Editorial: An Unusual Summer, A Barrage of Information

By Len Monheit
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This week, testimony at the Ephedra Hearings in Washington sparked significant mainstream media activity, and within the industry itself, with September quickly closing, several event related announcements were issued including details of the CRN Annual conference in mid-September and FTC speaking about enforcement at October’s SupplySide West (also featuring a much expanded educational program).

In business news, second quarter results are beginning to appear and of note, Hormel Foods Corporation announced it is acquiring Century Foods International, supplier of ingredients for whey protein powders, ready-to-drink protein beverages and nutrition bars. Hormel is a leading manufacturer of branded food products, with strength in meat products. The acquisition gives Hormel an opportunity to expand its presence in the specialty foods segment and could be significant as a measure of interest in nutritional ingredients.

Analyzing the past few weeks, it’s fair to say this is an unusual summer. A spotlight on supplements, furious legislative activity and deadlines (like the August comment deadline for the proposed supplements GMP rule) has the industry scrambling and the newswires humming. And to top it all off, Natural Products Expo West, normally in early October, has this year been moved to the first week of September.

These summer months, typically reserved for vacation and back to school / family issues and strategic planning for the year’s business have been changed to frantic event co-ordination, document writing to regulatory agencies and a flurry of related activities and meetings.

The pace of information and issues impacting industry and businesses has grown significantly in recent months. It’s becoming more difficult to keep up, perhaps one of the reasons the trade associations are so disappointed with industry feedback to help them construct responses to the regulatory agencies. Key items are dropping through cracks, in both e-mail filters and piles on desks.

Information and knowledge management strategies continue to become more critical to organizational success. One large multinational company is introducing a consolidated weekly internal communication to senior executives of key business issues and trends, highlighting the operational areas likely to be affected. Other custom programs are also emerging to bridge the gap between operations, crises, pressures and trends with strategy and future planning. And of course, applied technology solutions are available (off the shelf or custom) based on key words, searches and database integration. (whoever said computers would make things easier?)

Many of our viewers have noted the barrage of information, unsolicited or legitimate. They are frustrated because frequently, there are pieces of information from multiple sources that are important, but in order to mine the nuggets, they must scan the entire piece. And with lean organizations predominating, executives and managers cannot rely on junior managers to do the filtering for them. And a total automatic solution is not intuitive enough.

This means that strategies and processes for information, record and in general all inbound, internal and outbound communications and the effective use of them are becoming critical management requirements. Having adequate technology support with an understanding of the business environment and realities, 9whether this IT support is internal or outsourced), is important. Elimination of redundant steps is usually a first step, often with contact databasing being a prime example.

I’ve spoken in the past if indiscriminate use of spam filtering. With spam expected to soon top legitimate e-mail in total volume (with consumers anyway; with business users there’s still a ways to go) a filtering strategy is imperative. And, if you’re using e-mail as a communications tool, you need to understand the requirements and limitations of your audience, otherwise you’re wasting your time.

Despite the best that technology offers, there is frequently little or no pattern for what will ultimately be important for you and your organization to either use internally or disseminate externally. This means that human intervention will often be required. Systems, guidelines and policies are fundamental in order to make information and knowledge management valuable to and not just a burden on the organization. This information challenge will only become more acute over time. If you don’t put in good systems and people now, you’ll never be a leader.

At NPIcenter, we’ve tried to embrace this organizing of information concept. You’ll notice on our subscription page , access to numerous electronic newsletters providing complementary sources of information. And e-TRAC, our free headline clipping service, is designed to allow busy executives to enter in up to 40 key words to receive news headlines each day matching those words from the international wires.

Whether the issue is new product time to market or your ability to communicate effectively with your customers, companies who think through the issue of ‘intelligence’ and knowledge management will have a competitive advantage.

(Sidebar: We’ve been testing the Beta version of Office 2003 scheduled for release this October and the Outlook filtering of e-mails. The experience has been mostly positive, particularly with the default spam filtering. While it hasn’t totally eliminated the garbage, it’s reduced it by about half. And to address my concerns expressed previously of indiscriminate filtering and losing important e-mails through anti-spam programs (you can quickly waste more time retrieving than you would have wasted deleting), I have found only 3 e-mails I’ve potentially wanted (nothing mission critical) out of more than 10000 messages quarantined. The use of rules, key words and other tools can help productivity significantly.)

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