How information overload is harming your business

Illustration by Brett Ryder for The Economist magazine

How much information is too much? Well, it depends. If the information in question is timely, accurate and helps you solve a problem, chances are there’s no such thing as too much. However, as we all know, this isn’t how it works in the real world.

Rather than being enlightened by information, we are plagued by it. From the hundreds of websites and emails we see every day to the reports we have to read to the FYIs that have nothing to do with us, modern business is a study in data chaos.

The here and now of data overload
A 2011 article in the Economist (Too much information) examined what information overload means for today’s workers. They boiled the consequences down to three main effects:

  1. Information overload makes people feel anxious and powerless
  2. It can reduce creativity
  3. And it can also make workers less productive

It’s not difficult to see that when every modern business needs their employees to be engaged, innovative and effective, information overload presents a significant challenge. But what do you do about it?

Is technology the answer?
Read articles such as the Economist’s, pop psychology books and more than a few blogs, and you’ll be left with the impression that technology is public enemy number one.

You can see why – the proliferation of email, servers, sites, intranets, extranets, wikis and countless data repositories has certainly fueled the information deluge. But, short of turning it all off and reverting to the Pony Express, this doesn’t provide an answer.

Of course, we’ve also seen attempts to solve the problem using brute force technology – involving large, expensive (and ultimately ineffective) data warehousing solutions. Typically, these try to force all your data into one place – a walled city of information – with the view of controlling it.

But you know and we know, that’s just not how the world works today. Data is everywhere. It is in data warehouses but it’s also on local servers, desktops, laptops, tablets and in scanned documents. And while we can try to bring it into custody, it’s not coming quietly.

A better way?
To our way of thinking, you can either fight the data sprawl or you can go with the flow. Fighting is doomed to failure. Instead, we’ve chosen to take the route of leaving the data exactly where it is.

Rather than endlessly chasing down every last single piece of information and painstakingly moving it, we make sure we know where it is, apply some pretty smart indexing, ensure people can access it, and then let them get on with using it to create value.

We call this content virtualization because it separates content from the underlying data silos where it lives. And, to answer the issues that the Economist raises, this way means:

  1. People have more power over their information
  2. They are free to be more creative
  3. And boy are they more productive

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our ebook: Content Virtualization: a new approach to solving enterprise data sprawl.

What tactics have you adopted to stay afloat in the data deluge? Do you have any tricks? Any nasty habits?

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