Author Archives: Claire Laybats

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!

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.

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.

Are we destined to always forget what we already know?

Author – Steve Dale, BIR Editorial Board

I wonder what next in the Windrush saga that has been played out in the media these past few weeks? Have we reached the final page of the last chapter now that Amber Rudd has resigned and the new broom in the form of Sajid Javid takes up the reigns as our next Home Secretary? He clearly sees a need for change, having warned the Home Office to expect an overhaul as he ditches the policy of creating a “hostile environment” for illegal immigrants and seeks to break free from Theresa May’s legacy.

But before I lose some readers who may be thinking they’ve stumbled across an editorial in the Guardian, rest assured that I don’t intend to write a political commentary on Windrush. My background is in knowledge and information management, and I think it is worth a closer look at what has played out in the Windrush saga through that particular lense.

The Home Office has long had a reputation as a “political graveyard” for ministers, and though one might argue that Mrs Rudd did not have had full control of her department, there is some evidence of basic failings in the Home Office’s administrative capabilities.

Tony Smith, a former director general of the UK Border Force has been quoted as saying:

”What has gone wrong is that a lot of the corporate memory and experience has been lost with the abolition of the immigration service and the UK Border Agency in the 2000s. Now ten years on there are quite junior caseworkers taking decisions who probably have not got much experience of the broader immigration system. They have little discretion to use their nous and common sense when faced with people without documentation”. [1]

This appears to be borne out by the ‘tick-box culture’ that pervades many government departments, where rules and instructions replace discretion and experience. It’s also a solution to lack of training and inadequate (or non-existent) knowledge transfer procedures, which are particularly important in an aging workforce or where there is a high turnover of staff.  Continuity of knowledge and experience, supported by effective and resilient information management systems are the essential components of maintaining a good corporate memory.

But what do we mean by ‘corporate memory’?

Corporate memory is the ability of an organisation to retain information to improve strategy, decision making, problem solving, operations and design. An organisation with low corporate memory is doomed to repeat the same mistakes and reinvent things repeatedly in a costly loop. The following are the basic components of corporate memory:-

  • The abilities and knowledge of employees. Knowledge that isn’t transferred or retained, such as tacit knowledge and situational knowledge, can be lost when people leave the organisation.
  • Data designed to be consumed by people. For example, a policy document or a training video. It is common for knowledge workers to produce copious amounts of documentation that is archived in a tool such as a knowledge management platform. It is also common for such information to go to waste or for similar documentation efforts to be repeated many times.
  • Information designed to be consumed by machine. Automation and decision support based on databases is a type of corporate memory that survives employee turnover. In some cases, replacing systems and changing processes results in data ‘going dark’.
  • Organisational Culture.The norms, habits and expectations of an organisation. As with the culture of a nation, this is rooted in history and serves as a stabilising force that doesn’t easily change.

It is probable that the Home Office is no worse (or better) than any other government department in maintaining an accurate corporate memory, but the Windrush scandal has briefly shone the spotlight in their direction, exposing some cultural and administrative issues. Readers of this post can no doubt think of many other examples, in government or their own organisations where mistakes have been repeated and lessons have not been learnt. But before we cast the shadow of blame on individual workers, it is worth reflecting on whether the underlying culture and values of the organisation have recognised the importance of corporate memory, and have invested in the policies, procedures and resources that will maintain corporate memory for future generations.

If not, we are indeed destined to forget what we already know!

Footnote

Background to Wind-rush

The arrival records of tens of thousands of Windrush generation immigrants, which dated back to the 1950s and 60s, were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.  A person’s arrival date is crucial to citizenship application because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already moved to Britain indefinite leave to remain. After the destruction of the archive, when an individual requested confirmation of an arrival date, Home Office staff advised there was no record of it.Immigration lawyers have repeatedly criticised the Home Office’s insistence that it is up to individuals to provide copious evidence proving their right to be in the UK. They have argued that If UK officials had kept a record of everyone granted indefinite leave to remain, the problem would never have arisen.

“Business archives are an essential part of our national story. Used wisely, the corporate memory can inspire, inform and innovate in today’s business.” Natalie Ceeney, ex-Chief Executive, The National Archives.

