» Archive for the 'Knowledge Economy' Category

Assess Your Organization’s Information Overload Exposure

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009 by David Goldes

Information Overload costs companies billions of dollars in lowered productivity and throttled innovation and its impact on the bottom line isn’t something you can ignore. But how much does it cost your organization?

Information overload causes:

  • Diminished comprehension levels
  • Lower individual efficiency
  • Compromised concentration
  • Lost opportunities

Raising awareness of the problem is the best first step so, as part of our Basex InfoBox series of online events, we are inviting you to attend a workshop on Assessing Your Organization’s Information Overload on Friday, March 13, 2009 at 12:30 p.m. EDT/9:30 a.m. PDT.

You are invited to attend as our guest.

In this one-hour session, you will learn:

  • How to begin to assess your organization’s exposure, financial and otherwise, to Information Overload
  • What tactics and strategies other companies are successfully using to fight Information Overload
  • How to assess the toll on knowledge workers
  • How to lessen the impact of Information Overload on the bottom line
  • Six key ways to help reduce the impact of Information Overload on your organization right now

Be sure to join us on March 13.

David M. Goldes is president and senior analyst at Basex.

Defining Productivity for the Knowledge Age

Thursday, February 26th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Productivity is a term you may hear on a daily basis but have you ever stopped to consider its meaning, especially within the context of knowledge work and knowledge workers?  It probably isn’t what you think it is.

Promises of productivity increases frequently come from technology vendors in the course of promoting their offerings.  Few, if any, appear to be able to explain exactly what they are promising, leaving one to wonder if one might therefore type faster, have more meetings, hold more efficient meetings, or write more memos and e-mail messages?  In a more serious vein, however, this is a very serious question: what exactly do we mean when we use the “p” word?

In an industrial setting, defining productivity is simple; it’s how many widgets go flying out the factory door in a given period.  The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, defines productivity as “the rate at which goods or services are produced, especially output per unit of labor.”  The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the term “output per man-hour” to indicate productivity.  When applied to knowledge work however, it seems that all bets are off.  So how exactly can one measure knowledge worker productivity in a quantitative fashion?

It took 150 years from the dawn of the industrial age until the beginnings of a management science began to  develop.  Unfortunately, there is little applicability of the industrial age’s management science to a knowledge economy setting.  Indeed, today we are in the very early stages of developing a management science for the knowledge economy and it will probably be decades before we fully understand even what questions have to be asked.  The wide range of tasks that knowledge workers undertake, combined with the fact that there are different levels of knowledge workers, ranging from those with a single skill to highly skilled workers who exercise independent thought and action most of the time, makes both the task of defining productivity and developing a management science somewhat tricky, to say the least.

We’ll continue to examine this topic in the coming weeks and months.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts, suggestions, or comments, please share them here.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Information Overload in Government: $31 Billion Spent Managing Information

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 by David Goldes

If you’ve ever wondered what the typical government worker does in the course of his workday, it’s a good chance he spends a lot of time filing, deleting, or sorting paper and/or digital information.  According to research released today by Xerox and Basex, based on a survey conducted by Xerox and Harris Interactive, 58% of surveyed U.S. government and education workers spend nearly half of the typical workday doing just that.  Our research found that the effort to manage information costs local, state, and federal governments a minimum of $31 billion per year.

Today, with cutbacks in services looming if not already in place, tackling the problem of information overload is a good place to start eliminating some of these costs.  Taking such steps will speed up work processes, reduce stress levels, and save time and money.

The survey itself was quite revealing.  57% of those surveyed said that not finding the right information was more frustrating than being stuck in a traffic jam.  38% said that they had to redo reports or other work as a result.  24% said they later discovered they had used the wrong information in preparing their work, and 37% agreed that their organizations are drowning in paper (yes, paper: 50% of the processes of those surveyed are still paper based).

If you are curious about your organization’s exposure to Information Overload, visit our Information Overload Calculator.  The calculator allows you to estimate the impact of the problem on your own organization.

So far, well over 5000 people, in industries ranging from advertising to zoology, have determined their exposure.  If you haven’t yet put a dollar value to your exposure, please fasten your seatbelt and try it yourself.  You’ll be glad you did.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

Enterprise Social Networking: Some thoughts from the Online Community Unconference 2009

Thursday, February 19th, 2009 by Cody Burke

Last week I moderated the Social Networking in the Enterprise session at the Online Community Unconference East 2009 in New York.

The theme for the session was Social Networking in the Enterprise.  We discussed trends in social networking that are both internal and external to the enterprise.  In attendance were over 15 knowledge workers from a variety of organizations including Crowd Fusion, IBM, Leader Networks, Leverage Software, McKinsey, MediaVision, Ramius, SAP, Social Intent, Symphonic Consulting, and Time among others.

