Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Doc Strangelove:

Or how I learned to stop worrying about documents and love web pages.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Enterprise 2.0 is going mainstream

It was a year ago, at the Online Information exhibition, that it first occurred to me that a combination of blogs, wikis, search, social bookmarking and RSS within an organisation could create a new and viable approach to knowledge management - KM 2.0, if you like. I've just been to this year's event, not least to see how much prominence is being given to Web 2.0 and the rest of it. There's a whole conference stream this year devoted to the subject. Knowledgeable folk like Euan Semple and Lee Bryant of Headshift, as well as the legendary Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia were down to speak at that.

Being a cheapskate I didn't pay to attend the conference but instead headed for the free seminars in the exhibition hall. I failed to get into the first two sessions - both on the subject of RSS - because they were full. A lesson there, and a clue: this subject is now very popular. The third session, with Crispin O'Brien, Chairman of KPMG's Technology Group, I did get into, by being much earlier.

Crispin was clearly an enthusiast for Enterprise 2.0, and argued strongly for the benefits. He quoted some impressive statistics from a recent Economist Intelligence Unit survey that indicated very strong support for Enterprise 2.0 concepts among mid-level executives. Refreshingly, for an evangelist, he also saw clearly how high the barriers are, especially in highly-regulated industries. He reminded us that, as a partner, his liability is unlimited, and that he was a little nervous of the idea of employees saying what they like in print, without regard to defamation or intellectual property laws.

Enterprise 2.0 seems to be turning into an oxymoron: it's a sort of 'inevitable impossibility' ;-)

Friday, 30 November 2007

Trovus seminar at IBM

I went along to the seminar on Web 2.0 hosted by Trovus at IBM's South Bank offices today. I'm glad I did. Being aimed at companies that have heard the term, know thay need to find out more but are otherwise new to the subject, much of the content was familiar to me. Ed Charvet of Trovus had kindly invited me along to observe and hopefully make some sensible comments afterwards. I was impressed by Caspar Craven's and Jon Mell's presentations. Brendan Tutt of IBM also gave an engaging overview of IBM's Connections suite, and Chris Gabriel of Logicalis gave a great presentation too.

I've tended to focus in this blog on the potential of Web 2.0 tools for knowledge sharing within organisations - "KM 2.0", if you like. Trovus look at the bigger picture, encouraging organisations to examine how they could interact better not only within an organisation but between it and its customers, prospects, suppliers and so on. Their starting point is often the organisation's existing website, and the extent to which this is currently succeeding or failing to help them achieve their aims. I think this is a good starting point, overcoming as it does the usual difficulty in explaining in layman's terms what the potential benefits of Web 2.0 (horrible term, but we can't stop using it now, can we?) actually are.

Trovus also like to raise the issue of demographics. I've talked before on here about the younger generation expecting companies to provide social software tools, but the point was also made that the 'baby boomers' are about to leave in droves - through retirement. They will take their knowledge with them. This made me think that there are two powerful drivers here: you need to have Web 2.0 tools to keep the youngsters ('Generations X & Y') happy (and productive); but you also need to transfer tacit knowledge from the older workers to maintain corporate memory. And, provided that you can get them to use Web 2.0 tools, and you make sure you accumulate a repository, you can do both at the same time.

Finally, I realise I must take instant messenger more seriously. At IBM it's considered more mission critical than email. And how about this statistic: a survey of prospective university entrants found that for 42% of them, IM availability would influence their choice of uni. That really is a wake up call.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Social Networking Sites - Merrill Lynch Survey

I've just been sent, and filled in, a survey by Merrill Lynch on social networking. As a reward I got to see the results of the survey so far. Unfortunately I have no idea how the sample was selected. You might like to try it, too. Here is the url.

It reached me (indirectly) via Thomas Power of Ecademy, the business networking site. Presumably, as someone running a subscription model, Thomas was interested in and possibly alarmed by the results for question 31: "How much would you pay to access a social networking site? 75% said they wouldn't pay, the next largest group saying £1-3 per month.

Respondents seem to see social networking as being here for the long term, though: 84% expected still to be using social networking sites in 5 years time and, in the case of 64%, even in 10 years time. If a week is a long time in politics, how long is 10 years on the Web?

