E-business, e-government & information proficiency. (Cover Story).
Unrestrained enthusiasm. Many analysts trumpet the transformational potential of digital information, often reducing it simplistically to the concept of information technology (IT). "If you want to be an effective leader in our networked world, you need to engage IT issues," asserts the Kennedy School of Government. It recommends using IT to reshape work and public sector strategies, affect major innovation, and stimulate economic development.
Tempered enthusiasm. A recent report from the Council for Excellence in Government asserts that electronic government "has the greatest potential to revolutionize the performance of government and revitalize our democracy" by speeding transactions, increasing efficiency, and bringing people closer to their government. But it acknowledges "the huge amount of information that government must generate, update, and manage and ... the difficulties of putting programs and organizations of the government's size and complexity online."
Balanced view. A more realistic view acknowledges the fundamental need for sound information management. "More information is not better information," notes author Charles Leadbeater. "Our capacity to generate information far outstrips our ability to use it effectively ... The explosion in our ability to communicate explicit knowledge and to share information makes us far more productive, but only if we can get the right information to the right place at the right time ... What matters is not information but the capacity to make sense of it quickly, turning it into understanding, insight, and judgment."
The message is decidedly complicated and mixed: exuberance about the transformational potential of digital information but continuing questions about how to manage, evaluate, and measure it. Many of the developments in the information field are playing out at high speed within what might be called the digital triangle: e-commerce, e-business, and e-government. E-commerce includes all aspects of business and market processes that operate on the Internet or use World Wide Web technologies. A company can open an e-storefront, but "along with customers, it will also find its suppliers, accountants, payment services, government agencies, and competitors online. This online or digital partnership demands changes in the way we do business from production to consumption ... electronic commerce will lead significant changes in the way products are customized, distributed, and exchanged and the way customers search and bargain for products and services and consume them" (University of Texas at Austin 2001).
E-business denotes "one in which strategic options have been transformed - and significantly broadened - by the use of digital technologies ... A digital business uses digital technologies to devise entirely new value propositions for the company's own talent; to invent new methods of creating and capturing profits; and, ultimately, to pursue the true goal of strategic differentiation: uniqueness" (Slywotsky and Morrison 2000).
E-government refers to the emerging reliance of government on digital information to make information and services available and to engage citizens in a way that meets their needs and reduces apathy and suspicion about government (NASIRE 2000). Digitally borne institutions put information to work for key enterprise purposes (see sidebar on following page).
Technology has made it easy to create, store, transmit, manipulate, customize, and use information. In a sense, as a society we may have enough information technology but need more information savvy to filter, select, manage, and apply it wisely. That situation would appear to be a good opportunity for the ascendancy of information professionals. Instead, it is a time when many of the traditional information professions are re-examining their traditions and earnestly searching for new roles that will align information management with enterprise purposes.
ARMA International, for example, is moving in this direction through its new priority of strategic information management, which is defined as "skills that will enable professionals and their organizations to make well-informed decisions resulting in a distinct competitive advantage in the business world. It draws upon skills from records and information management, information technology, and strategic management." The Special Libraries Association asserts that its mission is:
"To advance the leadership role of our members in putting knowledge to work for the benefit of decision-makers in corporations, government, the professions, and society; as well as to shape the destiny of our information and knowledge-based society. Our vision is to be known as the leading professional association in the information industry - a catalyst in the development of the information economy, and a strategic partner in the emerging information society."
Why is it so challenging for information professionals to master and define their roles in these new information-supported phenomena? Several factors make it difficult for us to find and keep our footing, including:
1. Developments are open ended, change is constant. Everything seems in motion in the information world. E-business and e-government are new. Wireless technologies have burst onto the information scene. People's expectations for 24/7 access and service date from only a few years ago. "Growth in the available measures of e-commerce ... is outpacing last year's most optimistic projections," according to a 1999 U.S. Department of Commerce report. Furthermore, by 2006, about onehalf of the U.S. workforce will be employed by industries that are either major producers or intensive users of information technology and services.