Here is what we discussed.

Despite the proliferation of social networking, many organizations remain clueless in this area.  Ultimately most companies want to use social networking to improve collaboration and knowledge sharing but they are not sure as to how to proceed.  In addition, many organizations feel pressured to use public social networks for marketing purposes, but they typically do not have a clearly defined set of goals in mind.

It is also important to recognize that building a social networking presence requires a lot of work behind the scenes.  Just because everyone else has a corporate Facebook page does not mean that it is right for your company.  Clearly, more thought needs to go into the benefits of developing a social networking presence in the context of an organizations identity and its own requirements.

One thing was clear (at least to me), companies that develop social networking tools for the enterprise will need to educate decision makers about the benefits of social networking tools in order to gain traction in the marketplace.

Another interesting topic was that of expertise location, something Basex has reported on extensively.  Many knowledge workers experience difficultly in finding subject matter experts, i.e. a Russian speaker or someone who understands how to deploy a specific software solution, and view social networking tools as a possible solution.  Another interesting trend is that some companies are considering deploying fairly sophisticated social networking tools although they have not yet deployed fairly basic community and collaboration tools (such as instant messaging).  That type of leap may not work very well for their knowledge workers.  Social networking tools add an additional level of complexity that some may not be quite ready for.

In terms of knowledge sharing, we heard that many knowledge workers are still information hoarders and have not learnt that there is tremendous value in sharing information with colleagues.  If an organization can’t get past this obstacle, it will not be able to compete successfully in the knowledge economy, where knowledge sharing is, of course, de rigeur.

The foregoing was just a brief overview.  As with most good discussions, more questions were raised than there was time to answer them, but the quality of both people and ideas that were present was refreshing, and we at Basex look forward to continuing this conversation.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

E-mail and the Network Effect

Thursday, February 5th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

E-mail usage is a very good example of the network effect, which describes the effect that one user of a good or service has on the value of that product to others and is usually thought to be a positive thing (the telephone would be useless if only one or two people had such a device but the more people who own telephones, the more valuable each telephone is to its owner).

E-mail of course has benefitted from the network effect.  When e-mail was first invented, there was a limited number of users on the Arpanet and who could send and receive messages.   When MCI Mail and Compuserve’s mail system were connected to the NSFNET in the late 1980s, this first commercial use of Internet-based e-mail expanded the base of users greatly and the value of e-mail increased commensurately as well.

Just as networks become congested at some point after achieving critical mass (an excellent example was MCI’s long-distance network in the 1980s, when the company sold the service to more customers than its nascent network could handle, leading to busy signals and incomplete calls), a negative network effect can ensue.

Today, this is happening in e-mail as resources (mostly the time knowledge workers can allocate to e-mail) are becoming increasingly constrained while knowledge workers continue to pump more and more e-mail into the system, further exacerbating the problem.  Making matters even worse is that the quality of e-mail messages is frequently lacking when compared to more formal correspondence such as a memo or letter.

Next week we’ll look at other issues relating to e-mail overload.

Jonathan B. Spira is the CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Whither Skype?

Thursday, January 29th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Recently, there has been some degree of speculation in the blogosphere as well as the mainstream press about the future of Skype, given eBay’s disappointing profits in 2008.  The Industry Standard went so far as to predict that Google will acquire Skype by August 31, 2009.

Whether or not there is any truth to the rumor – and this Skype for sale rumor has come and gone several times before -  it does present us with a good opportunity to focus on Skype as a company.

The 2005 acquisition of Skype, founded in 2003 by Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis, by eBay for $2.6 billion was somewhat of a mismatch, yet it allowed Skype to flourish and innovate largely unimpeded. Today, Skype needs to continue to build its business and grow on the successes of last year but eBay may not be in a position to support that model going forward.  Indeed, eBay needs to get its own house in order and improve its financial picture.

As I wrote in my 2005 analysis of eBay’s acquisition of Skype, the purchase of Skype served notice to the telecommunications industry that voice was merely another service to be delivered in a data setting, and that the market for voice calling, as we know it today, was simply fading away.

EBay’s acquisition of Skype made little sense at the time (the company attempted to justify the acquisition by promising to use the service to connect buyers and sellers and it did indeed add Skype functionality to auction pages).  Today it makes even less sense for eBay to continue to hold onto the company and management might as well cash in if they find a willing buyer.