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Mainstream KM ignores Enterprise 2.0

I went to a meeting of information specialists last week, about Knowledge Management. The main speaker runs a course at a London University (note: A London University, not the University of London). She had also persuaded a few ex students, now working for City firms, to talk about their KM experiences at work.

With one exception - the lady from Ernst and Young - they did not seem to be aware of any of the key 'Enterprise 2.0' tools of blogs, wikis, RSS, social bookmarking. Or at least, not aware of their potential application in organisations for knowledge sharing. After the presentation I spoke to a young guy who is signed up on the course in question. He seemed a lot more tuned in to Enterprise 2.0 than his tutor.

I was thoroughly disappointed by the experience. Is it typical of the 'KM World' these days?

Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The development process

I was reminded of this one today. I love it. It also illustrates to me that systems or website development is essentially about communication. And of course that's what Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0, social networks and so on are all about, too.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Social networking bandwagon is rolling

I've spent the last few weeks working very intensively to help get a website launched. It's a women's fashion site, and all of us who have been involved are pretty pleased with ourselves at how much we've achieved in such a short time. A few years ago such a site would have been simply an online magazine, perhaps with eCommerce included. From now on, social networking is de rigueur.

I'm not going to go into detail about the project, or even name the site, as the work's ongoing and there might be perceived to be commercial confidentiality issues. (Sorry!) The point I want to raise, I guess, is that I get the impression that just about everyone building a website these days is going to want it to have a social networking component. What does this mean? I think it means that there are soon going to be a heck of a lot of places one can go to on the web to interact with others. I'm not sure how many social networking sites we want or need. Is the latent demand so great that they'll all thrive (at one extreme), or will the whole 'market' consolidate down to 2 or 3 biggies, like Facebook and MySpace?

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

Mixed feelings about social networking sites

Many, many people seem to be signing up with social networking sites - LinkedIn, MySpace, Facebook, Ning, etc at the moment.  I've done so myself.  For some reason, though, I can't really get excited about them in the way that some people seem to.  All this 'poking' and sending virtual presents just seems, well, childish.  Not that I'm above being childish, as some of my posts on my motorcyclists forum of choice will testify.  So I'm actually struggling to put my finger on what it is exactly that annoys me about these sites. 
Perhaps I shouldn't lump them together.  LinkedIn is focused on professional networking and attracts more serious behaviour than Facebook or MySpace.  If it irritates me it's only in the way that 360 degree feedback used to at work: the sense that all that praise is of diminished value because everyone can find someone to say something nice about them, especially if the favour is to be returned.  No, my target is really Facebook. I'm not criticising the creators of Facebook, I just don't somehow feel inclined to join the big party that they are hosting. 
I think it has something to do with my personal history of Web 2.0 behaviour.  I've used discussion forums, mainly in connection with my passion for motorcycling, for about seven years.  I was very addicted to one in particular for some time.  Back in the autumn (fall) of 2006 I realised how blogging had taken off, how wikis were coming to prominence, how tagging was taking off, and how combining these three things and using RSS also could revolutionise knowledge-sharing within organisations.  This of course had been spotted earlier by others and dubbed Enterprise 2.0.  I started blogging on the subject and discovered a community of people doing the same.  I was, and continue to be, very impressed at the quality of the material that was posted on these blogs.  I came to feel that what Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 really meant was not only an increase in interaction and 'emergence' on the Internet and inside the forewall but an increase in maturity of use also.  Facebook has dashed that hope.  By comparison with the profession-related blogs the content is dross.  If a good blog is the Web 2.0 eqivalent of the Financial Times, Facebook is The Sun (and MySpace is the Daily Sport). 
Or maybe I'm just becoming a member of the crew of the TV programme, "Grumpy Old Men".
What do you think?

