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INFORMATION OVERREACH - How to handle a whole World Wide Web of Junk

By Donald Roll, managing director - europe, Portal B

Junk. Tons of junk. A world of junk, in fact. If you're reading this at home, you know what I mean. Think of your attic,
basement or garage. Makes you cringe, right? All that stuff gathering dust, taking up space, getting in the way. You don't want it. You don't need it. But it's there, nonetheless. And you can't seem to get rid of it.

Think you're better off at the office? Think again. There's junk (more than likely) in your bottom drawer, in your briefcase, in your filing cabinets?everywhere you look!

But the worst junk of all-clutter that has the most direct impact on your job-isn't in any of those places. It's in your computer, on the Internet to be more precise, a place that's beginning to resemble your garage or attic more than your once immaculate view of Cyberspace.

It's a disturbing trend. For an increasing number of accounting, finance and other professionals, the secret to success in the workplace is access to timely, high-quality information on topics such as business trends; companies and industries; and accounting, tax rules and business transactions. And we need to access the information with a few swift clicks of a mouse, without delay or distraction.

Valuable Resource or Endless Clutter?

With 2.8 million public websites and approximately 800 million web pages (and counting), the challenge of finding the right business information quickly and easily is difficult, at best. "Despite the many benefits of the Internet, there is no question that companies are now suffering from information overload," is the way Patricia S. Foy, director of Global Knowledge Management at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, describes the situation. Information overload is, by my definition anyway, volumes of information you don't want or need. Junk, in other words.

The situation is particularly alarming because professionals in many industries are increasingly turning to the Internet to conduct important business research. Countless sites have been developed for accountants, financial executives, attorneys, physicians and management consultants, not to mention agricultural specialists, hospital administrators and office managers. Trade associations and trade publications often have sites that can be searched to retrieve vertical market-specific and job-specific information.

Accountants and auditors have special needs when it comes to business information, largely because their work can span so many different industries, subject areas and geographies. Accounting and taxation standards vary by location. Transactions in different industries can receive different accounting treatments. And while the rules do not change in real-time, they change frequently enough that a professional needs to have up-to-date information on a range of topics close at hand. That information is available on the Web today. It's just not easily found.

Until recently, there were two web choices when it came to finding the right background material or the answer to a specific business question. A search could be conducted using one of the established search engines or directory products such as Alta Vista, Lycos, Hotbot or Yahoo! Then came the process of scouring through thousands of page hits for the right information, all the while looking at ads and e-commerce opportunities (more junk!). Given the size of the web (Alta Vista, for example, has more than 250,000,000 pages indexed), using popular search engines-all originally created just for consumer use-to find very specific business information is like using a butter knife to perform delicate surgery.

The alternative is navigating from one familiar site to another to see what information is available. The advantage of this approach is that there is less "useless" information to sift through. The disadvantage is that it is
extremely time-consuming.

Breaking the Search Barrier: Less is More

Portal B ( <>), which provides a set of search tools for hand-selected and hand-indexed websites that focus solely on business, is one way to solve this problem.

Based on the premise that finding relevant business information online is a major challenge, Portal B addresses the issue by providing a single point of access to high-value business information that allows users to combine search results from three distinct sources: the web, premium databases and a company's proprietary content.

To ease searching for business and financial information, Portal B provides detailed abstracts for each Web site and has the ability to turn them into customized directories that can be named-and searched-by users. In addition, it offers access to more than 20 proprietary site directories, and the company's clients have the option of subscribing to and accessing more than 70 premium databases.

In the financial area, Portal B is especially powerful for searching across accounting firm websites, as well as business school sites for the latest in accounting research. Portal B also has developed company "finders," or handy links to more than 25,000 global public companies and 100,000 international private companies. You can even retrieve groups of URLs, based on industry or company size.

A Major Dilemma: Indexing More or Fewer Web Pages?

