The greatest truism of every career I have personally pursued or covered as a journalist goes something like this: No matter how bad things get, there's always room for talent. Even if you don't hear this clarion call so often anymore, I'm pretty sure it's still true.
What this means in the realm of Information Management is companies should be cherry-picking the best of graduate students to provide a boost to high-priority business quests. The problem is - without apologies to Stanford, Wharton or Harvard Business School - is that we're not seeing the kind of business focused/process and technology aware students coming into the market that you'd expect at this point in time.
I know this to be true, having sat on a panel or two at business schools, and some of my peers feel the same way. "I deal with a lot of MBA students and not a single one of them understands what BI is," says Boris Evelson, analyst at Forrester Research. "It's a huge failure of our education system."
The failure is that business schools are not confronting professional realities. We do see a stream of retired and working executives filling professorial ranks so it's hard to understand why this is the case. Perhaps they come from too high a level in the organization to deal with Information Management on an intimate level. Maybe they left their careers before BI and Information Management came to be a core priority at their companies.
We've noted exactly one major exception in Widener University's Business Process Management program, which is tied practically with the local business community. There are a few other examples, such as Pitney-Bowes VP of Product Development Rungson Samroengraja, who teaches at NYU's Stern school when he can find time.
We've also noted that younger people tend to be more efficient in their personal information quests than their older peers, so maybe part of the problem will take care of itself.
But in the corporate structure, young arriving managers are likely to find nonsensical roadblocks when it comes to taking control of their role, gathering information and putting it to work. More than likely, they'll end up turning to the kinds of departmental information enablers we write about all the time in BI Review.
Over the past five or so years the business/IT construct has come to the same conclusion as the consumer:
Information Gatekeeper = BAD
Information Provider = GOOD
Information Self-Service = BETTER
What my caveman reduction is missing of course is that we're not ready to depend on the corporate search box and so it takes both business acumen and technical agility to know what we are seeking, navigate and make sense of what we're seeking - and what we're actually looking at.
The people that the business schools need to be following around with a clipboard are the new intermediaries, distributors and brokers of information. They are people like Marge Williams at Burlington Coat Factory, (who is the subject of a profile in the next BI Review). Ms. Williams' career went from compensation manager to HR Information Systems manager in the course of a few years. Today she is the go-to person at her company for HR reports of every flavor affecting hiring, compensation, benefits and even legal compliance.
Our friend Boris Evelson at Forrester sees two sides to the problem. "Everyone knows, 'without measurement there is no management.' Any manager who is technical enough, sophisticated enough to become this power user of BI can navigate dashboards and find the right KPIs and the right report, they are becoming very, very valuable in organizations."
The flip side of Evelson's equation is the demonstrated failure of BI vendors to deliver business intelligence to the masses. "They all talk about it. You can use Excel, there's this easily navigable portal and we're giving you this new search interface but you know what? That isn't happening. People are still going back to the power users for that information."
It's the transition from one-off, day-long information quest to methodologies that support functional managerial roles and processes that is the high ground right now. In the absence of such methodologies suited to HR or logistics or customer service, it's just lots of information and technology that leads to lots of dead productivity.
De facto experts like Marge Williams are just the kind of people every company wants. While there's no substitute for experience, explaining the actual rules of the game up front is the best way to measure talent in fairness to employers and employees alike.
Feel free to drop comments and suggestions to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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