Part 1: Why decision making is important

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Our lives are a parade of decisions that we make with a greater or lesser degree of consciousness. Some are banal (“tea or coffee?”) and some are momentous (“will you marry me?”). We would rather make good decisions than bad ones and yet rarely reflect on the process of how we make them or how we might improve doing so. On some level we know that if we made better decisions, our lives would be better but we just carry on making decisions and hoping for the best.

As suppliers of decision-making inputs, we information professionals have a critical role to play in ensuring our users make good decisions. We should, therefore, understand the decision-making process as much as we can. We should guard against unforced errors in the presentation and provision of our information and we should also be able to advise our clients on simple errors that may lead to less effective outcomes.

Given the importance of decision-making to our lives, it may be a relief to know that a great deal of research has been focused on improving our understanding of what leads to good and bad decision-making. In a 2009 article, noted consultant and academic Tom Davenport identified six emerging approaches to decision-making: small group processes, analytics, automation, neuroscience, behaviourial economics, intuition and the wisdom of crowds. This article will examines two of these: behavioural economics and intuition (or naturalistic decision-making). We will focus on these two as they stand apart from some of the others on Davenport’s list –as they are the result of empirical psychological research rather than technology-driven advances such as analytics or automation. They do not require expensive technology to implement – just some smart thinking and doing.

This article will begins by outlining one, very common but contrasting, model of decision-making. We will then move from this simple but flawed model of decision-making to some more complicated, less intuitive, but also less flawed, views of decision-making. Each model iswill be explored through both theory and example. A work health and safety warning is perhaps appropriate here: each model should be used with care for the insights it provides while also recognising that it has limits. As statistician George Box said: “Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful?”

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What do you call knowledge management?

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Stan Garfield deserves a shout out here but so does everyone else who contributed.

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Individual decision-making and information management

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Our lives are a parade of decisions that we make with a greater or lesser degree of consciousness. Some are banal (“tea or coffee?”) and some are momentous (“will you marry me?”). We would rather make good decisions than bad ones and yet rarely reflect on the process of how we make them or how we might improve doing so. On some level we know that if we made better decisions, our lives would be better but we just carry on making decisions and hoping for the best.

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Enterprise Search Case Studies

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Information professionals have a lot to bring to the use of search, and can learn a great deal from other disciplines, such as software design, natural language processing, user experience and analytics. This article discusses two case studies of enterprise search implementations. The first case study details the implementation of Google Search Appliance at a Western Australian utilities company. The second case study examines the implementation of Lucene Solr at a Swedish health organisation. The third part of the article provides a summary of the key lessons from the case studies in terms of planning, resourcing and analytics. We conclude by considering some future paths for the user search experience.

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Lazy Public Servants

We all know what government employees are like. Start at 10 in the morning. Knock off at 4. Never do any work. Lazy spongers who are no better than those benefit-claiming asylum seekers gnawing at the taxpayers teat. Etc. N.B. yes, some public servants are lazy. But many are not and not all private sector workers are powerhouses of industriousness.

1. Industries are by and large defined by the product or service that they produce (and the professional expertise and technical infrastructure required to do so). Government is different – it is defined by its ownership structure. The range of activities that the government of a modern state can undertake are vast. Everything from formulating military policy to emptying the bins. This makes it difficult to generalise (but that doesn’t stop people). An example of this might also be the trust put in public servants by the public. “Public servants” in general only get a middling rating in the Roy Morgan Image of Professions survey. Altho nurses top it. And 65% of nurses work in the public sector. People also trust judges, teachers and the police. And they don’t trust business leaders and politicians so much.

