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.
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.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

I don't understand social business...

"I really don't get it" said a colleague. "it does not wow me." "May be I am slow, tell me what value does it add in the work context?" Some confess "I am not using social media in my personal live, I am not sure I can manage it at work..." I know a lot of friends who are interested in the potential power of using social platform in the business setting, however, they have not experienced its power yet and they are not sure where to start. To help to make it real, I look for great videos to explain the concept, read books, mckinsey's research report (unlocking the value of social business) and thought leadership blog (@johnstepper, @euan), collect use cases where it work for companies, and I share those stories. I realise no matter how much I try to say, and try to explain the value that embracing social platform can brings to companies, and how much I try to explain how twitter or LinkedIn or blogging works, the starting position has always been positioning my colleague (who is willing to learn) to look from "outside" in, as if social platform can be learned objectively and experience as an outsider (perhaps even like an objective scientist) trying to understand how it all works. What is missing? Unless one swim in it, you will never get it. Trying to teach people conceptually how twitter or blogsphere work is really pointless. The best training manual wont cut it. To really learn how social media works for you personally, you have to look at it from "inside", ie look inside in. Why? Because social platform is personal. Try look at your friend's or colleague's activity stream or twitter homepage, it makes no sense to you and it is full of noise. Of course, they are not meant for you to consume or interact with. When you start to share your thoughts, and when you receive responses and comments to the area which interest you (personally and/or professionally) and you truly care about, you will get your first aha moment. Until then, you will continue to observe as an outsider and wonder what's in it for me. Do you agree with me? leave me a comment here.