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Summary:

Data is playing a bigger role in how we do our work. According to a recent study by Factiva, there are at least six different personas that workers take on in their data work, illustrating the different ways we relate to this data.

Woman with futuristic data screen

Woman with futuristic data screenFrom data scientists to data-savvy managers, data is playing a bigger role in how we do our work. According to a recent study by Factiva, there are at least six different personas that workers take on, illustrating the different ways we relate to this data. We can enhance our chosen data expertise and highlight our capabilities by understanding these personas.

The problems

I spoke with Greg Merkle, vice president of product strategy and design at Dow Jones (a News Corp subsidiary) where he oversees user experience for Factiva and other enterprise information products. In the Factiva research project, they were trying to learn about how people use their products and fit them into their various workflows.

Merkle gave me his take on our information environment, citing two different uses for data. “In the consumer world it’s keeping up with your friends,” he says. “In the business world, it’s being situationally aware, knowing what are your peers doing. It’s increasingly difficult to manage the flow of information in our personal lives as well as the enterprise.”

Merkle sees filtering as a possible remedy. “Historically, we had a centralized librarian — a filter for the organization,” he says. “In the past decade, there’s a trend to decentralize research and the role of the corporate library. Many consulting companies, for example, are asking people to do their own work [research]. This adds another level of noise around consistency of how we gather, share, and collaborate.”

The socialness of our work also has changed. Merkle says we need to better understand how to share articles, facts, and ideas. We need to go “beyond collective intelligence to collaborative intelligence.”

The personas

As the Factiva team thought about how their customers are searching, alerting and working with analytics, they saw that they needed to break away from the product and go from the outside in in a way they hadn’t done before. The Factiva team wanted to take a look at the end users and how their roles were evolving. They used an ethnography approach to follow a small set of customers’ activities in great detail. (See design and expert ethnography company IDEO’s take on ethnographic research: pdf.) Factiva took a product-agnostic approach to watching how these select customers interacted with data over the course of the business day. The customers also participated in a journal and noted their mood during specific tasks.
As a result, Factiva identified six different personas that they could use to help focus their products for different needs.

  • The Compass: This strategic thinker has the big picture in mind and uses research and information gathering to make informed decisions about a company’s future. Compasses are able to identify growth and investment opportunities from a mile away and need access to information — both recent and historical. This professional sets the organization up for success by initiating the research and analyzing it. They also assign and review information sent to them from senior level staff members.
  • The Connector: This well networked individual lives and breathes news and information. As a “go-to” source of information for others, their personal and professional interests overlap—in fact, they may be resident workaholics. These individuals require access to a broad range of information from different sources including social media, print and online news, research, TV/Radio etc. Connectors focus on making new connections, enhancing old ones and defining opportunities for each. They laser in on the details to determine worthwhile opportunities to pursue or things to share and often encourage collaboration.
  • The Captain: Captains need information quickly to make near-term tactical decisions and longer-term strategic decisions and set goals. Captains initiate, delegate and receive/review research conducted by mid-level and junior staff. They also conduct initial research and then pass it off to their colleagues to look into further.
  • The Miner: The Miner wants targeted information to stay on top of current events particular to their industry, clients and competitors. They’re often known for digging up and gathering information independently to make sure it’s pertinent, accurate and credible. They’re also big on leveraging their research to foster relationships or network (i.e., they like to be prepared, and look smart).
  • The Scout: Scouts are reactive and make things happen. They’re focused on the deliverables and their research behaviors are triggered by events and projects. Typically given assignments for review, they’re always monitoring specific topics or keywords to report to their superiors as-it-happens.
  • The InfoPro: The InfoPro is the next generation of the corporate librarian and one that lives and breathes research and information. Methodical in their thinking, these individuals identify, retrieve and analyze information to determine the connection between words, numbers, ideas and people. Typically aligned with business objectives InfoPros are required to prepare information for their colleagues and determine the strategy behind the content.

In closing, Merkle said, “We have the tools, but now it’s about the users.”

We’re the users. Knowing that there are these identifiable personas, how can we both become the best in the roles we’ve chosen for ourselves and best interact with the other roles for clarity, creativity, and deeper understanding? What more would you like to hear about collaborative intelligence? Let me know, and I’ll follow up with Merkle.

At GigaOM’s Net:Work conference on Dec. 8, we’ll talk to experts about information overload and next-generation collaboration. Super Saver tickets are available through Nov. 5.

  1. Problem with IT is it seems to be drastically different from software, and yet people usually lump them together.

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  2. Nice article. Reminds me of a similar “collaboration personas” article i had come across.

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      1. That’s the one! I think one important part of a collaboration implementation is to take team persona and company culture into account.

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  3. A limitation in this model is that it’s primarily focused on data consumption and re-processing and not the creation and development of that data. Particularly in enterprise instances, choices made about what data to capture from operations makes a vast difference in what becomes available to each of the personas above. There is at least a seventh type that is balancing all of these various needs and working closely with the InfoPros to insure that IT systems are generating useful and relevant data for the organization. This seventh type needs the same sort of data-savvy but is not fulfilling the cultural filter function of the InfoPro’s analysis.

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  4. Graham Savai'i Hart Thursday, October 20, 2011

    I’m like a Scouting Compass by these guidelines! Or maybe an InfoPro if I had to choose only one…

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  5. Terri,
    Some interesting research and conclusions which partially covers the behaviours in our Data Zoo concept (see http://www.thedatazoo.com) where your Compass/Captain are similar to our Data Evangelist and the Miner/Scout are similar to our Data Drill.
    It is interesting to note that all six of your data personalities are very positive, however, in our experience organisations typically have a range of behaviours towards data which include neutral and negative behaviours. For example, the Data Squirrel lovingly maintains their own store of data which often is not in corporate data stores, the Data Anarchist will be extremely critical of all corporate IT and will create their own systems in Excel/Access or similar.
    The challenge as a manager/data professional is not just to recognise these behaviours, but also to recognise the organisational drivers which are encouraging such behaviours. When you have identified these then you are in a strong position to start to change people’s data behaviours to be more positive.
    If you are interested in finding out more, down load our Data Zoo white paper from the URL above.

    Julian Schwarzenbach
    Data and Process Advantage

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  6. The Six Data-Savy Work Personas – http://t.co/az6ichXC

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