Insights from practitioners in Information Management

Issue 79 – Web 2.0 and the future for Information Professionals

The June edition of the Employment Services Edition of Information Overload takes a look at the future of our industry and asks – are we prepared? Are the organisations we work for (or want to work for) prepared?

In this issue we will look at:

•    Looking to the future
o    You as an individual
o    The organisations that will need people to do the work
•    Training: Undertaking a training needs analysis
•    Keeping up to date with the social networks

Looking to the future:
“HR departments should try to look five and even 10 years into the future to see where the business is heading and how they are going to deal with future challenges”
Row Henson, Oracle
P7 Human Resources March 2009

There are several aspects to what we mean by “looking to the future”:

1. You as an individual
Do you have the skills and abilities to be in the running for a position with companies and organisations that are looking so far ahead?

We have covered this aspect of personal forward planning many times in this edition of Information Overload and the reason is simple – it’s important. Unless you want to retire from the job where you first started your career that is! So a question – Can you imagine doing the same job in the same way for the next 5-10 years?

Unless you enjoy doing the job so much you couldn’t possibly think of doing it in any other way, or for any other organisation – I’d have to say the answer would be no. Whilst there are some people who think change is a swear word, and there will always be an element of similar aspects to your role – when it comes to thinking about your future in your chosen industry and with your chosen employer – will your position still be relevant to them in 5 -10 years if you don’t change / improve in some way? Or will you and your position be removed as part of the dead wood removal process?

As you can imagine, personal and professional development is essential. The formal education we undertook “way back when” has a very short shelf life. Things change and change rapidly especially in the computer world in which we reside as professionals. It doesn’t appear to matter what job you have; if you want to get on, you need to understand and use – computers.

Computers run everything from stock management and inventory, word processing packages to create everything from flyers and newsletters to best sellers; graphics software, databases and of course those amazing search engines that trawl the World Wide Web. The more we know, the more we can do, and ultimately the more we are paid for what we know.

So, a couple of questions:
•    Are your computer skills up to date?
•    With the computer programs you use – did you have formal training or are you self taught? Both are good, but both methods can leave gaps in your knowledge base. Take the process of building websites for instance. If you had to code a page (without the use of a WYSIWYG or content generator) could you do it?
•    Do you keep up to date with changes to the programs you use?
•    Have you looked at any other programs that may do the job you do, but in a better / different way?

If your response is – but I don’t have the time to learn, re-learn or get more training in …….. (Fill in the blank) then consider how much time you will have when they trade you in for a newer, more tech savvy model!!

Say you have a 12 month contract with a large organisation. During your time with the organisation they decided to change their focus and offer more technological services – would you still be able to apply for the job when your contract comes to an end – if the job description now contains selection criteria such as – “being able to fix / troubleshoot computer issues”?

The second aspect of looking to the future lies with our employers. After all, organisations still need people to do the work as they have not yet perfected the robot who can take our places – yet.

2. The organisations that will need people to do the work
Organisations who are thinking short term, bottom line is hurting – where can we cut the dead wood may not be in the position to take advantage of the kinds of people who would be available when things start to improve. The “good” people will want to work for organisations with vision and forward thinking strategies (they may also be in a position to pay more money).

The provision of training to employees is one of the key elements during difficult times. We may lose our colleagues, but we don’t just lose the person – we also lose the knowledge and the skills to get the work done. For those who remain, they may be asked to take on extra duties – but unless that request is backed up by some form of training and / or compensation – the organisation may lose even more staff. It has been said that if an organisation plans to cut back on staff by 10% – they can expect to lose approximately double that number – because those who remain may not feel their job is secure, the organisation doesn’t value their workers and so on. Even during difficult economic times people will move employers if they feel they are being unfairly treated.

There are other several aspects that go along with forward thinking strategies. The first is Change Management. With loss of colleagues, changes to technology and trying to find ways to work better with fewer resources, ensuring there is a change management strategy and process in place is essential. Unfortunately it seems to have been neglected or (IMO) given a perfunctory glance. Change is constant and should be one of the most essential components of an organisations long term strategy to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Whilst some organisations will not pay any attention to the need to have a change management strategy in place, others will be happy to change for changes sake. These also tend to be the early adopters of new technology and wonder why there are bugs in the system, and things fall over on a regular basis. Jumping into new ways of working should not be taken lightly as it takes a lot of time, effort and money as people learn the new systems and processes.  

Training: Undertaking a training needs analysis
Whilst we can justify most of the training we say we want to do, there may come a time when you are undertaking training because you can, not because you “need” to. Training needs exist where there is a gap between the knowledge, skills and attributes required by an organisation and those already possessed by employee. This is determined by conducting a Training Needs Analysis.

There are many reasons why a training needs analysis should be undertaken, including as we have discussed:

•    Introduction of new technology: As we have mentioned previously, new software, and especially those kinds of software that impacts on our jobs at every level will need training and usually across the organisation. For example telephone systems, email, workflow, document management (electronic and / or paper based systems) etc. Whilst training on the new system will be required it may also highlight associated training needs. For example, moving from a largely paper based office environment (are there any of those anymore?) to an electronic environment, will mean users will need training on the new system as well as the associated systems, for example word processing and Email. In addition there will be an element of learning the importance of business classification and retention and disposition of business records. As our working lives become more inter-woven with software, so our training requirements will increase (at least in the short-term).

