BackSpin . Mark GibbsPointless information overload

I read an article recently about a Gartner Inc. survey that concluded that 90 per cent of companies say their competitiveness is affected by information overload.

I went to the Gartner site to read more and the upshot is things are apparently as bad as the article claims.

Gartner reports: “Over the last few years, Internet, intranet and similar developments have brought an unmanageable amount of information to the average employee. Gartner estimates that companies will invest more than US$30 billion on Information Management systems in 2002.”

According to Alexander Linden, research director at Gartner, “As computer technologies cannot understand human information needs, they are of limited help in filtering the flood of information available. However, it is easier for companies to implement technology rather than changing the principles and culture in a company to foster information flow…It is obvious that companies who fail to address information overload will be penalized by lower productivity and the risk of making poor business decisions.”

Linden suggests, “Companies will gain more value from their investment if they motivate and facilitate the use of available knowledge management resources as well as hiring the appropriate competence for linking knowledge resources, for example librarians.”

This is interesting but is this news? Now please understand, I’m not dissing Gartner. They have stated the obvious quite elegantly.

For example, there cannot be anyone who hasn’t found the flood of e-mail to be overwhelming. In our e-mail exchanges we are dealing not only with real business, we also are dealing with the never-ending flood of social contact and the deluge of “useful” data. This is the way most of us live our lives. We get work done between e-mails.

The Gartner study went on. “While Gartner recognizes a number of different approaches solving the information overload problem…one of its key recommendations to businesses is to put more focus on social interactions. This can be supported by physical arrangements such as off-sites, cafeterias and lounges, in addition to technology-based solutions such as indexing, advanced search engines, expert location networks and electronic bulletin boards.”

Great, more time-wasting. Every company I’ve worked for has had social interaction up the wazoo and the payoff has been lots of gossiping, bitching and general hanging out.

What is missing is an eye on the job. If more companies used management-by-objectives instead of “management by the appearance of being busy,” the American business landscape would be transformed.

Forget “Sorry I didn’t get it done, I had a gazillion e-mail messages to handle.” If your job is to launch the Gizmo 2002 and your performance is evaluated on the basis of “did you get the job done,” the volume of your e-mail becomes a nonissue.

I am shocked by how many people fall back on the “too much e-mail” excuse and even more surprised by management accepting such bull.

Of course, in a real management-by-objectives environment things change. Managers can no longer complain that people don’t look busy – either they do the job or they don’t, how they look while is irrelevant.

The foregoing doesn’t mean that tools and technologies aren’t important in managing the data explosion. There are tools that can help you with your e-mail overload, but these are secondary to actually planning to work.

We’re in a curious phase where technology is being blamed for what people don’t do about it rather than what is inherently wrong with it, which, as far as I can see, is nothing. Technology just is, and any other viewpoint is pointless.

Gibbs is a contributing editor at Network World (U.S.). He is at