Meanwhile, Skype has become a global telecommunications giant, with 405 million users worldwide (a 47% increase from 2007).  In 2008, Skype accounted for 8% of the world’s international calling minutes.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not, 30% of Skype usage is for business purposes.  25% of Skype-to-Skype calls use video.  And in Q4 2008, Skype experienced a 61% increase in SkypeOut calls (a total of 2.6 billion minutes).

A new parent might be able to find new synergy with the company, which could be used to expand Skype’s current largely consumer base into the small- and medium-sized business market and beyond.

The fact that Skype has continued to grow as an entity despite the mismatch with eBay is a testament to the potential this market has.

EBay purchased Skype in 2005 because it could.  Google, the News Corporation, Microsoft, and Yahoo were all said to have had an interest in acquiring the company but eBay was willing to put up the most cash and, because of the differences in business models, was also willing to leave the company alone to continue to innovate (unlike the course of action that Google or Microsoft may have followed).

In theory, potential acquirers could include Verizon or AT&T, a move that would give one of these traditional telephony companies a gigantic push into 21st century consumer communications.  Microsoft or IBM might also be interested, the latter less so given the consumer nature of the business.  Cisco is yet another contender: they certainly have the cash and Skype’s core functionality aligns nicely with what Cisco is doing in multiple areas but Cisco may simply not be that interested in what is perceived largely as a consumer offering.  We can surely rule out Yahoo, which continues to be on Microsoft’s acquisition radar, and while Google has progressed with its own technology a land grab still might work for them and they have the cash to make the purchase.

Regardless of what transpires, I suspect that we will be hearing a lot more from Skype in the not-to-distant future.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Calculating Information Overload

Friday, December 26th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira and David Goldes

A year ago, we announced that Information Overload would be the 2008 “Problem-of-the-Year.”  Now that we know that Information Overload costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $900 billion per year, it appears that it will be next year’s problem as well.

Whether sitting at a desk in the office, in a conference room, in one’s home office, or at a client, the likelihood of being able to complete a task (what many call “work”) without interruption is nil.  Content creation has gone off the charts and new forms of content are being pushed towards us at an ever increasing pace.  It’s not just e-mail, junk mail, text messages, phone calls, and monthly reports anymore.

Information Overload causes markedly lower productivity, diminished comprehension levels, compromised concentration levels, and less innovation.  According to a recent Basex survey, it also causes health problems: 35% of knowledge workers experience work-related back and/or neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, headaches, or stress related symptoms.

One reason the problem continues unchecked is that few people seem to recognize its cost to their organization.  Last week, to help companies understand the extent of their financial exposure, we launched a free, Web-based Information Overload Calculator.  The calculator allows you to calculate the impact of the problem on your own organization.

So far, well over 1000 people, in industries ranging from advertising to zoology, have calculated their exposure.  If you haven’t yet calculated your exposure, please fasten your seatbelt and go to http://www.iocalculator.com.  You’ll be glad you did.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.   David M. Goldes is President of Basex.

Information Overload: Now $900 Billion – What is Your Organization’s Exposure?

Friday, December 19th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

According to our latest research Information Overload costs the U.S. economy a minimum of $900 billion per year in lowered employee productivity and reduced innovation.  Despite its heft, this is a fairly conservative number and reflects the loss of 25% of the knowledge worker’s day to the problem.  The total could be as high as $1 trillion.

Information overload describes an excess of information that results in the loss of ability to make decisions, process information, and prioritize tasks.  It remains a key challenge for companies that operate in the knowledge economy but it is nothing new. Indeed, it was very much on the minds of thought leaders of an earlier information age centuries ago, including Roger Bacon, Samuel Johnson, and Konrad Geßner whose 1545 Bibliotheca universalis warned of the “confusing and harmful abundance of books” and promulgated reading strategies for coping with the overload of information.
In modern times, information overload was first mentioned in 1962, in an article entitled “Operation Basic: The Retrieval of Wasted Knowledge” by Gertram M. Gross.  The problem was predicted by Alvin Toffler in Future Shock (1970), and in 1989, Richard Saul Wurman warned of it in his book, Information Anxiety.

Workers spend up to 50 percent of their day managing information, according to a recent survey conducted by Basex of more than 3,000 knowledge workers, and streamlining these processes can have a significant impact on productivity.  But determining the extent of the problem is the first step.

To help companies understand their financial exposure, Basex has created a free, Web-based Information Overload Calculator at www.iocalculator.com, allowing companies to calculate the impact of the problem on their own operations.  [N.b. Our legal counsel urges that users be seated when operating the calculator.]

Indeed, in order to remain competitive in 2009, companies will need to begin an information overload bailout, i.e. taking active countermeasures, in order to remain competitive.  Nothing is more disruptive to the way we work than information overload and we need to reverse this trend as quickly as possible.

