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General Mills' Colin McQuillan

Leading the Way for the 3rd Wave of
Information Technology

Colin McQuillan is no ordinary information manager. An award-winning researcher who's provided critical information for the likes of McNeil-Lehrer, Bill Moyer, Dick Cavett, and the General Electric Company, Colin now is hitting his stride as Manager of the Business Information Center at General Mills. At the Minneapolis-based headquarters, he's not only managing a staff of 6 but implementing innovative programs that are changing the way General Mills does business.

Recently, he was the impetus behind the first document management system for General Mills' corporate intranet, developed by a team of information specialists. "General Mills wanted to bring different divisions together," says Colin. "The system we designed gives people access to a cross-functional team's insights and strategy — to help everyone work together more effectively."

Colin's department also has initiated "RQ," a Request Database that tracks all information requests. "This allows us to gain more insight into our user base. The RQ database gives a running history of each request. We can tell which requests are open at any given time, as well as the total information traffic," he says.

In addition — to gain more insight about key customers — General Mills has initiated a "Customer Corner" at their staff meetings. Key clients are invited for a 20-minute session. Says Colin, "The first 10 minutes we discuss customer satisfaction — what we are doing right, and where we can improve. The last 10 minutes we learn what the 'hot button' issues are, how the client's needs are changing, and how we can better meet their needs."

Like many information departments of large corporations, the Business Information Center at General Mills provides marketing, product, and competitive intelligence to company staff. As part of this function, Colin has made it his goal to track consumer trends, which he says, are critical to the business. "I love to study people, and society as a whole," says Colin, who also is an author and playwright. "To get paid for it, as well, that's really fun."

Tracking consumer trends goes well beyond the traditional picture of information services. Acknowledges Colin, "Information services has changed a lot in the 17 years I've been in this field. The first 100 years of librarianship — up until about five years ago — were dedicated to finding information, getting it to the appropriate people, and keeping a collection in order. In the last five years, there's been more of an emphasis on summary, results, analysis, and post-search processing.

"Now I think we're in the third wave of information services. Recently, I've seen a shift to even a higher level of value-added expertise. Librarians now are making recommendations for the business, and to do that, they have to be more aware of what's going on. They have to go to more meetings, be more involved and plugged in, so that their comments can have impact."

What advice does Colin offer for information specialists looking toward the future? "First, you need to find out what kind of person you are in order to succeed in the current marketplace. If you're a people-oriented person, for example, you should be working on management change and management solutions. If you're an analytic/tech-driven type, maybe you should be working on database solutions." Colin suggests a course in social styles to explore your personality type.

"Then, use the strength of the team to make progress with the organization.

Pick a few things that you can do well, and focus on them — as you charge toward the future." It's a formula that has proven successful for this Infostar.