Computers have become ubiquitous. Their power has increased exponentially (Moore’s Law), their size has diminished together with their cost of ownership. Their reliability has improved to the point that it is only theft that makes us cautious about backing information up. Computers have disappeared into ATMs, motor vehicles, phones, TVs, washing machines.
The phrase ‘computer literate’ is almost a tautology as everyone uses the technology, whether they are aware of it or not. This ubiquity has meant that the majority of people in the business world are expected to be and, in most cases are, self-sufficient in using IT. This has resulted in and is driven by, the diminution of employment opportunities for careers as bank clerks and typists, but also major changes in opportunities for information specialists such as librarians .
Take search engines for example. When I was involved in writing one of the first successful information retrieval engines (STATUS ) 40 years ago, our principle market place over the first 15 years was in ‘special libraries’ in laboratories, law, or minerals exploration. The librarians were the gatekeepers to the technology and to the retained information. These specialists, who provided a mid-user service, were both demanding users, but were also experts in the often arcane process of posing exactly the right query to get THE result (a book, journal article etc.).
As time passed, many organisations started to close these in-house facilities or at least to remove the professionals and forced their employees to find their own material, often through external information services and later the internet. As the result we and increasingly our search engine competitors had to make information searching simpler and more intuitive.
The current generation of search engines, exemplified by Google, trawl through mind-blowing volumes of information, with all sorts of smarts to protect the user from themselves. In the process they have changed the objectives of the retrieval game to providing an answer, rather than the answer. They also seem to have sidelined the power user who wants to put a very specific query involving ‘must have word A, but not word B’ to find the answer as the ordering of results is still manipulated by the search engine’s algorithms.
In the same way that Google and its rivals have democratised the use of search engines and access to information, in part by changing the rules to meet the needs and skills of their clients, so Encompass Corporation is changing the face of commercial search and review. Their web based application, Encompass, enables users to analyse and present business relations, and uses visual charting to drive this entire process, including the purchase of the key documents that support their conclusions. It is no longer necessary for this type of specialised search to be restricted to specialist credit managers or risk analysts. Just as the landscape shifted for the traditional librarian or bank clerk, today Encompass is challenging traditional roles and delineations in many internal processes.
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Lawyers, accountants, corporate advisors and lenders must review and cross reference official documents from a range of sources, to verify facts at the beginning of every matter.