Call for papers: The Connected Workplace

Contributions are invited for a themed-issue of Business Information Review on the topic of “The Connected Workplace” to be published in December 2019. The issue will explore emerging technology in the workplace, with a particular emphasis on human issues and the impact of technology on Information and Knowledge Management in the commercial sector. Topics of papers may include:

  • Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (MR) applications in business environments; remote working facilitated through VR/AR. Training and skills requirements around VR/AR.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) in commercial settings; how AI is changing professional roles; training requirements around AI; the ethics of AI in commercial contexts.
  • Intelligent automation reshaping the way in which work gets done.
  • Collaborative software and cloud based systems in the workplace.
  • Technologically enhanced distance learning; implementing flexible working spaces; virtual offices and virtual organisations.
  • Gamification of the workplace.
  • Machine learning in business contexts

We also welcome contributions on any other aspect of emerging technology in the workplace. All papers should address the professional requirements of Information and Knowledge Management as it pertains to practice in the commercial sector.

Expressions of interest in contributing to the themed issue should be sent to the editors (via l.tredinnick@londonmet.ac.uk) by 15th May 2019 Papers should be between 3000 and 6000 words in length, and the deadline for submission of completed papers will be 01st August 2019.

About Business Information Review

Business Information Review (BIR) is published by Sage Journals and addresses information and knowledge management within commercial organizations. The journal features papers by professional practitioners and LIS researchers in equal measure, and has a strong record of encouraging and developing practitioner research. The journal also promotes evidence-based professional practice and encourages the sharing of professional expertise and experience. We aim to:

  • Report on best current practice in business information provision;
  • Evaluate business information resources and anticipate new forms of resource;
  • Highlight new professional developments and trends;
  • Scan the horizon for longer term developments.

For over forty years Business Information Review has helped develop the careers and practice of commercial librarians, information and knowledge managers, and to promote the commercial libraries, information and knowledge management sector.

Business Information Review publishes a range of different kinds of article, including:

  • Professional articles sharing professional expertise and experience
  • Research articles reporting on research projects or findings
  • Opinion articles discussing an emerging issue or controversy
  • Out-of-the-Box articles addressing technological developments

Initiatives articles addressing changing contexts of professional practice

If you are interested in writing for Business Information Review, or would like more information about the early career prize or the journal then do please contact the editors Claire Laybats and Luke Tredinnick via businessinformationreviewj@gmail.com

The issue of personalisation and its impact on KM

Author Hal Kirkwood BIR Board member, Bodleian Business Librarian, Said Business School, University of Oxford. President, Special Lib Assoc. 2019

The current state of affairs was on full display at the last (November 2018) KM World Conference in Washington DC.  I had the opportunity to attend for several days to see first-hand what is happening in the knowledge management realm.  There were many themes prevalent throughout the conference; each day consisted of 3 tracks. The Day One tracks focused on KM & Culture, Digital Workspaces, KM Tools & Tech.  Day Two tracks focused on Knowledge-Sharing Processes, Content Management, and KM Culture & Collaboration.  Key takeaways and themes were the importance of collaboration; identifying the right tools to fit the problem and your organization’s culture; designing environments, both physical and virtual, for employees and clients; determining how to transfer knowledge; developing information ecosystems; and the implementation and impact of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  The clear underlying theme is the continuing intersection of people and technology.

One aspect that is gaining traction into KM is personalization; utilizing individual user data to provide a more focused recommendation or timely suggestion. Technology, in conjunction with access to massive amounts of data, is driving momentum towards ever greater personalization.  Personalization, not customization.  Consumers become weary of making choices when these systems can make relevant choices for them based on their prior experiences.  Consumers are showing preferences towards companies that provide effective, relevant personalization.  However, since knowledge management focuses on the internal management of a company’s knowledge personalization at the employee level has been slower to develop.