2. Criteria for relevance are changing. There are three emerging criteria that define expectations for information management: (a) pertinence-the desire for appropriate, relevant, customized information that fits an individual's or institution's particular need; (b) speed - the desire and expectation that needed information can be located quickly; and (c) ease of access and use - the notion that information will be compact and relatively easy to identify, access, download, and use.
3. The stakes are high. E-business and e-government value speedy reactions and program deployment. Information equates to money, time, and strategic advantage in the mind of the CEO. Information management has moved from a secondary, support operation to one that is front line and high consequence and high profile. Making a mistake - for instance, setting up an insecure system that fails, a system that is not customer-friendly, or one that can't produce needed legal documents - can have profound negative consequences.
4. Information is formless and formatless. This is by now a familiar theme to almost all information professionals. Digital information is not a good fit for the traditional "containers," including records and books. It is not deferential to or constrained by formats. Leaders of government and business are increasingly disinclined to draw distinctions among different types of information (e.g., records, documents, reports, books, e-mail, Web sites, etc.) They all are, or at least seem like, sub-parts of the broad strategic resource: information.
5. Our field is becoming boundaryless. It is increasingly challenging to describe what records managers do and how that differs from what other information professionals do. At the outer edge of their work, records managers overlap with systems analysts, legal experts, and program managers. For instance, the relationship between records management and knowledge management is a question visited several times in recent issues of The Information Management Journal.
6. Measures of outcomes are lacking. Information managers are adept at measuring and reporting on inputs (resources applied and expended) and outputs (e.g., number of records filmed, number of cartons sent to storage in a records center), but much less skilled at measuring outcomes - the impacts of their services, or what their services changed or made happen. In an environment where evaluations often depend on such bottom-line factors as contribution to new product development, customer satisfaction, and competitive advantage, traditional information professionals may be at a disadvantage.
7. Many professional associations trail rather than lead. Few professional information associations would claim that they can fully anticipate, understand, and address members' needs these days. Our associations are often engrossed in membership surveys, focus groups, and strategic planning that address such issues as how to render services over the Web, attract and hold younger professionals, and define and explain their professional field when it is constantly changing. Associations are trying new e-strategies, including over-the-Web services and online publications.
Information Professionals: Points for Encounter, Engagement, and Influence
Where should traditional information specialties, such as records managers and related professionals, engage and influence the new structures of e-business and e-government? This question may not be important - or even meaningful - to traditional records management programs satisfied with their longstanding roles and the status they now have. But to others, particularly those drawn by the challenge to change, the question is worth asking and answering. There are at least six "meeting points" worth consideration:
1. Where information policy is made. The first place where records managers and other information professionals need to assertively intervene is in the process of information policy formulation - a process that is increasingly assigned to and led by the institutional chief information officer (CIO). The process should include an analysis of institutional needs, discussion of information issues, setting of clear direction, and tying information resources management to the priorities of the enterprise. Records managers can make sure that records issues, such as retention and disposition, are introduced and addressed, show their expertise for such critical issues as measuring information management costs and ensuring legal admissibility, and network at a high level to garner support for their own programs.
A good example of an approach to influencing policy formulation is a planning document prepared by a senior official at the National Archives of Canada for the Treasury Board, that nation's information policy office. The document deftly surveys the information management landscape, discusses the information management implications of government online, analyzes the implications for accountability, and discusses standards. But it is most impressive for weaving in a discussion of records issues, including recommendations for enhancing awareness of public servants about the role and importance of records, incorporating recordkeeping considerations into audit and evaluation tools, and developing records management self-assessment tools, guides, and best practices for records management.
2. Where information systems are designed. A second point of opportunity for creative engagement and building of recordkeeping capacity is during the process where new information systems are being planned and designed. This is the time to have records management issues, such as retention/disposition concerns, directly addressed. Records managers need to bring something to the discussion beyond narrowly conceived records management concerns. Instead, they need to demonstrate how recordkeeping practices fit in with overall information system design and how good recordkeeping will contribute to enterprise concerns and goals, such as being defensible in case of litigation.
