In 2010, hundreds of thousands of books will be written world-wide. Blogs and data on the internet is increasing at an exponential rate and each week sees the launch of new media outlets.
Information is everywhere, available to all of us at the click of a button but what is relevant to IT professionals, what will help and what will hinder - Google and the like certainly provides results, but it is unable to qualify and filter them. The solution - as is so often the case in an industry as technical as ours is a person, an information contextualiser.
Information contextualisers are, for want of a better description, the new breed of business advisor - so new there is currently just the one in the world, Paul Bridle. The way businesses and information are changing will see their use and value increase dramatically.
'My job is not just about the sourcing of data and information - something search engines and research agencies can do easily. My place is to provide the right information in such a way as to be useful for a particular problem faced by a specific organisation. As an information contextualiser I draw on the global consciousness and knowledge base; my own experiences and case studies; contacts and individual experts in diverse fields of expertise. I then provide the information in a format that suits my client’s organisation,' Paul explained.
To clarify we asked Paul to create an example. 'My role is to walk into a client meeting unencumbered by prejudices, pre-conceived ideas or internal politics. The client presents a challenge their business currently faces, and this is where there is a difference. Too often at this stage a consultant will start planning solutions based on their own limited knowledge and experience (no matter how skilled they are, their knowledge is undoubtedly limited).
'I, as an information contextualiser, take a different view, a different perspective. I look for case histories of similar situations amongst IT professional as well as totally unrelated industries, data relevant to the subject, other people’s failures, other people’s successes, specialist and experts on the topic in question and so on. Essentially I pull together a host of data and information that could be of benefit and then relate that back to the needs of that particular client. And all of this activity is undertaken before fresh plans are made and implemented.'
It is easy to suggest that such a technique is actually not that new - surely journalists have been doing this for years but Paul is keen to point out the differences. 'My work is specifically focused on the needs of my clients, it is not about generic information. Journalists and other consultants certainly provide information gathered from a variety of sources, but it is not necessarily put into the context of a specific business’ need or challenge.'
It is also vital to appreciate the fact that a position such as this is a role for the future. There was a time when it was possible for someone to have read every book ever written, but now the flow of information is increasing at a massive rate so it is vital that all businesses get to grips with the latest technologies and make use of them. In his job Paul is already doing this, identifying and filtering content from every part of the globe. This need to be technically savvy is obviously a key part of Paul’s role but so is flexibility.
'Clients are approaching me with all sorts of challenges in all sorts of fields and solutions range from one-to-one conversations and events to the writing of books and creation of case studies. To pull together everything needed for a client can involve a myriad of techniques across various skill-sets. However, nothing is set in stone, there is no fixed way of working. Take conferences as an example, I am regularly asked to speak and facilitate at conferences and meetings across the world.
'At the moment the accepted norm is for the content to be prepared and delivered as a keynote speech, but I see that changing. I can see a time when I will walk out on stage with nothing but a laptop, iPad (or whatever is the most appropriate digital interface) and I will ask the audience what they want to discuss or the issue they want to explore. This is already starting to happen and it revolves around my ability to interact with the audience and use technology to bring in case studies, additional experts and speakers relevant to the needs of the moment.'
It is clear that an information contextualiser needs core skills but what are they. Paul believes it is a firm grasp of business acumen, flexibility and a desire for knowledge. 'I have 30 years' experience researching and speaking on the subject of leadership; I have run businesses and been employed; I have written books and been on TV. As an information contextualiser I am a product of my past but what I do is based on the variables of the future. Above all it is my ability to learn, digest and relate different pieces of knowledge that are of benefit to my clients.'
Paul is currently the world’s only information contextualiser but it is clear that his role will become more and more important to businesses and organisations as we progress and develop. Particularly as information becomes both the most available and hardest to find commodity on the planet.