Magazine article Online

What to Expect from an Information Consultant

Magazine article Online

What to Expect from an Information Consultant

Article excerpt

Not so long ago, before there was an information industry as we know it, there was The Librarian, She stood behind the desk looking at you over her half-glasses, stamped your book and made you whisper. Yes, Marion the Librarian did exist. Today, thank goodness, Marion is another stereotype that has disappeared.

Nowadays, when she stands on the university steps with her new M.L.S. clutched to her bosom, the librarian has a dazzling array of choices of job titles and descriptions. Whether she chooses to be director of a corporate information center, a designer of online software or to launch an independent information brokerage, chances are the services of an information consultant will come in handy at some point in her career. She may even choose to be one.

When I co-founded Information Unlimited in 1971, there were no consultants to turn to. The information industry was just being born. DIALOG consisted of three databases. BRS, Dow Jones and NEXIS didn't exist. We did it all by the seat of our pants, by trial and error. That may be fun, even challenging, but I could have saved hundreds of false steps and a bunch of money if there had been good consultants available, especially in the areas of marketing, pricing and other business basics. Now it seems everyone wants to go online to be part of this exciting, exploding industry. The need for good information consultants is paramount.

Today, information consultants are available on many levels. They can provide marketing and product development expertise, software evaluation, the creation of or the actual data that will help you solve your business problems and just about everything in between. There are those who provide the information itself, to help set up a document delivery service, for instance, and those information professionals who serve the rest of the business world which often merely needs the information fast and has no interest in the nuts and bolts of how to get it.

Unfortunately, the unkind saying going around that consultant is another name for a person looking for a job can be all too true. Not everyone who calls himself a consultant is qualified to be one. I shudder for the information brokerage industry every time someone wants to buy my tape/book on the subject and then asks questions like 'What's DIALOG?" "Isn't CompuServe all l need to be a broker?" "I'm a programmer so I know how to be a broker, right?" "I've always wanted to be my own boss and I've just bought a home computer. It's easy to be a broker, isn't it?"

Obviously you don't want to hire such an innocent to advise you about your complex information industry needs. How do you sort the wheat from the chaff?


Here are some basic attributes you have a right to expect from a qualified professional consultant:

1. Expect a person with knowledge of the specific aspect of the information industry you require. The federal government estimates that 56% of the Gross National Product comes from the information industry, so you need to screen carefully.

2. Expect a person with the ability to communicate her expertise to you. Try for a Great Communicator. All the skill in the world acquired by blood, sweat and tears is nothing to you, if that person cannot communicate her experience to you effectively. Interview her in-depth. Make sure you feel comfortable with her.

She should be able to ask good questions questions that urge you to think about your situation from many different perspectives. Then both of you can set out with initiative and energy to find a solution - remember, the consultant cannot solve your problems, but can help you solve them.

3. Expect a person with hands-on experience who knows the ins and outs from real life rather than from reading the same books you have just read on how to do it. In an industry as burgeoning as ours, it is easy for people to fool one another with a lot of hastily acquired jargon. …

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