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9/17/2009
07:25 AM
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Meet Your New Enterprise App, Information Intake Management

Some enterprise teams that I work with, when confronted with the question, "what do we do with this new social networking thingy" immediately shoot back, "we're getting killed with emails -- we can't deal with the information we have." It's not that new social information isn't useful. It's that when you're already drinking martinis from a firehose, somebody offering you a cosmo is ironically tragic.

Some enterprise teams that I work with, when confronted with the question, "what do we do with this new social networking thingy" immediately shoot back, "we're getting killed with emails -- we can't deal with the information we have." It's not that new social information isn't useful. It's that when you're already drinking martinis from a firehose, somebody offering you a cosmo is ironically tragic.Paul Hemp at Harvard Business Review goes a step further this month, citing that individuals, as well as organizations, pay a high price for unmanaged information overload, with one researcher citing a $1B productivity problem.

Hemp mentions some solutions to the problem like filtering, and his practical list of "10 Ways To Reduce Email Overload" is not to be missed. You should, er, immediately email all your colleagues about it. SEND THIS TO EVERYONE YOU KNOW OR SOMETHING BAD WILL HAPPEN. Ok, maybe post it in the break room.

He also offers Zen-like advice from expert Jerry Michalski: "You have to let go of the need to know everything completely... Trust your community to filter and flow the right things to you when you need them."

But an enterprise problem is rarely solved by individual applications of technology and techniques. It may be time for your organization to consider that combating information overload is, as Hemp suggests, an organizational problem. In the same ways that CRM or ERP are enterprise applications, maybe "information intake management" is an enterprise application as well.

Now, I'm not suggesting that applications to filter information aren't available. What I'm suggesting is that they're not perfect, that results vary greatly with the approach to use, and that a systematic approach may be needed for the organization to successfully protect its individuals from the type of burnout that information overload can create (Hemp's article suggests that it may be more profound that marijuana use. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it).

Successful enterprise applications are about more than IT providing technology solutions. They require a concerted effort between business unit managers, IT, and employees; and they require significant change management to ensure that individuals adopt new ways of doing things.

And that is perhaps most irritating part about new media, smart phones, and "always on" employee issues: they are outside the direct span of control of the organization. Managers might wonder if they can do anything about that 15% of employees who are checking their email in church.

But organizations have tackled work-life balance issues for years. Indeed, they've invaded our personal lives about tobacco cessation and other wellness issues. For managers to think that information overload is an issue outside their purview is a cop-out. IT can be part of the solution by treating the portfolio of practices and software that surround information intake management as something of an enterprise application.

Jonathan Feldman is an InformationWeek Analytics contributor who works with IT governance in North Carolina. Comment here, or contribute to his information overload at jf@feldman.org or _jfeldman on Twitter.

Read more about IT governance at governance.informationweek.com

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