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People, As Much As Technology, Fuel the 500

By Larry Dignan  |  Posted 2005-10-19 Print this article Print

The companies in the Baseline 500 rely on one primary information system to boost their productivity: Their people. Without workers who know what data is important, how and when to collect it, and how to manage it, your information management strat

In this issue, you'll find the 500 corporations that manage information best. What makes these companies so special?

The answer: People.

You arrive at this conclusion through a circuitous route. First, you must realize that information management isn't just about technology. No matter what the technology, information is meaningless without someone who knows what data is important, how and when it should be collected, and how to analyze it. What houses that data—spreadsheet, enterprise planning system or legal pad—is irrelevant.

And without proper management of the people responsible for your company's information, you're toast.

Sure, the Baseline 500 ranks companies based on Information Productivity, which is essentially operating profits divided by the costs to move bits and bytes, commonly referred to as sales, general and administrative (SG&A) costs. But profits and costs are two numbers by which every company measures itself. And whether your company is striving to cut costs, refine business processes or bring home profits, nothing will be achieved without productive workers.

Don't believe it? Try this. Think of the best players on your technology staff—the ones who know the business and can come up with innovative processes and applications that make the company more efficient. Now, they leave. Your job just got harder. You have to find the time and money to replace and train lost talent.

Every chief information officer and technology executive in this issue drives this "people matter" message home. "The foundation of information technology is people," says M. Lewis Temares, vice president of information technology and dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Miami. "It has always been that way, even though management can forget."

Consider Baseline 500 company Amazon.com. Werner Vogels, Amazon's chief technology officer, assigns technology teams to particular businesses within the company. Team members aren't considered database administrators or Java programmers or some other techie title. They're the people responsible for the customer checkout procedure, or the credit card verification process, or the search function.

The team identifies problems, designs and implements fixes, and monitors operations with its business-side counterparts. This way, technology workers get direct feedback in regular and informal meetings from the business people who use their code or applications.

One recent innovation out of this partnership was the creation of a feature on the Amazon site that lets customers discover related books that they might not otherwise know about. Rather than search for broad topics, like "baseball," or specific titles or authors, people can look for books that share uncommon phrases, such as "earned-run average." The feature lets customers browse without having to know exactly what product they're looking for—which is expected to boost the bottom line as people find more books on the site that they'd like to own.

While the feature certainly involves a lot of technology, people were Vogels' most valuable information system.

Larry Dignan

Business Editor
Larry formerly served as the East Coast news editor and Finance Editor at CNET News.com. Prior to that, he was editor of Ziff Davis Inter@ctive Investor, which was, according to Barron's, a Top-10 financial site in the late 1990s. Larry has covered the technology and financial services industry since 1995, publishing articles in WallStreetWeek.com, Inter@ctive Week, The New York Times, and Financial Planning magazine. He's a graduate of the Columbia School of Journalism.
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