[1]The Times, Saturday 21stApril 2018.

BIR Annual Survey into the information and knowledge profession now open

The BIR annual survey now in its 28th year, has just opened for this year.  The survey provides a look inside the library, information and knowledge profession, highlighting key trends and changes that have taken place over the last 12 months.

The survey is run by Denise Carter, the Managing Director of DCision Consult, a competitive intelligence & business analytics service provider to the pharmaceutical & bio- technology industries. She has 30 years of experience working in the library and information management sectors.

The e Survey is open now just click this link to contribute and give your opinion https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BIRsurvey18 The survey is complemented by 30 minute interviews for those who wish to take part further.  These interviews, conducted by Denise are highly confidential in nature.   The resulting report does not identify any one person or company.

The report will be published in September’s Business Information Review.

First issue of 2018 now out online

Our March issue contains a number of papers with the general theme of looking at the effects of technology on information and knowledge management. Hal Kirkwood returns to look at how artificial intelligence (AI) is affecting information professionals and their job roles. Delphine Phillips and Mark West from Integreon look at the future of Business Information Services (BIS) within the financial services sector and the effects of technology and other internal and external environmental factors in that area. We also see a contribution from Gabriela Labres Mallmann, a PhD student at the School of Management, UFRGS, considering the influences of Shadow IT on knowledge sharing. Here is a short overview of each of the papers in this issue.

  • The Current State of Artificial Intelligence and the Information Profession: Or Do Librarian Droids Dream of Electric Books? – Prof Hal P Kirkwood, Purdue University.

Hal begins by observing that while there has been an increasing interest in AI in the last 12 months, there has been 100% increase in the use of the terms AI and librarians. AI as a technology is fast moving from science fiction to reality with the rising popularity of voice-activated tools such as Siri to the developing use of self-driving cars and even a self-operating grocery store! His article, unlike others, is not a review of the good and bad sides of using AI, but about considering how the technology is developed and its psychological impacts. A lot goes into the development of the technology, it is not created as ‘all knowing’. It requires a lot of human interaction and consideration to develop the algorithms, providing ‘good’ and ‘relevant’ information and data to the AI tool in order for it to provide an effective service. It still also requires ‘policing’ to ensure that information it provides is accurate and relevant which still requires human interaction. His article also reviews what is being done around the world to consider the impact of AI and ensuring that it is used for the greater good rather than creating a negative impact on people and society at large.

  • Exploring the Future of Business Information Services in the Financial Sector – Delphine Phillips, Knowledge Solutions Manager, Integreon, and Mark West, Operations Director, Knowledge and BIS, Integreon.

Delphine and Mark have conducted a highly interesting research study on the role of BIS within financial services and its future in light of changing internal and external environmental factors. Their research is gathered from global investment banks and equity houses and considers the role technology is playing in the development of the BIS of the future. They review different operating models, how these are affected by internal and external changes and look at future drivers and future scope developments. They also consider the influence of knowledge management services on BIS, how they link and interact.

  • The Influence of Shadow IT Usage on Knowledge Sharing: An Exploratory Study with IT Users – Gabriela Labres Mallmann, PhD student at the School of Management, UFRGS.

Gabriela presents a new look at knowledge sharing from the point of view of ‘Shadow IT’ (software and hardware not authorized by IT departments) and its effects on knowledge sharing. The research is gathered from a series of interviews with IT users looking at how they share knowledge and information, why they share it in this way and considerations for managing risk for the future.

  • Knowledge Management Process Arrangements and Their Impact on Innovation – Eduardo Kunzel Teixeira and Mirian Oliveira of PUCRS, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, and Carla Maria Marques Curado of ISEG-UL, Lisboa, Portugal.

Moving away from technology and focusing more on process, this paper discusses the impact knowledge management process (KMP) has on facilitating innovation. The authors look at how different processes and different combinations of processes can affect innovation. Their conclusions, overviews in the abstract, provide a good taster of the paper itself –

1) it was identified that in general the companies apply balanced KMP arrangements;

2) that the same innovation results can be achieved using different KMP compositions; and

3) that KMP investments tend to reach a maximum effect, beyond which innovation decelerates.

