Using the web: Don’t get rid of the librarian

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Using the web: Don’t get rid of the librarian

While knowledge may be power, for most of us the quest in competitive intelligence is actually for information, from which we hope to gain knowledge. In the past, information came predominantly from research on written material, and personal interviews. As more and more information becomes available online, the web has, for many, replaced the library. The good news is that there is a lot of information accessible on the web. The bad news is that it requires as much skill to access this information as it did before the web.

Unfortunately, many people feel that, since they have the same tools (a browser and an internet connection) as the professional researcher, they, to can do adequate research. This is much the same way that people can buy desktop publishing software and feel they can design their own published material. In the case of publication, what we see is that the computer literate can quickly learn to operate the software and its features, while, in some cases, talented designers may have less computer skill. Since most companies would rather have things done quickly than well, and since design is a quality issue, rather than a technical issue, we are now inundated with a great deal of material that is badly presented. But done quickly….

It is also much like the way people with spreadsheet programs can put together fancy calculating systems that take in raw data, do fancy calculations, and produce output with 10 digits of precision. And yet, if there is nobody who can look at the output and say “That makes sense” or “That makes no sense” then the program is not helpful.

For the more sophisticated, it might also be likened to someone doing Monte Carlo risk analysis, a popular tool for approaching many problems. Unfortunately, it requires picking the appropriate probability distribution from a list of several dozen, and then plugging in reasonable parameters. Since, on a wild guess, there aren’t more than a dozen or so people in the world capable of doing this, the likelihood of the results being meaningful falls, for most users, somewhere between slim and none….

The fact is that tracking down the information needed to make an informed decision is more an art form than a mechanical skill, and that searching for data is easier than searching for information, and searching for information is easier than searching for knowledge, which requires the interpretation of the information to be meaningful.

Because of this, when looking for people to do CI you might be better off turning to someone with library and research skills, and skills and experience in your industry, and in analyzing data related to your industry, rather than someone with excellent computer skills. Remember that while the tool in online data gathering is a computer, just as a hammer and chisel are the tools for carving marble, The fact that I might be able to whack stone faster than the brilliant sculptor George Pissarro doesn’t mean you should hire me to sculpt for you, rather than Mr. Pissarro (who can be reached at [email protected]).

Instead, you should look for someone with the appropriate industry and research skills, and get them the necessary tools with which to work.

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