Surviving a data deluge

Executives are being bombarded with data, and a new lexicon is defining them by how they deal with it
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The Independent Online

Are you a hoarder of information? Or maybe a deleter? You could be a time-waster, an analyser or a Luddite. But you really ought to be a power-user or a leader.

It seems executives are suffering from information overload. A survey, published tomorrow by Informetica which makes analytical software, found 72 per cent of managers in the UK think their time is being wasted by having too much information sent to them, and nearly half of managers see this as a serious issue. The problem is even worse in Europe. Up to 85 per cent of managers feel they are drowning in data, being overwhelmed by emails, reports and phone calls. The study found there were seven different types of management responses to this overload:

* Hoarder: accumulates information;

* Deleter: destroys everything before evaluating it;

* Time-waster: asks for everything but rarely uses the info;

* Analyser: examines everything but can't decide anything before making a decision;

* Luddite: senior manager who opposes innovation;

* Power-user: wants information to seek opportunities, but needs it in a highly customised form; and

* Leader: recognises the value of critical information and uses it for maximum benefit.

Matthew Goldsbrough of Informetica believes only the latter two are efficiently using the massive amount of information now available to businesses.

"Over the past decade there has been a revolution in the collection of business information," he says. "We've had supply chain-management systems, customer-relationship management systems, etc, etc, but the tools for understanding it have not kept up. You are not getting a proper return on the vast quantities of data being collected."

What, in effect, is happening is that a global memo saying someone has left their lights on in the car park is being given the same prominence as the company's latest sales figures. Executives are receiving upwards of 100 emails a day, as well as 20 or 30 voicemails, and the more conventional post and fax communications.

A side-effect of this is the growth in an industry called data storage, which does exactly what it says on the tin, storing electronic data. Most of this will never be used but is merely held for an unspecified length of time.

With all this data overload, it is not surprising executives are panicking and adopting some counterproductive behaviour traits.