Information overload suffocating managers

2007

Many managers are unable to get their jobs done properly because they find it easier to get hold of information about their competitors than they do information about their own organisations.

That's according to a new survey by Accenture of more than 1,000 middle managers in large companies in the United States and United Kingdom which examined the way managers gather, use and analyze information.

It found that middle managers spend more than a quarter of their time - up to two hours a day - just looking for the information they need to do their jobs, and when they do find it, more than half of it is wrong or of no value to them.

As a consequence of this, almost six out of 10 said that they miss information that might be valuable to their jobs almost every day because it exists somewhere else in the company and they just can't find it.

"The findings show that companies are failing to get the right information to their employees," said Royce Bell, CEO of Accenture Information Management Services (AIMS).

"People and organisations cannot keep up with the volume of information produced by technological innovation. Managers in particular are having great difficulty navigating a rapidly expanding sea of information, and the situation is only getting worse."

Indeed only half of the managers surveyed think their companies are doing a good job in governing information distribution or have put in place adequate processes to determine what data each part of an organisation needs.

Illustrating this frustration, nearly six out of 10 respondents said that having to go to numerous sources to compile information is a particular problem. In fact, just to get the information they need about competitors, customers, project responsibility or even another department means having to go to an average of three different information sources.

To make matters worse, four out of 10 managers complained that other parts of their organisation are not willing to share information, while a third said that there is so much information available that it takes a long time to actually find the right piece of data.

Part of the difficulty, Accenture said, lies in the way managers are gathering and storing information. Most notably, the majority of managers said they store their most valuable information on their computer or individual e-mail accounts, with only 16 per cent using a collaborative workplace such as a company's intranet portal.

"Information is becoming a burden on knowledge workers and will remain so until companies consolidate and streamline the stores and sources of intelligence," said Accenture's Greg Todd.

"Doing so will enable them to give back part of the working day to staff, helped by better governance, delivery, integration and the archiving and retention of information."

The proliferation of different information sources within organisations emerged as the main reason why managing information is proving difficult. With an ever-increasing amount of information flooding the workplace — from e-mail, instant messaging systems and handheld devices like the Blackberry — the research highlights the extent to which companies must have the right processes to weed out useless data, as well as flagging what might be of use to other parts of the organisation.

Ironically, however, IT managers emerged from the survey as spending the most time trying to find information as well as the least likely to feel that what they receive has value. In addition, nearly half of IT managers – more than any other department - said they spend nearly 30 percent of their work week trying to track down relevant information for their jobs.

IT managers, together with their colleagues in HR, are also the most likely to complain of information overload, while customer service managers are the most likely to encounter problems when trying to obtain information about other parts of the company.