Tour Guide to Curator

By DANIEL ANTION posted 02-20-2013 08:01


Much has been written about the myriad ways that IT is losing its grip on technology, how badly we are coping with those changes and how desperately we are trying to regain our position of authority. Personally, I don’t yearn for the way it used to be. I’ve written before that I fully expect people to return to IT, once they realize that they can’t handle the strain of managing apps, devices, and the pace of change and the complaints of an unmanaged user community. Before that happens, I also expect them to suffer through a transition of their own – the one hinted at in the title.

I’ve been building information systems for a long time. I won’t bore you with the details of the changes I’ve had to deal with; let’s just say that I’ve used a keypunch machine. Until recently, I have been building systems for tour guides. What do I mean by “tour guides?” Well, think about your last guided tour at a museum, science center or similar venue: the tour guide was in charge of the information. The tour guide focused the conversation, and if you had questions, the tour guide answered them. The tour guide also decided which questions were inappropriate for the audience. I’ve built accounting systems, I’ve built transportation support systems, and I’ve built systems for marketing, but if the people in marketing wanted accounting information, they went to the accountants to get it. I was automating the processing of “their” data, but “they” retained the information. When we talk about “changing behavior” it’s not just about business processes. Information access is the behavioral elephant that isn’t in the room, but which is standing just outside the door.

As we work toward the goal of setting information free, we can expect both direct and unplanned resistance. Direct resistance comes from people who want better systems, but don’t want their world to change. They want faster access to information, they want access to more information, they want to be able to digest more data, and they want greater reliability and more flexibility. But, they want those things for themselves – they want it to be easier to answer your questions, but they still want you to be asking them those questions. They want to remain a tour guide.

Some people may not see the benefit in the fact that the systems that we are building today are moving them into the role of curator. They will still decide what information will be obtained (collected, generated). They will decide what information will be stored, and they will decide what information will be on display (what reports get circulated). Beyond that, consumers will be on a self-guided tour. We already have 24-hour access to the exhibits and we are gaining access to the stacks, the back rooms and the offsite storage facilities.  Soon, we will no longer need a tour guide’s expertise and we won’t need to incur the expense, or be limited by the availability of the guided tour.

Unplanned resistance is a type of collateral damage. We don’t intend to be a barrier to progress, but somehow we are. The popular expression when I was creating those punch cards was “if you’re not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem!” The problems back then included: world peace, equal rights, war, government oppression and the economy…sigh. Let’s hope our problems prove easier to solve.

I am confident optimistic hopeful that as we design new information management systems, the tour guides around me will be able to transition themselves to the role of curators. My job is to build the new exhibits and craft the self-guided tour. If people can’t help me meet that challenge, then they will be part of the problem. Once again, the number one task on my list is education, and communication remains my most effective tool. I have taught people how to process information differently; now I have to help them learn how to use information more effectively. I have to make them understand how information now flows through the organization, and how people can tap into that flow whenever they need to, from wherever they are. I have to explain, and they have to accept the changes in the way we (they) prepare, disseminate and control the information that they own.

#communication #behavior #training #Education #Collaboration