Business Information Management: what of the future?

Author: Stephen Phillips, Executive Director Morgan Stanley Administration and Business Information Review Board Member

Please note this post is the personal views of the author and not connected with their employer

Several recent publications shine an interesting, but somewhat worrying light on the future of the information profession.
Much has been written about the 2016 BIR Survey, one outcome relates to the skill sets needed to deliver a successful information management (IM) capability.    The decline and softening in perceived value of “core IM skills” at many organisations continues.  This decline appears to be gathering momentum, in a sluggish economy many organisations resort to eliminating costs to drive up margins.  Consequently, IM groups have found themselves at risk of being dissipated around the organisation, outsourced, offshored or closed.  Meanwhile, the survey revealed a continuing undercurrent of opportunity to nurture an understanding of, and demand for a more strategic approach to IM. 
Outsell’s State of Information Management: not a recipe for success is a more recent publication (April 4th 2016) but no less challenging a read.  Based on Outsell’s 2015 global survey of IM professionals, a recurring theme is the need for new/different skill sets to meet evolving needs and demands being placed on the IM staff.  These new skills relate to Data and Analytics, visualisation, ROI/Value analysis, KM and content integration.  A more worrying finding indicated that few IM professionals have the resources (time or money) needed to equip their teams to respond adequately to these emerging opportunities.
The LexisNexis blog on the Future of Law referred to a recent book with similar themes: The future of the professions by Richard and Daniel Susskind. Whilst the blog focuses on the legal profession, the book deals with a wide range of professions.  In the case of IM, we have already witnessed the erosion of the “grand bargain”, the societal contract by which we are granted a mandate to control our field of expertise in return for our exceptional knowledge.  Whilst we retain “exceptional knowledge” of our field, a variety of technologies are enabling or embedding IM competencies and capabilities upstream/downstream of the traditional place of IM operations in an organisations’ workflow.  Forcing IM to reconsider where it fits in many organisations.
So, what of the future?  No one would be so bold as to predict where IM will be in 3 or 5 years’ time.  Organisations evolve at different speeds in response to a range of drivers, which shape their IM needs and strategies.  Two themes will prevail:
·         A strategic role to deliver relevant, integrated IM strategies to meet the changing needs of the organisation.  This facilitating role works collaboratively with functional peers (e.g. IT) to enable colleagues and technologies to self-serve for the information they need to prosecute their business
·         A tactical focus on the operational needs of the organisation.  Some legacy competencies will remain relevant, but commoditisation of these skills continues to dilute their value.  Leaving the information professionals the challenge of moving their work further up the value chain
The current threats are symptomatic of a much wider trend impacting a range of professions and is hardly surprising, as noted by the Susskinds.  Much more critical is the response to these forces, to quote a well-known Sci-Fi foe “resistance is futile”, and will likely be damaging.  No two organisations are the same, but opportunities abound and it is in our gift to create compelling offerings and “save” ourselves. 
To do this, the profession must continue to adapt to new realities, use its expertise to explore new roles or niches.  The IM professional must understand their organisation and its priorities, scan that landscape for openings, and deliver cost effective capabilities to realise those opportunities.  Be objective, agile, entrepreneurial, stay positive, embrace change, explore and ultimately exploit new or related needs and activities to develop and deliver critical IM capabilities relevant to the organisation.  Don’t be afraid to relinquish tasks or responsibilities perceived to be of low value, and don’t try to protect your role or your team, but develop and grow the skills needed to deliver more value for the organisation.
As a colleague once noted: we are all sharks and we must keep swimming to survive.