IT MATTERS: Seek and You Might Find

Avoiding Information Disasters Due to Inadequate Training or Poor Search Skills

2004 Volume 7 Issue 1

It might sound like a modern conundrum, but there are two main reasons for information disasters: too little information and too much information.

Disasters of one degree or another occur every day in modern companies because they are critically dependent on accurate and timely information, but that information is often scattered in multiple repositories to which there is no unified access. Conversely, with the advent of the Internet, everyone has access to an exorbitant amount of information, some of which is credible and some of which isn’t. Furthermore, the issue of sheer volume can be overwhelming. These problems are compounded by inadequate training in how to find the right information and how to differentiate what is useful and what is not helpful.

Recent studies by IDC[i], the Working Council of CIOs, the Ford Motor Company, and Reuters found that:

  • Knowledge workers spend from 15% to 35% of their time searching for information.
  • Searchers are successful in finding what they seek 50% of the time or less.
  • 40% of corporate users report that they cannot find the information they need to do their jobs on their intranets.
  • Some studies suggest that 90% of the time that knowledge workers spend in creating new reports is spent recreating information that already exists.

Figure 1 shows the considerable amount of time that is spent seeking information. Given the figures detailed above, far too often there is little to show for such expenditures of time.

Source: IDC, 2003

This inability to find what is needed comes at a considerable cost. A new IDC 2003 report suggests that rework costs an enterprise about $5,000 per person per year for an estimated annual total of $12 million dollars across the U.S. (Figure 2). Furthermore, not locating and retrieving information has an opportunity cost of $15 million dollars per year.

This study also indicates that in the world of e-commerce, improved search software pays for itself in a short period of time. Companies such as Charles Schwab, Lands End, Staples and Macy’s have increased their e-commerce revenues by $125,000 per month, or 400% on average per customer encounter, due to greater customer search capabilities. It is interesting that even call center costs were estimated to decrease by 30% with better search tools.


Source: IDC, 2003.

Business practitioners cannot afford to ignore the search technologies that are available today that can add value to their businesses. The key to leveraging these technologies is not only to implement them, but also, of course, for knowledge workers to be trained in how to use them effectively. For greater insight into how to more effectively use search engines, go to Knowledge Management and the Internet: Harnessing the Power of Search Engines.


[i] The High Cost of Not Finding Information, IDC #29127, June 2003.

About the Author(s)

Charla Griffy-Brown, PhD, is an associate professor of information systems at the Graziadio School of Business and Management. In 2004, Dr. Griffy-Brown received a research award from the International Association for the Management of Technology and was recognized as one of the most active and prolific researchers in the fields of technology management and innovation. A former researcher at the Foundation for Advanced Studies on International Development in Tokyo, she has also served as an associate professor at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Dr. Griffy-Brown graduated from Harvard University, is a former Fulbright Scholar, and holds a PhD in technology management from Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. She has worked for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center and has taught innovation/technology management courses in Australia, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan. She has also served as a consultant for the United Nation's Global Environmental Facility and the European Commission.

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