Personalization has primarily been within the purview of marketing and consumer buying habits.  The power of personalization relies on a combination of data that was once inaccessible; namely geolocation crossed with purchasing habits.  It has become especially powerful when the immediacy of time is included to deliver personalized information and recommendations to a potential customer at the most optimal moment to affect their behavior.  Artificial intelligence and machine learning will make significant inroads in the personalization strategies of companies marketing plans to provide more focused experiences for customers.  1

The challenge for many companies is to scale this personalization to the masses.  AI and machine learning will increase the capacity to track multiple data points for larger numbers of customers. This will increase the expectation of customers for improving levels of service that meet their exact needs and requirements.  Evidence shows that it is highly successful when implemented in increasing sales and customer satisfaction. but that most companies are not implementing it.

Every company is now looking for ways to gather customer data that can be used to make more informed, and more specific, decisions on individuals.  Many companies are also capturing terabytes of data on customer behavior to then sell to businesses for this very reason. There is the issue however, that the attempt at personalization will be wrong based on the AI processing poor or inaccurate information.  As personalization becomes more accurate, and more ubiquitous, it will seem all the more glaring when AI-driven personalization is incorrect. Consumers are likely to feel more uncomfortable about what data is ‘out there’ on them and its accuracy, or lack thereof.  This is a complicated issue of human perception of technologically driven services.  How much control we have over all of this data is also a major concern.  In Europe, GDPR is beginning to make an impact by providing consumers with more control over what data is collected and how it is used.  It remains to be seen how exactly this will impact the data collection and utilization process. Many consumers, when surveyed, approve of the use of their data if they will receive a tangible benefit. There are some conversations taking place about implementing some form of GDPR in the United States, but little in the way of concrete details have provided.

Companies such as Netflix, Spotify, Amazon, and several other key companies are pursuing, and leading, the development of even greater data collection to develop ever more enhanced services for individuals.  Areas like physical fitness, healthcare, and personal finance are becoming driven by apps that collect personal data to then provide recommendations relevant to an individual’s life.  Consumers will allow themselves to be tracked in this way because of the return on investment of their personal data.

The majority of personalization development has been in the B2C marketplace; there will likely be increased demand for it on the B2B side.  The key element will be systems that collect client-level data that can be assessed by AI applications.  Many companies are moving into this to deliver solutions for collecting and analyzing data.  Business intelligence systems will develop as AI and machine learning are layered into them for much greater personalization of services and deliveries to corporate clientele. Companies must make the choice to implement an AI-based system to drive their decisions.  Not an easy task when it often requires a significant operational and cultural shift in how they conduct business.  Companies making this decision are likely to benefit but must be wary of the myriad pitfalls.  What ramifications this will have on the competitiveness of companies and markets, as well as within the broader business information environment still remains to be seen.

2018 a year of welcome, congratulations and goodbyes at BIR

We are just in to 2019 and already we are looking at papers and planning for the end of the year! Reflecting on how quickly things move along I thought it would be good to look back at what had happened at BIR in 2018.

It certainly wasn’t a dull year.  We had a number of editorial board member changes and were pleased to welcome Hal Kirkwood to the team who has just taken up the post of SLA President for 2019 in addition to his work with BIR and his day job as Bodleian Business Librarian at Oxford University.  We’d like to wish Hal all the best and congratulations in his new post as President of SLA.

Congratulations are also due to a past editor of BIR, Sandra Ward.  Sandra was awarded CILIP’s highest honour, an honorary fellowship in recognition of her work and many contributions to the information profession throughout her career.  In their November newsletter CILIP said “ We are also delighted to announce that Dr Sandra Ward has been recognised by CILIP for her many contributions to the Information Profession throughout her career and particularly for her fantastic contribution to CILIP’s Knowledge and Information Management Project and the launch of the Knowledge & Information Management Special Interest Group”. Congratulations Sandra from all of us here at BIR.

Thanks should also go to our board members who have retired from the board this year, Martin White and Penny Leach for their support and contributions to the journal.

We have also added to our awards section, encouraging both those starting in their career as well as the more experienced members of the profession to develop their skills and knowledge and write for the journal and be considered for one of our annual best paper prizes.  We will shortly announce the winner for 2018’s best paper prize and are actively encouraging early career professionals (first or second jobbers) to submit papers to be considered for our Early Career paper prize (launched at the end of last year) which we hope to be assessing towards the end of 2019.

Emerging technology and content buying

Author: Penny Leach, Associate Director, EBRD, and BIR Editorial Board Member

Please note this post contains the personal views of the author and are not connected with her employer.

