Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What is the future of information professionals?

What do information professionals do? What do others think we do? What should we be doing now? What is our future? How should we define it?

Information professionals seem to be undergoing enormous transformation in the past 15 years as internet/mobile technologies and social media open up new ways to communicate, share, seek and use information on personal, community-based and global-level. Personally, I think the major shift is not about technology, it is how we redefine information from "static, objective" information that we can manage as objects to "communicative" information whereby information is a "process of becoming" (the process to inform, to understand, to share common struggles, to look for facts, to look for multiple perspectives etc). Through this "communicative" process, the user who look for information changes, the information being retrieved takes on new meaning in new context, and even the author of the information can increase their own understanding of the information they've shared as they learn and listen to the users. This shift is fundamental, it is still ongoing (accelerated with the rise of social media usage), and it requires a rethink of the role of information professionals in creating value for your companies or stakeholders.

What should information professionals be doing (or should have been doing) if we embrace this alternative approach to define information? Where are the future opportunities?

First of all, let's do not start thinking about us, us, us - the information professionals. Let's switch our attention to understand where the problems are which require our users to engage with information (and with the author of the information).

Based on personal experience working with business executives, middle management, knowledge workers, enterpreneurs, educators and parents, these are problems they face:
1. How do I stay agile in an ever changing external market? There is so much information (facts, opinions, news, advertisment, comments) out there, how do I pay attention to what matters to me/my business to stay ahead of the game and make the best decision?
2. How can I enable my workforce to connect and share information to drive revenue growth and avoid reinventing the wheel or making the same mistakes?
3. How do I get my messages/directives across to my team/workforce (as well as customers) and make them pay attention to it and take action, when they are facing "information/email overload" and ever increasing workload in their day-to-day work?
4. How can I function effectively as a knowledge worker when there is so much relevant information/experts out there which I will never have the time to fully understand (or to connect with the experts)? and at the same time there is so much "junk" information out there that creates noise? How do I stay on top of the game?
5. How do I educate my children/students on the best/worst practices to engage with information (and with other people) on internet/social media sites when I have limited exposure and understanding of these tools myself?

I think these real emminent problems present the opportunities for information professionals to lead and exert positive influence on the world now in the future, starting now. The opportunities are:

1. Be a strategic partner of business leaders - help to resolve real business problems whether it is cost pressure, retaining talents, innovation or improve team collaborate or internal communication.
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2. Offer new perspectives and practical solutions to enable and facilitate knowledge sharing in the organization in the context of people's day-to-day work - it goes beyond managing document repositories, intranets, library and information center. It requires us to play a role in shaping a company's strategic IT roadmap, business model, communication practices, talent development programme, innovation and more.

3. Be a trsuted advisor in helping senior/middle managers to understand what/how to share information to engage with their team/workforce (and customers) in the networked world? Can we help them to be successful without taking credit away from them?

4. Be a champion of new way of working - Many of the employees do not grow up with training how to seek, use and engage with experts using a range of new technologies, they do not feel comfortable with the change. Can we help every individual to be more effective? more critical when engaging with information? Can we share ways to relieve painpoints and encourage them to empower themselves and continuously learn in the networked world? If we don't do it, who will?

5. Partner with educators to prepare our students for now and in the future - The fact that milleniums and new recruits grow up using internet/social media does not mean that they are reflective of how they use and share information in the public online space. Can we partner with educators to bring the awareness and prepare them from unintended consequences?

I see opportunities everywhere. Our challenges are:

1. Do we have the skills and competence ourselves to become the trusted advisors? Are we ready to lead and have the confidence to partner with business leaders. Can we get a seat at the senior table?

2. We cannot just talk, we need to demonstrate by showing what we can offer, and show the results as a result of our intervention. We need to share examples where it works. We cannot be seen as "idealistic".

Why I still believe information professionals should fill this gap and lead the world into the future? It is because:

1. We understand the history, the past, and how information has evolved. The best people to solve tomorrow's problem is the ones who understand the history and where we are today, and how we get here.

2. Traditional information management is a subset of the future solution, and we understand it very well. Progressive information professionals building on our strength (and awareness of potential weaknesses) when designing innovative information solutions such as social intranet, interactive information centers which seamlessly integrate in user journey, collaboration, social network etc, many of us are already in the frontier.