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

McAfee v Davenport

In Andrew McAfee's recent post he links to a video of his debate with Tom Davenport. If you have half an hour to spare, it's worth a watch, provided you're not hoping for blood on the carpet. Both men are measured and rational in their analysis of what Enterprise 2.0 is and where it might be headed. They agree about a lot: the tools are not individually especially new, but the combination of them probably is; their adoption by corporations may perhaps not prove to be transformational; the outcome is hard to predict; the ROI is tricky to quantify. Even their points of disagreement were more matters of degree than they were a dichotomy: how much potential there is in the concept of emergence; how significant corporate culture is as compared to the tools; how much value there is in the 'wisdom of the crowds'.

So perhaps this was not quite the 'big fight' that some billed it as. On the other hand, the wide areas of apparent agreement conceal what I think is a strong difference in view on a key issue: the nature of corporations and, indeed, human nature. Tom Davenport has a somewhat cynical, or at least sceptical view to Andrew McAfee's slightly utopian one, when it comes to the possibility of hearing the voice of the grass roots in organisations.

So who is right? I don't think there is a simple answer. Personally I do agree with Tom Davenport that the cultural barriers to widespread blogging and wikiing are very high in many organisations. But I also think the potential that resides in combining a number of tools for uncovering know-what and know-how is greater than Tom Davenport says he thinks it is.

What do you think?

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Librarians and Web 2.0

Yesterday I attended a seminar organised by the City Information Group, entitled "Will technology replace the research centre? How will the corporate librarian's role evolve?". There was a small panel comprising Euan Semple, Mike Angle (Alacra) with Mark Chillingworth as chair(Information World Review).

The members of CIG are largely corporate librarians and researchers. Much of their time is spent fulfilling requests for information by accessing proprietary online databases such as LexisNexis. The thrust of the panel's argument was that Web 2.0 is a potential threat to this role, since it is essentially that of an intermediary, and Web 2.0 implies disintermediation.

I expected the audience to be largely up to speed on what Web 2.0 is, but that did not appear to be the case. At least, several of those who spoke up appeared to be deeply ignorant of the subject. And a show of hands implied little hands-on experience, at least, with blogs and wikis, Wikipedia excepted.

The other theme from the audience was authenticity/accuracy of the information to be found in blogs, wikis and social networks. Many of them were very keen to believe that it was unreliable and could therefore be ignored.

I felt a sense of déjà vu. I am not a trained librarian, but I managed a corporate information centre for year back in 1998. At the time the Web (Web 1.0?) was really beginning to gather steam, and I found myself grappling with not dissimilar issues then.

So what in fact has changed, if anything, and is there more need now than 9 years ago for the role of librarians to evolve? I think two things have changed in the last couple of years. The first is that the arrival of mass publishing via blogs, wikis and other social media has made available a great deal of (free) information which can be surprisingly accurate and current. The second is that there are in effect now a lot of amateur librarians out there on the Web - people who are willing to spend time uncovering information for the benefit of others, and linking to it. These two facts taken together imply pressure on the paid-for, authenticated information sources and pressure on the professional searchers.

So what's the answer for library people? Throw in the towel? I don't think so, but in my view a fairly radical change of role is needed. Information specialists need to include the 'informally created' material in their universe of relevant information and they need to understand how best to access it. They also need to act as enablers of the setting-up and fostering of the frameworks that make creation (and retrieval) of such material possible within an organisation.

That's my view. What's yours?

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Off to Wiki Wednesday

Today is Wiki Wednesday in London. Perhaps not a headline event for Londoners at large, but over 50 people have signed up for it - on the wiki of course.

I'm looking forward to it. The last one I attended, back in February, had quite a buzz to it. And of course it's nice to be able to preach to, and be preached to by, the converted.....

Thursday, 31 May 2007

How trustworthy is Facebook?

I sent this email to Facebook a few weeks ago:

"I have just visited Facebook home page for the first time. You invite me to submit my email address and email password. Firstly, I am surprised you are asking me to submit my email password - what is the purpose and justification for this? Secondly, how do you obtain access to the contacts lists of webmail users? Finally, why is none of this (as far as I can see) mentioned in your privacy policy?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Simon Carswell"

I received this reply:


If you are referring to the "friend finder" feature, we created this
tool to help users quickly find friends who are already on Facebook.
This tool temporarily accesses your addressbook after you have entered your email information and displays the friends in your addressbook who have already joined Facebook. You will also have the option of inviting friends who have not joined Facebook yet. None of the information you enter is saved, and this feature is completely optional; you do not have to use this feature to use our site.

