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A Day in the Life of a Information Manager

Information managers regulate the flow of information, either electronically or procedurally, within and among offices. For many companies, the rate at which work can be done is limited by the rate at which information can be transmitted to the people who need it, so the information manager fills a critical role: To rapidly and accurately disseminate information to people who need it while maintaining security and creating a structure flexible enough to allow for company expansion or contraction. IMs work closely with all departments of a company and many spend significant time analyzing a company’s needs and historical practices before implementing any changes. IMs are often hired as a result of a critical information failure on an important project. In these circumstances, they may have to deal with the resentment of managers who are used to communicating in a certain way and who are reluctant to fully describe their job responsibilities for fear of being blamed for the problem. IMs find it helpful to act as educators, and strong interpersonal skills are an advantage to them. IMs are also hired for their technical expertise and work as MIS (management information system) specialists to connect physically remote locations through telephone lines, to network existing stand-alone computers, or to coordinate telephone and data systems throughout a building. IMs specialize in management analysis or physical systems early in their career. The most surprising problem IMs face is not a practical one—their educational training and practical experience prepare them for most situations that they will encounter—it is with the level of satisfaction. Information managers report that their level of satisfaction seems to decrease the longer they are in their career. Some said this is because the challenges aren’t that challenging anymore; a few wrote that they expected the profession to lead to other careers and for them, it did not; one mentioned that the defensiveness he encountered on a day-to-day basis was downright offensive. To be a successful IM you have to listen well, think clearly, analyze carefully, know the options available to you—and have a thick skin.

Paying Your Dues

Employers in the industry strongly recommend that applicants have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a related field such as information systems, computer science, logic, organizational behavior, business or communications. Many of the IMs we contacted had more than one degree. Those who intend to teach need to go to graduate school, and in this case, it is customary to obtain a Ph.D. in information systems. Those interested in electronic communication systems should be well versed in computer science and its organizational applications. Sole information managers at a company and leaders of teams of information managers need good interpersonal and writing skills.

Present and Future

Information managers can trace their roots back to the supermarket shelf. In the 1960s, Japanese auto manufacturers, looking for a competitive advantage, were impressed with the system of inventory control American supermarkets used to restock their shelves. They applied this system to their production lines and saw an immediate rise in productivity. American companies experiencing the same information backlogs as Japanese companies applied the “just-in-time” inventory control system to information management, also with success. Information management studies began in earnest in the mid-1970s. Today, nearly all graduate schools of business offer these studies. The importance of information managers to the functioning of American business is growing. Job opportunities are expected to increase, but many information managers will be hired on a contract basis rather than as full-time employees. Managers justify this approach by saying that information science is most effective when applied by different people with different approaches, each one fine-tuning the last one’s work.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Information managers work as assistants, learning the intricacies of their company’s information needs. Computer-, voice-, and data-specialized information managers examine and research existing systems and make recommendations for improving them. Some information managers choose an area of specialization during the first two years. Those who analyze large information structures spend significant time in meetings, learning each person’s approach and how it increases or decreases efficiency. Hours are long and salaries are average. Satisfaction is high.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Those who’ve been in the profession for five years have made significant recommendations to their employers and have been given additional responsibilities. Many are consulted on large projects. Most see results from their work by this point. A number have entered graduate school and then leave the field upon completion of their studies. Satisfaction dips even as salaries rise; hours remain the same.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year veterans have a more flexible schedule than those newer to the profession, and many use the time to expand their managerial skills. A number encounter limits in how far they can rise without a different skill set. Satisfaction falls significantly and many leave the profession. Salaries rise; hours stabilize.