Can we make information work more productive?

Since 2001, we have periodically surveyed information workers to find out how much time they spend on a variety of tasks related to information work. These include time spent reading and answering email, searching, writing, creating presentations, entering data, managing information, and translating. We have also asked them to calculate the time they waste in reformatting information, wrestling with multiple versions of documents, duplicating other workers’ efforts or not finding the information they need. Up until now, our conclusions have remained the same: information work, with its disconnected tools and repetitive tasks hinders information workers from accomplishing their core tasks. All too often, we have found, it is the small but time consuming things that get in the way of accomplishing something important.

That may finally be changing as new applications come to market that are designed to reduce repetitive information tasks. Often, these are seemingly inconsequential jobs that, because of their number, require literally thousands and hundreds of thousands of actions, all of which are predictable and repeatable. Like, for instance, looking at patient records to extract the appropriate ICD 9 and ICD 10 codes from doctors’ notes. It turns out that properly trained content analytics applications, as IBM told us, can do this efficiently and more accurately than weary human coders who are subject to burn out.

Here’s another example of a seemingly small task that can take on gigantic proportions. Infinote tells us that every time there is a regulatory change, pharmaceutical companies (or any regulated industry) must find and change every document that is affected. Just revising the wording to reflect the new regulation on use of safety goggles turns out to be a terrible time sink. At one pharmaceutical company, this regulatory change affected an estimated 900 documents—one per lab. Ferreting out these documents was no easy task, nor was changing them one at a time. It would have taken an estimated 6-8 weeks of elapsed time before all the changes were complete.

To address this problem, Infinote, founded by executives from Genentech, has created a specialized search, analysis, update and audit application that includes an add-on to Microsoft Word.  Finding and changing all the documents that contained the now-obsolete wording took a matter of minutes with Infinote.  This kind of application is part of the wave of the future: it is easy to use; it integrates multiple information sources and technologies in a single application; it supports a specific process within a familiar work environment, and eliminates repetitive tasks so that information workers can work more productively.

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