By: Kathleen Lau and Nancy Gohring
Managers waste hours every day looking for information that often turns out to be useless, according to a report from global consulting firm Accenture Ltd.
An Accenture survey of 1,000 middle managers at large companies in the U.S. and U.K. found that managers spend as many as two hours a day searching for information, and more than half of the data they find has no value to them.
Information is often more difficult to locate because it's scattered, respondents said. Fifty-seven per cent of those polled said that having to go to numerous sources to collect information makes managing data difficult and, on average, the managers said they go to three different sources to find certain types of information.
While the study polled managers in the U.S. and Britain, its findings would be equally applicable to large Canadian firms.
At least one Canadian executive believes ineffective information access is not just a technology issue but also a "people" issue.
While the right technology is essential to creating a collaborative workplace, it is not the sole requirement, says Aviva Feldman, national senior manager, tax recruitment with Deloitte Canada in Toronto.
"The quality of the information relies on the people that [use] our databases and other information sources," Feldman says. "People are what make the system work."
At Deloitte, she said effective information sharing is crucial to every aspect of the company's business, including matching the right people with the right job.
For instance, Deloitte’s recruitment function is dependent on an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system implemented in 2001 that allows for candidate information tracking and sharing across the organization nationally.
"Deloitte has come a long way with the recruitment systems they’ve put in place… but there is still a lot of room for improvement," she said, adding that processes established for information flow within regional offices work well, but "nationally, the process has a long way to go."
The Accenture study demonstrates how human factors – such as rivalries among different divisions – can often impede information flow within an organization. As many as 40 per cent of the respondents said other parts of their companies were not willing to share information.
Implementing effective business processes is yet another pre-requisite for seamless information sharing and retrieval within the enterprise, according to George Goodall, research analyst with Info-Tech Research in London, Ont.
Goodall says businesses processes – including those that dictate how to archive, retrieve and share data – are key to creating a collaborative workplace. "Technology at the end of the day can only be used to enforce business processes. Technology is always the slave of business guidelines and requirements."
The Info-Tech analyst finds clients turning to business intelligence and content management technologies in an attempt to promote internal data sharing. However, the root of the problem is often a lack of business objectives to begin with, he says.
And it’s not for a dearth of adequate search skills either that searches are turning up fruitless. While the ability to discriminate between good and bad data is paramount, says Goodall, "search involves the assumption that the information is there and available."
Managers often face additional challenges because they don't save important data in a collaborative place.
The majority of the managers surveyed said they store their most valuable information on their computers or individual e-mail accounts, where others can't access it, Accenture said. Only 16 per cent of managers said they store valuable data in a collaborative workplace, like an intranet portal.
Just less than half (42 per cent) of those surveyed said that they accidentally use the wrong information at least once a week.
Of all the managers surveyed, IT workers are the least likely to say the information they find is valuable and they spend the most time trying to find it. They dedicate nearly 30 per cent of their time trying to find information.
Meanwhile vendors have unveiled new tools to respond to this clamour for effective "information retrieval" tools and processes.
Last month IBM and Yahoo! launched a free enterprise search application, designed to help departments find, access and capitalize on information stored within their organization.