President Barack Obama receives an briefing update on the ongoing response to Hurricane Sandy during a conference call with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Dr. Rick Knabb, Director of the National Hurricane Center, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, in the Oval Office, Oct. 26, 2012. Also pictured are Alyssa Mastromonaco, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, and Richard Reed, Deputy Assistant to the President for Homeland Security. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.Ê

It started with a simple question posed by a senior marketing exec during a staff meeting.  Blindsided a couple of times in the course of a month by information related to market events that that should have known, the exec went on to ask:

“If the President of the United States can get a daily briefing on the state of the world, why can’t we get one on our own company?”

True story. That simple question led to a phone call to us and ultimately a simple solution.

Like all of us their problem was not access to information – rather it was discerning the information that matters.  In this case about competitors and industry developments including a new market entrant. Millions of information workers face this same problem regardless of their industry, role or profession.

But wait. Remember the promise of “information at your finger tips”? Remember the promise of “jet packs”?

People have been forced to become information hunters and gatherers when they should be harvesting intelligence.  The root cause of this problem is that our collective ability to create information has far outpaced tools that help us keep track of what matters. This problem is not getting better and it is not going away. Despite the many hours of conversations we have had with companies about these issues, few have encapsulated the problem as clearly as comparing it to the president’s daily briefing.

Many organizations have assumed that people can fend for themselves using search, browsing internal portals and collating information from various sources. Perhaps the rational is that people fend for themselves this way outside of work. But the “info-entertainment” the Internet offers is very different than business and professional settings where what you don’t know can hurt you.

In reality, countless hours are spent looking for information only to be caught-off guard anyway. In this case, what if the marketing department had that daily intelligence briefing? A bunch of good things happen. Important information that might otherwise be overlooked is presented in the right context to the people who need it, people spend less time looking for information which collectively adds up to huge value, and investments in content and systems are better utilized. For people who review and share information as part of their job these benefits are multiplied across everyone that benefits. To give a sense of the magnitude, these factors have led one customer to assign a 4 to 1 ROI to their topic intelligence investments.

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Every organization should leverage the wealth of information available today.  The tools exist to do this. But doing so requires looking at the problem differently and not relying on people to fend for themselves. That is why this example seems so valuable.  Ask simple questions. It may lead to simple but effective solutions.