Some companies are already doing so.  Intel, a company with 86,300 employees, sees information overload as a serious problem. “At Intel we estimated the impact of information overload on each knowledge worker at up to eight hours a week,” said Nathan Zeldes, a principal engineer focusing on computing productivity issues at Intel and founding chairman of the Information Overload Research Group, an industry consortium.  “We continuously look at applying new work behaviors that can help reduce its impact.”

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

How I Info-overloaded Myself by Chairing an Information Overload Conference

Friday, July 18th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Perhaps the most frequent question I heard yesterday at the Information Overload Research Group’s First Annual Conference (which I chaired) was, “why are you so passionate about the problem of information overload?”

When I was doing a research project in grammar school, I learnt about the Library of Alexandria.  The library was charged with collecting all of the world’s knowledge, the first effort of its kind, and became a home to scholars from around the world.  It also had one of the most original acquisition policies, namely it (possibly apocryphally) confiscated every book that came across its borders (Alexandria had a man-made port and was an early international trading hub) and copied each one, usually returning the copy, not the original, to its owner.

This (and, subsequently, the New York Public Library, which I frequented during another research project) made quite an impression on me.  But I also realized how much information was out there.  When I started working at my father’s company, Spiratone, helping select and deploy office automation systems, I began to see how information flowed throughout an organization, or sometimes how it didn’t flow.

The time I spent there created an indelible impression of how technology could sometimes work in harmony with business – and sometimes not.

It was in the early 1990s when I began to realize that the spread of then-new technologies within the enterprise, such as e-mail, were creating as many problems as they were solving.

CNBC interviewed me on productivity issues back in 1993.  The reporter, Bob Pisante, opened the segment by saying “It’s not just meetings that are taking up a ton of, time, there’s also a problem with mail.  And in this day and age, mail means e-mail.  You think you’re busy?  Jonathan Spira can get 150 e-mails a day.”

So now that I’ve given you this bit of background, fast forward to this past Monday, when I was in a meeting at the Penn Club trying to prepare for the IORG conference.  I was receiving so many “inputs” from so many people (both in the meeting and on-line relating to the meeting) that I found myself unable to compose a simple paragraph for a news release.

Preparation for the information overload conference had simply overloaded me to a point I hadn’t yet reached before.

I stopped what I was doing, took a meditative stroll through some empty rooms at the Penn Club, and returned to the task at hand about half an hour later.  Paragraph complete, I was ready to move onto other matters.

Next week we’ll present a full overview of the event with links to content from the conference.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

How to Succeed in E-mail Reduction Without Really Trying

Friday, July 4th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Luis Suarez, an IBM employee, threw off the shackles of e-mail, reducing the volume of e-mail he receives by 80% as reported in an article he penned for the New York Times.

But the story of Luis Suarez is a cautionary one.  Yes, with careful planning and negotiation, one can rid oneself of e-mail.

It’s important, however, not to throw the baby out with the bath water here.  There are a lot of good things about e-mail and how we use it (it’s less intrusive, we don’t have to respond in real time, we document what we are saying) – and there are some not-so-good things as well (we obsess over it, we feel compelled to respond in real time, we send too much of it, we cc and bcc too much, we just don’t know when to stop replying).

E-mail has become a critical tool in the knowledge economy arsenal, yet it’s also a subject of derision.


Because we simply don’t know how to manage our own use of it and how to use it intelligently.

The research we’ve done here at Basex, covered by the Times most recently here (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/14/technology/14email.html?scp=1&sq=BASEX&st=nyt), shows that we lose a great deal to poorly thought-out use of a variety of tools, including e-mail, telephone, instant messaging, and so on.

We constantly use the various tools at our disposal to interrupt one another – incessantly.  Send an e-mail?  Better call or IM to make sure it got there.  Received an advisory e-mail?  Make sure to say “thanks” to the sender – and might as well reply-to-all so everyone can see how we’re on top of things.

For a variety of reasons (some of which I covered in my book Managing the Knowledge Workforce), we work with the presumption that everything we are sending or saying is both important and urgent at the same time.  That means that we hold the tasks the recipient of our missives is undertaking as being of lesser importance.

We also seek instant gratification (a phenomenon I traced back to the advent of Fedex in April 1973).  We want everything “absolutely, positively” now.  Even overnight isn’t good enough anymore.

We’ve only been using these tools (e-mail, mainly) for a decade or two – we didn’t figure things out in the industrial economy until we hit the 150-year mark.

We’ll simply need to make adjustments as we go along.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.