>Information Stats to Scare

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We all know that we are generating and receiving more information then ever. Good thing? I like to think so, but sometimes, you can have too much of even a good thing.

Certainly, information is a strategic asset—its vital to making sound decisions, essential for effective communications, and critical for expanding our thinking, breaking paradigms, predictive analysis, and helping us to innovate.

But when information is too much, too unorganized, too often, or too disruptive, it’s value is diminished and organizations and individuals suffer negative effects.

Here are some information stats to scare from Harvard Business Review (September 2009):

  • 60%–Those who checked email in the bathroom (and 15% even admitted to checking it while in church)
  • 20—Average hours per week spent by knowledge workers on email
  • 85%–Computer users who would take a laptop on vacation
  • 1/3–Emails considered unnecessary
  • 300—Number of emails executive get a day
  • 24—Minutes for worker to recover from being interrupted by an email notification
  • 40—Number of websites employees visit on an average day
  • 26%People who want to delete all emails (declare “e-mail bankruptcy”) and start over
  • 3—Number of minutes before knowledge workers switch tasks
  • ~$1 trillion—Cost to economy of information overload
  • 85%Emails opened within 2 minutes
  • 27%Amount of workday eaten up by interruptions
  • 2.8 trillion gigabytes—Size of digital information by 2011
  • 31%Workers whose quality of life is worsened by email

Some interesting antidotes offered by HBR:

  • Balance—weigh cost-benefits before sending another email
  • Reply to all—disable the reply all button
  • Five sentences—keep email to 5 sentences or less
  • Allots—affix virtual currency from a fixed daily amount to email based on its importance
  • IM Savvy—program by IBM that senses when you are busy by detecting your typing patterns and tells would be interrupters that you are busy
  • BlackBerry Orphans—to regain the attention of their parents, children are flushing their parent’s BlackBerries down the toilet

While the issues and proposed assists for information overload are thought provoking (and somewhat humorous), what is fascinating to me is how technology and the speed of its advancement and adoption are positively, but also—less spoken about—negatively affecting people and organizations.

It seems like life keeps accelerating—faster and faster—but the quality is deteriorating in terms of fuzzy boundaries between work-life, weakening of our closest relationships, burn-out of our best and hardest working people, and unrealistic expectations of people to be always on—just like the email account that keeps spitting out new messages.

Somewhere along the line, we need to hit the proverbial “reset button” and recognize that information and communication are truly strategic assets and as such need to be used intelligently and with good measure or else we risk cheapening their use and limiting their effectiveness.

>A Call to IT Arms

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Recently, I heard a colleague say that we should view IT not as a cost center, but as a resource center—and I really liked that.

In fact, IT is a cost center and a resource center, but these days there is an overemphasis on it being a cost center.

On the negative side, people seem to like to criticize IT and point out the spectacular failures there have been, and in fact, according to Public CIO “a recent study by the Standish Group showed that 82% of all IT project were either failures or were considered challenged.”

This is the dark side of IT that many would like to dwell on.

However, I would argue that while we must constantly improve on IT project delivery, IT failures can be just a point in time on the way to tremendous success and there are many of these IT successes that we benefit from in big and small ways every day.

Moreover, it may take 1000 failures to achieve that one great breakthrough success. That is the nature of innovation and experimentation.

Of course, that does not mean we should do stupid or negligent things that results in failed IT projects—we must do our best to be responsible and professional stewards. But, we should not be afraid to experiment and fail as a healthy part of the creative process.

Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So why are we obsessed with IT failures these days?

Before the dot com bust, when technology was all the rave, and we enjoyed the bounty of new technologies like the computer, cell phones, handhelds, electronics galore, the Internet and all the email, productivity software and e-commerce and business applications you could ask for, the mindset was “technology is the engine that drives business.” And in fact, many companies were even changing their names to have “.com” in them to reflect this. The thinking was that if you didn’t realize the power and game-changing nature of technology, you could just as well plan to be out of business in the near future. The technologies that came out of those years were amazing and you and I rely on these every day.

Then after the dot-com burst, the pendulum swung the other way—big time! IT became an over zealous function, that was viewed as unstructured and rampant, with runaway costs that had to be contained. People were disappointed with the perceived broken promises and failed projects that IT caused, and IT people were pejoratively labeled geeks or techies and viewed as being outside the norm—sort of the societal flunkies who started businesses out of home garages. People found IT projects failures were everywhere. The corporate mindset changed to “business drives technology.”

Now, I agree that business drives technology in terms of requirements coming from the business and technology providing solutions to it and enabling it. But technology is also an engine for growth, a value creator, and a competitive advantage!

Further, while some would argue these days that IT is “just a tool”, I would counter that IT is a true strategic asset to those who understand its role in the enterprise. I love IT and I believe we all do and this is supported by the fact that we have become basically insatiable for IT. Forrester predicts U.S. IT budgets in 2009 will be in the vicinity of $750 billion. (http://it.tmcnet.com/topics/it/articles/59200-it-market-us-decline-51-percent-2009-researchers.htm) Think about what you want for the holidays—does it have IT in it?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was about how the homeless are so tied to technology that many have a computer with Internet access, even when they don’t have three square meals a day or a proper home to live in.

Another sign of how critical IT has become is that we recently stood up a new Cyber Command to protect our defense IT establishment. We are reliant indeed on our information technology and we had better be prepared to protect and defend it.

The recent White House 2009 Cyberspace Policy Review states: “The globally-interconnected digital information and communications infrastructure known as “cyberspace” underpins almost every facet of modern society and provides critical support for the U.S. economy, civil infrastructure, public safety, and national security.”

It’s time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction and to view IT as the true strategic asset that it is.