To be successful (i.e. attract users), search engines have traditionally cast as wide a net as possible in terms of the services they offer and the pages they index. Unlike Portal B, the prevailing theory is that more is better.

Northern Light, which targets both consumers and the general business public, is a perfect example. It offers users what it calls a Special Collection of premium content, which includes archival news and press releases, plus access to investment research and economic data. In terms of site selection, Northern Light claims to have well over 250,000 web
pages spidered. "While many of our competitors are content to only index a portion of the Web, our software and technology are optimized to continue to grow our database," the company states on its Web Site, concluding that its customers are "getting the most information available, organized and presented in the most useful way.", another business-oriented search engine, takes a more selective approach. It provides premium content through access to the Dow Jones News Retrieval service. Its 2,000 or so sites are organized by industry, which is a plus for some types of business users. These sites have been selected by the Dow Jones editorial staff, which underscores the
importance of the human element in the entire searching process

The value to users of indexing "more" or "fewer" pages on the Web was a hot topic in Steve Matthews' May 5, 2000 article in Traffic. A professional librarian and founder of, Matthews described a three-step process
for finding information that people need on the Internet:

(1) Go to appropriate portal website;
(2) Enter keyword terms; and
(3) Begin to drill down through 47 million web pages!

The 47 million figure might seem like an exaggeration, but it often doesn't feel like it. "There is little doubt that the number of indexed pages on the search engines has become unwieldy," Matthews explains. "Those who laughed at the 47 million number can try searching for 'business' on Alta Vista and get back to the rest of the group later." Then Matthews adds the kicker. "This situation gets even more puzzling when one considers the continued criticisms of the search engines for only indexing 20 percent of the available pages on the Net, or 25 percent or 30 percent. The search engines should be indexing fewer pages, not more."

In his article, Matthews adds an exclamation point. "Technology is great," he writes, "but unless the general population is willing to take the time to master 'Boolean Operators,' the best methodology available is going to be plain old human classification."

It's ironic that human participation is indispensable to the searching process at a time when technology seems to increasingly dominate our lives. But, in some ways, better, faster, more efficient searching for business information means going back to basics, and using human talent, not just computers, to provide us with the best information that we need to do our

Most important, it sharply reduces the amount of junk we encounter on the Internet - an exciting development that will help make our business lives much more productive.

In this month's edition of Document Management Update:

Lotus unveils Raven Discovery Server. more>>
Deutsche Bank chooses IBM WebSphere Translation Server. more>>
Zurich deploys Autonomy in worldwide risk engineering extranet. more>>
Feature: The need for content management. more>>
eRooms launches eRooms 5.0 - Richard Croasdale finds out how the company plans to differentiate collaboration tool from Microsoft rival. more>>
Documentum launches 4i Portal content edition. more>>

Other knowledge management features:

Content management — helping create order out chaos. Knowledge management maybe an oxymoron — albeit a useful one — but there are certainly parts of our intellectual capital that we can manage much more effectively. more>>

UNLOCKING THE VALUE OF KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge management as a concept has received much attention of late, but that does not alter the fact that many businesses are not realising the benefits of exploiting the knowledge available to them. However, in the current turbulent business climate, few companies can afford to let this valuable resources remain untapped. more>>

Information overreach - With 2.8 million public websites and approximately 800 million web pages (and counting), the challenge of finding the right business information quickly and easily is difficult, at best. more>>
Putting Knowledge to Work. Knowledge management has spawned a lot of theoretical discussion, but how do you put it to work to achieve – and quantify – real benefits for businesses? Peter Turnbull, SER’s UK head of marketing, goes back to Shakespeare to bring to life working solutions for companies today. more>>
Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. Ernst & Young understands this better than most - the firm has one of the largest knowledge infrastructures in the world and is the only professional services firm to have been recognized as one of the world's top five "Most Admired Knowledge Enterprises" in each of the last two years. more>>
In favour of GM insurers. more>>
feature. more>>





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