Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Drinking From A Firehose

One of the most frequent questions I am asked by friends, colleagues and almost always during interviews is how do you keep up with all the changes and new developments in your industry.  There is no easy or short answer to this question.

Technology moves at the speed of light. New hardware, software and communication products are introduced every day. Products become services and services evolve into products. Software gets embedded in hardware while hardware becomes virtual. Just when you think you know everything about how data can move from here to there, someone introduces a faster, cheaper and more reliable method.

Certainly there is no shortage of information sources. Whether in print, audio or video format, there is a never-ending stream of news stories, opinions, vendor announcements and other content physically or electronically delivered to you. My preference is a healthy mix of tech and business publications. You have to scan a  Computerworld or Information Week, and read CIO Magazine. But you should also be reading Fortune or Forbes and top publications in your industry or vertical. For example, when I was in construction it was important to scan through ENR each week. If you are in finance you should be reading the Wall Street Journal.

The internet and aggregators make it relatively to assemble stories from multiple sources. Whether you employ your own rules using alerts, RSS or other tools to pull stories, or you rely on the judgement of others to highlight content of interest, you do not have to go to each original source. Web sites like Topsy show content that is trending while electronic newspapers collect links based on custom rules. Applications like Flipboard are very popular because they pull information from all your sources and present you with a personal magazine.

Additionally, social networks are a place where people know you and are happy to share links to content they think will be of interest to you. Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Plus all have streams of original content and links to published material. Twitter let's you choose the people or companies you consider interesting or well informed. By following your favorite thought leaders or industry pundits, you can have links to relevant content handed to you all day long. Companies now Tweet in addition to issuing a press release or other forms of announcement.

It does not end there. In fact, all of this is incidental and often random while other means of keeping up are more deliberate.

Attending conferences and seminars is important in order to hear and interact with presenters. But the real value at these events is the interaction with peers. This is where you hear what has been working and what to avoid from others who have had experience with various solutions. This is where you can run an idea up the flag pole and get the kind of open and honest feedback you need to avoid disaster.

These conferences, like the publications, should not be confined to technology. I will be the first to admit I hate to miss the annual Forrester meeting but I also want to attend general business or educational functions for my vertical as well.

Lastly, the people in your company are an invaluable source of information and you should be deeply immersed in frequent  information exchanges with people at all levels.

So, how can one possibly find the time for all of this, have a normal social life and also do your job? Well, I said right at the outset, there really is no easy answer.

Captain Joe

Follow me on Twitter @JPuglisiLLC