Magazine article Information Today

Applying a Proactive Ounce of Prevention

Magazine article Information Today

Applying a Proactive Ounce of Prevention

Article excerpt

Sandy Schulman is director of marketing at Comtex Scientific Corporation in Alexandria, Virginia. She may be reached by e-mail at sschulrnan@comtexnews.com or sandyschu@aol.com.

Does the prevalence of disintermediation increase your productivity?

Theoretically, every systems librarian should have become more productive recently because everyone can now do everything for themselves. Systems are easier to use and learn and the Web has the answer to just about everything. Users don't have to rely on you anymore. You now have an endless number of hours this summer to plan, investigate new products, implement policy changes, and straighten out your office. Right?

Of course not.

While it might generally be true that your users are more self-sufficient about some things these days, that doesn't translate to less end-user interaction. Consequently, an assumed increase in productivity in your other areas of responsibility doesn't necessarily follow either.

Disintermediation is supposed to mean that your services are no longer required; the clients have learned to fend for themselves. What disintermediation really means is that users start out on their own and then come back for help and advice when they're tangled in an irrelevant flood of information. Then, users need help to find more precise, relevant data.

I contend that your interaction with the end user has shifted, not disappeared. Activity is now focused toward the back end of the client's process rather than the beginning. Instead of having asked questions of you before they embarked on the journey, users (and occasionally staff members, too) are now engaging you to help correct the problems they've created.

I also contend that working with users on the back end of their quest-after they've experienced problems-is more time consuming than working with them on the front end of their searches and systems requests. Rather than fall by the wayside of the current popularity of disintermediation (which often creates more work for you in the long run), it's worth taking some time to be proactive in an effort to head off as many problems as can be anticipated.

Procedures and Reminders

One way of alleviating some issues in advance is to create written procedures for parts of your system known to have problems. This will go a long way toward helping staff and users avoid known pitfalls. Think of the time you'll save if you can avoid even a handful of panic calls from frustrated users. If you know that the instructions provided by the system vendor are unclear, rewrite them as soon as possible. I know you don't have the time, but believe me, it will take less time to write clear instructions than to have to help each individual user who runs smack into a riddle of instructions or tutorials from your vendor.

It's not that your vendor is being intentionally obtuse, or that the company is out to get you (even though it seems that way at times), but vendors spend so long living with their products during design and development that they often can't remember what it was like the first time they encountered those products. They fall into the comfort zone of their own internal language and don't realize that the rest of the world doesn't necessarily have that frame of reference.

Some vendors are in the habit of sending documentation and products to customers and/or prospects for review on a regular basis. You'll usually find instructions and tutorials for these systems to be clearer and more intuitive because they've received real, meaningful input from the field. …

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