Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2014

Last week I attended an SLA event focused on the (fairly) recent publication of the SLA-FT report in to the modern information professional. It consisted of an interactive panel discussion, followed by networking with a lovely view of the River Thames, excellent company and some very delicious canapés.

The SLA and FT have collaborated on a research study to explore the evolving value of information management in today’s society, and published their results in Spring 2013. This primarily involved a survey asking the opinions of both information professionals (providers) and senior executives (users). The publication of the study can be found here and I would really, really recommend it to you as it gives a lot of food for thought!

The study suggests that there are 5 essential attributes for information professionals to strive for:

  1. Communicate your value
  2. Understand the drivers
  3. Manage the process
  4. Keep up on technical skills
  5. Provide decision-ready information

Stemming from these attributes, there are 12 actions or tasks that information professionals should complete to develop these attributes – and it is these 12 action points that the panell consisting of Sarah Farhi (Allen & Overy), Janice LaChance (SLA) and Stephen Phillips (Morgan Stanley), gave their thoughts and opinions and illustrated them with examples from their own work.

SLA 1Each panellist picked 3 of the action points to speak on, and then questions and discussion was opened to the floor. It was interesting how information professionals from different sectors viewed some of the action points so differently, particularly with decision-ready information (but I will expand on that later on).

Rather than describe the discussion as it happened, I think it makes more sense to cover the 12 action points in order, so that you can skip to the ones you’re most interested in.

1) Understand the business

This topic is largely hinted at in a number of the other actions, but here are 3 key points:

  • Understand the business and the practice of the customer, and then interpret the information for that user (to some extent!) with that context in mind.
  • Consider threats in the market and react to them before you are forced to act and it is to late
  • Fit our unique skills in to other areas of the business – for example, can our skills be used for risk mitigation?

2) Deliver decision-ready information

The debate on whether to be objective an provide all of the information available or to use your own opinion and analysis and provide decision ready information is a long and ongoing one. People value and trust the abilities of information professionals to provide their own opinions and analysis, and to render the information understandable to the user. Consider the context of the user and what their enquiry is for, and then present the information appropriately for them – don’t overload them with information which they won’t need.

This can be a tricky issue when it comes to an information service within a high risk environment – such as a law firm or financial services. Should we start interpreting information when we do not have law or finance degrees, and encroaching on the practitioners’ toes? If we did, we would have to carry the risk of our interpretation of what information our users need being incorrect, and potentially losing the firm their reputation and work. Sarah Farhi suggested that in these circumstances communications with your users is essential, and that reference interviews, although a historic tool, can be very useful for finding out what your users want and expect from you. Additionally, users are changing. Users previously wanted all possible information on the subject for them to filter themselves, but newer users used to Google and Wikipedia are happy with low level summaries.

3) Actively communication with your colleagues – Know your audience

It is important to know your audience, whether they are users, stakeholders or sponsors/advocates. Speak at their level (whether that is high or low) and use their language to send your message across at the most appropriate level.

Think about how you present yourself within your organisation – if you present yourself at a high partner level, people will see that, and you may be able to help parallel others leverage their products and goals in the hope they will do the same for you.

Make an effort to go to internal events and socialise with colleagues outside of the library service – hear it on the grapevine, learn about the organisation and what is concerning or bothering users.

4) Link your work to savings and profits

Make measurements of your performance relevant and relative to other parts of the business, such as by using unit costs like cost per hours. If you can, find out how you rank compared to other departments.

Also, be transparent and accountable to your own departments with the figures and costs of things.

5) Link your work to risk mitigation

As information professionals, we can provide an objective view within the firm with no agenda other than quality and ethicacy. We should instruct our users on good and reliable sources which they should be using, and equally, we need to teach users what they do not know by demonstrating our expertise, and what could go wrong if they use unreliable sources.

6) Proactively create solutions for the business

This can link to some extent to the action point of delivering decision-ready information. Sarah used the example of providing a picture with blobs to demonstrate the size of their various offices, which apparently the lawyers much preferred to the numbers. However, the risk here of presenting something so simple, is of not making the user understand fully how much work went in to the picture!

Additionally, you need to question your users of the utility of the information you provide – does it need to be repackaged? How exactly was the information used? This can be difficult if you are afraid of criticism, but ultimately it will makeyou more confident in the work you are doing and more valuable to your users.

7) Build relationships with key stakeholders

This is touched on in some of the other actions, but is primarily about integrating yourself as deeply as possible in to the business.

8) Be a technical mastermind

Make sure that you are better than your clients at technology! Customers may want to receive information from you in new and different ways, and you don’t want to create the impression of being old fashioned, so make sure you are aware of the current trends and keep your CPD current.

9) Go to the top

This is asking a lot. However, you need to know your value and most importantly be able to articulate it. To know and articulate your value, you have to know how you fit in to your organisation and how you contribute to its success, and you need to understand and be aware of the current goals and aims of the organisation. Additionally, to go to the top, you need to understand the bureaucracy and who are the key decision makers, and who influences those decision makers and who they listen to. Have an elevator pitch ready!

10) Walk the floors

Network, stay on the pulse of the business and seek out new opportunities to make a contribution.

11) Pursue initiatives that reduce the burden of stretched resources

  • Ensure that if you have self-service platforms, that they are being used efficiently.
  • Don’t feel that you have to do everything yourself – use your colleagues in different departments, and then offer your services in return. Recognise your own skills and knowledge that you have to offer!

12) Change your mindset

Changing your mindset can make many of the other 12 action points possible. Try to change your mindset to that of a business owner – think about what departments/services within your organisation you are a customer to, and can you use that to your advantage in any way? Think about your users as customers and give them a reason to use your service repeatedly.

I think it has been very useful to evaluate my work and my service against these action points, and consider how I may further improve on them. Coincidentally, I have an appraisal coming up at work and considering these actions points has been very helpful to me in setting myself some objectives and goals. It really was a fantastic presentation from an impressive panel, and overall a very enjoyable evening.

Read Full Post »