2009: The Year of Too Much Information

For the past decade, I've ended the year by sending a family newsletter with my Christmas cards. For the most part–love them or hate them–holiday newsletters were a longstanding tradition.  But as I sat staring at my computer screen last night, I realized that this year I had little new to share. Now that doesn't mean I had a boring year and that nothing happened…quite the contrary but with all the networking tools at my disposal everyone I know already knows what I did last Summer.

They know about the milestones that occurred and they didn't have to wait until the last two weeks of the year for the update. While all of this real-time or near real-time updating has allowed me to stay connected with family and friends throughout the year, it has also impacted the amount of time that I spend reflecting on what's really important i.e significant enough to share.  Where's the line between sharing and oversharing? Where's the line between merely insignificant and completely irrelevant? In other words, when do we yell stop too much information or "TMI". Because as hard as it may be to imagine there are times and circumstances when there really is too much information even in matters as serious as finance.  Particularly when we have a whole lot of data and a whole lot of  information but very little value in either. 


Now the difference between information and data is simple. Data is the raw material. Information is the output that results from analyzing the data to create intelligence that is meaningful to me as the recipient.  Unfortunately, right now we're overloaded with both data and information.  And while this fact is problematic for individuals, it can be downright crippling for organizations who are trying to figure out how to filter, prioritize and ultimately manage the deluge that is part and parcel of life in the modern world. 

Alvin Toffler coined the term, information overload long before we had a business and social climate where Facebook connected us with all of our friends, LinkedIn connected us with all of our colleagues and Twitter–well Twitter just connected us to a random assortment of anyone and everyone. More than a decade after the 1997 Reuters Magazine article–'Information Overload Causes Stress' noted that "'in the last 30 years mankind has produced more information than in the previous 5,000".  Today, both individuals and organizations are producing more data–facts, figures and just plain trivia–than ever before–which means that we are also getting more information than ever. Yet today it's not what you know, it's how you use what you know.  Provided you can even discover what it is you know.  

As a result of the financial meltdown and global recession, business and government leaders alike have demanded more accountability and greater transparency from the financial services sector.  But to do this, everyone must first recognize that the amount of data and information flowing from business-to-business, business-to-bank and bank-to-bank will not decrease any time soon…if ever.  So to achieve the goals of accountability and transparency, banks will need to be able to drill down and identify not only what information is important but also what information has true value. Given the TMI state of the industry, neither will happen without a commitment and an investment in resources, solutions and services that can help manage the flow of data from one business unit to another as well as from an internal system to an external one.  Moreover, investments will be needed to ensure that as data is transformed into information that it remains accurate and is delivered in a timely fashion. 

The end of one year and the beginning of another is always a time to reflect on what is needed to make the new year more successful than the last.  As it is the time for resolutions, one that many bankers may want to consider is how they will make data management a priority in the new year. Because next year.. the volume will only increase. New year start