Special Section

Converging Technologies and the New Information Managers

by Irene Farkas-Conn, Special Section Guest Editor

The convergence of computing and communication technologies provides extraordinary opportunities for companies to improve control, sharpen their focus and become more competitive. The convergence also brings remarkable challenges and opportunities for information services departments (IS) to enlarge their corporate roles, advancing from detached service providers to fully integrated participants in corporate operations.

Not since the post-World War II period have information managers faced such a challenge. At that time, a flood of newly released technical reports overwhelmed the existing libraries and information services in the United States. The American documentation/information science profession evolved under pressure to harness the unprecedented volume of scientific and technical information that had to be made accessible for the use of various constituencies.

In today's business environment, the challenge for information managers is to connect knowledge workers in the company to the information they need, wherever it may be located within the company or in external databases. The challenge is technical, political and managerial. As companies are going through a process of transformation, information managers can demonstrate to managers of corporate units that IS can enhance their operations and convince senior management that the IS can redefine itself as an integral part of the organization.

Sound application of information technologies alters the established patterns of command and control. It requires restructuring of the organization and redeployment of corporate resources. Application of information technologies and reshaping IS to relate directly to products or services and, ultimately, to the customers is exacting but is being accomplished. We do not know, however, how these changes will affect individuals and institutions over time; what will be the effect on the relationship of people to their work, to one another and to the corporation and its environment.

Senior managers know that effective information and communication are critical for their companies' success; yet the future of corporate information services remains clouded. In many organizations, the services are being eliminated, cannibalized or outsourced. In the best-managed companies, however, under the direction of strong information managers, IS is changing and is moving in tandem with corporate developments.

What sets successful information managers apart is more than the skillful use of information technologies. It is their ability to interact successfully with all parts of the corporation. They communicate across departmental and company boundaries, develop strategic plans and are skillful in developing their own staff members and in nurturing organizational relationships.

The three articles in this special section of the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science stress what it takes for IS to become a vital part of an organization in today's interconnected world: to develop a vision, to work with senior management in developing synergies through careful planning and to use technologies to provide content-driven services. The authors of these papers have shown leadership and imagination, extending the role of IS in their companies and moving it successfully from the sidelines toward integration into the corporate activities.

Rita Seelig Ayers' paper stresses the need to develop a vision and provides guidelines for developing a process that can turn visions into reality. She stresses the need to plan, communicate, develop the IS staff and interact with management on all levels, as her organization has done at DuPont.

Grant Birks talks about "the art of being synchronous" with the corporation. He describes the development of the dynamics of information services in response to the greater corporate needs at Bell-Northern Research and Northern Telecom. Working closely with management and reorienting itself, the IS extended its contribution to the larger organization.

Ina Woodson-Brown shares the experience of how IS at AT&T Bell Laboratories brought converging technologies together to serve the variety of its clients, and she discusses the effort necessary to develop a balance between the clients' needs, local priorities, management guidelines and budgetary restrictions to bring about the right combination for technology-based content driven information services.

This special section of the Bulletin grew out of a session originally planned for the 1993 ASIS Annual Meeting. The ASIS Special Interest Group on Management (SIG/MGT) co-sponsored the session with the Information for Industry Committee of the International Federation for Information and Documentation (FID/II).

Irene Farkas-Conn, vice president of Arthur L. Conn & Associates, Ltd., in Chicago, is an information management consultant and serves as vice chair of FID/II.