Powering Up People & Brands

Tips to Optimise Information Management

Information systems risks

Information systems needn’t be a source of concerns

Information management ranked fifth and systems 4th in the list of key risks perceived by Australian and New Zealand companies according to Aon’s 2010/11 Australasian Risk Management Benchmarking Survey.

Aon said that information management may continue to rise in the risk rankings in the coming years as organisations start to recognise the risks associated with failing to manage, protect and utilise their information effectively.

In another post I have talked about brand reputation which Aon’s respondents listed as the number 1 risk. I have also highlighted ways to overcome information overload and focus on actionable insights to energise your brand. This week I am sharing with you insights on Information Management from Michael Boyens, Managing Director of Zymosys, an Australian company specialised in developing systems that make it easier for SMEs to grow their brand and their business (www.zymosys.com.au).

As a marketer and intensive user of business and market information, I usually think “opportunities” when I think about Management Information systems; opportunities to know more and faster, to share a correct set of information throughout a company, to work more efficiently; And opportunities to better communicate with customers and target markets, more often than ever.

Michael, what is behind this concern about not managing, protecting and utilising information effectively?

The increase in perception of risk reflects major changes in how we do business and how we collect and manage information, and in our customers’ expectations.

Business information has moved from the traditional centralised controlled model to a decentralised uncontrolled model.

Traditionally, information was managed centrally by Information Managers, or Executive Assistants employed specifically for this task. For many today the collection of information and processing of “paperwork” is personally “managed” by individuals across an organisation. We all have our own “systems”, be it on paper or using software with which we have become familiar, making them work for us even if they are not really the best solution. Many have “home-grown” spreadsheets or databases that businesses use in an attempt to better manage the data that does not fit with old or “off the shelf” systems.

“Information is power” is not an uncommon view and it means that information is shared on request rather than be made readily available. A unified approach to managing the streams of data has often been forgotten or not incorporated as part of the Business plan and objectives.

The Digital Age has brought a huge increase in volume of data collected, changing forever our expectations and creating new stress factors.

Information overload is common due to the increase in the amount and types of communication such as email, website communications, Tweets, Facebook comments, blog comments/updates, mobile texting, teleconferencing, Skype etc. The pressure is mounting on traditional systems, processes and on staff to handle the overload, not miss anything important, find solutions and communicate rapidly.

As customers, business partners, managers or staff, our tolerance for “delays” has dramatically reduced! We expect instantaneous information and response to our enquiries or requests. Customers disappointed by the speed with which a business responds to their needs may seek a better response from another brand. So an organisation’s ability to use information smartly is a major contributor to its competitive edge.

Rapid growth for many has resulted in reactive tactical technology purchases.

For many the “solution” to this has been the purchase of technology to address a specific problem. Some examples.. “I need a bigger hard drive to handle all my email”, “We need a File Server to share all our client documents”, “let’s use a spreadsheet to keep a list of our customer names and addresses for marketing”, “my hard drive crashed, let’s buy a backup drive”.

This approach may work for a time, but as the business grows, it creates separate silos of information that can only be accessed by those who set them up or know how to use them. Many businesses are left with an ever increasing complexity of data and information that they can barely process, and are not sure how to protect adequately. What was thought would solve the problem has potentially compounded it, and increased the risk of failure.

What is the Solution?

Information needs to be seen as a high value asset.

Fundamentally a more strategic approach is required. In this way only relevant useful data will be collected, stored and protected. Business processes will be devised around related business goals and objectives and employee’s time will be maximised and directed with purpose and in line with business priorities.

Many businesses are scared by the cost of IT projects and “horror stories” of expensive projects failing miserably to deliver the desired outcomes. What is your advice ?

In our experience the horror stories come as a result of not involving the right people at the right time, applying a slow outdated development process and trying to work with rigid tools instead of seeking flexible solutions. The traditional approach often involves senior management specifying what the process should be without any recent experience of the daily activities at the coalface.

This results in lengthy development cycles, the final product being released several months later, often immediately obsolete due to market changes and unable to be effectively used by staff who often have had limited involvement in the process, are stressed by both implementation issues and work changes.

We believe that owners and staff need to see the value as the system is built and have the opportunity to participate in the customisation and application of the technology to their business and operational processes.

Delivering Value from technology should be an iterative process where you can realise the financial and other benefits from your investment of each stage of the cycle. An effective strategic plan starts with clarifying the big picture, the longer term vision, and breaks down the project into bite-size chunks.

We believe that more participation at the start of each phase leads to greater user “buy-in” and adoption at the end of the phase. It is pointless to have a functional system that is not utilised effectively as a business tool by the people that matter in the organisation.
An iterative approach also enables staff to look at how processes could be improved in the light of a greater understanding of what is possible.
Iteration builds trust, collaboration and accountability for success between the supplier and the business.
Iteration enables the system to adapt, grow with the business and be rapidly tailored to meet urgent business priorities.
The dynamic integration of people and technology is imperative in today’s rapid evolution of the marketplace. It’s more important than ever that businesses are able to respond reliably and immediately.

There is no time for down time!

The very knowledge repository or database thought to be business’s biggest asset could end up its biggest liability if it cannot be managed, processed and utilised in the best possible way.

What do you recommend to business owners to make this iterative system development process work for them?

Use a dynamic ‘software as a service’ system that co-ordinates and automates activities, stores data in a logical way and makes retrieval of data possible in a meaningful and timely manner without the need to buy expensive servers and other infrastructure. These systems need to be flexible and able to be adapted to the way you do business.

Beware “off the shelf” products that may appear inexpensive but block evolution and require you and your staff to change their processes to accomodate the way the system works without making these processes better for you. No point in paying for a system that no-one will use, or can’t use effectively!

Engage Mature Experts who have implemented technology successfully as Business Owners with a proven track record. This is not a job for the technically savvy coder who has limited experience of how technology is used in the real world by the average user, who doesn’t speak “geek”.

Outsource the analysis and implementation of changes using experts who have the “hands on experience” to see the wood for the trees and can do what is needed without major disruption or risk to the day to day function of the business.

Use of expertise in process optimization, system collaboration, streamlining processes, strategic planning and branding all come together to determine what information is important and of value. Storage of unneccessary data is surprisingly costly to a business.

Streamlining usually pays for itself rapidly in multiple ways.

In the end Streamlining repositions a business to increase market competitiveness and profitability, and mitigate the risk of failure.

Michael Boyens’ perspective fits with Garnier Marketing’s belief that creating effective systems is critical to building business effectiveness and enabling brand growth. Planning for the right technology solution is far more likely to be successful when totally integrated with your brand strategy.

For a free no obligation top-lines review of your marketing and related information and communication technology, contact Garnier Marketing. Françoise Garnier & Michael Boyens will jointly discuss with you possible ways your business could reduce risk and improve profitability. Our BrandSystems© solutions may help you simplify the path to your vision.

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