Blazing a Trail Through the Information Jungle

How do you define the concept of information logistics as distinct from knowledge or information management?

Let me first of all explain the general situation. Employees in companies and public authorities are constantly inundated with various types of information. This includes memos, newsletters from information services, public authorities, or customers, and also from a range of internal information sources. It is next to impossible to take all this information on board. Also, the information often is not relevant to every recipient. You find particularly in small companies that certain e-mails are often forwarded to everyone, even though the information contained in them is only intended for one or two members of staff. In information logistics, everything revolves around the question of how companies can better handle the “commodity” of information. Put simply, the main issue is getting the right, that is to say personalized, information to the right place at the right time and, in doing so, to blaze a trail through the information jungle.

The range of application for information logistics is much broader than knowledge or information management. Knowledge management focuses on the (re-)utilization of sometimes implicit knowledge in the company, and information management mainly deals with the subject of databases. Information logistics includes considerably more types and sources of information, and the topic of filtering or individualization of information plays a particularly significant role.

SMBs today are faced with a large amount of often unstructured information and data from a range of sources (ERP, CRM, PLM systems). How can information logistics help SMBs get on top of their own data?

Information-logistics solutions serve as “integrators” deployed at the interface of largely heterogeneous information sources and the users. Projects show us time and again that it makes little sense to integrate all available sources. An information requirements analysis, which is always the first step towards an information-logistics application for the Fraunhofer ISST, must first of all examine the information profile of specific users.

This enables their exact information requirement to be ascertained. The analysis looks at which user requires which information in which process context. Using this as a foundation, a company can decide which sources it makes sense to integrate.

SMBs would consequently need to have a strong economic interest in an effective information logistics solution in order for them to improve their information processes. To what extent is this the case?

On the whole we are seeing an increasing interest in the subject of information logistics. Information-logistics applications are currently making the leap from science to the market. We want to promote this transfer of knowledge via our competence center for information logistics. I would like to use two concrete examples from different sectors. In a project to optimize internal communication for a municipal enterprise, we analyze internal communication processes and structures. An information-logistics solution ensures that staff are provided with the instructions, rules of procedure and information they require to carry out their daily tasks efficiently and as needs dictate. This includes improving e-mail communication using an analysis system that monitors and guarantees compliance with internal e-mail quality criteria.

Fraunhofer ISST also developed a system for the automatic allocation of incoming e-mails for a company health insurance fund. This particularly includes memos and statutory provisions, which are generated in large numbers. This information used to be distributed as a group e-mail to all staff, including those for whom this content was not at all relevant. Today the content is automatically checked and only the relevant information is forwarded to the correct users at the required time.

Can the economic benefits that result from logistically optimized information flows be quantified?

The main issue is to increase efficiency, that is to reduce the cost of searching for information and finding the “right” information to avoid bad decisions, which can give rise to considerable additional costs. This can be expressed clearly in terms of Euros and Cents within existing cost structures. In the above example, the health fund was able to save one working hour per employee per day. The slumbering potential savings for SMBs can only be guessed at. But in our opinion they are enormous.

Which technological developments will be of particular significance for information logistics in future?

I can see two main trends in coming years. Firstly, the subject of needs-driven services for mobile terminals will become increasingly important. For some time now, we have been looking at “digital companions” that are able to make good logistics information available to mobile applications. Companies can use these mobile solutions in warehousing or for customer support in the field, for instance.

Secondly, the topic of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) will be a key technology for information logistics. From our point of view, the use of RFID is not limited simply to the seamless tracking and steering of a commodity’s path along the entire process chain. It will be much more a case of combining RFID with other sensors and integrating it into comprehensive service platforms. This would enable company staff not only to prove their identity with their RFID pass, but also to access their personal information and service portal in the company.

Dr. Andreas Schaffry
Dr. Andreas Schaffry