Emerging technology and innovation are impacting content buying – and selling – in multiple ways.  This was the conclusion of a lively session held at the SLA Conference this year.  The situationis evolving rapidly, with varying levels of appetite and capacity to optimise the exciting opportunities.  As is so often the case, collaboration between multiple parties is more likely to lead to success, makingthe most of harnessing data in ways thatfree human intelligence for more value-add activity, and create appropriate commercial models.  However there are challenges and concerns – the fear of unknown costs, of loss of control over proprietary content,of missing out (and being disenfranchised) due to a lack of knowledge or resource and appropriate infrastructure, raising both private and public sector concerns.

The SLA Conference this year was held in Baltimore in June.  The Conference is a great way to meet other information professionals and other members of the information community from across the globe and build better connections in person.   Every year the SLA Leadership & Management Division’s Content Buying Section brings together an experienced panel representing different approaches in thecommunity of content of vendors and buyers, to provide reality-based insight.   This year the panellists were Amy Davis, Senior External Content Advisor at EY; Tim Baker, Global Head of Innovation at Thomson Reuters (now Refinitiv); and Bill Noorlander, Director of BST America (Conference sponsor).

The panel focussed on four emerging technologies that are creating content and new ways of deriving value from content: the Internet of Things (IoT); Data Analytics; Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotics Process Automation (RPA).  Early on, the largely buyside audience was reminded that content is not normally for sale but rather is leased for specific purposes – hence the complex contractual terms that are needed to protect all parties (content creator, provider and user).

Several themes emerged from the discussion,and from audience questions during the interactive session.  Generally the new content and technologiesare seen to enable several kinds of ‘smarter’, such as better client experience when deploying more visual and user-friendly products, more machine-ready data that customers can use in their own apps, and more efficient companies using their own data effectively to reduce cost (automated processes) and add value (e.g. finding more content to enrich products).

There is increasing usage of sensor-based devices in personal, industrial and civic applications (IoT).  This is creating new and extremely high volume data streams to add to the fast-growing mass of structured and unstructured data that isalready part of our digitised world.  This data ‘exhaust’, as a by-product of core businesses, offers opportunities for monetisation – for example in the financial sector– but with caveats that (as ever) mean ‘free’ is not really the case.  These alternative data sets are messy, fragmented, lack standardisation and history, and are hard both to use effectively (signals can be weak),  and to price.   For vendors, it is costly to develop and maintain new commercial offerings where client needs might be very specific.  There are hurdles, too, around data privacy and ownership, and legal terms such as the definition of users.  ‘Bots’ for example, one of the tools created by AI and an example of RPA that can free humans from repetitive tasks, may be prohibited by legacy contracts.   And just how do you count ‘eyeballs’ and fingertips?

On the buy side, the panellists concurred that it is better if multiple stakeholders are at the table – information professionals familiar with content licensing and the concept of reference interviews to articulate data needs, IT, procurement, legal advisors, and of course, the business process owners – to determine the requirement, negotiate new or amended license rights, match price to available budgets, and finally but not least, implement the new tools.

New players are emerging- new intermediary service companies such as data  ‘wranglers’ as data science and analytics skills (e.g., Quandl)  and new roles such as Chief Data Officers (CDO). More tools are needed to commoditise processes to reduce development costs and to deal with challenges.  Blockchain for example may help with the tracking of data elements.  As ever, watch this space!

Emerging skills for the information profession – The 4th theme in the BIR Annual Survey

Over the past two years Business Information Review has examined a range of emerging technologies that are beginning to impact on professional practice in the commercial information management sector. These have included smart technology, cybersecurity, Augmented Reality, and Virtual Reality. We have also explore a range of social and regulatory issues associated with emerging technology including GDPR and fake news. The information profession has become closely aligned to technological change, and information professionals have often been early adopters of new ways of communicating, managing, and finding information, data and resources.

The issue that has recurred most frequently over that time, both in the journal itself, and in the conversations that we have with professionals to discuss which professional trends the journal should be addressing, has been the growing place of Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI poses advantages as a tool in information management, but also challenges as a disruptive technology for the profession, business services, society more widely. AI has featured as a topic in the journal in March 2018, December 2017 and March 2017. And it is featured again as a dominant theme in the 2018 BIR Annual Survey, but in two ways.

