Do you suffer from infomania? According to two new surveys, if you are like most people, you too probably suffer from an abundance of information to process and continuous interruptions from email and instant messaging. The surveys found the majority of working adults check their smartphone for information at least several times an hour, while a third of those check their email inbox at least 10 times a day.

Where is all this leading?  To get a perspective of what to expect, and what can be done to stem the tide of infomania, I recently spoke with Whitney Bouck, general manager of Enterprise and SVP of Global Marketing at Box.

Coming to Grips with Information Overload

Lavenda: How do you feel new technology will impact the future of work? Will technology get so smart that it will take over most of what we do or will technology evolve as a seamless extension of work?

Bouck: From my personal experience as a CMO, marketers need to be more tech-oriented. It’s an all-digital world today — and marketing technology is complicated.  You need people to help you figure this out, because it requires a lot of technology to figure out how customers buy. 

On the other hand, talking to some of the most forward-looking CIOs, it’s clear the workforce is shifting. IT people who are only technology-savvy are disappearing, because organizations need more business-savvy people to help run the business. IT people in effect are becoming the bridge between the cloud and the business — they are strategic advisors and brokers to the business. In short, today’s business needs a different profile for IT people. The question is, “How do we retool people to be more business savvy?” 

Whitney Bouck
Also, it’s clear there is a convergence of technology and business on both sides of the fence. In marketing, you need to engage with IT or you can’t do business. Leaders need to agree on a plan and communicate that to the teams. Business now relies on IT more than ever. So to succeed, you need to infuse that talent in the organization, you need to find or train "the right people."

Who are the right people? People who embrace change, people who are curious, who push things forward, who push the boundaries. These are people you can set free and they take off.  When you come down to it, it’s as much a mindset as a skill set. Find the right people and invest in them.

Lavenda: The amount of information people need to process in a day (at work and at home) is increasing at an incredible rate. How can work be organized to reduce overload and how can technology help? 

Bouck: It used to be that knowledge is power, but that’s not true anymore. Being able to share is the new power — collaboration and sharing are what’s important, especially with the younger generation. These folks will prompt a lot of sharing behavior going forward, but we can’t rely only upon them to get things done. Companies need to incentivize change. For example, they can offer prizes for the demonstration of desired behavior. Highlight a failure that drove an important change — that’s a great example. 

People are more important than technology in driving change. Look at higher education — people want to share information in that environment, so it’s not surprising that’s where good ideas are coming from. Let’s learn from these guys. We need to break down the knowledge is power idea. 

Here is an example from my own experience: We have a lot of information about how people use Box. For instance, we know how many users are sharing on a daily basis, how many documents they are sharing, who they are sharing with ... in essence, the degree of collaboration within the company. As a result, we can generate collaborative graphs for companies. These graphs show who is sharing and commenting on work. From these diagrams, we can identify pockets of collaborative behavior. 

From our field work, we have learned that construction and engineering are the most collaborative industries. In these industries, there is a ton of work done with outside contractors and suppliers. On the other hand, we find that financial services is an internally-focused industry. Here, there are only small pockets of internal communication. Surprisingly, we find that the media and entertainment industry is less collaborative than you would expect (and less than they want to be). Can we help these companies be more collaborative? Yes, we can. And that involves changing behavior.

Lavenda: Where are we headed? Will we ever get a grip on all the information we need to consume and manage?

Bouck: There is no "vision of the end of days." Society will continue to evolve to deal with increasing amounts of information. Aggregation of information sources is one way that will help reduce information overload. The importance of aggregation as a solution is being driven by the following: 

  • The blurring of the lines between personal and work information make it hard to see what is really important
  • It doesn’t make sense to use similar tools that do similar things for different types of information
  • Information silos make it hard to see the forest for the trees

There has to be consolidation. This means fewer tools. You certainly don’t need four ways to chat, but I don’t think we will ever reach one "monster product." In the end, best of breed tools will emerge and integration technologies, like RESTful APIs will help integrate these tools into a coherent picture of what is happening in the workplace. Today, it’s not inconceivable for a worker to have CRM, email, IM, and documents presented in a single context. That makes it easier to get work, like putting together a proposal, done.

I am optimistic. I think we are in a better position than ever to pull it all together. I see vendors banding together over time to create ecosystems to enable frictionless productivity, but it won’t happen overnight.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  smswigart