Let us know if you have any other questions.

Thanks for contacting Facebook,

Customer Support Representative

I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of handing over my email password to anyone. I suppose to be honest I have done it, such as recently when I acquired a Blackberry and needed to enter it to set up my email account on there. But delving into my address book feels different. And if the information is not saved, why is this not mentioned in the privacy policy?

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Journalists fear Web 2.0

Or at least a collection of them felt it worth getting together recently to discuss the impact of the Internet on traditional media. It was organised by my old Oxford college, and indeed the speakers were from there - spanning several generations.

A range of views were expressed about the likely impact of the Web on journalism and broadcasting. Some welcomed the democratisation of publishing that characterises 'Web 2.0', whereas in other cases there was more than a tinge of fear and loathing. The 'pro pros' could see the benefit of whistle-blowers (apparently a blogger exposed corruption among certain journalists during the Enron scandal), the increasing levels of participation and feedback that Web 2.0 entails, and so on. The 'antis' were in some cases, frankly, mere knee-jerk net-haters, trotting out old lines about quality control, paedophiles and so on. In the middle ground were those who saw benefits of the net, but thought that traditional journalism would survive thanks to the 'professionalism' of journalists. This seemed to boil down to informed comment and authentic sourcing.

Where views smacked of protectionist thinking I tended to discount them. Not being a journalist I don't share the fear of obsolescence. I did find myself wondering a bit about quality/authenticity - but not much. Librarians have cited this objection to the 'net for years. I don't really buy it. I find it relatively easy to figure out if what I read on the web is trustworthy or not, and if I'm unsure there are plenty of ways to cross-check. I do agree this takes time, though. A journalist who has done it for me should be worth his cover price. But how many do?

There also seemed to be a widespread ignorance of how high the quality is of many blogs, probably because most members of the audience had not figured out how to use the Web 2.0 tools of tagging, RSS and so on to identify the blogs that they might want to read.

Some of these concerns get raised as objections to Enterprise 2.0 as well. Any thoughts?

Thursday, 3 May 2007

'Social Computing' versus Enterprise 2.0

A couple of recent experiences have prompted me to think about definitions, or, more interestingly, what someone might have in mind when they use one of the many terms for Web 2.0 etc.

The first was my getting involved in a tender for a contract with a public sector archive organisation. Perhaps not the stuff of Web 2.0, you might think. But this organisation is keen to investigate applying 'social computing' to its archives website. In their case their definition of social computing is broad, which is fine, because what they want done is a survey of the field. But if they had simply decided to award a contract to build a 'social computing' facility, the wise contractor would have taken quite a lot of trouble to pin down the definition. Otherwise, how long is a piece or string?

The second was an interesting chat with an information manager in a firm of headhunters. She wasn't hunting my head, just kicking a few ideas around with me. My knee-jerk assumption when talking about Enterprise 2.0 is that it'll be about internal knowledge-sharing via blogs and wikis, loosely structured and 'socialised' via tagging and RSS. She was skeptical about the chances of this taking off in her organisation. People don't have time, incentives don't support sharing, culturally information is something that has to be 'pushed'. On the other hand, there is great interest in social networks of the LinkedIn kind, because a headhunter's business is people and the relationships between them. Nirvana would be to be able to integrate information from external sources and the internal contacts database to give an overview of connections, LinkedIn-style.

I have learnt that when I start talking about "Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 / Social Computing etc etc" I need to make sure we're both on the same wavelength. And probably each organisation will have a subtly different need.

Friday, 20 April 2007

Enterprise 2.0 - the big and broad picture

This interview with Don Tapscott, well-known guru and seer in the world of technology and business, is interesting for the way it paints the Enterprise 2.0 future as being a major revolution. Don also covers a range of topics, from the importance of the expectations and behaviour of the younger 'net generation' as they enter the workforce - a point referred to in my previous posts - to changing business models. He thinks it's going to be big - massive - which may be true as he's a bit imprecise about timescales. Worth a read.

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Which companies are blogging and wiki-ing?

