Chapter 1. Introduction

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1 Chapter 1 Introduction 1.1 Background to the research project Information overload as a phenomenon has been in existence for some decades now. Collie (2005), for instance, claims that we are being bombarded with much more information than we could possibly process, digest or internalise. Technology, however, has not only assisted us in overcoming the traditional problem of sourcing information but has also helped us to control and access information in such a way as to add meaning to it. The author in question has also researched ways in which to curb information overload and increase productivity with technology. Johnson (1998) has, in his turn, presented us with a solution to the plight of the information professional dealing with information skills. He recommends that we apply more specific techniques of filtering information from different sources and goes on to urge us to pay close attention to the evaluation, consolidation and repackaging of information in a bid to add more value to it. Lyman and Varian (2003) have researched the information overload phenomenon in a bid to develop various techniques to create less stressful work environments and ways for professionals to develop a framework and strategy more effectively to deal with information. A growing number of publications have seen the light on the current state of technology and management. Specific attention has been given to policies, compliance and litigation, mobile and writing styles. In spite of this, little attention has been given to companies communication-traffic profiles. While the challenges of management are significant, new approaches are being adopted that embrace and extend it with collaborative tools, thus linking organisations. Carmel (2004) indicates in his research that it is possible through developing certain strategies to provide a unified and cost-effective approach to the reduction of clutter and to the improvement of productivity and content for knowledge workers. 1

2 Anthony and Dawley (2003) have undertaken a study to examine employee sentiments concerning the use of . They have concluded that even though boosts productivity, overload and glut stem from peer misuse and lack of training. Watson (2002) has conducted extensive research to examine the utilisation of scanning and surveillance technology employed in consulting businesses of the United Kingdom. In so doing, he investigated the attitudes of employees and management alike towards surveillance and monitoring issues. He concluded that there has to be a fair balance between business and employee interests, which balance is the key to determining the future direction workplace monitoring should take. Despite the extensive research projects sited above, it is the author s opinion that more research needs to be undertaken on electronic-messaging systems. Financial institutions are large commercial players that are forever investing in new technology and information-communication tools in a bid to improve customer service and to boost employee morale and productivity. Now that customers and employees are able to communicate information in real time, it puts pressure on recipients to follow a new approach that is much faster and much more direct than traditional modes of interaction. New devices, such as mobile and instant messaging, have caused communication patterns to change dramatically. Recipients of real-time will have to make time for queries, to direct these queries to the appropriate information resource or other recipients or to deal with queries themselves. On all hierarchical levels, though, recipients tend to feel overwhelmed by information that has no relevance to them. has a different part to play at different levels in an organisation, though, and it is important not only to establish how people are influenced at the various levels but also to determine ways and means of reducing stress and loss of productivity. 1.2 Research problems and sub-problems The central research problem The following central research question was formulated for this study: To what extent does the information overload phenomenon in today s financial environment influence the productivity of office workers, with special reference to the use of as a formal and informal information resource? 2

3 1.2.2 The sub-problems In order to answer the central question, the following sub-problems were identified: 1. What is the extent of information overload in today s networked society? 2. What does electronic communication entail and how has improved communication in the Information Age? 3. How does overload influence the attitudes and the productivity of employees in the workplace? 4. What policy guidelines are necessary to establish sound usage by employees (knowledge workers)? 1.3 Research methodology A detailed literature study was deemed necessary in order to ensure that a solid foundation be laid, forming the departure point for the empirical research. A quantitative-research approach was adopted. For the purpose of this study, the population of individuals was selected from Standard Bank South Africa, Head Office Johannesburg. The units of analysis or sampling frame included executives, operational managers and customer-interfacing managers. The sample used is representative, because the target population has similar parameters (characteristics). For the purpose of this study, probability sampling was the most appropriate option, and the stratified-sampling method was used. \ The empirical study was effected by compiling a questionnaire (Addendum 1). The purpose of the questionnaire was to investigate the extent, if any, to which information workers/employees are experiencing information overload and also overload within Standard Bank. In total, 115 questionnaires were distributed among employees of Standard Bank, of whom 106 responded. The questionnaires were effected in the following employee categories: Executives: 40 were given out and 32 responded. Operational managers: 50 were given out and 50 responded. Customer-interfacing managers: 25 were given out and 24 responded. The questionnaire used for this study was designed according to the literature study that was done within the theoretical context of the research. Closed- and open-ended questions were included in the survey. Questionnaires were distributed by hand, and responses to each question had to be made by hand. 3

4 The questionnaire consisted of the following sub-sections: Biographical detail. Information and networks. . Bank-related questions. General technology-related questions. After having gathered the empirical data, the completed questionnaires were submitted to the Statistical Consultation Service ( STATCON ) at the University of Johannesburg for processing. The questionnaire outcome is indicated in Appendix Literature review As indicated in the previous section, the research design comprised a literature study that forms the basis for the empirical research. It is safe to say, then, that chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 form the theoretical framework, discussing the various aspects with the associated variables that impact on the central research problem. Following, a brief summary of each chapter. Chapter 2: Information overload in the Information Society In chapter 2, the literature review is used to examine the meaning of information in the Network Society, as well as the technological side of information. This chapter is also used to address the first sub-problem. The paradigm shift from the Industrial Age to the Information Age will also be taken under discussion, providing a backdrop for a comparison of the industrial and information workers. The Network Society is an extension of the Information Society and uses different networks to exchange, communicate and collect information through applications such as the Internet, the World Wide Web, intranets and information portals. The various probable causes of information overload, such as the explosive growth of information transmitted through electronic channels like the Internet, telephone or broadcasting, will also be explored. Chapter 3: Electronic communication and In chapter 3, the focus will fall on the second sub-problem, namely on what electronic communication is and how has contributed to the Information Age. This chapter consists of an investigation into the developments of information communication and related technologies, such as the electronic- 4

