Infopenia – when paucity of information saps life out of a business

It is no coincidence that many have likened organizations to organisms. Both are born, grow and die, sometimes not in the prettiest fashion. Organizations sometimes are seen as complex mechanisms. Organisms are organic mechanisms. Ok, I need to stop here; it can get quickly confusing.

If complex organisms, such as animals (me, you, your cousins and their pets), fall sick then I assume that organizations could fall sick too. Illnesses are caused by diseases and they manifest with symptoms. Unfortunately while you could drag a human to hospital or haul a dog to a vet, most people don’t even know when an organization is sick and even when they know, there is no place to drag them for a fix.

There is a strange illness called infopenia. It ravages organizations by impeding their growth and then chokes them to death, It is similar to leukopenia, a dangerous illness that kills mortal organisms.

Infopenia is an organizational malaise where there is a dearth of information that subsequently prevents effective decision making and doesn’t allow just any random staff from knowing what should have been taken for granted. This is apparent when the average employee does not know all he needs to about his organization and when he doesn’t know, there is no place for him to undo his ignorance. When employees don’t have access to information, no matter how mundane, it slows down his decision making, ensures that those precious “ha ha” moments never come and trust me, they ultimately frustrate your customers. Apparently, the competitors wouldn’t mind.

A good example of the manifestation of this malady was when HP sued a company in Germany for an illegal operation concerning its doomed TouchPad. The sad part is that the “offending” company was contracted by HP itself.

Interestingly infopenia doesn’t affect small businesses the same way a bacteria couldn’t have a broken leg – you get the drift? But as an organization starts to add staff and departments, the impact of poor information management starts to crop up. In fact, there is a formula to denote the complexity of information sharing within a large group: n(n-1)/2 where n is the number of possible colleagues that could annoy you.

One of the attributes of efficient and fast-growing company is that information is open, non-redundant and mashable – information from different sources can be harnessed together to unearth new insights.

In my own country, a third-world corner of the globe, while malaria and other little diseases are singing “samba” for us, infopenia is also dealing with companies trying to grow but without success. You want to try this out: Visit a random company that has more than a few offices and ask any of the frontline staff about any of their products. Then visit another of their offices and ask about the same things and see if any answers tally.

A company is likely to be infected with infopenia when it doesn’t have a single or at worst few sources of information. The new product paper not searchable on the intranet and the budget stuck inside some Excel document is a sure way to get things wrong. Redundant information maintained by different departments will ultimately get things mixed up.

Another problem rears up when senior people think the only way to protect the organization is to create information security by locking things down. While I do not subscribe to carelessness, it’s more beneficial to have information liberated than caged. You never know what fate serendipity could hand over.
Information should also be in an easy to access format. A web intranet wins hands down. A company with money to splurge could shell out some cash on fancy intranets like Microsoft SharePoint Portal but those around my ‘hood can go the open-source way. Nothing beats free.

As much as possible, data should be maintained by those who produce them – and it should be the only source. That way, you can always be sure that the product information is as correct as the product manager has put it. And if he corrects it, you get the new version. And concerning versioning, data and information should be time-stamped such that when confronted with two copies it would be easy to determine which is the most recent and hopefully the most correct.

It takes a lot to build a successful business same way an Usain Bolt must have survived a legion of different diseases before breaking the world sprint record. Good information management doesn’t guarantee the survival of a company but having infopenia is sure going to send any promising business down south.