I'm getting the impression that plenty of large companies pretty much haven't heard of the Enterprise 2.0 concept, and I've been surprised how "off the pace" some information management professionals are on the subject. Good news, perhaps, for those like myself who see these companies as their market.

But if all organisations were at that stage then it would be even more of an uphill battle than it is to turn these ideas into reality. Fortunately there are some early adopters who, as far as I can tell, have had some success with their projects. I'm going to sprinkle a few names around that I've picked up over recent weeks. I don't have first hand knowledge of the success of these projects, but I've no reason to believe that they have been over-egged any more than any project is. Here we go.

The BBC has adopted wikis and blogs at the instigation of Euan Semple. At a function I attended recently Euan mentioned one example that sticks in my mind: joint authoring of a policy document by about 90 authors, in a fraction of the time that similar documents have taken to produce the traditional, sequential way.

Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW) achieved extensive use of a wiki in their (large) IT department, thanks to the efforts of then CIO (now Confused of Calcutta) JP Rangaswami.

Allen and Overy has implemented social software, driven by Ruth Ward and colleagues, and aided by Headshift.

According to Lars Plougmann a major pharmaceutical firm he worked with created an intranet from a wiki, and generated user traffic that was so great as to be embarrassing to at least one guardian of a traditional, 'top-down', centrally-managed intranet in another organisation - especially since the wiki needed no maintenance.

I find it helpful to quote examples like this when trying to convince the sceptics that there might be value in all this. But, of course, that's OK for those organisations, isn't it, but we're different....

Saturday, 24 March 2007

'Great minds' thinking alike

During a very interesting discussion with Nick Chapman of Thrupeople this week, the topic of young graduate entrants to companies came up. Nick agreed with me that this group is significant when it comes to take-up of Enterprise 2.0. We found ourselves agreeing that the culture of many organisations is in all probability incompatible with the expectations of this group. We kicked around some ideas for addressing the issue with a social networking approach. Nick suggested I might do some research among a sample of graduates to see what those expectations and aspirations might actually be. I might well do so, especially since I missed this ITT.

After the meeting with Nick, having already formed the view that there were a number of minds, great or otherwise, thinking alike on this topic, I picked up the March 2007 issue of Information Age, and read this:

...a generation of IT-savvy graduates - all of whom have whiled away their university years in 'chat rooms' and on social networking sites - now entering the workforce. "This generation has different values from the baby-boomers...tending to be more transparent, willing to share information, used to getting things more immediately, and wanting to interact quickly."

Increasingly, employers have had to become receptive to to the expectations of what Forrester Research has dubbed the 'Millenials' - those born between 1980 and 2000 - making collaboration a key recruitment issue....For many of these people, going into a company which says, 'No, we do it this way', is going to seem really antiquated...

Do you get the impression, as I do, that we have a strong driver for social software take-up here, and possibly for organisational culture change? Could such changes be a prerequisite for attracting the younger generation into the workforce, and a real differentiator between successful and unsuccessful organisations?

Monday, 12 March 2007

My Generation

Well, not mine, actually. I'm in my late forties and certainly don't 'hope to die before I get old'. I'm talking about the recent graduates and other young people in their early twenties currently entering the workforce.

Personally I've been using 'social software' in the form of discussion forums (mainly for my hobby of motorcycling) for about six years. I'm old enough and ugly enough to have become a fairly hardened sceptic about the possibility of such apparently trivial activities taking hold in an enterprise. But the younger generation are not. It's reasonable to guess that many of them have presences online, in the form of MySpace sites and so on, and that they may expect similar facilities inside their employer's firewall. I'm not the only person to think this (not surprisingly). Euan Semple, for example, has made the point in his recent, minimalist post on the subject. But one or two recent discussions with people trying to 'do KM' inside organisations bear this out, and it makes me optimistic.

Why? Because, for the younger set, at least, you can sweep aside all the usual issues about how hard it will be to break habits, change the culture, etc. Just build and they will come. These young people also tend to be eager to show how knowledgeable they are, as they thrust their way up the hierarchy. At least that is what I was told by an information manager at one of the Big Four accountancy firms the other week. This, too, is helpful: it's a driver for content.

