Starting my London-based career in an ‘Information Services’ team has led to me always having quite an interest in the semantics of support departments. Information has become a hugely overused term since then, closely associated with the ‘Knowledge Economy’, as business and academia have worried about the growth of technology and overload of web content in the last 20 years. However, whilst information teams have often dwindled in the face of ‘free’ material on the open web other support services continue along.
At a CILIP event about 5 years back there was an agitated former Institute of Information Scientists member who was furious at perceived continued dumbing down, in other words, a focus on libraries rather than information science. The challenge, of course, is that ‘information’ is a term largely usurped by technology, either as IT or ICT. In this respect the BCS and other groups have usurped the second I in CILIP and there were valid opinions expressed that the CILIP renaming debacle could of done worse than to embrace the old ‘Library Association’ moniker. However, the risk with this would be to alienate members, such as myself, who have long moved on from physical spaces whilst still using an information orientated mindset (I tend to avoid ‘skills’ here as I fear that might be over-egging my pudding!).
So if “information” has become synonymous with technological solutions and support departments what for those with an information mindset? In many cases they will be found embedded within another traditional department such as research, HR, marketing or training/learning. They may (like me) or may not have formal academic credentials in these areas but do have the option of engaging with professional bodies and potentially seeking professional status such as MCILIP, CMALT, etc.
Of course the challenge is that in ‘knowledge’ (and many other) roles ICT solutions are essential, and I include the C to recognize the role of communication and collaboration tools.
So what of all these support teams? Well, whilst ICT and the currently vogue ESN have tried to break silos they often still exist. This often is not helped by the splits to C-Suite reporting across various groups including COOs, Heads of People and (of course) the CIO.
What I’m going to suggest today though is that disciplinary focus doesn’t help. Instead let’s pick the best elements to create a single support structure. But what to call it? Well how much your (and I’m largely talking office based support here) support make up of your workforce will impact.
However let’s adopt “Productivity and Performance”. In this model, Ullrich-esque HRBPs can become performance consultants and help identify where things need to improve and have full scope of measures (finance and other data) versus solutions (digital solutions for marketing and learning), etc.
Obviously organisations will vary but it’s starting to feel like claiming the ‘productivity’ name is a solution – as recognised by Microsoft, Apple and others who recognise software by that name. Indeed if one looks at the latest top 100 tools for learning many are not ‘learning’ specific but productivity/office focused. Many on this list would appear for a lawyer, finance, marketing and other pros. Let’s recognize the value in the tech and bring together the support staff with different mindsets, strengths and expertise.