In July this blog reflected on the ways in which AI is poised to transform information work and business processes. But that change and other associated technological developments pose a different set of challenges for information professionals, implying new ways of working, and an associated new set of skills and knowledge. The final theme in this year’s BIR Annual Survey reflects the ways in which senior information and knowledge professionals in the commercial sector are beginning to tackle these challenges, and confront the changing skills-set of the future information professional.

The BIR Annual Survey is the longest running continuous survey of the needs and working lives of commercial information and knowledge managers in the World. Since 1990 it has provided an invaluable insight into the changing world of Information and Knowledge Management. We like to think of it as an annual snapshot of the state of the profession. Throughout July and August we have provided a taste of the issues that are preoccupying information and knowledge professionals in the 2018 BIR Annual Survey. The final report will be published in the September issue of Business Information Review, and provides a fascinating insight into a rapidly changing profession.

Realising the value of data – Third Theme in our BIR Annual Survey

This is the third in our series of themes from the latest BIR annual survey.  The value of data is something that is constantly being discussed within organisations – How do we make the most of the data we have? How do we realise the benefits?  How do we know what we know? how do we commercialise it?

All are interesting questions and equally important.  Since the rise in popularity of ‘big data’ which started around 2005,   (we have been focussed on collating data for much longer than that but technological advancements that culminated around this time gave rise to the possibilities of gathering and making use of large and potentially disparate data sets), organisations have been increasingly looking at gathering data – on their customers, on their competitors, markets, business environments to name a few.  Within this time organisations have also been trying to figure out how they can realise the value of the data they have gathered.  Even today with advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) organisations are still struggling to assess the value of data.  If it is done correctly it can help inform strategy and investment in future business assets and acquisitions, if it is not then it can be very costly indeed.  There are a number of ways for looking at how to measure the value of data but at this time none are accepted as the way forward.

McKinsey have written articles and conducted research in this area.  They have found that those organisations that are able to leverage customer insights to inform and improve the business are out performing peers by 85% in business growth and sales.  McKinsey note that most organisations find it difficult to realise the potential value of their data because of different technologies, legacy systems and siloed working meaning that data is fragmented all over the place.  It is this situation in particular that hinders organisations taking real advantage of the data they already hold and can lead many into investing externally into research and competitive analysis in order to leverage value from data.

What is the answer?  You the information professional are the key to the answer.  An understanding of search, location and structure of the internal data as well as the context in which it was found and stored is vital to making sense of the wealth of data an organisation holds.  Jinfo reported on the importance of the information professional in Data Analytics – ready your information service (see references below) looking at the importance of source expertise for gathering and analysing external data. In gathering and analysing data context and source are key to providing accurate insights to inform organisational strategy.

Read more about what information teams are considering and doing today to have an impact on data value in our annual research report published in September’s issue.

References

https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/your-data-is-worth-more-than-you-think/

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/capturing-value-from-your-customer-data

https://www.informationweek.com/big-data/big-data-analytics/how-valuable-is-your-companys-data/a/d-id/1331246

Data analytics – ready your information service https://web.jinfo.com/go/sub/report/2760

 

On hollowing out….

Author: Stephen Phillips, Executive Director Morgan Stanley and BIS Editorial Board Member

Please note this post contains the personal views of the author and are not connected with his employer.

Earlier this year Stephen Dale wrote a fascinating article on corporate memory for the May edition: “Are we destined to forget everything we already know”.  As I reflected on his narrative, I felt the need to explore this topic further, as organisations appear to have become “hollowed out” as they focus on cost to deliver short-term efficiency and opportunity.

I also felt the need to re-interpret some of the terminology used to define information, knowledge and memory.  The vocabulary for these concepts has become interchangeable in many organisations as they continue to search for increasingly challenging opportunities to realise further benefits from managing this space.

A quick search on Google (I know!) reveals the first definition of knowledge to be facts, information, and skills acquired through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject”. Nothing contentious there, but the second definition cites it as “information held on a computer system”. The latter was a new one to me; since when did knowledge become defined as information held on computer systems?

