Executive Summaries for Individuals

Written By: Ron Tower

A busy chief executive comes bustling into the conference room. His staff is all gathered. They are ready to summarize the information important to him. He says, “Give me the short version.” After absorbing this summary view, he says, “Now, give me the details.” Most of us do not have a staff, but we would also like to know what is important now and the Web is often our source of current information. Is there a way for us to “summarize the Web”?

Technology will have to come to the rescue for us since while we would like to have the information we want when we want it, we will likely not be willing to pay much for the privilege. A chief executive may be able to justify a staff, but we can’t.

There are two aspects to this problem: specific sources of summary information and a user environment for selecting and displaying this information. Information aggregators are tools that allow an individual user to select from summary information sources and display them in a convenient fashion. Then the user can click through to the details available at the information source.

Executives want to see summaries about their business or any news that would affect their business. Some tools called Executive Dashboards have been developed to show the highest level summary information about business operations. These in turn derive from lower level operations management software.

For example, one of the first types of operations management software was used by phone companies. These systems allowed the operations staff to monitor for faults and traffic and to take corrective action. They are still in use today. The events monitored come in at a high rate and need quick action to avoid customer outages. Similar systems are in place for the power grid and for factories. These are all examples of specialized information aggregators. They provide a summary view of information in a way that allows the operators to notice important information and then drill down into the details to solve problems.

Gradually this same idea has been applied to summary information needed at higher levels in the organization by managers and then on up to executives covering not just operations but also sales figures and other information.

Organizations put a lot of money into these systems including assuring a ready source of information. Why would this apply to individuals?

Individuals now also have a ready source of information, the Web. And they have a similar problem, how to keep track of the information that is important to them and then to drill down to the details. The Web is vast and growing quickly. The most common way to find what you want is to do a search. The second major way is through active summaries that tell you what is new so you can go have a look if it is something that interests you.

Information summaries are available on the Web in a variety of forms. RSS feeds provide headlines and summaries for a wide variety of content. Web sites provide HTML fragments that summarize information available at that site, for example, weather or a new cartoon. Web sites themselves are often updated frequently with the most current information. The various information aggregators available allow the user to access some or all of this. For example, RSS readers work just for RSS feeds. Other information aggregators support a variety of formats.

One key problem though is access to current personal information, such as bank account and credit card balances, or parents getting alerts on their children’s grades in a timely fashion, or children getting notified of issues with an elderly parent in a nursing home. This kind of information is not readily available to information aggregators. Commented HTML or XML protected by needed security may provide the way for this as information aggregator technology for individuals progresses and information providers decide to provide these summary feeds to the information aggregators.

Another interesting direction will be for personal information aggregators to also include summary information from work. So, for example, a manager could get the status of their network or factory or sales force in the same tool used for their personal information summaries.

In the mean time there is a lot available for the individual including RSS feeds, HTML fragments, extracts from Web pages, and the individual building up their own knowledge base of summary information. See http://www.sugarloafsw.com/ia/ia.html for more on the use of information aggregators.

About The Author

Ron Tower is the President of Sugarloaf Software and is the developer of Personal Watchkeeper, an information aggregator supporting a variety of ways to summarize the Web.


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