Prior to joining Hanley Wood, I ran a small technical association in Boulder, Colo. I had hired a senior engineering student to work part time and she was wonderfully talented and bright, but totally hung up on the computer. She did everything on the computer—even phone messages. Once I asked her to look up some information for me, and the next thing I knew she had developed a database catalog for my old text books. There were only about 30 books and I knew most by heart—I didn't need a database to keep track of them.
So whenever someone tells me about the great things they can do on a computer, I approach it with skepticism. I always ask two questions: Can it be done easier by hand? And, am I really going to use this information? The second question is key. Spending time and money to develop useless information is a plague in American business.
A recent study found that more than 50% of data in technical manuals is literally "wasted words." New York-based technology firm Data Conversion Laboratory Inc. (www.dclab.com), analyzed documents over a range of industries. "Our research reveals that most document collections contain more than 50% redundancy," said Mark Gross, president of Data Conversion Laboratory. "This means organizations are maintaining twice as much content as they need to—at twice the expense."
On the other hand, there are applications where good information is so vital that it actually changes the way one does their job. Take asset management, for example. With the advent of GASB 34, every city is required to place a value on its assets and to reevaluate them annually. Even a small town has a huge number of assets and the only realistic way to track them all is on the computer.
I recently had a conversation with Dubuque, Iowa-based CarteGraph, which has created an asset management system that links to GIS software. They admit that getting all of the data for true asset management into the system is a daunting task. They have found a fair number of their software customers who simply never get around to entering the information to make the system work. "Our biggest competition is doing nothing, said CarteGraph's Jay Wickham.
But doing nothing is not really an option. Without that data, without the understanding of your assets' condition that you get from a strong asset management approach, you can't make informed decisions or recommendations. In the end, having the data will save you money by pointing toward the maintenance needed to keep the system at a minimum condition level. I hate useless information, but data that can be mined for real knowledge is another thing altogether.
Editor in Chief