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Online 2011: Demonstrating Value

I’d been really looking forward to this session. Demonstrating your value is a key issue for information professionals, so I was looking forward to getting tips from the impressive list of speakers for this session. I wasn’t disappointed – I came away with plenty of food for thought! My only criticism was that the session felt incredibly crowded – in the hour and a half allotted, there were seven presentations. I really think that was too much to cram into that time slot. I’m sorry to say I don’t remember a word of what the last two speakers said, as by that point I’d been so bombarded with information that I couldn’t take any more in!

The session opened with a presentation from Sandra Ward and Ian Wooler on what was meant by proving value. The usual point was made that value is subjective, so there is a need to differentiate between concrete and abstract value. Value is gained at the point of use, not at the point of provision – what did people actually do with the information you provided?

Key challenges:

  • Demonstrating activity is not the same thing as demonstrating value
  • Difficult to engage other staff in collecting metrics
  • People you need to prove value to are generally not those who use and value your service

Demonstrating your value shouldn’t be thought of as a last-ditch attempt – it should be ongoing, not just when you’re trying to defend yourself. Don’t let yourself get backed into a defensive position.

One framework for demonstrating value was outlined as: “we enable… leading to… and to… resulting in…”. For example: “We enable in-depth research, leading to better informed staff and to higher quality decisions, resulting in risk reduction”. You could also use the framework from right to left – start with the outcome you want and work back.

One recommended technique was to enlist the help of an “organisation champion”. They  should be:

  • A senior manager
  • Info/knowledge aware
  • Sounding board
  • Prepared to be a partner & communicate value
  • Strategic link between information services and the wider organisation and stakeholders

Another tip was to make sure you have in place a benefits plan – i.e. that you know what your customers actually expect from the service and how you will measure that. This seemed fairly self-explanatory to me – surely at some point, you’ll have actually asked your users/stakeholders what they actually want from the service? – but I guess it bears repeating. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of continuing to do things you were asked to do years ago without actually asking if they’re still needed!

Next up, Ceri Hughes from KPMG spoke about how the value of the knowledge management team was measured in her firm. The KM team’s objective is: “to harness the knowledge of our 140000 people to help them deliver and create value to their clients”. Everything KM does must relate to this, or they don’t do it. The nature of KPMG’s work means that they are not easily differentiated from their competitors, so must find ways to prove that they are the best by adding value. this ethos extends to all support staff within the firm.

Their outcomes are measured by mixture of qualitative and quantitative measures, including metric dashboards, surveys, and focus groups. One tip I thought was very useful was to send out targeted surveys, rather than a massive mailshot to everyone – select who would be useful to ask and just invite them. People are more  likely to complete a survey if they know why they, specifically, have been asked.

They also use measures directly related to KPMG’s  strategy,  including reduced spend. Reducing local investment was a priority – there was lots of discrete spending happening, with local purchases not being shared with the firm. They changed focus to “spending time and money once and well” – i.e. buying one report, etc and making sure it was shared within the firm so it could be accessed at point of need.

One slightly controversial point Ceri made was that another of their success metrics was increased size of offshore Knowledge Centers of Excellence. This caused a bit of a murmur in the audience – outsourcing and offshoring are generally unpopular terms to use among librarians! I did think there was a bit of a contradiction in what she was saying – possibly I misinterpreted, but there seemed to be a bit of a switch from talking about the high-quality work the KPMG KM team does, then going on to say that one of their objectives was to save money by offshoring this work to India. It strikes me that you can generally have good or cheap, but usually not both, so I didn’t really think the offshoring objective fitted with the overall emphasis on high quality work.

Next up was Gwenda Sippings on adding value by aligning services to the organisation’s strategy. She started with some tips on what to assess when you first join a new organisation. To understand the current picture, look for signals and indicators of potential for greater efficiency and effectiveness. For example, what are people spending the most time on? Are people working at the correct skill levels? You can do more in-depth analysis, such as an information audit, user needs and service levels, levels of professionalism.

Strategies for increasing value:

  • Develop services that visibly support the organisation’s objectives. Articulate this and manage expectations
  • Streamline work flows to increase time spent on more valuable activities
  • Make sure people with the right qualifications and experience are delivering the service
  • Ask for feedback! Make use of available channels to communicate success stories.

Gwenda did acknowledge that success usually breeds more work, and you probably won’t be given more staff or resources to handle this! The only solution to this really is to learn to work smarter. See what you can streamline, what you can drop, and think carefully about what you agree to do in the first place.

The next speaker was Pauline Blagden, talking about demonstrating the value of information services within the NHS. She explained that imperative in NHS is the pressure to justify the existence of information services – demonstrating value is a survival tactic. The “critical few” are incredibly difficult to engage: they are the ones who don’t use IS, don’t see them as important, and are unlikely to mourn their passing!

Lessons learned

  • Need to harness organisation structure for dissemination – who do you report to? Who do they report to? Make sure your messages are going along the right channels
  • Importance of peer support
  • Target the critical few rather than important many – existing customers are already positive and willing to speak up, so need to encourage that good will up the hierarchy to where the critical few live
  • Choose measures carefully – what will have the most impact?
  • Alignment with the organisation’s values/strategy is hugely important in the NHS as elsewhere
  • Marketing is still vital

Finally, Peter Griffiths spoke about government Knowledge and Information Management (KIM). The main challenge within local government is in proving value when the concern is for the state of public finances during time of recession. You have to balance “soft” measures against the accountants’ wishes for hard financial data.

Government KIM guidelines state:

  • Focus on professional skills that save time and money, avoids mistakes and liability
  • Focus on tasks that add value, i.e. don’t automatically say yes to new tasks
  • Explore potential new ways of working, e.g. shared services, collective procurement
  • Explore dynamic new KIM roles
  • Partner with other professionals e.g. IT staff, procurement, legal advisers etc.

Reflections

  • Success comes from arguing wide benefit to funding bodies
  • We need to be seen as valuable for what we do, not the stuff we look after!
  • Government librarians are frequently embedded in their departments, which seems to be a successful strategy
  • Importance of proactive communication, using the clients’ vocabulary

 

As I mentioned, there were two more speakers at the end, but as I didn’t take any notes from that point I really couldn’t tell you what they said! My sincere apologies to the final two speakers, who I’m sure had fantastic, insightful presentations – I can only plead information overload.

One thing that really struck me in this session was that every speaker kept coming back to the idea of alignment: i.e. making sure that your goals and the work you are doing aligns with and supports your organisation’s overall strategy. This is an idea I am quite familiar with through SLA’s work on the subject, and I’m really pleased to see it gaining some traction over here too as I do think that it is vital to ensuring the survival of the profession.

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2 comments on “Online 2011: Demonstrating Value

  1. Thankyou so much for sharing your Online 2011 experiences – this was a particularly enlightening post but I’ve enjoyed them all. I think if I’d been able to attend Online I would have been at all the same sessions as you! I look forward to your posts in 2012. Claire

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