Mattbrown by Matthew Brown

There's nothing like an economic downturn to catalyze change in information management (IM) strategies. Someone asked me recently, "Isn't information management a discretionary spend that will likely get cut in an economic downturn?" He cited the fact that tools for collaboration, content, and business intelligence are traditionally difficult to financially justify, "even when times are good." He's right about the latter—most Forrester clients struggle with assigning specific financial value to information management investments. In fact, as Forrester learned recently, many companies can't even tell you what it costs them to run their own email. Similarly, over 90% of information management professionals we surveyed recently reported having no way to measure whether employees are even using their corporate portals, let alone realizing financial benefits from them. Yet I doubt the measurement difficulties will necessarily lead to prolonged decreases in investment overall. Two reasons:

  • Most information management initiatives are understaffed today. Human labor is typically the largest direct cost associated with information management programs. Yet I'm frequently surprised at how few skilled people—including project managers, business analysts, information architects, corporate librarians, and others—are actually staffed full time to programs. Instead, portal, search, business intelligence and content management initiatives often include a small core team in IT that struggles to keep up with demand for new applications, electronic forms, workflows, reports, and tools.
  • Demand for productivity gains and process improvements will grow in a down economy. Several companies that have put off investments in workplace productivity tools are now coming to Forrester saying the economy is giving them a reason to invest. This is counterintuitive, but it shouldn't be. After all, it makes sense that when times are good, we don't pay much attention to how we could be working better and smarter. One IM professional at an automotive electronics provider in the US agrees, saying his team recently partnered with the business to identify over 250 productivity and cost reduction opportunities in their core businesses. The combined business technology team is now evaluating how shared workspaces and virtual meetings can drive productivity gains for workers.

So it strikes me that the downturn could take one of two paths for IM pros. Those that can't communicate the connection between information management practices, workforce productivity, and business process will find it increasingly hard to fund new projects. Many will be asked by the business to build more transparency into their costs – across staff, software, and hardware expenditures – in order to justify their very existence. Conversely, those information management professionals that can articulate the value of information management tools and practices, may just find themselves helping to pioneer substantial changes to how people work. After all, it's a lot easier to bring about change when there's burning reason to do so, like this economy. Forrester is going to explore this divide in more depth though a series of interactive teleconferences next week. We're interested in hearing from other IM professionals who are using the down economy as an opportunity to catalyze change in their information management strategies and elsewhere in IT.