An excellent example of this approach is the Minnesota Historical Society's Trustworthy Information Systems Handbook, which provides a framework for designing information systems that address records issues. The overarching rationale is that information systems need to be trustworthy, a term that refers to "an information system's accountability and its ability to produce reliable and authentic information and records. We chose the term `trustworthy' because it denotes integrity, ability, faith, and confidence." An important part of that theme are sound records management practices, which are clearly presented along with other exemplary information management practices. The handbook is a Web-based product, so it can be constantly updated.
3. Where record meets information. Some of the issues that information professionals face are so novel, complex, and unprecedented that even a variation, of traditional records management and archival models have only limited applicability. In those cases, the best choice for records and information management (RIM) offices and professionals may be to offer criteria for success and general guidance on how to improvise. This approach requires insight into the customer/recipient's level of understanding of the advice and an ability to show the connection between records issues and the information initiative that the agency or office is undertaking. Excellent interpretation, communication, and writing skills are essential.
An example is the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) guidance on implementing electronic signature technologies. "An agency's decisions concerning how to adequately document program functions, its risk assessment methodologies, and its records management practices are essential and interrelated aspects of an electronic signature initiative," the guidelines note. The guidelines remind agencies that they must consider records management requirements when implementing the new law and must ensure the trustworthiness and longevity of electronically-signed records. Each point is then explained in general but helpful terms. NARA, the records expert, provides insights, guidance, and criteria, but it is up to each agency to take it from there and to figure out how to responsibly apply NARA's advice in its own setting.
4. Where customer meets institution. E-businesses are information dependent. According to IBM, the following are among the "tenets of e-business success" and "customer-focused enterprise":
* Companies must be equipped to deliver real-time services and information when and where they are needed.
* The ability to gather customer information quickly and use that information to everyone's best advantage, over a lifetime of sales, is essential.
* The same information must be readily available to everyone who needs it, when they need it.
* A single, unified set of customer data should drive every customer communication.
IBM contends, "E-business success rests on giving customers seamless access - not only to products and services, but to intelligent information, counsel, research, and comparative analyses. Long-term prosperity will depend on where you begin and how you scale to meet their ever-evolving expectations." Much of customer relationship management relates to sound information management. Every transaction between a customer and a digital business, and between a citizen and government, results in a record. In fact, documenting transactions is coming to be recognized as a distinguishing mark of a record. Therefore, there is - or ought to be - a natural connection between transaction-intensive business or government and the creation and management of records.
5. Where the institution has its public face. Administration of Web sites from a records management and archival standpoint is a neglected and underdeveloped aspect of e-business and e-government. Professional records managers have expertise in and should have at least some responsibility for developing policies for what gets posted on the Web site, including format and content; deciding whether the Web site itself is a record and, if so, how to manage it as such; and managing the information that appears on the Web site as records, including making provisions for archival retention of materials that have continuing value or legal significance. This responsibility includes such things as defining responsibilities of Webmasters and records managers, evaluating the likelihood of having to reconstruct the past through records from the Web site that could be used as evidence, and generally ensuring that records management issues are addressed (National Archives of Australia 2001).
6. Where law and information intersect. In many settings, records and information management is in effect a partner of the organization's legal office. Sound records management is often the basis for effective and successful litigation.
Often, when organizations fail at litigation, it is because they have excluded information managers from the legal team or because their records are disorganized. The courts, through many opinions, have made it clear that organizations bear a heavy legal obligation to ensure appropriate management of their records.
According to one expert, "Information and not legal rhetoric is the single most important key to litigation success." Many cases are won or lost during discovery - the pre-trial period when oral, written, and electronic evidence is identified and analyzed. In fact, many cases never go to trial; they are settled after the contending parties have a chance to review "the record" broadly defined. "Records and information are the central focus of almost every trial process and [therefore] the records management official is, quite arguably, the key player on the litigation team," contends Lee Strickland, a visiting professor at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies. Advocating sound records management in part on the legal advantage it may bring the organization is a sound strategy.
Toward the Information Proficient Organization
Information proficiency - a broad term that refers to the ability of companies and other organizations to make optimal, systematic use of information to achieve strategic business goals (Buckholz 1995) - is a way of connecting information professionalism with e-business and e-government. The information-proficient organization has the following traits:
* Inspired, energetic, visionary leadership. Effective leadership is visionary, defines a clear mission for the organization, effectively marshals resources, accents empowerment and innovation, and has the capacity and energy to move the organization toward defined goals.