5 communication mediums and channels, which include broadcasting, telephone and the Internet. One of the Internet s greatest applications, however, is . This chapter is, therefore, used to focus on the impact of , with special emphasis on as a means of communication and a source of information. It is also used to discuss the various writing styles of users. In addition, this chapter is used to examine the phenomenon of spam, as well as the impact spam may have on an organisation and/or an individual. In addition, the chapter is used to discuss new technologies and devices, such as Smartphones and Personal Digital Assistants ( PDAs ), that have served to improve office workers ability to be more productive and to save time. This is all possible through wireless-computing networks. The downside of these new technologies, however, is that employees will never really be cut off from their offices and would be exposed to an even greater deluge of s than before. Chapter 4: The effective management of technology in organisations In chapter 4, an in-depth examination is undertaken of the effect of on the user and what management measures organisations could take to prevent overload. This examination also extends to the third and fourth sub-problems, which pose the question as to how overload is influencing office workers productivity and attitudes, and what policy guidelines managers could implement to ensure sound usage. Possible solutions will be offered for the overload problem, such as techniques for employees or other users to avoid overload the implications to organisations and the implementation of a proper management system ( EMM ) management strategies to guard against misuse and overload other factors that need to be taken into consideration when implementing an EMM system, such as corporate electronic-communication policies, monitoring and surveillance software and solutions and, finally, archiving solutions and the key activity of archiving. Chapter 5: Electronic communication in the banking sector Chapter 5 is devoted to a discussion of the information-communication technology of the South African banking industry, with special emphasis on the electronic communication of Standard Bank South Africa. This chapter is used to look at external communication with customers and partners. In so doing, 5

6 Standard Bank s self-service banking channels will be discussed, as well as a unified communication strategy approach, which, it is to be hoped, could be used to solve some customer problems with receiving different messages from different mediums, such as faxes, SMSs and s. The internal-communications section will include a discussion on Standard Bank s communication through telephones, broadcasting and the Internet. An investigation will also be launched into the intranet usage of Standard Bank, as well as into the system the Bank uses for its staff members. In conclusion, this chapter offers a review of what technology could possibly mean to the banking scenario in general. Aspects identified in this section include marketing, customer service, security alerts and fraud detection, data collection and secure online-chat services Chapter 6: Empirical research The first part of chapter 6 will be devoted to a study of the rationale of the study, followed by a study of its research methodology. A closer examination is then undertaken to explain what research is, the research approach adopted for this study, as well as the sample target group and the data-collection and dataprocessing procedures followed. The empirical research was done in Standard Bank Head Office in Johannesburg, whose executives, operational managers and customer-interfacing managers were asked to respond to a questionnaire. The last section of this chapter is used to focus on the analysis and interpretation of the questionnaire results. 1.4 Research findings and conclusion Chapter 7 indicates the conclusion recommendations of the study, which are discussed below. Volumes and volumes of information are generated every year, which information flows through electronic channels or gets stored on different media. The information worker of today has a wide range of information sources to choose from, including sources from broadcasting media, telephones, mobile devices and the Internet. 6

7 The Internet constitutes one of the most significant technological breakthroughs of the last century and has boosted not only the way in which many organisations conduct their business but also the way in which they exchange and disseminate information. The intranet also falls under these applications, and respondents to the questionnaire used in this study felt that this should be used effectively to disseminate the latest available information that could be of use or interest to them. is the most-used computer-mediated application and is used more often than the World Wide Web, instant messaging or peer-to-peer file sharing, as indicated by respondents. Respondents also indicated out of the factor analysis that ing was a highly efficient means of communication, especially in view of its convenience. Given the magnitude of this breakthrough in communication technology, however, it was bound to have certain consequences. One of the more serious consequences of this new-found technology is that of overload, the very topic of the central research problem in this study. Cases of overload were well represented among the respondents, since 25% of them receive more than 60 s each day, whilst 30% of the respondents confessed to spending three or more hours on receiving, creating, reading or sending s every day, which left a total of 65% of them feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of s they receive every day. In a bid to regain control of the situation, it was recommended that respondents should create a time slot in their day specifically to respond to and/or create s. The results of the questionnaire also indicated that respondents receive only a small number of spam mail, thanks to the fact that Standard Bank has a proper management system in place, in terms of which s are filtered and scanned for spam and viruses. Standard Bank has also implemented technology and software in the office environment to support mobile devices, such as Black Berry, which, in turn, allow employees mobile access to their s, be they work related or of a personal nature. Results also showed that respondents agreed to the monitoring of employee s. Such monitoring will serve to track misuse, to protect the trade secrets of the company and its intellectual property, as well as to guard against 7

8 information being leaked to unauthorised third parties. Standard Bank also complies with legislation by having implemented various policies, such as electronic-communications computer user policies, security policies, and so forth. Yet, if changes were to be wrought in legislation or in technology, employees should be properly informed thereof and should know how such changes could possibly influence their way of communicating electronically. Archiving is vitally important to the future of every organisation, and has distinct benefits for its users. Archiving solutions will, among others, ensure that an organisation remains compliant with regulations, legal discovery and storage management. archiving will also help to reduce overburdened users and IT administrators, since it will aid in reducing database sizes and in ensuring quick searches for and retrieval of stored s. Standard Bank has not yet implemented a formal archiving solution and respondents agreed that one should be implemented as soon as possible. Respondents also agreed that formal training in management ought to bring about significant changes in protocol, etiquette and use in their organisation. 8

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