Managing information and communications in a fast-changing world

©Tim Wimborne/Reuters

People create policy, but underpinning their work, and in some ways hidden from view, is a well-developed, smart information and communications infrastructure. It is a fundamental driver of progress.

The OECD is, by definition, a form of social network. It links countries and people together. Its forums of policy experts and national representatives enable people to meet, share, work together and pressurise each other to perform better as economies and societies.

Managing this information world has always been a challenge. In fact, in the early 1970s a call was made in the OECD Observer for an information policy to help society manage and be able to learn from the growing volume of information at the time.

But these challenges have multiplied with information technology (IT). From the early days of telex to IT communications systems and the Internet, speed is of the essence today. And the speed and volume of information are accelerating.

The OECD’s first On Line Information System (OLIS) was introduced for member countries in 1989, making OECD documents and information available to officials around the world electronically. This helped decrease the volume of paper documents being shipped by post, thus reducing costs and lowering the environmental impact. E-mail was introduced as a ubiquitous communications technology shortly afterwards.

Sophisticated IT systems, statistical databases and analytical applications are core to the evidence-based analysis carried out by our statisticians, economists and policy analysts. Authors create more than 12,000 official documents each year using a guided authoring environment, and collaborative systems allow OECD staff and countries to work closely together.

Moreover, the daily (and increasing) demands of the organisation for faster download, wider reach and newer applications must constantly be met. The entire acquis of OECD Instruments, Acts, Recommendations and Bodies databases are available online. The OECD is known for its robust statistics, and in a fast and competitive world where people want today’s data now, this demands stateof- the-art technology to collate, manage and read the massive flow of data coming in from statistical offices and other sources, as well as publishing them in user-friendly, compelling formats.

Meetings are IT-intensive too, both in their preparation and their execution. Over 50,000 delegates and experts from around the world come to the OECD every year to attend some 2,000 meetings. Our experts also attend meetings abroad. All of this provides information which must be gathered, processed and managed in easy-to-use, yet sophisticated databases. The OECD’s Event Management System (EMS) has streamlined the meeting organisation and management process and has changed the way the OECD stays in touch with its network around the world. It provides all players with immediate, accurate and timely information, to help with conference organisation, registration and scheduling.

Such demands are set to increase. Laptops, tablets and smartphones are standard requirements today, but who knows what will be added tomorrow? Changing demographics, the consumerisation of IT and mobility, and the blurring of lines between home and work life require a dynamic and evolving IT environment to meet the demands of tomorrow.

Downloading a document is no longer enough, as users must also be able to adapt it and share it with colleagues and friends. People want more video and voice too, and often in real time. The adoption of social media networks as business tools is taking hold, as organisations engage stakeholders in strategic and product development. All of this contributes to the knowledgebuilding process the OECD thrives on.

In this fast-changing world where rapid access to information is increasingly important, all systems must be available 24/7. Basic factors such as electricity, cyber security, disaster recovery and backups must be planned for. Energy use and efficiency go hand-in-hand with information and communications, and so does reducing the environmental impact of IT.

Developments in information and communications technology have markedly improved the quality of life and work of the OECD as they have in millions of organisations, businesses and households around the world. As we look forward to the next 50 years, new trends will emerge, which will bring new opportunities for improving our knowledge base and the way we gather, manage and diffuse our information so that member and partner countries can build better policies for better lives.

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©OECD Observer No 293 Q4 November 2012

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