drinking from firehose

CC image courtesy of SparkCBC on Flickr

We recently spent the breakfast hour over hearty bowls of oatmeal and a just-released report based on research commissioned jointly by the Financial Times and the Special Libraries Association (SLA), “The evolving value of information management.”

The introduction explained “’Big data’ and the proliferation of new technologies are shortening the time to an answer, and yet also causing many new challenges for both users and providers.”

The study surveyed both camps – information professionals (providers) and senior executives (users)* – and identified certain gaps in needs and perceptions and, subsequently, identified opportunities to improve and prove value along with the “five essential attributes of the modern information professional.”

Those attributes are as follows:

  • Communicate your value
  • Understand the drivers
  • Manage the process
  • Keep up on your technical skills
  • Provide decision-ready information

The report first recapped the decline in resource budgets, IT investment and headcount.  But it also addressed other challenges – some related to information providers’ understanding and reflection of the organization’s overall strategy and goals and some related to easy accessibility and proliferation of information in today’s digital world.

Consider the top 5 challenges (in order of importance) according to each camp:

Knowledge providers

  1. Trend to self-service on the internet, e.g. Google
  2. Demonstrating value to the business/value of our service/ROI
  3. Budget/financial constraints/restrictions
  4. Cost of access to information/licensing/subscriptions
  5. Lack of understanding of colleagues/other departments about what we do


  1. Information overload
  2. Filtering/sifting through information found
  3. Relevancy of information
  4. Up-to-date/most recent information
  5. Speed/timeliness of information

Comparing these two lists shines a light on certain gaps in performance – or, at least, perception – that information pros can attack as opportunities, for example:

  • Illustrating the deficiencies of Google search
  • Relating those (or any) deficiencies in terms of the risk “bad” information poses to leaders and the organization as whole
  • Educating users about proprietary (vs. public) knowledge resources and the quality of those resources and/or advanced search skills (as one information professional is quoted as saying, it’s important to delicately point out that users “do not know what they do not know”)

The transformation this paper describes – indeed, advocates – is that the value of information professionals today requires an evolution away from being a reactive “inward-looking technical expert” to become a more proactive “client-centric decision enabler.”  This will lead to deliverables being more relevant, accurate and timely – ”decision-ready,” as the report says.

All of this means that the evolving value of information professionals requires both baseline technical skills and softer skills such as “teamwork, initiative and more strategic thinking.”

So, back to those five attributes with a bit of elaboration:

  • Communicate your value
    • Engage in a dialogue vs. treating request fulfillment as a transaction
    • “Walk the floors”/”get close to the action”/network internally
  • Understand the drivers
    • Understand the business and your organization’s overall strategy
    • Get to know users and customize per their preferences
    • Consider becoming embedded (45% already are, according to the study)
  • Manage the process
    • Use technology and project management tools
    • Encourage self-service, especially for high-volume, low-value requests, perhaps by collating existing data into helpful checklists and tip sheets
  • Keep up on your technical skills
    • Keep up with latest sources and technologies
  • Provide decision-ready information
    • Start the process with the mindset that your deliverables can influence business decisions
    • Avoid “data dumps”
    • Align information with organizational goals – check in early and often to stay on-course
    • Structure information to be easily consumed

Find the full report at www.ft.com/sla


* 882 people total, 83% information professionals from a range of industry sectors, mostly corporate; 73% North American