Finding Meaningful Data in an Era of Information Overload

Dr. Luosheng Peng of GageIn views the pain of information overload is not just personal, it’s business — a real problem that has a measurably negative impact on the bottom line.In this guest post, he explores the information management needs of businesses and how social data can power business intelligence.

Dr. Luosheng Peng of GageIn views the pain of information overload is not just personal, it’s business — a real problem that has a measurably negative impact on the bottom line. In this guest post, he explores the information management needs of businesses and how social data can power business intelligence.

Information overload is drowning the American worker. Just think of how many information sources you check every day to stay abreast of the latest competitive news, market data, and other critical information.

We’re constantly bombarded by Google alerts, RSS feeds, paid data services, newsletters, Twitter and Facebook updates, and more – and we take it in because we don’t want to miss that piece of vital information, the proverbial needle in a haystack, to give us an edge over competitors. But along with the good comes the bad – an endless stream of “junk” data that is neither actionable nor valuable to the greater enterprise.

The pain of information overload is not just personal, it’s business — a real problem that has a measurably negative impact on the bottom line. In fact, a recent report from Basex Research Group estimates that workers lose 28% of their time to information overload. That amounts to a staggering sum — nearly $997 billion in annual lost productivity for companies. To remain competitive in today’s 24-7 global business economy, employees and businesses simply cannot afford to sift through endless data to find targeted, actionable, real-time business intelligence. At the same time, ignoring this data can also be a costly mistake.

Business users have specific information management needs

Information overload is a problem that the industry is just starting to approach. Over the past several months, companies that focus on making content to more consumable (and individually relevant) have generated a lot of buzz. Some focus on social bookmarking, while others create mini-social networks comprised of specific friends with a niche interest. Companies like Storify and the yet-to-be-launched AVOS have also cropped up, but share one core similarity: they don’t address business professionals.

Enterprise users are stuck using traditional information gathering tools where business information is collected and remains silo-ed within emails, spreadsheets, or individuals. What’s missing is the element of collaboration, where business intelligence can be shared socially within teams or across departments. Without that element, crucial information often fails to be integrated into greater enterprise-wide business intelligence systems to foster better decision-making and improved processes.

What can enterprises do? According to SocialCast, activity streams offer a brighter future for enterprise collaboration. They fundamentally change how companies do business by unlocking the vast amount of information generated by everyday operations and make it instantly available across to those who need it. Most importantly, these activity streams can add a social layer to data by enabling conversations around information that give it additional context and meaning to make it actionable. The critical piece to making activity streams useful, and not overwhelming, is allowing users to customize, filter and prioritize information delivered to effectively tame information overload.

Powering business intelligence with social data

Up to this point, we have discussed social data and activity streams, but what does it take for this information to become actionable? How does social data become social business intelligence and integrate into greater enterprise efforts to improve business processes and make the lives of every worker easier?

Today, too much conversation and sharing is done online to be ignored, and traditional BI sources don’t provide the full picture. The market is driving a change in the BI experience by using social information to provide context to data. Activity streams that aggregate social information – such as Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds – are delivering new information sources into the traditional BI data stream to allow users to get an intimate look at what customers, clients, and employees are discussing and sharing. The resulting social business intelligence can be leveraged throughout the enterprise — from marketing to C-level executives and sales verticals – to empower sales and marketing teams to forge partnerships with more confidence and inform strategies decisions to reflect timely industry news and trends.

Think of customer service operations for example. There is a wealth of customer data available on social networks that can significantly supplement internal data to give users a better view of customer sentiment. It allows companies to identify issues before they become pervasive, provides insight into the root cause of problems, and delivers a more holistic view of opportunities and threats. Today, it would be unimaginable for a company to pursue a product design change or even launch a new logo without closely monitoring the response from online communities. Remember the Gap logo fiasco? After public outcry at a new image, Gap was forced to return to its old look just a week later.

Social information should not be consumed in a one-off fashion, however, but should be incorporated into the normal flow of information consumed by a company and integrated into existing information monitoring activity streams. Traditional media and trade journals are still important to peruse for information, but those that stick with “old-school” data run the risk of missing a wide swath of business critical data that could turn a cold call and a new business win.

Consumer social media companies are just starting to dip their toes in the water when it comes to helping consumers sort through information. On the other hand, companies providing tools and services that can deliver value across the enterprise are poised to grow dramatically. For businesses facing the time and resource challenges of information overload, this can’t happen quickly enough. The ability to easily gather, customize, and filter information via intelligent activity streams that collect the most vital bits of relevant data, and then leverage that enterprise-wide, will be the key to driving business success.

Dr. Luosheng Peng is a serial entrepreneur and currently serves as the CEO and president at GageIn, a start-up that compiles customizable social business intelligence for enterprise users. He founded mobile device management firm InnoPath in 1999 and served as its CEO, president and chairman until 2007. Luosheng holds a PhD in Applied Artificial Intelligence.