Stop Trying to Serve Everyone: Becoming Critical to the Success of a Manufacturer's Research and Development Efforts Prompted an Information Center to Make Hard Choices about the Services It Would Provide

By Shannon, Colleen T. | Information Outlook, July-August 2013 | Go to article overview

Stop Trying to Serve Everyone: Becoming Critical to the Success of a Manufacturer's Research and Development Efforts Prompted an Information Center to Make Hard Choices about the Services It Would Provide


Shannon, Colleen T., Information Outlook


I joined the Hershey Company--yes, that Hershey Company--in 1998 with a library degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a few years of experience in public and special libraries. Full of ideas but not yet appreciating the need to take action (let alone execute a plan), my early years at Hershey could be described as successful from the perspective of an information professional, but not so much from the perspective of a Fortune 500 executive.

The library at Hershey was a quality operation, with a small but highly skilled staff. We were nothing if not service-oriented: We did anything for anyone at any time. At the end of the day, the parking lot contained the cars of only a few die-hard scientists and dedicated info pros.

There was no task we would turn down. We covered all of the basics--literature searches, document delivery, project archiving, maintenance of our print collection--as well as some not-so-basic duties that crept up over time, such as developing Websites, creating graphics, and assisting with random technologies. Organizationally, we were part of Hershey's research and development (R&D) group, but as a practical matter, we provided service to anyone and everyone who asked. We would just as readily help a summer intern as we would the CEO.

One service that we rarely provided, however, was analysis. Notwithstanding the library's name--the Information Analysis Center--there was not a lot of information analysis to be found there. At the time, I was reporting to a non-librarian manager who gave me a lot of autonomy to perform my job, so I used this opportunity to attempt to put the A in IAC and thereby add value to the information we delivered. Patent analysis, product launch data analysis, enterprise-wide syndicated market research availability--these and other services became part of our toolbox, as did providing "information at the desktop" in the form of end-user search.

Setting the Stage

The IAC thrived under this approach, gaining visibility and establishing a reputation for trustworthiness. Then, in 2007, the R&D group was realigned and the IAC became part of Hershey's Food Research & Discovery group. This restructuring presented the IAC staff with a huge opportunity, as we were now part of the same group as the scientists who were our primary customers. In addition, I was promoted to the position of manager of the IAC and appointed chair of Hershey's Technical Intellectual Property Committee.

As a result of these changes, we were able to leverage our experience with patent analysis and business research to increase our involvement in areas such as scouting for technologies and providing due diligence on potential technology partners. But although I was excited by this turn of events and the evolution the IAC had undergone over the years, I found myself struggling with some aspects of our success. Providing information for the entire company, often under stringent deadlines, had created unrealistic service expectations and reduced our interaction with our clients. By upholding our reputation for quality service, we had unwittingly fostered an expectation of receiving top-quality information with minimal lead time at little or no cost. It also kept us so busy that we had no time to become partners on various project teams; instead, we were just a box to check off ("Did someone send a request to the IAC?").

While I was pondering how to address these concerns, management approached me about earning a master's degree in business administration (MBA). I was flattered and thrilled by the opportunity, but apprehensive. My immediate concern was maintaining an acceptable work-life balance, already an elusive goal for this mother of two small children. That aside, I viewed an MBA as conferring multiple benefits, both upon me--enhanced career security at Hershey as well as beyond it--and upon the IAC. A business degree would be a powerful companion to my MLS in the areas of due diligence, competitive intelligence and internal entrepreneurship, and it would also earn me a seat at the table with other leaders of business units. …

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