Information Today
Volume 17, Number 1 • January 2000
• Report from the Field •
New York Business Information Conference
Topics like KM, business info, and change management were prevalent
by Donald T. Hawkins

The New York Business Information Conference (NYBIC) took place November 15-16, 1999. Because it was held in New York’s financial district, it was not surprising that many of the attendees were information professionals or managers from investment banks, large consulting firms, and others interested in business information. The program focused on enterprise information solutions, portals, and changes in the information industry. Although the stated themes of the conference were information and knowledge flows, how organizations can use information more effectively, and events outside the world of information, the general topic of knowledge management ran through most of the presentations and could be considered the unspoken theme of the conference.

This was the fourth NYBIC. It was organized and sponsored by TFPL, Ltd., a recruiting and consulting firm whose major services focus on information management, consulting, market research, recruiting, and training for the information industry. TFPL’s Web site ( provides full details of the company and its services.

The Technology Society
NYBIC opened with a keynote by Oliver Sparrow of the Royal Institution for International Affairs, who gave a somewhat overwhelming review of the forces creating change in the knowledge economy and the dynamics of their resolution. Stating that today’s society is the most complex in history, he asserted that social networks are the limiting factor in achievement. Most events formerly taking up to a year to occur now happen in as little as a day, and many complex operations are becoming “garage technologies.” We are beginning to become less trustful and less prone to delegate. Technology is to our economy what the potato was to the Irish economy in the mid-19th century: We are currently heavily dependent on it, and if it fails, major losses will occur.

Getting a decision made is becoming increasingly difficult because there are so many voices clamoring to be heard. In the “war of ideas,” it is important to persuade people or organizations to align their viewpoints. A strange mixture of collaboration and competition (“coopetition”) may be needed. Techniques for helping to cope with the forces of change include connectivity, increasing volume and speed, trust and acceptance, commercial adaptation, and expanded capabilities. Sparrow concluded his talk by saying that a major impetus for progress will come from knowledge-based management.

Michael Simpson, director of strategic planning at Novell Networks, suggested that advances in networking soon will make it possible to store your preferences in a network and then use PCs anywhere to access them. Convergence of technologies is a point of change, and it is inevitable. Your identity is the only thing that is constant wherever you are, and it does not depend on what computer you are using; therefore, identity control and protection is the most pressing technological need for the near future. Statistics show that 78 percent of Internet users would use it more for commerce if they could be sure that their privacy was protected.

Knowledge Management
Two speakers from Microsoft described the company’s intranet, MSWeb, an enterprise-wide portal that contains an astounding 2.2 million pages and serves over 40,000 unique users (over 90 percent of Microsoft’s employees) every month. In such an environment, managing the system and facilitating information flow require some unique tools and techniques. Partnerships with key stakeholders and information providers, and maintenance of quality are extremely challenging, and it is important to turn learning into action quickly.

Microsoft has set up “knowledge centers” to provide access to content and opportunities for learning. The centers focus on subjects of wide interest to many employees and require sponsorship from an executive. It takes over 100 hours a month to keep them up-to-date. Enterprise news services are also a key component of Microsoft’s information strategy and are offered in several varieties: filtered news for a broad audience, topic-based targeted news, and news consulting and partnerships. Some lessons learned from the development of MSWeb were that user needs-assessment is critical, multiple paths to content are necessary, and access to as much of the content as possible should be exposed on the front page (without overwhelming users).

Managing Corporate Change
Two other presentations were especially noteworthy. The keynote on the second day was an outstanding presentation by Carol Kinsey Goman, who is a consultant on coping with change. She focuses on developing “change-adept” organizations and works with senior managers on ways to become more effective at leading change in their firms. Her talk addressed the 10 biggest mistakes commonly made in managing change and the lessons learned from them. She stressed that it is important to face the facts of change: It is everywhere and has become the business environment. The pace of change is accelerating, so the best time to do it is before you are forced into it. The only real security in changing times is that which one develops within.

The 10 mistakes are as follows:

Finally, in a provocative talk entitled “It’s 10 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Employees Are?”, Don McLagan, chairman of NewsEdge Corp., challenged information providers to revise their business models. He said that current business Internet information providers are reaching only about one in six employees in business organizations. They are therefore missing five of six users, and this is costing them large amounts of money. Using data on the revenues of the Fortune 500 companies, McLagan calculated that the monthly revenue opportunity per employee for business Internet usage is nearly $1,200 (about the cost of a Bloomberg terminal).

Current information providers tend to focus on power users, but they make up only 16 percent of the market; thus, revenues are in the single-digit range. For example, NewsEdge revenues grew 10 percent in the first 9 months of 1999; Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive [Factiva] grew 7 percent; and Dialog lost 2 percent. In contrast, the consumer portal companies are enjoying huge growth rates. Yahoo! grew over 150 percent in the first 9 months of 1999; Excite@Home grew 95 percent in the third quarter alone; and AOL reported 55 percent growth for its fiscal year ending June 1999. Unserved business users are turning to the consumer portals because they need information. They are frustrated and overwhelmed, but they have no other choices.

Vendors in our industry need to review their business models and try to reach the customers they are missing. Issues to consider include advertising (Is it so bad on business information sites?), possible new partnerships, the effectiveness of a “digital dashboard” separate from the browser, and the elements of real information value.

Information Leaders
The conference closed with a presentation by Sandra Ward, head of information management at TFPL, on “The Information Leader of the Future.” She began by asking if there would be information leaders in the future, and if we are the leaders of our industry today. Her opinion is that information leaders have reasonable chances of survival, even though we have no idea how long today’s information age will last or what will follow it. The knowledge management theme ran strongly through her presentation, and information literacy is one of its major components. It is therefore important for information leaders to respond to the changes that knowledge management is causing.

Many roles require information management skills, such as identifying sources of information, integrating and structuring external and internal information, and reducing overload. Ward feels that the information leaders of the future will develop business information strategies, be accountable for organizations’ competitive information edges, create information-rich environments, and converge internal and external information streams.

Ward noted that, unfortunately, library and information science involvement in knowledge management strategies is rare. She attributed this to the general lack of a business mindset on the parts of many information professionals; their focus on support or service, which is not relevant in the environment of innovation; and the risk demanded by knowledge management and restrictive, fragmented skills. To succeed, information professionals need to emulate businesses by re-engineering processes, using core competencies, forging partnerships, proving their value, controlling costs, climbing the value chain, and realizing their full potential.

A Successful Meeting
Several other excellent presentations and a series of small workshops filled out the conference. NYBIC is well worthy of consideration for anyone in a large organization who is concerned with business information or who is responsible for defining an enterprise-wide information strategy. For more information on NYBIC or its sister European conference, EBIC, see TFPL’s Web site.

Donald T. Hawkins is editor in chief of Information Science Abstracts and Fulltext Sources Online, both published by Information Today, Inc. He is also editor of the ASIDIC Newsletter. His e-mail address is

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