How to avoid information gluttony

See how these executives beat back information overload with a few tried-and-true techniques.

As IT burrows its way deep into everyday government operations, those responsible for managing often-considerable investments face an increasingly tough job.

Just keeping abreast of trends and developments that affect the various tech tools that agencies typically use is difficult enough. But there’s also a long list of other disciplines to keep on top of, from project and workforce management to budgeting and capital planning. Add to that the relentless proliferation of useful online communities and media resources, and it’s a wonder that anyone can keep up with it all.

“I find myself flooded with information from many sources in ways that are morphing almost daily,” Dave Fletcher, Utah's chief technology officer, wrote on his personal blog.

Like many other government technology professionals, Fletcher has found a handful of information management tools and resources that he relies on to stay ahead of the curve. The amount of time needed to get familiar with these tools, which are typically free, seems to be a worthwhile investment.

“Initiatives are constantly improving because of the deluge of good ideas that come flooding in,” Fletcher wrote.

One of his go-to tools is Google Reader, which aggregates news feeds from hundreds of websites and lets him organize the feeds into topic-based groups. Using the Google Reader for iPhone app, he can also review the feeds on his smart phone and share them with colleagues.


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He is also a fan of the Tabs feature in the Google Chrome Web browser, which allows him to monitor and keep single-click access to several dozen Web pages at a time.

Erhan Kartaltepe, chief architect at the Security Service Federal Credit Union, said he consults a combination of specific and more generalized online resources to stay informed. For example, he turns to PMI.org and the SANS Institute for project management and security information.

But for up-to-the-minute knowledge, Kartaltepe said he auto-filters Twitter for security- and technology-related news. That approach provides a wealth of ideas, news and intelligence, he said, although manually filtering the wheat from the chaff remains a vital practice.

In this hyper-plugged-in world of smart phones and wireless broadband access, not all executives gather information solely online.

Rick Martin, a senior adviser to the assistant administrator and CIO at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Information, has his online reading staples, including the Wall Street Journal and Wired magazine for daily industry and technology news. But he also depends on personal interactions.

For example, he describes himself as somewhat of an auditory learner, so he finds conferences to be a good source of information. He attends the Gartner Symposium each year with a number of other senior managers, and the event becomes a “centerpiece of discussion as we consider new activities or look to adjust ongoing ones,” he said.

Martin also depends on his employees to prime the idea pump around the office. “I really believe they are the engine that drives the organization,” he said.

Busy Executive Reading List

Here are some of the places IT executives turn to for information and new ideas.

  • CIO Council website (www.cio.gov). This is the place to keep tabs on federal technology initiatives and agency- and CIO-specific agendas, including policy, technology and workforce issues.
  • IEEE Spectrum (www.spectrum.ieee.org). The online home of the organization's magazine covers a broad range of cutting-edge technology topics. It's a treasure trove for closet nerds.
  • Communications of the Association of Computing Machinery (cacm.acm.org). Reflecting the association's broad membership, this website’s coverage runs the gamut from hard-core engineering to the business and human implications of technology.
  • Gantthead (www.gantthead.com). This online news and community site is for those who practice the art of IT project management.
  • Slashdot (slashdot.org) and the technology sections of Digg (digg.com/technology) and Reddit (www.reddit.com). These news aggregation sites use community feedback to rank and filter stories, and the abundant reader comments often enlighten as much as the original articles.

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