Still giving staff the mushroom treatment? You're not helping them - or your business

Interview: Dr Jeanne Ross on how to handle your company's information the right way...

Jeanne Ross, MIT

Sharing information with the organisation, instead of confining it to management, can boost business, says MIT business guru Jeanne RossPhoto: MIT

Businesses that hoard information in their head office and keep staff in the dark on important metrics risk falling behind their competitors, according to MIT business guru Jeanne Ross.

Companies are failing to take advantage of the wealth of information collected by corporate and business intelligence systems, Ross, director and principal research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Information Systems Research, told

For organisations to fully benefit from this information, they need to share it with their staff, customers and business partners, she said. Once these groups get hold of such information, they can use it to take decisions that will boost the business. Customer service reps with a raft of data are more likely to be able to answer customer queries without having to refer the customer on, for example, and in the process save the company both time and money.

But instead of spreading this information around, businesses have a tendency to keep it in head office and share it between a small pool of managers, who use it to run the business from the centre.

"The basic technologies - the resource planning systems, CRMs etc - have been around for some time now, but people haven't got particularly good at taking the information they provide and using it to push the decision-making out [of the centre]," Ross said.


7-Eleven Japan has benefited from its policy of sharing purchasing information with retail clerksPhoto: Stéfan

"There is this idea [in business] that the first thing we are going to do is centralise all of our decision-making, just because we can. I think a lot of companies can get that wrong."

One of the dangers of confining business information to management is that bosses may be making decisions based on incomplete information, Ross added. For example, if managers based at the head office of a retail chain decide what to stock in each store, those managers could make poor decisions because they don't have a real sense of what's happening on the shop floor.

"If you're the retail clerk in the store and people are saying, 'I like this sweater but do you have anything in yellow?', you know there is demand for that item in yellow. But if you're in corporate and the red sweater sold the best, you're just going to keep on ordering red," she said.

A better approach is for the retailer to give staff in each store detailed information about which items are selling and allow those staff to decide what to stock, according to Ross, who cites the example of 7-Eleven Japan - where sharing stock information with retail clerks, and giving those staff the power and expertise to make purchasing decisions, has helped the chain stay one of the country's most profitable retailers for 30 years.

Another clear example of the benefits of sharing business information can be found in...