Making Knowledge Work

November 5, 2009

Getting the lie of the (info) land

Filed under: Knowledge Networking — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 9:47 am

Food for thought and a good supper at  LIKE 8 last Thursday.

Information industry expert Tim Buckley-Owen guided us through the changing information landscape.  He used the metaphor “from walled garden to Amazon jungle”  to conjure contrasts between  the ‘look-but-don’t-touch’  gardens formerly tended by information professionals with the open-to-all broad  tracks and paths created by Google and Wikipedia, in a jungle that’s “densely planted and uncultivated, with plants self-seeding in their millions and exotic blooms hanging down inviting to be picked”.

But, he said,  not all visitors to the information jungle want to hack through it alone,  there’s a need for expert trackers. The skills of modern information professionals – their knowledge of the jungle, its dangers and hidden treasures –  are valuable.  Or should be.   Tim pointed out that it was up to info pros to demonstrate their expertise and worth, and he saw a number of opportunities for doing that.  He quoted a recent article by Sue Edgar,  in Business Information Review,  in which she discussed the demise of the centralised corporate information unit and  questioned whether Google could fill the gap – noting that freely-available information hadn’t yet proved a serious threat to vendors such as Westlaw.  Tim saw  in the loss of corporate libraries an opportunity for info pros to be dispersed in functional units across enterprises, perhaps giving them a greater chance to occupy more visible and vital roles.

Drawing a parallel with law professionals feeling threatened by dis-intermediation and commoditisation, Tim gave the example of do-it-yourself small claims, and quoted from Richard Susskind’s book The End of Lawyers?, that the inescapable changes may convey a bleak message to conventional lawyers, but for progressive ones it signalled an exciting future.

At a recent Sue Hill breakfast he’d found general agreement that an exaggerated faith in information technology had led to a down-playing of information professionals’  discovery skills.  Applying those skills by, for example, providing better competitor analysis would be a good tactic.  According to Forbes Insights’ “The Rise of the Digital C-suite”  most of the searches carried out by most of the top US bosses they surveyed were related to competitor analysis.   Another report – from the information consultancy Outsell found that while end-users were spending less time on searching, search failure rates were rising.

It wasn’t only info pros’ discovery skills that were needed in the virtual business environment, but their abilities in managing risk – a  report on records management from the Association for Information and Image Management found that a quarter of the enterprises surveyed had no records management disciplines for their electronic records, and nearly half of them couldn’t freeze electronic records if litigation was pending.

Tim ended with an alert for any info pros working in banking, insurance or finance – that the VAT ‘reverse charge mechanism’ comes into effect in January.  He wondered how many of their employers were aware of the implications.

It was good to get such a measured and informed perspective – and the decibels rose in the upstairs room at  The Perseverance as everyone got down to the serious fun of exchanging views and reflecting on what they’d heard.  The arrival of supper and a few more bottles of wine provided fresh fuel for discussions which ranged from the intricacies of information governance to the comparative merits of bangers & mash and cod & chips.  The expert trackers were cheerfully exploring new trails….

1 Comment »

  1. […] Virginia Henry and David Holme have also blogged about the evening. […]

    Pingback by VocabControl » From Walled Garden to Amazon Jungle — November 16, 2009 @ 9:27 pm


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