Another interpretation rang more true to me: “awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation”.  To my mind, this speaks to the human nature of knowledge – it is much more than facts and information; it is about awareness, familiarity, experience, consciousness, perception and appreciation.  All nouns that reflect human nature and remain technological aspirations; at least for the time being.

Whilst it is important to recognise and appreciate the capabilities of the latest developments in AI, machine learning and neural processing, it is more important to recognise their limitations and appreciate the benefits associated with tenured people and their accumulated know how in their respective roles.

The most impactful force in the resizing of the business information industry has been the empowerment of “knowledge workers” to do their own information seeking.  However, investment in these workers and their information skills has lagged behind, leaving a workforce that know which buttons to press but who are poorly informed about what underpins the information and technologies they use every day.

Redundancies, outsourcing or offshoring of business information specialists compounds the issues.  New entrants that come into the industry find it difficult to secure positions with their limited experience which is incompatible with the expectation to operate at a level without the benefit of strong foundations of basic, practical information handling experience.

Meanwhile, the “new knowledge workers” increasingly rely on technology not just to bestow them with the facts and information they need but also to skilfully manipulate it into a finished product.

Does it matter?

What happens when the technology fails?  Who has the knowhow or experience to check the product is accurate and is as expected? What happens if it fails the quality check?  Who figures out what went wrong?

Technology is a wonderful thing; I really do love many new technologies.  Organisations are recognising the value of people and particularly those with tenure and the depth of understanding they bring to the business; but we cannot be complacent.  When the technology fails, there is growing dissatisfaction with the lacklustre quality of services; when a problem arises, it requires depth of knowledge and experience to fill the gap.

A number of professional services organisation have begun re-aligning their KM work with Talent Development.  Recognising that knowledge and knowhow are part of the intellectual capital of the organisation.  Acknowledging that experiential learning associated with employment is something to nurture and pass from person to person, not programmed into a machine and regurgitated ad infinitum.  This is especially the case when these standardised routines appear at odds with the need to differentiate an offer by building bespoke solutions to meet specific needs and expectations.

I remain optimistic that our industry will respond and reposition in light of continuing advances.  Unfortunately, this is only one part of the equation.  If we are to thrive, we must continually demonstrate our value to convince our leaders that we have a place in the future of our respective organisations.

2018 Annual Survey – Theme 2

In theme 2 we look at aspects of data and how the information professional can and should create an impact in this area.  I was recently reading on the Information Today blog a piece on how academic librarians in particular can take on the research and management of data.  It is an interesting piece by Andrew Cox and examines the links between data management and skills needed in a professional librarian role today.  He looks at how the importance of big data has grown from being just the level below information on the knowledge pyramid to the top consideration in enabling organisations to operate, grow and compete on the world stage.  He considers how this has come about through the effects of the rise of big data and the concerns it has raised along with the abilities it has given us to gain greater knowledge and understanding of the world around us.  Read the full article here https://www.infotoday.eu/Articles/Editorial/Featured-Articles/Academic-librarianship-as-a-data-profession-125376.aspx

 

Data governance, literacy and quality are all big featured concerns in this year’s survey.  We have seen and discussed the quality of data and information throughout the year with the rise in fake news being published not always deliberately but sometimes with a mis-understanding and mis-use of the underlying data which at the very best has led to a mis-interpretation of the data.   Also, in the news has been the reported detrimental effects of utilising machines for analysis of large data sets without the relevant context for interpretation.  So, whilst it has been feared in some circles that the rise of big data and machine search and analysis would adversely impact on jobs and employment, it turns out that library and information professionals have never been more needed in order to check the analysis and add valuable context to the data to ensure a true interpretation.

 

Understanding data, how to search for it and teaching others how to check the quality of the data they are gathering is now considered a key skill across all sectors.  Managing that data internally, creating appropriate policies to ensure that the data is not kept beyond its life span is equally important particularly with new international policies such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) coming into force.  Compliance with data regulations has taken a rise to the forefront as general public in particular have become more and more aware of data, its use and importance.  We have discussed both in the Journal and blog posts on how data has been used and mis-used to manipulate or influence situations including the impact on the American Presidential Campaign.  Information professionals have the specialist knowledge and skills to support organisations in this area ensuring the correct management of internal data, research of external data and interpretation of large data sets.