* A CEO and other executives who are information savvy. Senior executives must have a sophisticated view of information's role in the organizations they lead, understand the value of information and the principles of sound information management, invest in development of people as well as information technology, and recognize the need to make relevant information readily available.
* A notion of empowerment that includes valuing initiative, encouraging people to take responsibility for advancing organizational objectives, and providing people with the information they need to act. This emphasis on the central role of people is a distinguishing trait of the most effective organizations. A sense of empowerment is compatible with widespread availability of information, which provides the basis for people to make decisions and proceed with confidence.
* An individual or office designated to lead and coordinate deployment and application of information resources. Someone needs to be in charge to make sure that information planning and policy formulation are carried out, plans are implemented, and information is managed as a strategic resource and asset in line with the best professional practices and for the good of the enterprise. Chief information officer is the term of choice in many institutions; information advocate might be an appropriate term in some settings. This role combines traits of leader, manager, director, coordinator, advisor, teacher, and facilitator, sometimes acting directly on critical matters, such as operation of a Web site.
* Information professionals who play clear, influential roles. Librarians, records managers, archivists, and other traditional information professionals should have considerable influence in information-proficient organizations. They should play the roles of advisors, counselors, partners, and leaders. They understand how information is created, accessed, and used; can apply reliable tools, such as the life cycle concept and retention and disposition schedules; are skilled at helping people find and use information; and take the long view in the sense of gauging the importance of information beyond its original intended use.
* Carefully developed, written information policies and plans. The plans should be flexible, setting forth objectives and outlining strategies but also allowing for revision along the way. Information plans are meant as roadmaps and guides that help organizations make optimal strategic use of their information resources.
* Defined information priorities that foster enterprise strategic advantage. Information works for the enterprise. Information management needs to be tied directly to the priorities of the enterprise. Priority is given to information systems and initiatives that support programs that have large payoffs for the institution.
* Provisions for systematic management of records and archives. This element has transcending importance for the information-proficient organization. The point here is to make sure that provision and support for records management and archival programs are bundled in with other elements of sound information management in information proficient organizations.
* Routinely collects, analyzes, and uses information in key areas relating to customers, products, changes in the business environment, and other carefully defined areas. Information proficient organizations are "information aggressive" - they carefully define information priorities and spend considerable time and energy in getting and using information that provides strategic insight and advantage in those areas (Hamel 2000).
* A corporate culture conducive to information sharing and use. The field of knowledge management has, among other things, demonstrated the necessity of open communication, empowerment, incentives to share rather than hoard information, and the advantages of people pooling their best thoughts to arrive at innovative solutions to difficult questions. In fact, this leavening from within the organization, particularly from front-line workers, is now recognized as an important factor in the success of leading-edge companies.
* Uses appropriate information technology and analyzes specific information and application needs before developing technological solutions. Technology is a tool, a means to an end, rather than a solution. It plays an important role, but it is a supporting rather than a leading one. Goals are revisited, needs are assessed, and sometimes processes are revisited before technological solutions are sought or applied. The needs of people and their objectives are analyzed and understood before consideration is given to technological solutions.
* Enterprise-wide provision for continuing education and updating and upgrading of skills so that employees can understand the strategic use of information and can take advantage of information technology. The information implications of e-business and e-government are vast and not easily understood - even by the experts. The information-proficient organization needs to build into its workplans continuing information education for all employees. This needs to be systematically planned and delivered, change as needs change, and include provision for evaluation of effectiveness and impact.
This list is intended only as a starting point. The notion of information proficiency warrants more discussion and development. It appears to be a way of giving information professionals a new base of operation within the swirling changes brought by e-business and e-government. If the notion proves to be valid, records managers need to consider becoming advocates for and architects of information-proficient organizations. That would be a worthy and appropriate challenge for the RIM community in the coming years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Bruce Dearstyne is a Professor at the College of lnformation Studies at the University of Maryland. He may be contacted at Dearstyne@global2000.net.
