In the Trenches with Frank
Ryan of the EBRD
The following is an interview with Frank Ryan, Manager of the Business Information Centre at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, conducted by Martin De Saulles, Managing Director of Researcha Ltd.
Where do you work , what is your title and what do you
We now have the problem that many people believe that all information is now available free on the Internet. I usually explain that the commercial Internet - Reuter Business Briefing, Dow Jones, Lexis-Nexis etc. - is far greater in volume than the freebie part and much better organised but the doubts persist. I would welcome help from readers.
How long have you worked there and what did you do before
I ran my own information consultancy / publishing business for two years before that and from 1983 to 1988 I was Head of Information Services at the Johnson Matthey Technology Centre. Before that I was not an 'information anything' at all!
How long have you worked in the information sector and
what made you choose this career?
In a way, the information profession chose me. I was asked to take over the running of the technical Library at Johnson Matthey in 1983 by the newly appointed Research Director. He wanted a much more proactive service than the existing one. It was a challenge at a time when I was looking for something new. Science is great. There is a big buzz when you discover something that nobody else knows but as you inevitably climb the tree it becomes more about managing people and less about discovery.
It was time to move on and I am very glad now that I moved into 'information'. Electronic publishing took off in the early 1980s with Lexis-Nexis, World Reporter and, of course, Textline. Most are called something else now but they were the 'brave new world' in those days.
Describe a typical day at the EBRD
Many days include a meeting with an information provider. We work very closely with our suppliers. The Bank, being a publicly funded organisation, has to be very careful with its money and I need constantly to prove that the BIC is providing 'value for money'. That does not mean getting the cheapest deal - that is impossible as all providers are monopolies and information is not like baked beans. It does mean matching the price paid with the value gained and for that we always have to involve users. We try out all new services on groups of relevant users. If enough like the service then we put together a mutually beneficial deal.
Another regular part of my day is involved with some aspect of what is known as 'knowledge management' but is better described as knowledge sharing. I am jointly supervising a student from City University who is undertaking a doctoral study in knowledge sharing in international organisations. We currently have a very exciting pilot programme with two of the largest units in the Bank that could fundamentally change the way we work together in groups or communities. I have to read a lot on this topic to keep up with my student.
For the rest of the day I run a 'fast food information restaurant'. Making sure that I am there when my staff need me, bouncing ideas off them and talking to the many visitors.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Every 15 months or so we commission a formal feedback survey of users. It is anonymous - usually it is done by a student on placement from City University or the University of North London. Only he/she knows the identity of respondents. We get a good response to questionnaires, greater than 40%, and for the last three surveys we obtained satisfaction ratings for the services provided and the overall quality of the service of more than 98%!
This does not mean that we 'rest on our laurels'. Each survey highlights areas needing attention. The real feedback is in the comments where you have to look beyond the polite phrases to see the messages they contain.
What is the most frustrating part?
In what ways, if any, do you think the information profession
has changed since you started in it?
What will be the most important changes over the next
The second bit - collaborative working - is here already. I strongly recommend readers to check out www.quickplace.com and sign up for a 45-day trial. My personal view is that the more you get into this 'Notes for Everyman' system the more you will be impressed. There are competitors such as eRooms, HotOffice and, an unusual new entrant, Groove - all worth a look.
What advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering
the industry as a researcher / information manager?
For managers, first be truly customer-driven. Listen to them. Ask them what they think of the Library and Information Service. Try out new information products and services with their help. Try never to say no to your customers. You may have to say yes in a modified way but use their enthusiasm to drive the service. Second, develop a team of bridge builders not gate keepers. As far as possible fund, facilitate and 'get out of the way'. Put as many appropriate information services on as many desktops as possible. Provide full back up, training and hand-holding. Monitor usage.
Keep a very tight rein on budgets and provide your manager with regular updates, on both the use of the service and costs, even if he/she does not ask for it. I have a host of Access databases that turn out the necessary statistics painlessly.
What are your three favourite work-related Web sites?
In addition there are two invaluable tools, which I strongly recommend. Both can be downloaded from their respective websites. One is 'free with adverts' and the other can be tried out for 21 days and costs about £100. The first is the Internet search 'system' Copernic and the second MindManager.
Copernic uses other search engines (Altavista, Lycos etc.) to execute a composite search but unlike other composites like Google and DogPile the results are listed in ranked order, pages are retrieved once only and the whole search is saved on the C drive for future use. It has a lot of additional functionality but there is not the space here to expand on that.
MindManager is based on the work of Tony Buzan. It enables users to combine both sides of the brain - logical and creative - to solve problems such as planning a presentation or a report. It uses 'spider' diagrams. Luckily I had been taught the technique 'on paper' before I discovered the software. From my own experience I can say that these are excellent tools to get complex messages across fast.
How significant for established information vendors do
you think is the growth of free information available over the Internet?
What will you be doing in five years?
This interview represents the views of Frank Ryan and not those of the EBRD.
Martin De Saulles is the Managing Director of Researcha Ltd. Researcha.com is a leading global Internet community for information professionals. Contact Martin De Saulles by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org .
This article was originally published by Researcha Ltd. at Researcha.com and was featured by competia.com in April 2001. It is reprinted here with permission. Researcha.com is a production of Researcha Ltd. Competia Online is a production of Competia Inc.
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