 

As specialists in this profession library and information professionals are also of great value in ensuring the ethical use of data to gain information and intelligence.  We have all read about the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal, there have also been reports about other big players including YouTube allegedly collecting and improperly using children’s data.  Any news item about the potential mis-use of data can have a lasting detrimental impact on both organisations and individuals involved.  The importance of the ethical use of data is seen in the new framework guidelines on procuring data analytics that the UK Government has produced for civil servants.  The Data Ethics Framework (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/data-ethics-framework/data-ethics-framework#the-data-ethics-workbook) highlights the focus the Government has on ensuring that the data they collect and use is done so appropriately and ethically.  There is an interesting article and commentary on the Governments data plans by Rebecca Hill in The Register here https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/06/14/data_ethics_centre_framework_government_ai_announcements/

 

Look out for what our research has uncovered specifically on these aspects of data and data management for information departments across industry sectors in September’s Business Information Review.

2018 BIR Annual Survey themes 1 – AI and the Information Professional

In the September issue of Business Information Review (BIR) we will be publishing the 28th Annual Survey of trends in commercial Information and Knowledge Management. The BIR Annual Survey is the longest running continuous survey of the needs and working lives of commercial information and knowledge managers in the World. Since 1990 it has provided an invaluable insight into the changing world of Information and Knowledge Management. Throughout July on this blog we will be giving a taste of some of the trends that have emerged in this year’s survey. These blog posts will not reveal any detail from the survey, but provide an indication of the themes that dominate the commercial information world today. The first of these themes is the growing presence of AI in the workplace.

Over the past year Artificial Intelligence (AI) has moved from science fiction and Hollywood cinema into the business mainstream. Business Information Review has tracked this trend, exploring the emergence of AI in the workplace in an Out-of-the-Box special and editorial in December.

AI describes a cluster of technologies: machine learning; natural language processing; decision making and reasoning; automation of business processes, and so on. The ways in which AI is impacting on the commercial world is therefore quite varied. Nevertheless the impact is tangible; PwC report Sizing the Prize predicts a $16 trillion contribution to the global economy by 2030. AI in the workplace is still in its infancy and while in the future it is likely to impinge on professional roles and functions, at the moment that impact is limited to defined tasks and functions, such as for example the growing use of IBM’s Watson in legal and health research. Yet the embryonic nature of AI technologies today should not blind us to the disruptive potential of the technology over the next ten years. We are at the beginning of a process that is set to transform business, particularly in those fields that have largely remained immune to automation: the professions, business-to-business services, and elements of creative work.

Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody is ten years old this year. In it Shirky observed the following about the disruptive potential of technology for professional occupations:

Most professions exist because there is a scarce resource that requires ongoing management. […] When a profession has been created as a result of some scarcity, as with librarians or television programmers, the professionals themselves are often the last ones to see it when that scarcity goes away (Shirky, 2008),

While Shirky’s diagnosis of the challenges facing librarianship are overly simplistic, they do help explain some of the changes to the profession over the past ten years, and some of the ways that professional work in general has changed. The web revolution disrupted the scarcity of information – resources that had been locked up in hard-to-access physical media or esoteric information retrieval systems were unleashed. We have seen that the gatekeeper role over collections and resources has tended to decline in the digital age. But as information managers have stepped back from purely managing resources they have found new roles in facilitating access to and use of information, and in applying their professional expertise to align the strategic management of information with organisational aims and objectives. Ownership over resources has declined, but evaluation of information and information resources has become increasingly important.

We are perhaps on the brink of another major technological shift in our relationship to information. If decline in scarcity in the digital age tended to emphasize a set of very human aptitudes to leverage the most value from an increasingly abundant resource, particularly around research, evaluation, re-presentation and strategic information management, then the rise of AI threatens to colonize these remaining roles. In the liminal space of information today the tide of technology is constantly encroaching. The next ten years may see automation of a whole range of business functions that previous depended on human reasoning, decision making and interpersonal skills.

