Too Much Information

Too Much Information Can Be Dangerous For A Business

Most modern planes can almost fly themselves and only need the pilot to take action when things go wrong, but this does depend on the initial information about the flight being entered correctly. According to David Learmount of Flight International Magazine 'the vast number of choices available to pilots when inputting information on the flight computer meant errors were possible'.

The same theory applies to information in any business.  Computers can help to run the business but must be given the correct data initially and data is becoming much more readily available. Management information can then be provided to help managers to make the correct decisions about the business. Information inundation is common in any office: e-mail, voice mail, phone calls, meetings, business journals, faxes, memos, manuals, news, Web research; the list goes on. Far from bringing about the anticipated "paperless office" and reduced work load, technological innovations have increased both areas. But the human brain tries to understand any situation by simplifying it when presented with many complex and conflicting pieces of information so the key is to find the balance between the provision of information and information overload. Information often diminishes workplace efficiency simply by its volume.

Much has been written on the executive information need and people's lack of training in how to use it effectively. Time management may be "old hat" but the key messages shown in our previous article remain vitally important to business management today. As the article in The Times said, computers 'should anticpate problems and offer pilots ways of recovering from a crisis without overloading them with information'.

"The IT professionals that I'm talking about are all complaining that it's worse than ever because we're all on Internet time. The compressed time for decision-making is putting more demands than ever on our time," says Wayne Cascio, a professor of management at the University of Colorado, in Denver in an article for Inforworld in January 2000. The huge amounts of information now available can be a problem. Some managers may feel they will miss something if they do not review all available data before making a decision, Cascio says. But professionals need to recognize that they will not have every bit of information available.

"The key decision is: When do I have enough?" Cascio says.

According to Dr Denis Besnard from Newcastle University's School of Computing Science, instead of looking for contradictory evidence, humans tend to overestimate consistent data and people overlook and sometimes unconsciously disregard data they cannot explain. So the organisation should develop an information management strategy that works and filters information. It is very important to accept that not all pertinent data can be examined prior to a decision and to have a means of attempting to recognize quality data.

This is the second in a short series of articles about the excess of information in the "information age". The previous article discussed information overload - what is it? Future articles will consider how:

  • additional information can question accuracy
  • additional information causes change issues
  • how to minimise information overload

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