Dealing With Data Overload

Brunson White is overloaded.

“I’ve got 4,000 names in my BlackBerry, but I don’t know 4,000 people,” says White, CIO of Energen, a $1.45 billion energy company headquartered in Birmingham, Ala. “I’ve also got stacks of business cards in my office. Who are all these people?”

Too much information, and always more on the way: The surfeit is a reality of modern life, but few feel the weight more than CIOs. Waves of data flood their in-boxes and applications, threaten the productivity of their shops and the enterprise as a whole, and chase them home at night.

White is experimenting with LinkedIn to address the deluge of contacts. But more issues await at every turn.

If data isn’t managed well, and managed at scale, it can disrupt the entire company. “Everybody has information overload,” says Sam Aparicio, CTO of, a McLean, Va.-based unit of MicroStrategy that sells interactive voice-response and call-center software. “The No. 1 job of a CIO is employee productivity.” The people charged with data strategy, he says, “have a very special mission” to make sure that staffers can actually get some work done.

Sometimes tamping down information eruptions can feel like playing whack-a-mole, with similar problems popping up again and again. Mike Gabbei, CIO of Celadon Group, a $580 million trucking company based in Indianapolis, responded to department heads and users who wanted alerts pushed to them instead of sifting through data. “Then they can’t handle the alerts,” he says. “Just pushing them an e-mail alert means they get 2,000 e-mails instead of 1,000.”

Now Gabbei is using business intelligence tools that flag exceptions to usual workflow. This, too, could bring “an inundation of information,” he acknowledges, but that should subside as people get used to it.

Some solutions go against conventional wisdom. The Internet turns everyone into a researcher, but Energen maintains a corporate library staffed by a professional with a master’s degree in library science. White says it’s worth the cost to get the right information to the right people in the most efficient way possible. “They’re better at finding [information] than I am, and it makes sense to leverage that,” he says.

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