2. The demonisation of the public service is part of a longer term debate about who should do what in society. Is society best served by turning over all activities to private individuals competing in a marketplace? Or should activities be undertaken by a centrally coordinated government entity? The answer that Western democracies have generally settled on is “both” however the balance between the two changes over time (and indeed space – the role of government is very different in the US vs Scandinavia). The Post-WWII period saw a general increase in the size, power and economic involvement of governments. Following the turmoil of the 70s, there was a movement the other way with politicians like Thatcher and Reagan drawing on economists like Friedman and Hayek to propose a more markets-focused approach. This wasn’t (just) a technocratic movement but also a moral one. Markets and business were not just economically efficient but morally good. Government wasn’t just inefficient, it was morally wrong (and could be linked to the “evil empire” of the communist bloc). Public servants were no longer civic-minded individuals who traded the potential financial rewards of the private sector for the public good (and perhaps a little more job security). They were bad people looking to block or divert the vital, animal spirits of capitalism. Boo!

3. I spent a year working in the public sector. In some ways, it was a very frustrating experience. The risk/reward model varies between sectors. In some organisations, you are actively encouraged to take as much risk as you. If you win, you may get rewarded big. If you fail, you may get the push. But inaction is also dangerous. In some organisations, inaction is worse than failure. My experience in government was not like that. Risk was always bad. The perception was that experimentation also implied a big downside with little or no upside. No one wanted to do anything that might put the minister on the front page of a newspaper in a bad way (and it nearly always is a bad way – good ways get relegated to page 27). This view of risk is wide spread in the public sector and makes it a very conservative place (which is richly ironic, given that most self-identifying conservatives hate the public sector). This risk aversion can be mapped back to economic incentives and cultural patterns. And as noted above, the public sector is a diverse place, so you do get pockets of innovation. But we need more. And inaction can look like laziness.

4. Many of the lifetime public sector workers I met seemed to believe that problems of inefficiency and poor decision making were limited to government. In effect, they believed the stereotypes. I remember the looks of disbelief on their faces when I told them about some of my private sector experiences (e.g. the $40m lost due to someone not bothering to read the IP clauses in the contract). “But… but… the private sector have everything sorted, right? They are efficient. And productive. And wise. That’s why we’ve tried to implement all that stuff from the private sector about balanced scorecards and KPIs and customer-centricity and six sigma and stuff. It did work for them didn’t it? Their organisations are smooth-running machines aren’t they? That’s what the management consultants told us.”

So what to do about these lazy public servants? Who will rid me of these turbulent clerics? I’m not sure that I have an answer but I think three things are important.

The first is openness. By everyone. Politicians. Public sector workers. Businesspeople. What do we do well and what do we suck at? Lets get behind the PR BS that we tell each other and get at some hard truths.

The second is empathy. Can non-public sector workers understand some of the challenges of government? Can public sector workers explain these effectively?

The final one is risk. Reducing risk in government is not good because that eliminates the opportunities for reward. Productively managing it should be our goal. Do we have the guts for that?

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Information Management for Sales & Marketing

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Sales and marketing has a poor reputation among the general public. We encounter many salespeople in the course of our lives and not enough of them are excellent at their jobs. We also encounter the products of bad marketers, for example, advertising as interruption and products with no clear value to the user presented. However, this does not mean that sales and marketing are not valid activities to undertake. At their heart, the goals of good sales and marketing are admirable: to ensure that products and services meet a customer need and that potential customers understand how a product or service can meet their need. We only notice bad sales and marketing because it interrupts and annoys us. Good sales and marketing is rarely noticed and appreciated.

Information plays a critical role in good sales and marketing. Sales and marketing professionals do not always acknowledge this. Many are too busy selling or marketing to reflect on the resources that they draw on or the processes in which they engage. Information professionals do not necessarily have a sales or marketing background and so as outsiders may struggle to articulate the roles that they play in these processes.

This article highlights the role that information plays in sales and marketing and provides an overview of three key areas of information for this domain. It explains to information professionals some of the different archetypes that make up the sales and marketing world and the role that information plays in their lives. The final section discusses the role of information technology in sales and marketing – a role that for the last 20 years has been revolutionary.

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