Do people need less information and more intelligence?
There is more business information available online in the UK than anywhere else in Europe. With a list of providers that includes Reuters, Dun & Bradstreet, FT Profile, Lexis-Nexis and MAID/Profound, Britain accounts for more than 50% of European usage of such services and more than 60% of the revenues generated. It is difficult to find a major national - let alone international - company that does not subscribe to one service or another. But whether they obtain equally good value for money is a different matter. Much could depend on who actually calls up or handles the information.
'We use the main database hosts,' says Peter Allen, head of the business information department at John Lewis Partnership. 'It is relatively easy to access a large amount of material from around the globe. But being easy to collect does not necessarily make information useful. Our job - as information specialists - is to design searches that produce the references and data most relevant to our business interests. Online services can be an expensive waste of time if the right people are not involved in using them, especially when you are looking for an information advantage at the margin.' Allen argues that providing direct access for senior managers is often neither an efficient use of their time nor of the service time. 'There will be a continuing role for the specialist information researcher.'
Allen might be accused of special pleading. However, there is ample evidence that, in the absence of a knowledgeable researcher, many managers are disinclined to carry out their own research. At The Boots Company in Nottingham, media relations manager Francis Thomas recalls that one of the group's online services was put onto its internal network. There were about 100 staff employed at head office and approximately half that number, mostly senior managers, were given access to the service. 'When you compare that number with the number of visits we were getting to the service, it was considered that the managers didn't use it enough to justify paying for it.'
Other managers, on the contrary, appreciate the usefulness of their online services and experience no difficulty in using them, so see no particular need for specialists. At Pilkington, Tom Doherty of the group's treasury department reports that, 'We use Reuters News 2000 in treasury for keeping in touch with exchange, swap and interest rates, and for information on the markets related to treasury products. We've been using it and its forerunners for at least 10 years. The training for these is very basic, they're very easy - anyone could use them ... I can't see any advantage to us in using specialists because we're quite happy with the information we're getting at present and how we're using it.'
But perhaps a treasury department, like a City trading floor, is a special case. Managers in some other, less focused, departments might be quite literally spoilt for choice. Michael Prideaux, director of public affairs at BAT Industries (where Reuters Equity Service and Lexis are on hand) sums up for them. 'By and large people are in danger of suffering from an excess of information. They could use less information and more intelligence. The advantage of having specialists handling the databases are all the normal advantages of specialisation.'
Pass the Perrier, please The high-octane luncheon is coming under pressure Back in the '60s, corporate lunches were legendary affairs. They lasted late into the afternoon lubricated with bottles of fine wine. Come the '80s, however, and suddenly lunch wasn't for anybody, not even wimps.
The '80s and their fiscal hangover are now long gone but still the only liquid in a liquid lunch is Evian. Has lunch-time drinking had its day?
It may not be dead, but it is dying says Oonagh Ryden, the Institute for Personnel and Development's pay and employment conditions policy adviser: 'We think that employees' attitudes as well as employers' have hardened.
For reasons of health and safety, poor performance, sick leave and the trends from the US, many organisations have an across the board "no daytime drinking" policy'. The Portman Group, the drinks industry's initiative against alcohol abuse, takes a similar view, 'It is now virtually unacceptable to roll back into the office drunk,' says spokesman Andrew Chevis.
These sentiments are echoed by a number of others, including Hewlett-Packard. Explains Tina Green, the company's corporate communications manager, 'Our culture is based on trust and respect - at the end of the day individuals must ensure that they don't consume excessive levels. I think the culture has changed; in the 1980s alcohol was always available at lunch. Now it's left to one side and people might have one glass. As far as HP is concerned it's not in anyone's interest to get smashed.' And, should HP's employees be in any doubt, company policy is there for all to see on the company's internal intranet.
There are still sectors - such as the advertising industry - where the high octane luncheon has its adherents. Comments Leon Jaume, a creative director at Ogilvy & Mather, 'Lunch is a splendid institution, the pivot of the day. If you've got to work in the afternoon, you can't get trashed, but if you have one of those precious free afternoons ... I don't like all that Calvinism - it doesn't make you any better at your job.'
Frank Giglio, a manager at ABC News, believes that trends here are mirroring what has already happened in the US, 'We used to go out and have one or two Manhattans and a couple of beers. That was around 10 years ago, then the culture seemed to change overnight. It just seemed like one day everyone was drinking mineral water. This (all or nothing attitude) is part of the "culture of intensity" in the States; I imagine the British will deal with it a bit more sensibly.'
While we have yet to embrace America's neo-prohibitionism, it would appear that the lunch times-are-a-changing. But while few are likely to be impressed with the diner who consumes his recommended weekly allowance at a single sitting, in most situations, a glass or two of wine seems to be perfectly acceptable.