There is only one thing which hinder us from leading in the new world, i.e. our own confidence and our own committment to help shape the world. Information professionals out there, are you ready? Leave me a comment here.

5 comments:

Nicola Franklin said...

Hi Bonnie

Very interesting post, raising some vital questions.

I largely agree with your analysis, although I have one small comment. You say 'We need to share examples where it works. We cannot be seen as "idealistic".' and I agree in so far as information professionals cannot afford to be seen to put themselve in an ivory tower or to think themselves superior to their users/patrons.

However, I think many info pros would take exception to being told they should not be idealistic, as many see holding ideals (of equality of access to information, for example) to be core to the profession.

I hope this is just semantics, not that you are really advocating that info pros should give up their ideals!

Bonnie Cheuk said...

Nicola - Tks for pointing this out. No, information professionals should not give up their ideals! It is our dream of what the future could be that will take our profession into the future. To do so, we need to have the competence and the knowledge to do so. What I mean is... don't be perceived as idealistic, work hard to walk our talk, show the results. The results speak stronger than any words.

Cheryl said...

Bonnie,

Overall, I agree with your analysis but have one comment. You state "Be a trsuted advisor in helping senior/middle managers to understand what/how to share information to engage with their team/workforce (and customers) in the networked world?" This is all good and well but then next you ask the question "Can we help them to be successful without taking credit away from them?" Of course they should get the credit for our help but let's not forget that we as the info pro should also receive credit where credit
is due. I think for many of us we tend to be too passive about the information services we provide and simply say no problem, rather upon being thanked for helping get the needed information to the requestor as though no effort or skill was involved and that is the end of the interaction. I am not sure how we can actually go about receiving some form of credit beyond the thanks but would love to hear your thoughts re/this.

Bonnie Cheuk said...

Thanks Cheryl for raising the question: should information professionals get credit for what we offer?

Interestingly, i was reading a book by Chip Conley who talks about applying Maslow triangle in managing business. At the lowest level, we get credit for getting recruited and be paid. Then higher up the triangle, we get thank you and recognition. As we move to the top, we get fulfilment because we find "meaning" in our work, because we know we are adding value, innovating, making the world a better place. I would like info professionals to experience all levels in different stages of their career.

Let's put the theory aside, having worked one-on-one with senior executives/middle managers, many of them deep down realise they need help understanding how to engage with information (using a variety of tools) in the networked world. They have a lot of questions, and they do not feel comfortable asking in public. Very often, I am invited to meet them for 30 mins, and they start the session with "tell me about (can be anything from twitter, blogging, biz intellgience, social media monitoring, big data, online communication, crowd sourcing, knowledge management) ..... And how should I position myself/my business in this space to achieve my business goals?" This generally lead to a discussion, helping him/her to self reflect on current practices and what the future may look like. It ends with a willingness to rethink and try something small and test the water. (Trust me, not all meetings go well!) When they feel comfortable and when they get there, I have win a friend, and I become the trusted advisor. so what do I get in return? Sometimes not even a thank you, these busy executives are too busy and move onto other priority areas, for me, I get a credit line which i can use in bad times (to get budget, to request for resources, to launch a new program, to have a senior exec on my side in promoting new ways to facilitate information flow).

On a day to day information service provision level, our great work do not need to go unnoticed, rather than saying "no problem" and finish an information transaction. Ask those willing users to leave a quote, share a story how the service has added value (close a deal, save time looking for info/connecting with experts, avoid reinventing the wheel, coming up with new innovative solutions). Collect these stories, make them real and business focus, amplify them, share with others, ask the users to blog about them and share with their colleagues in face to face business meetings. This isi the time for info professionals to be confident and be bold in sharing success stories being told by our users (not us!)

Perhaps it is my personality, I feel as an information professional, I am here to serve. If people do a great job using/engaging with information, I give them all the credit, I amplify their good work. I think ultimately information has to be used within context. My users deserve the credit to bring information to life in context in ways that info professionals cannot achieve on our own. This is the reason why I feel partnership with business executives/users is important.

Our professional is an important one, we need to remember we are part of something bigger, we enable the world to change.... We cannot turn the wheel on own own. Let's co-create future solutions with our users.

(On a totally different note, I learn a lot from my blog readers' questions, as you help me to reflect deeper on the subject, Thank you for the exchange. Keep them coming as we collectively define the future of our professional.)

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