  • Out of the Box – Virtual Realities in the Business World

Luke Tredinnick reviews the emergence and current uses of virtual reality technology and considers how it can impact our world. Will it become just another passing fad like 3D television or is it set to be one of the next disruptive technologies on the horizon?

  • Perspectives

Martin White returns with a review of the latest papers across Sage which could be of interest to you. Highlighted is a paper on the importance of being allowed to make mistakes in order to develop knowledge and innovate. Martin draws from his own background to illustrate the importance of this in the work environment.

Other subjects covered include the use of language and the ability to analyse and use it to consider cultural fit within an organization; considerations for HR and prepping the workplace as the amount of knowledge-led work increases with the working environment becoming more and more complex; AI and human interaction and the development of shared mental models to facilitate future developments; a discussion on the impact of libraries’ ISO standard; and the importance of user interfaces and display of search results in a meaningful way to improve findability. Luke Tredinnick and Claire Laybats

See more online here http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0266382118762967

 

Latest Business Information Review issue now available

Our latest issue of Business Information Review is now available online and contains the usual mix of academic and professional articles. First is an article by Judi Vernau, founding director of Metataxis Ltd which specialises in building ontologies and taxonomies. Entitled Using ontology to improve access to information: the New Zealand experience, Judi’s paper described the development of an ontology intended to support findability within an enterprise content management system in the New Zealand Department of Conservation.  It explores in detail both the ontology itself, and also the comparative benefits and advantages of this approach.

Next is Ali Rezaeian & Rouhollah Bagheri’s paper exploring knowledge networks, a means by which to with which to support knowledge sharing and creation.  Entitled Modelling the Factors Affecting the Implementation of Knowledge Networks, the paper looks at the state of research around knowledge networks, and draws out the success factors in their implementation.  Next is a paper by Antonio Muñoz-Cañavat entitled Competitive Intelligence in Spain: A Study of a Sample of Firms. This paper reports on a survey of Spanish firms to explore the ways in which they approach the challenges of competitive intelligence, and reveals the degree to which benchmarking and SWOT analysis still factor as significant tools in real world corporate settings.

Our final article this issue comes from Cerys Hearsey as part of the Out-of-the-Box strand of tech-related articles. In her paper Cerys explores the growth of Artificial Intelligence in the workplace. Also in this issue is Martin White’s Perspectives column, which this issues addresses the role of meetings, remote working. information culture and collaborative information seeking.

We hope you enjoy reading this issue which can be found at http://journals.sagepub.com/toc/bira/current

 

Automation and AI – What does the future of work look like?

Author: Steve Dale BIR Editorial Board Member

Our news and activity streams are buzzing with articles, blogs, analyst reports and social media hype around the topic of “AI”. It’s a fairly loosely defined topic that covers an enormous spectrum of disciplines, from big data and predictive analytics, to machine learning, natural language processing, automation and robotics. Depending on who you listen to, it’s either the most important technological breakthrough since the invention of electricity, or it heralds the end of civilisation as we know it! Extreme scenarios are most certainly fantasies and should be discounted. The most likely outcome is neither extremely negative nor extremely positive.

What tends to focus our attention are the stories about how AI and “intelligent” machines are replacing roles, jobs, or even professions. What is the real truth behind these stories?

There is no doubt that workplace automation is becoming more widespread, and today’s AI-enabled, information-rich tools are increasingly able to handle jobs that in the past have been exclusively done by people (including tax returns, language translations, accounting, even some types of surgery) – automation is destined to have profound implications for the future world of work.

McKinsey recently reported that 30 percent of activities for 60 percent of occupations are now technically automatable.

Recent advances in robotics, machine learning, and AI are pushing the frontier of what machines are capable of doing in all facets of business and the economy. Physical robots have been around for a long time in manufacturing, but more capable, more flexible, safer, and less expensive robots are now engaging in ever expanding activities and combining mechanization with cognitive and learning capabilities—and improving over time as they are trained by their human co-workers on the shop floor, or increasingly learn by themselves.