AT THE CORE
THIS ARTICLE EXAMINES:
* how digital information is changing organizations and how they operate
* how e-business and e-government relate to the mission and role of information professionals
* the characteristics of an information-proficient organization
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RELATED ARTICLE: Businesses and governments are shifting to a digital basis for doing business, innovating, learning from mistakes, and then trying again. Here is a sampling of interesting initiatives.
Wal-Mart Moves to the Web
Wal-Mart, reportedly the nation's largest retail firm, is becoming a "clicksand-mortar" company by partnering with Accel, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm, to form Walmart.com. The new online business combines technological sophistication with "things that have made Wal-Mart a universally known brand - things like excellent vendor relationships, highly efficient back-office systems, [and] an unswerving commitment to Sam Walton's `Always low prices' philosophy...", as stated on its Web site, which features an array of products under familiar category headings.
Canada Strengthens Communities
Canada's "Smart Communities" initiative supports digital demonstration projects throughout the nation; it is one of several initiatives intended to make Canada the "most connected" nation in the world. A Smart Community "is a community with a vision of the future that involves the use of information and communication technologies in new and innovative ways to empower its residents, institutions, and regions as a whole." For instance, the "Yellow-knife Smart City Project" includes a "HelpNET" to improve collaboration among service providers, a "BusinessNET" for access to business, "CityNET" to showcase' the city to the outside, and forums for exchanging ideas and for influencing city government (smartcommunities.ic.gc.ca).
A Moving Experience with the Post Office
The U.S. Postal Service is partnering with imagitas, a marketing firm, on plans to launch MoversGuide. com, a Web-based service that permits movers to change their address; find information on moving companies and trucks; notify credit card companies, utilities, magazines, and friends and family members of their new address; access motor vehicle and voter registration information; and connect with information about their new communities. It's all Web-based, easy to use, and instantaneous. Movers save time and effort, the post office processes less paper and provides broader services, and it's all free (advertising on the site is expected to bear the costs). (www.imagitas.com).
Easing Aging with the lnternet
The U.S. government's Firstgov.gov comprehensive access site has launched "Firstgov for Seniors," which is designed to "empower seniors to obtain valuable health and security information and services at one location via the Internet. Members of the public should be able to go to one comprehensive Web site to help them find the particular agency(ies) to satisfy their needs." The portal is based on the assumptions that government is a trusted source of information, it doesn't restrict or promote information based on commercial interest, it does not track usage, and it is likely to support presentation of information on lesser-used programs rather than selecting just on the basis of user demand (www.seniors.gov).
Welcome to Texas!
Texas has a Web site that is meant for transactions. "By allowing citizens to interact with their government through one central Web site, we are making government more efficient and putting Texans first," states Governor Rick Perry in his welcome message on the site. "I look forward to the day when a citizen can do business with Texas government online, instead of standing in line." TexasOnline has a welcome site for newcomers (register to vote, license a car, apply for a driver's license) and for people who want to know how to access government services, seek education, find a job, locate health services, and even find needed records (there's a link to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission). The site includes links to the contact points needed to start a business and includes a "Comprehensive Application Process" that facilitates the permit process (www.texasonline. state.tx.us).
GE Brings Good (Digital) Things to Life
General Electric's (GE's) CEO Jack Welch moved the company toward a new e-business vision in the late 1990s. GE already boasted of being "better, faster, hungrier, more customer-focused" than competitors and prided itself on past innovations "until the day this elixir, this tonic, this e-business came along and changed the DNA of GE forever by energizing and revitalizing every corner of this Company." Through the Web, radiologists can upload new GE software to upgrade their machine's performance, utility engineers can check the heat and fuel burn rate of their turbines, and potential buyers can access product specifications. "E-business is the final nail in the coffin for bureaucracy at GE," Welch stated in a February 2000 letter to shareholders. "The utter transparency it brings about is a perfect fit for our boundaryless culture and means everyone in the organization has total access to everything worth knowing" (www.ge.com/annua199/letter/index.html).
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|Author:||Dearstyne, Bruce W.|
|Publication:||Information Management Journal|
|Date:||Oct 1, 2001|
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