This all sounds very positive. Just set up the software, tell the twenty-somethings about it, and off you go. But is that the biting of nails I hear in HR and legal departments, as the prospect of MySpace-style material appearing all over the corporate intranet?

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

What are the catches with Enterprise 2.0?

I outlined in the previous post how an Enterprise 2.0 approach to knowledge sharing might work, and acknowledged there could be catches. So what might these catches be?

I can think of a number of disadvantages, but before I list them I think it's important to point out what the baseline is. In many organisations the knowledge-sharing environment is badly dysfunctional at the moment. A large organisation in which almost every written communication is by email has so little ability to exploit the knowledge base that is in its employees' heads that almost any alternative approach that increases the ability to do so is worthwhile. So it's not sensible to be too critical of whatever alternative is suggested.

That said, I think the main weaknesses of the approach I outlined in my previous post are these:
  • We're introducing more places to look for and/or place information. A lot of people find it hard to keep up with email and the intranet and maybe something else like Sharepoint. They aren't going to thank you for suggesting they should use more software in their day-to-day activities, perhaps
  • The niceties of what you can say and to whom online are managed in a very fine-grained way on email at the moment - even forwarding tends to be done judiciously by experienced users (and that's most employees). The approach on a blog or wiki would need to be different. The change of habit could be a barrier to use
  • RSS (and aggregators) and tag clouds might seem intuitive to a geek, but may be less so to the average user. Again, we are talking about a small extra effort being enough to put many people off switching from what they know and (sort of) love now.
If the potential benefits are so great it is important to overcome these barriers. Thoughts welcome!

Monday, 19 February 2007

So why might Enterprise 2.0 be better?

Let's assume that in practical terms Enterprise 2.0 means the use by employees of these technologies within an organisation:
  • blogs (weblogs)
  • one or more wikis
  • tagging and the resultant folksonomy
  • RSS feeds and aggregators
  • a social bookmarking site like
  • quality free-text search of the type you get with an Internet search engine like Google.
Assume also that all of these would use a web platform and be inside the firewall.

Imagine this possible scenario. Everyone has a blog of their own, and they have access to a team wiki and an enterprise-wide wiki. They've had a small amount of training - just familiarisation, really - and know how to use both of these applications. They also know that they can (and it would be really helpful if they did!) add tags to their posts. They have been encouraged to pause before they write an email and think, "Would this be better on the wiki or the blog?" They have also been encouraged to save all bookmarks/favourites - whether internal or external to the organisation - to the social bookmark site.

What might happen over time? If things went well, more and more useful content would accumulate on the blogs and wikis. This information (knowledge, perhaps) would be accessible to many other people, through:
  • search
  • RSS feeds
  • the folksonomy that has been created through the tagging by users of their own posts
  • browsing the folksonomy for bookmarks of other people on the social bookmarking site
In other words, there would be a number of routes in to information that was previously only in people's heads, or locked away in email silos. The originators would not need to decide who might find that information useful and 'push' it to them. Equally, someone wanting to know about something would not need to work too hard to find it. And there would be no need for anyone to maintain the structure in the form of a taxonomy, for example.

Magic, eh? Surely there must be a catch? Of course, but that's for the next post.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Summary and looking forward

I'll quickly summarise my last few posts. I've said this blog is an enquiry into whether relatively recent developments on the Web, known collectively as Web 2.0 or Social Software, can help address knowledge-sharing challenges within organisations that have proved intractable in the past. I've examined various tools that have traditionally been used and explained why I think none of them are really up to the job. And I've particularly homed in on email as being something that has reached the point where it creates as many problems as it solves.

So why do I see Web 2.0 tools as different and better for knowledge sharing than its predecessors? First of all I must emphasise that I do not see them as a cure-all. They don't need completely to replace other tools. And making them available is not the same as getting them to be used. And getting them used is not necessarily the same as creating a knowledge-sharing culture.

Putting those caveats to one side for the moment, these technologies are, I think, sufficiently enabling of collaboration and knowledge-sharing for me to be optimistic that they can be used as a lever to create a knowledge-sharing culture.

