We're all familiar with the idea of information glut, but quantifying the problem is another matter. A new and interesting study from Accenture helps explain the degree of this phenomenon, along with the parallel problems of wrong or inaccessible information. The study, released last week, sampled 1,009 managers in the U.S. and U.K. and includes the following highlights:- Users say information on competitors is easier to find than information about other parts of their own organization.

- Managers spend up to two hours a day searching for information, and more than half of what they find is of no value to them.

- Only one-half of managers think their organization does a good job of information governance or have adequate processes to determine what data each part of the organization requires.

On the surface, the study confirms what most of us recognize: a lack of aligned structured and unstructured data sources; a lot of compartmentalized information on desktops and Exchange servers; and a related poor collaborative use of information. The latter two findings struck me, since collaboration and portal technologies - hot topics a few years ago - have gotten passé treatment in the last couple of years. I know this well because my last major publishing project involved portals and collaboration, and two years ago I sensed the movement running out of steam, continuing investment notwithstanding.

That is partly due to changing architectures that cut into the business of portal pure play vendors like Plumtree, Vignette and Epicentric. Some early portals based on simple templates were clumsy and not very useful. Later versions were much more interesting and creative, but not quite the customized, personalized productivity-boosting interface we were waiting for. Proprietary solutions took another hit as standards baked far too slowly and composite applications entered and to a degree, took over the discussion.

Portals are middleware now we are told; if so, it looks like they are not being applied workers with much of an overhead information strategy. The most telling statistic to me in Accenture's study is that just 16 percent of managers are using a collaborative workplace such as a company's intranet portal. Fifty-nine percent store their vital information on a computer hard drive or individual email accounts. In my experience portals seem to have become more task-oriented, windows for sharing reporting tools or for sharing various information with partners, suppliers and customers.

The stats in the report do handily support Accenture's blossoming Information Management Services practice, but then, that's why the consultancy made such a big commitment to information management at the beginning of last year. "From our point of view, the results confirm some of the concerns we had about information overload on middle managers and the obvious sets of silos that companies have built up over the years around structured data and unstructured data," says Greg Todd, senior executive with Accenture's information management practice. Accenture's approach gathers structured data and BI tools, unstructured enterprise content management and workflow, and shared service portals and collaborative technology under an information management umbrella. Companies operating these three areas as separate disciplines face disconnects that information management architecture hopes to reckon with.

A few months ago I spoke with Accenture's Information Management Services practice CEO Royce Bell, who agreed that there is not a single set of tools present today to manage the problems described here. And certainly, as Scott confirms to me, it's a combination of culture and technology: business process, practices, policies, procedure along with the enabling technology. But part of the information management discussion surely rests in that working interface. Maybe it's time to get back to the old portal philosophy, where the old wooden desktop of a phone, stapler, postage meter and stack of papers would yield to a computer desktop of items that were easier to use and share. Many bits of this are already in place with familiar productivity tools of course, but what we've not yet done is standardize, institutionalize and integrate modern corollaries to the old desktop in a way that works better than it used to. That's what people are still waiting for. Until then, we still have a lot of junk on our desks to keep organized.

We'll cite a few of Accenture's findings in the next issue of BI Review. Until then, please send comments and suggestions to me directly at jim.ericson@sourcemedia.com.

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