Massive amounts of data that can be used to train machine learning models are being generated, for example through daily creation of billions of images, online click streams, voice and video, mobile locations, and sensors embedded in the Internet of Things. The combination of these breakthroughs has led to spectacular demonstrations like DeepMind’s AlphaGo, which defeated a human champion of the complex board game ‘Go’ in March 2016.

New milestones are being achieved in numerous areas, often with performance beyond human capabilities. In 2016, for example, Google’s DeepMind and the University of Oxford applied deep learning to a huge data set of BBC programs to create a lip-reading system that is more accurate than a professional lip-reader.

There are numerous examples of how machine learning is being used to augment human decision making in healthcare, aircraft maintenance, oil and gas operations, recruitment, insurance claims processing and law. There is barely a sector that is not engaged in some way in exploring the use of AI and automation technologies to improve productivity or accuracy.

One of the more practical roles for AI over the past few years has been to automate administrative tasks and decisions. Companies typically have thousands of such tasks and decisions to perform, and it was realized that if they could be expressed in a formal logic, they could be automated. A key feature of this type of automation is machine/deep learning and robotic process automation (RPA) – which, contrary to its name does not involve actual robots; it makes use of workflow and business rules technology to perform digital tasks.  The technology makes it relatively easy to automate structured digital tasks that involve interaction with multiple information systems.

So, what does all of this new technology mean in terms of jobs? Most analysts are agreed that whilst many routine tasks and functions – both physical and cognitive – are being automated, this does not necessarily mean that we are heading for mass unemployment as the machines take over. Perhaps one of the most extensive research programmes into the impact of AI on jobs and skills has been undertaken by Nesta. It has published its findings in the report:  The Future of Skills: Employment in 2030. Well worth a read. The report highlights that:

  • skills that are likely to be in greater demand in the future include interpersonal skills, higher-order cognitive skills, and systems skills.
  • the future workforce will need broad-based knowledge in addition to the more specialised skills that are needed for specific occupations.
  • dialogues that consider automation alone are dangerous and misleading since they rarely take account of globalization, an ageing population and the rise of the green economy.

Perhaps the last word on where AI and automation is having (or will have) the most impact should go to Gil Press at Forbes, who identifies the sectors and functions as follows:

  1. Customer Self-Service: Customer-facing physical solutions such as kiosks, interactive digital signage, and self-checkout. Improved by recent innovations such as better touchscreens, faster processors, improved connectivity and sensors. A prime example is the experimental Amazon Go convenience store.
  1. AI-Assisted Robotic Process Automation: Automating organizational workflows and processes using software bots.
  1. Industrial Robots: Physical robots that execute tasks in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and similar verticals with heavy, industrial-scale workloads. The Internet of Things, improved software and algorithms, data analytics, and advanced electronics have contributed to a wider array of form factors, ability to perform in semi- and unstructured environments, and the “intelligence” to learn and operate autonomously.
  1. Retail and Warehouse Robots: Physical robots with autonomous movement capabilities used in retailing and/or warehousing. Amazon deploys this technology throughout its warehouses.
  1. Virtual Assistants: Personal digital concierges that know users and their data and are discerning enough to interpret their needs and make decisions on their behalf.
  1. Sensory AI: Improving computers ability to identify, “understand,” and even express human sensory faculties and emotions via image and video analysis, facial recognition, speech analytics, and/or text analytics.

He goes on to say:  “There is no question that we will continue to see in the future the same disruption in the job market that we have witnessed in the last sixty-plus years of computer technology creating and destroying jobs (like other technologies that preceded it). The type of disruption that has created Facebook and Tesla. Facebook had a handful of employees in 2004 and today employs 20,000.  Tesla was founded in 2003 and today has 33,000 employees. Whether AI technologies progress fast or slow and whether AI will continue to excel only at narrow tasks or succeed in performing multi-dimensional activities, entrepreneurs like Zuckerberg and Musk…will seize new business opportunities to both destroy and create jobs. Humans, unlike bots and robots (now and possibly forever), adapt to changing circumstances.”

One thing we can be sure of: the rate of change will continue to accelerate, and if we wish to remain relevant in our chosen professions, we need to identify and refine the skills that can’t easily be automated. Whether that’s a shrinking or expanding environment remains to be seen.