agreed that over the next ten years technological advances would most likely enable voice-operated search functions based on natural speech, which might help to manage the increasing volumes of data being gathered from physical infrastructure, buildings, cars and human bodies.