My head hurts. I'm stuck in the mental trap that occurs when people indoctrinated in esoteric information science traditions like documentation and HIB face off against market researchers. The question is so simple: How do decision makers use information at various stages of the buying process? The naive answers seem so straight forward. They use the Web; they get information from colleagues; they depend on internal processes... but they're meaningless. I need to write my way out.
It's a loaded worded. What exactly is information? It's that amorphous cloud that represents the material reality of the verb "to inform". With the new digital realities, even the material component is somewhat suspect. I always advocate to move away from the word "information" and toward more precise terms. "Documents" will work, as will "process" or "individuals". "Information", however, is just too amorphous.
There is another problem with information. The scenario we've set up describes a linear process in which decision makers navigate a linear set of stages and eventually take one specific action--the purchase. "Information" serves as inputs to these various stages. It seems unlikely to me that the decision-making process is as straight forward as our model suggests. There are likely to be any number of "stops" (to use Dervin's expression) that could be related to any number of issues: funding, personnel changes, executive support, etc. Furthermore, the inputs to any particular stage are likely far more nuanced that just "information". As I know from my comps on HIB, different types of professionals use information in different ways. Engineers--perhaps the most comparable to IT professionals--rely on at-hand information such as internal reports and interaction with colleagues.
One of the tricks will be linking information needs with various problems, stops, or gaps. So what are these gaps? And what are the sources?
Dervin identifies a number of different types of stops. Her taxonomy may be leveragable for the current application:
* Decision stop: two or more roads ahead.
* Barrier stop: one road ahead, but blocked.
* Spin-out stop: no road.
* Wash-out stop: road disappears.
* Problematic stop: being dragged down a road.
* Perceptual embeddedness: how foggy is the road.
* Situational embeddedness: how many intersections.
* Social embeddedness: how many people are also travelling.
Now I can begin to break these topics down into some issues that are relevant for IT decision-makers:
* Decision stop.
-- Too many product choices
-- Too many strategic projects
-- Conflicting project priorities
* Barrier stop.
-- Lack of project funding.
-- Lack of corporate sponsorship.
-- Inability to create vendor list.
-- Inability to evaluate vendors.
-- Inability to arcticulate requirements.
-- Unable to find expertise.
-- Inability to adequately manage the project.
* Spin-out stop.
-- Unable to find a product/solution provider
* Wash-out stop.
-- Inability to formulate a project plan.
* Problematic stop.
-- Senior management drives the process.
-- Functional management drives process.
-- Consultant drives the process.
-- Supplier/Reseller drives the process.
* Perceptual embeddedness.
-- Inability to articulate the business need.
-- Inability to understand the solution space.
-- Inability to assess vendor/supplier competence.
* Situational embeddedness.
-- Inability to get buy-in from project stake holders.
* Social embeddedness.
-- Inability to address tensions between stakeholders.
There are a variety of internal resources that decision makers could possibly leverage. Unfortunately, I don't have a convenient list to start brainstorming. Or rather, I don't have access to one!
* Colleagues within the enterprise.
-- Functional management.
-- Senior management.
-- Business analysts.
-- Project managers.
-- IT staff: data centers.
-- IT staff: application development and maintenance.
-- IT staff: support.
* Colleagues within the industry.
* Internal reports.
There are also a wide range of external sources of information that individuals could possibly rely on:
* Scholarly articles.
* Trade press: print.
* Trade press: web.
* Analyst and consultant reports.
* Blogs and wikis.
* Support forums.
* General trade shows and conferences.
* Vendor-specific trade shows and conferences.
* Governance frameworks.
* Project management frameworks.
* Preferred vendor strategy.
* Internal policies and guidelines.
It's ugly but it's a start.