Friday, 2 February 2007

Email: a victim of its own success

I said I'd lay the boot into email, but actually I'm still rather fond of it. It's rather like an old friend - in my case the relationship goes back two decades - who doesn't really have as much as common with you as he used to, but you still like to spend time with him. But then some friends force us to spend a little more time with them than we really want, don't they? And email is a bit like that.

Long gone are the days when an email system existed but was little-used. Long gone also is the time when it was used my most, or all, employees but selectively. Other methods of communication were used in preference to it where they seemed more suitable. (Or is it my memory that is selective here?) Nowadays email is used for pretty-much every kind of unstructured communication.

Infrastructure departments will complain about the bandwidth and storage used. It's increased exponentially, and not just because of spam. It's because email gets used a LOT, and not just for text but for the transmision of attachments - often addressed to multiple recipients, and of course saved by the sender, too. But bandwidth and storage aren't the most important issues. Far more important are information overload, on the one hand; and information retrieval, on the other. (There's also a pretty hefty records management issue, too, which whilst closely allied to information retrieval, is a little off topic, at least for now.)

In my view, the significant problems of email now are:

  • because it's used for everything from arranging lunch to setting out an important business proposal, the important things get lost in the overall volume of material
  • it's hard to find these important things later, because most email software doesn't allow easy categorisation or free text search and most users don't find it easy to get organised using the few facilities that there are
  • we're all so hooked on it that we can't see the enormous inefficiencies involved in trying to collaborate on documents by emailing them around to each other as attachments
  • important information is trapped in email 'silos' which cannot be seen by those who weren't copied in.

I don't believe email is no longer useful - far from it - but for many purposes there are better tools. But - as Andrew McAfee says in his post "The 9X email problem",

"Email is virtually everyone's current endowment of collaboration software. Gourville's research suggests that the average person will underweight the prospective benefits of a replacement technology for it by about a factor of three, and overweight by the same factor everything they're being asked to give up by not using email. This is the 9X problem developers of new collaboration technologies will have to overcome. "

So that suggests there'll be considerable inertia or passive resistance involved in trying to get people to use Enterprise 2.0 technologies in preference to email. And email has to be one of the prime targets.

Monday, 29 January 2007

Knowledge-sharing? What's the problem?

Why do some (many? most?) organisations think that the tools they use now to enable knowledge-sharing are adequate? They will point to phones, email, perhaps texting, maybe instant messenger, shared drives, and assert that these are all that is required. (The first three, by the way, were mentioned by my 7 year old son when I tried to explain enterprise knowledge sharing to him.) They might also have videoconference facilities, web-based conferencing like Webex . Maybe somewhere someone uses an EDRMS / ECM system like Filenet or Documentum. (ECM of course stands for 'Enterprise Content Management', but does everyone have access to it? Probably not. More likely, a particular department uses it for a single purpose; for example the operations department uses it to scan paper transactional documents.)

So there is no shortage of channels available. But just as the existence of a wide choice of secondary schools in London does not mean that I have a satisfactory solution to my children's educational needs, the wide choice of communication channels available in the average organisation does not necessarily mean that they are able to share knowledge adequately, let alone well.

Let's look more closely at the problems associated with the the channels mentioned above. I'm going to save email for last, so I can devote plenty of space to laying the boot into it.

Phones, texting and IM are great for instant, one-to-one and one-to-several communication. It's not for nothing that the world has been using phones avidly for 100 years and that mobile phone companies are able to charge such premium prices. Their immediacy is a plus, and with phones, at least, there is potential richness to the communication, thanks to the use of intonation and so on. But where is the record? Does anyone store voicemails and use them as a knowledge base? I doubt it. And while clever companies like Autonomy claim to be able to search and manipulate the spoken word, this particular technology is used for (and I suspect will continue to be confined to) specialist purposes.

How about shared drives? Encourage people to use a shared drive instead of H: for team-relevant documents and the problem's solved, isn't it? Well, no, actually, as I suspect most people who have tried this will testify. In all but small organisations the shared drive is still usually an island, separated from other teams by the moats of team- and department-level access control. Not in the department? Sorry, you can't get at the stuff. "Don't worry, I'll email it to you." Damn, I said I'd leave email till last....

