By Alicia Puritt
I just returned from 2 weeks of Information Management in El Salvador and Guatemala. Hiking, swimming, surfing, and yes, even entertainment with 13 other people I didn’t know, or at least, I didn’t know them in any real sense before the trip. Information Management? Absolutely!! The records management component of the trip was to make sure I had my phone with me that would be able to record the activities in a format I would use later, and then to make sure that the images got transferred from the camera to a more suitable archive (my laptop), and then named and stored and shared. But that’s records management, not Information Management. Necessary, but not sufficient. Fourteen of us, from various countries with little to no previous knowledge of the environment, or each other, had to coordinate our arrival, activities, and departure. It required sharing information before arriving in Central America – or starting the adventure – in order to ensure our trip was as enjoyable as possible, without additional administrative burdens. We weren’t going there in order to send each other emails, and use a shared repository (Facebook) and keep worried friends and family informed of our safety (texts), we were going for adventure and fun. And that’s the real core of information management. OK, maybe not fun, but most definitely the reason for the activity. When we separate Information Management from the reason for it, we inevitably end up adding administrative burden. More specifically, good IM is all about the business, not the IM. So, here are some examples where good IM featured prominently on my trip, because good IM is more than just taking care of your information or knowing where the information is going. Information Management has to cover content, people, and technology. When that happens seamlessly, the outcome can be a fantastic success, just as on my amazing trip to Central America. Information Management was key for keeping track of all of us and making sure everything that was supposed to happen, still did happen, even with hiccups along the way – just like any standard office-based project.
The trip itself was designed as a budget trip through El Salvador and Guatemala with a pair of fantastic travel bloggers Adventurous Kate and The Runaway Guide and as I outlined above, there were many pieces of information to be coordinated in order for the trip to be a success. Not only had the trip participants never met but we were travelling to a part of the world most of us had never been to and that meant cultural differences would need to be accounted for as well. So what did that really mean? There were accommodations required, special activities scheduled, meals and different people doing different things – all at the same time. A general trip plan was posted and those like myself who signed up, bought into the overall itinerary. That means we accepted the proposed start/end date, the budget, and of course, the whole group travel idea. In fact, this is much like the advantageous nature of having IM in your business/organization, because it allows you to optimize your day without having to struggle looking for elements on the fly. We were the travel bloggers’ first tour group together, their guinea pigs, but we knew that upfront. While there were little hiccups here and there, it went really well, largely because everyone shared the same goal: have a fantastic trip together. That takes us to the second big part of information management, the people.
On the trip, there were thirteen women and one man – you would think the dynamics were going to be a challenge – but they weren’t. Everyone came together as a team and worked towards the collective goal of experiencing Central America and what it had to offer. You see, that’s the best part of IM – it works most effectively if you have the buy in of the people involved. It is much more difficult to accomplish anything when you and your team are constantly battling against others who are resistant to change. I know I heard some naysayers before I left on this trip but you can’t compare when you join a group of people who all wanted to have fun, learn new things, explore and have an adventure. This thread of IM, the people aspect made me especially realize the importance of buy in (participant interest) and supportive structures(business champions) established before starting an adventure.
How do/did we make everything work smoothly? We used technology. With the abundance of wifi everywhere we went, our group was able to communicate and share stories and pictures with one another to keep updated about what was happening between the various sub-groups and daily activities. Again, much as in a business project, not everybody was working – or playing – on the same activity at the same time. However, we were keen to know what our new friends were experiencing so we could vicariously enjoy that experience and make slight adjustments to our plans if appropriate. Similarly, technology is a huge asset in Information Management, as it allows different groups to collaborate, integrate, and share relevant information. We are all using compatible file format for the thousands of pictures so that we can share them seamlessly. Travelling with strangers and being comfortable with technology made planning and executing different activities that much easier. How else were we going to figure out whose turn it was to go surfing, motorcycling or paragliding or where to meet for dinner or salsa lessons? Before I left on this amazing trip, I wrote a blog about packing for a travel trip and I am happy to say that I used almost everything in my bag. The only thing I didn’t use was my portable UV water filtration system. But imagine if I hadn’t brought it along and had needed it. Taking the trouble to buy and bring a good water filter was important risk management, but that’s a different story. Looking back at preparing for this trip and now reflecting on what I learned from this trip makes me realize the preparation helped ensure success. I was prepared and had consulted stakeholders (conversations with other budget travelers and more online research in my case) to remove as much of the worrisome unknown before plunging into the adventure. Bringing together the planning of the different parts of the trip, considering the structure and proposed content of the trip, accounting for all the people and what they wanted to accomplish as well as their innate differences, and using technology to make everything run more smoothly meant that my trip was a spectacular success. Shouldn’t your project incorporates all three of these IM components to ensure maximum success too?