From Information to Intelligence
By Stephen Phillips, BLIB
This article appears in the March-April 2020 issue of Information Outlook magazine.
Business information research has transformed over the 33 years since I entered the workplace. Then, the microfiche reader was almost the only piece of technology in the library, and days were spent maintaining hard-copy collections. “Cut and paste” really meant cutting and pasting the daily press bulletin. Manual systems documented activity: card indices to navigate the collection, the Browne Issue System to track loans, routing lists for journals, and carbon copy forms for requests or purchases.
My early days were an apprenticeship. I spent my time largely developing my knowledge of sources to answer my clients’ requests. The only drawback? An unfortunate intimacy with the inner workings of the photocopier, fixing paper jams and refilling toner.
It is easy to be nostalgic with rose-tinted spectacles. Those were gentler times, but our purpose was clear—to educate and inform our colleagues, enabling them to make good decisions or differentiate themselves from the competition.
Technology was and continues to be the greatest catalyst driving change. Back then, emerging online services were the shape of things to come. Dedicated terminals with acoustic couplers enabled access to DIALOG, DataStar, and LexisNexis, amongst others. They were powerful (for their time) but expensive, charging by time spent or lines retrieved. Difficult to use with specialized content, they were the preserve of senior staff. Some had primitive e-mail, but it was more efficient to make a call, send a memo or write a letter!
Like every industry, we embraced technology to drive efficacy and efficiency. It democratized information by facilitating access, enabled globalization to leverage economies of scale, reduced reliance on hard-copy resources, and enabled the emergence of a new cohort of information providers.
As we look forward to the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we will see the continued proliferation of data and content. The Internet of Things is accelerating the speed at which we all create data. New vendors will strive to monetize data by creating new platforms and services, shifting their focus from physical to digital assets.
Information-handling skills will become mainstream, with tools and products to leverage this expertise. Content-rich products will proliferate, along with technologies to make their data accessible and free flowing. Natural language processing will deal with unstructured content. Robotic process automation will streamline repetitive tasks and some bespoke work.
Will we still need traditional research skills? I believe so. Organizations will need operational support for knowledge workers and their technology, but I advocate a return to the fundamentals of information management: “to provide access to information.” Now more than ever, organizations need skills to govern and oversee their systems and to identify, source, ratify and validate veracious sources of information. We understand the subtleties of data collection and curation, the context of data, and its ethical underpinnings. Enabling users to understand and access these products is a critical part of our value proposition.
The old adage that “knowledge is power” is truer now than it ever was. Our skills, combined with institutional knowledge, enable us to deliver smart solutions. Our purpose remains the same: to educate and inform our colleagues to make good decisions and give our organizations a competitive edge in overcrowded and increasingly challenging markets.
- CILIP: The Library and Information Association. Information as an Asset: Today’s Board Agenda. Webpage.
- Financial Times. The Edge of Intelligence. Online report.
- World Economic Forum. Fourth Industrial Revolution. Webpage.
STEPHEN PHILLIPS is an information management leader with extensive experience in a variety of functions, including research, information management, and content strategy and acquisition. During his extensive tenure at a global financial services company, he developed his team into the key providers and advisors on information management. He recently established his own venture to offer consultancy and support to a range of clients. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.