I've not finished with shared drives. Ever tried finding what you're looking for on a shared drive? It might contain a hierarchy of folders, but it probably won't have been designed with input from all users. It probably just grew organically. Or maybe the hierarchy was set up by an ex-member of the department some years ago, and no-one can remember the rationale behind the folder names. Then when you click on a folder and look at the contents, you get a baffling list of obscure titles. Want to find out what's inside? You have to click on each document, then close it when you find it's not what you were looking for. All very frustrating and time-consuming. In fact, if you know who the originator was, you'll probably pick up the phone and ask him or her to e - no, I said I'll leave that till last.

How about searching the shared drive using Windows Find? OK, sorry I even said it.

I'm going to lump Sharepoint in with shared drives. Having used Sharepoint regularly for about six months recently I think I know what I'm talking about. Sharepoint solves the 'islands of information' problem associated with shared drives, because, being web-based (yes, please!) it provides an enterprise-wide platform with (if desired) universal access. It also has some other quite decent features that I won't go into here. It's big weakness is that it's still structured like a shared drive, or at least it encourages you to use it that way. So you end up trying to navigate through the same inscrutable folder/document collections as before.

I'm going to skip over VCs and web conferencing, because they suffer from the same problem as phone/text/IM - no really useful repository.

What about EDRMS / ECM systems? Well, they are impressive suites of software, aren't they? They also have an impressive price tag. Furthermore, those that I have seen, insofar as they are used by everyone in the organisation - if they are - tend to be used as an overlay to MS office, shared drives and so on. They provide a management layer, which is OK perhaps, but really they are used to manage the mess that's been created through the use of the wrong tools in the first place. It's a bit like using a complicated computerised steering correction system in a car when you could simply have had the wheels rebalanced and the bearings adjusted instead.

Now, email... actually, I think I'll save that for the next post.

Thursday, 25 January 2007

KM Mindmap

Here's a mindmap I drew a couple of days ago. It was really to help me get my thoughts together, and probably isn't very clear to anyone but me (and maybe not to me.....). I'll probably use it as an agenda for further posts, which should be more enlightening.

Friday, 19 January 2007

Will Enterprise 2.0 equal successful KM?

I remember when 'knowledge management' became a buzzword. I think it was in the late '90s, at a time when the corporate world was using email regularly and was beginning to wake up to intranets. The realisation began to dawn that information locked away in people's heads could perhaps be shared and that this would benefit an organisation if it happened. Some people (myself included) became very keen on this idea, and some even got jobs with titles like Knowledge Manager, of Chief Knowledge Officer.

After a while, it all seemed to go a bit quiet. Somehow, the idea didn't really take off, or if it did, it was in a relatively modest way, in a fairly small subset of organisations. Mostly, these were professional services firms such as legal practices and management consultancies.

What about the rest of the world? I suspect the reasons KM did not take off in them included one or more of the following:

  • They didn't understand the concept in the first place
  • They believed they were using all the tools they needed to do the knowlege sharing they wanted to do
  • The culture didn't allow knowlege sharing to take off
  • Inertia killed off any intiatives

So what has changed in the last 5-6 years? I'm a great believer in the principle that as far as computer-enabled communication is concerned innovations happen first on the public web and only later (if at all) inside organisations. And what has happened on the web during the last few years in this space includes, firstly, the proliferation of discussion forums, many of them powered by Jelsoft's vBulletin. These have introduced many a hobbyist to the addictive pleasures of online discussions (and/or rants!). Secondly, we have seen the rise of blogging - the number of bloggers doubles every six months, I heard Robert Scoble say recently. Third, there's wikis (maybe a dark horse and not well-know apart from Wikipedia) and fourth, the use of folksonomies. These applications, and any others like them that facilitate the creation of interactive communities, are known, I understand, as Web 2.0. (If you're getting the impression I think Wikipedia is a good source of definitions for all this stuff, you're right.) The application of such technologies to organisations is becoming known as Enterprise 2.0, as I learnt recently from Phil Wainewright, who steered me towards Andrew McAfee.

Should or could these changes have any impact on the process of knowledge sharing within organisations?