AI cannot, however, function in a vacuum, and just as with previous changes in the structure of information delivery, the technology opens up new possibilities for the information profession. The ways in which AI is beginning to impact on information work is a key theme in this year’s survey, and mark a beginning of a conversation within the profession about the future of information work.

Looking at the primary research process – an interview with Denise Carter researcher and author of the BIR Annual Survey

Below is an interview with Denise Carter reflecting on the primary research process that she goes through to gather the information needed for our annual research report into the information and knowledge sector.
Tell us about the research process you go through, how has it developed and changed from when you first started?

Usually based on the previous year’s discussions and then conversations with different information colleagues and peers during the year I try to pick on a couple of themes that I believe are of current interest to information professionals. In between surveys, over the course of the year, I try to pick up articles and news items that relate to those themes, as well as anything else I see in both general and professional literature. Evernote is my great “friend” here and I upload everything to a “BIR” notebook, so I can go through when I have time to then do my further reading and see what really is useful and what not so much.

That reading gives me the building blocks for the questions I want to ask, particularly of the telephone interviewees but also to include in the e-survey.
The first year I did the survey I followed much more closely the methodology as described by Allan Foster (BIR’s previous long term author, researcher and writer of the BIR annual survey). In the next couple I have moved to having the e-survey because it handles some of the more routine questions that Allan asked everyone at the beginning of the telephone interviews about the general business climate, budgets, team sizes and so on. Widening this out to an e-survey gives the potential to get more feedback from different people and hopefully make those answers a little more statistically significant.
The process now is that I select a very general theme, collect reading on that over the year. Then I will construct the e-survey, repeating some questions (I hope that in a couple of years we can then include some comparative data), and asking some new questions that are relevant to the theme or to any other issues I see on the horizon. This year I also included a couple more open questions which gave some very insightful comment and I will certainly do that again. I try to collate and do a basic write up of the e-survey results before commencing on the primary interviews. That way I can use any feedback gleaned there to inform the questions and discussion.
What challenges have you encountered?

The biggest challenge is definitely finding telephone interviewees. I have a list of people who are regulars who have been very helpful and loyal to the process. Finding new candidates is not easy and every year it seems that some people retire or go to work in a completely different area and are no longer able to take part. Between July and December this year I plan to make a much more directed effort to finding some new interviewees.

Time is always an issue. Working backwards from the submission deadline of mid-June, then ideally the e-survey would go out second half of January and telephone interviews would take place in February, March, April. Having more time to spread them out would be useful. That would give May to get the article written. Normally I try to add the interview notes immediately following the interview that way everything is still fresh in my mind. This year there was an unexpected event and that threw the timings right out, so this year in particular timing was very tight as the interviews got pushed into May/June. Hopefully next year will be more tranquil and I can stick to my plan.

How have you overcome them?

To be brutally honest I haven’t overcome the issues of time and finding interviewees yet. They are challenges that remain for 2019. As mentioned though I hope in the second half of the year to get my network going and reach out to some new potential interviewees. Hopefully I will be able to stick to the timetable next year and break the process down into chunks.

Can you list your top 5 best practice points for others completing a similar research process/methodology?

1. The more background reading and information you can pull together outside of the primary interviews and e-surveys the better.

2. Get a structure together earlier rather than later. That helps you think of the questions you want to ask interviewees and in the e-survey and build a framework for the final article.
3. But don’t be tied into your intial structure, when you start to get information from your interviewees there may well be a different story that is emerging, you need to be flexible.
4. Don’t make references and figures and tables a chore, try to get these done in the correct format as you go along. Leaving them until the end creates a tedious task.
5. Try to have a break of at least a week, if not longer, after completing the article, and then re-read with relatively fresh eyes (I’m hoping 4th time will be a charm on that one!). Athough you always need someone else to do a proof-read, you simply cannot see all your own errors.
Overall doing a large piece of research like this can be daunting, and every year I wonder why I put myself forward, but it has also been very interesting and enlightening to speak to other information professionals and to understand what they do day-to-day. It also forces you to read, and we all know that we often have great intentions but finding the time to read up on a topic is hard, so this gives me a great opportunity and I appreciate that. This year reading about AI has been particularly fascinating, and even though I’ve submitted the article I’m still collecting more information on that topic.