“The NCVER-funded work and work carried out in the United States shows that training does not act alone to improve the performance of firms. The importance of training lies in the fact that it allows firms to introduce change more successfully. Thus firms experience considerable productivity benefits from the introduction of new technologies. But they do not realize those benefits fully unless employees have been properly trained to operate and maintain the new equipment—similarly, with other forms of innovation. Thus training pays its highest dividend to firms when it is linked to ‘bundles’ of other innovative practices such as new ways of working and new forms of organisational structure.” P14 Return on investment in training: an introduction. Andrew Smith – published in NCVER: Return on investment in training: Research readings, Australian National Training Authority, 2001.

•    Change in Job Descriptions (New Duties): As our duties change, so does our need for new / additional training. And with the loss of some of our colleagues – organisations may find their productivity takes a nose dive further exacerbating the problem of poor bottom line figures.
•    To improve productivity and safety issues: by teaching people new skills and processes.
•    To improve product lines or fill gaps in the market: Businesses that do not build or adapt to the ever changing needs of the market place will rarely stay in business over the long term. And as we have seen, there have been a lot of established organisations and companies who are struggling at the moment, and some have already gone under. We are of course not saying that some of these people did not try and improve product lines or fill gaps, the current economic crisis is re-writing the business landscape in ways most of us had never envisaged.

“Training should be directly linked to the organisational training needs analysis. Training needs to be focused on a clearly identified business problem. The more focused the training on the actual needs of the business, the higher the return that the firm will experience from its investments in training.” P14 Return on investment in training: an introduction. Andrew Smith – published in NCVER: Return on investment in training: Research readings, Australian National Training Authority, 2001.

Organisations that see training as a black hole where money is poured – but nothing concrete comes out the other end may end up losing key workers to organisations who do see training as a vital component during the next phase of business consolidation and future growth.

Keeping up to date with the social networks
Have you clambered aboard the social networking and web 2.0 bandwagons yet?

At first thought to be a waste of time, sites like facebook with its VISA Business Networking pages and Fan Pages along with Twitter have become a large and growing network of people communicating with each other at many different levels. These large networks have and will continue to evolve into ways to market ourselves and our businesses relatively quickly, easily and with little or no marketing budget – relatively cheaply (notwithstanding time and internet connections). The problem I have found with the social sites such as facebook and twitter – is it takes time to generate a following and even more time to generate enough energy for people to click on a link that may generate some kind of business return on investment. Given the twitterati do not like Direct Mail that looks awfully like SPAM, (and I am one of those who will instantly delete people who try and sell me anything without having generated a certain level of trust first) you do have to be careful with your positioning – but it can be done and done successfully.

But – the people who don’t truly understand these kinds of sites will assume that – if they create a profile, people will turn up – and start interacting with them. Sorry it doesn’t work like that.

•    First you need to decide on your position
•    Second you need to decide whether or not you are willing or have the time to spend communicating with people, often with little or no feedback on how well you are doing.
•    Third you need to find people and interact with them. You can’t wait for people to find you – you need to do some initial ground work and search for people in areas that you have decided to position yourself in.
•    Fourth you need to post interesting and useful messages. These messages can then be re-posted (quoting you – which is how you get a following) and
•    Fifth – you need to repeat the above ad naseum.

Once you have done all of the above, you can then start to link your blogs with your websites and have posts (blog entries) re-directed so they post automatically into the social networking sites (Facebook and Twitter et al).

Which can and does take a lot of time. BUT – if you are serious about Web 2.0 and what lies ahead, then you do need to learn and use these kinds of sites as these are the kinds of places where other people in the know will be talking about new services and ways to do things.

For instance – there are a lot of computer professionals on these kinds of sites which is very helpful if you are having a software problem or want to know the pros and cons of a particular product. Then there are the early technology adopters – they will post messages relating to issues and problems they are having. There are professionals from every sphere – from marketing through librarians and records managers. You also get the weird, the wonderful and the stay at home moms – but it’s up to you whether you get their information in your incoming stream. Just because they follow you does not mean you have to follow them.

The other thing I will mention with regards to positioning, blog entries and articles relates to headers and abstracts. This is the world of sound bytes, headlines that grab attention (in a good way) and short abstracts with a read more if you are interested.

What some web writers are still trying to push are the “squeeze pages” a one page website that has one outcome as far as you are concerned. They want you to read their words and click on the buy now / sign up here button at the end – and all without that level of trust generation we spoke about earlier. Believe me when I say – the one page website may work, but it’s also old technology as far as websites are concerned and certainly not Web 2.0. As we have mentioned before – yes we want people to interact with us and buy from us, but we do that by generating trust – and we do that by providing relevant content and lots of it.

The internet will continue to evolve and in ways we have only just begun to appreciate. As information professionals we should be looking at ways to deliver information to our clientele and in as many different and varied ways as possible. Given that some of our clients are based across a diverse country, you can begin to see the importance of a network such as the World Wide Web and then all we need to do is exploit it to get our information “out there”.

We hope you enjoyed reading, have a great week.

With many thoughts