Info-entrepreneurs, represented by the Association of Independent Information Professionals, stand out as innovative, forward thinking, and client focused information professionals. This series of posts delivers future ready solutions and strategies from current and past presidents of AIIP. As industry thought leaders they have much to share about staying ahead of the curve and delivering cost effective solutions to clients worldwide. In this insightful series of postings readers will learn how to create a job for life by listening for opportunity, watching for changes, stretching to acquire new skills, finding a balance, planning for the long term, and drawing on your strengths. — C.S.
by Jane John
Over the past ten years as an independent information professional I have provided services to numerous small and mid-stage companies in high tech sectors. One key to being future ready for serving these clients is to envision how their business environment will evolve. Here are five ways I try to envision what’s next for business clients.
Imagine future business decisions. Currently I might ask: “What is the next business decision you must make and how will you use this information to make it?” How will the decisions made by businesspeople change in the future? I have watched companies produce prototypes of products or services only to discover that market acceptance was less than enthusiastic – where in the business cycle should those companies seek research to validate their hunches? Companies typically pay for independent research to save money, make money, or reduce the risk of business decisions. How are the decisions that affect their bottom line evolving and where in the business cycle can information play the most pivotal role?
“Get connected – stay connected.” This was the theme of a recent business workshop I saw advertised. Being future ready for delivering information may mean connecting with clients in new ways. I recently had a client phone from a meeting asking for data related to a presentation he was making. He was able to integrate my updates in near real time. LinkedIn, texting, phone and email are some current modes of staying connected, but what will connectivity and conversation look like in the future? Voice? Text? Video? Other? And at what point in the client’s business day can we have the most impact in terms of providing information via various connections.
Watch for new, more modular, formats. Many research clients don’t know what they want in terms of research results, but like other kinds of shopping or exploration, they’ll recognize it when they see it. Currently I may offer samples that help a client visualize research results – enough for them to realize they can choose between a list of citations, a do-it-yourself tutorial, a PowerPoint summary, a comparison chart, or a 50-page analysis. Increasingly clients want modular formats – information presented in ways they can disassemble, reassemble and use for multiple purposes. I assume basic elements of content, design, and usability may remain, but the format those elements take will likely change. I keep an eye out for compelling formats, especially the modular presentation of information, from other professions.
Focus on all types of key players. When I started in the information field I often created competitor profiles. Now I call this type of research ‘key players.’ In the current world of partnerships, collaboration, co-creation and “co-opetition” the idea of competitors seems less relevant. Watching all types of key players in a niche industry, not just competitors, will likely continue to be important to the future of small and mid-sized businesses.
Get onsite and observe. I often look for ways to be out among my clients observing their work environment. If I have the option of meeting a client at their workplace or instead at an offsite location, I choose the workplace. It is much easier to understand how a client functions, and how to best integrate information into their workflow if you can envision their workplace. Observation is key. What information do your users seek, absorb and use? How do you observe them handling business decisions while you are visiting? In larger organizations there has been a trend towards embedded librarian roles to facilitate this first-hand observation. Being future ready will mean tracking how people use information by direct observation of information habits.
In the future it will be up to us as information professionals to suggest to clients new ways they may choose to interact with information and how it fits with their work environment.
Jane John is owner and principal researcher at On Point Research (Brunswick, Maine, USA), a company that produces customized Market Views for technology firms seeking to commercialize new products and services. The research helps companies reduce risk in their many business decisions. Ms. John is a past president of the Association of Independent Information Professionals (2007-2008), and a member of the Business & Finance, and Engineering divisions of SLA. On Point Research, firstname.lastname@example.org, 207-373-1755, www.onpointresearch.com.