BIR Annual Survey key themes 1: the challenges of new tools and technologies

The Business Information Review Annual Survey (BIR) is the world’s longest running survey of trends in Information and Knowledge Management within the commercial sector. Now in its twenty-ninth year, for almost three decades the survey has provided invaluable insight into the ways in which professional practice and the commercial context has changed. This year’s survey is due for publication in the September issue of Business Information Review and was produced again by Denise Carter of DCision Consult. It is proving to be one of the most interesting and important we have published.

Each year in the run-up to the publication of the survey, we pick-out a handful of key themes for discussion in the BIR Blog. The information and knowledge management profession has been caught on the cusp of a perpetual technological revolution that has fundamentally changed how information work is done. These changes are reflected the first of our key themes from the 2019 BIR Annual Survey: the challenges of adapting to new tools and technologies, and the emerging skills required to manage these effectively.

In 1991 when the first Annual Survey was published, adapting to technological change meant incorporating online financial and news databases (such as ICC British Company Financial Datasheets and Reuter Textline) and CD ROM services (such as FAME and Kompass). At that time only 30% of respondents were using any CD ROM services, and the numbers using online databases were dwarfed by those using traditional resources. Although information management in the commercial sector had been exploiting online resources for over a decade by 1991, it was still heavily dependent on traditional paper-based resources. The explosion of digital information since the early nineties has fundamentally changed the ways in which information work is done, diversifying the very ideas of source and resource, and increasingly requiting critical and analytical skills in the evaluation of information. The BIR Annual Survey has borne witness to these changes, and over the past five years we have also tracked the impact of emerging technology on information work, exploring fake news and post-truth, and emerging technologies such as Virtual Reality and blockchains.

The challenge of adapting to new tools and technologies emerges as a strong theme in this year’s survey, particularly in relationship to emerging Artificial Intelligence tools. But the survey also reveals how technological change is demanding new skills and competencies from information professionals and knowledge managers. No longer merely the custodians and gatekeepers of authoritative printed resources and online databases, information management has adapted from managing resources to managing both the context within which information and knowledge discovery can take place and the quality of the information on which commercial decisions are made. As the very idea of source and resource changes through the emergence of alt data and big data, the survey reveals both the changing ecology of information work and the emerging skills required to manage information in the workplace.

Luke Tredinnick