Thursday, November 30, 2006

Using the Wiki Method to Write a Business Book - by NPR

The reported experiment is fascinating and opens many questions about accurate and accountability. Nonetheless, the phenomenon and capability is amongst us. It is changing the way we create, edit and publish. It is clear that new factors and innovations will help bring a new breed of regulation techniques that will perhaps resemble the eBay rating system. More to come!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The IT and Business Gap

Today the topic came up again during a session with other analysts; the gap between IT and Business is widening as structure-free communication and collaboration software are becoming more accessible. Individuals are empowered and do not complain; individuals rarely need IT to build business applications as they are being replaced and poorly supported by communication-based informal processes. IT is focusing on the infrastructure and system support and finds itself in a more secure position by not being exposed to business application requests. IT can depend on brands and platforms with very little risk. This mutual comfort level creates a loss of knowledge capitalization and slows the vital on-going process improvement.

The time for business leaders and forward thinking technologists to shake the ivory tower (IT) being re-built has come again! (As it was the case in the late 80s and early 90s.) We can observe that some are taking this gap very seriously and involve a sort-of-middle-ware between IT and Business leaders; the expert in business process innovation and collaboration.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

What the Big Companies Know about Loosing Information Context

Computing is power.  For businesses and other organizations, computing power can help turn data into information, and information into meaning.

Computing power must be focused.  This means focus on serving, illuminating, and supporting the core processes—the fundamental, goal-oriented work of an organization.  Actual deployment of computers, however, has been quite different for many small and medium-sized operations on the one hand, and for big organizations on the other.  The reasons for this difference lie in what big companies know about organizing analytic resources for process action and impact.  Since before the days of electronic computing, these companies have been forced by size and complexity to maintain a formal, continually monitored focus on process.  As computers have become available and widespread, large companies have consistently applied to computer use their insights about process, and have achieved success by doing so.
By the time of the 1970s and 1980s almost all large corporations had adopted the large-capacity “mainframe” computer.  Mainframes were and are operated within a firm as a centralized resource.  Data records are routed to them and processed by them, and reports on the data are disbursed from them.  Beginning to be widespread in the 1960s, mainframes have been a successful and powerful tool to record and to process data, and to generate reports for control and decision-making.  They provide readings that update metrics for basic processes, and that inform about the status of competition and other outside forces affecting the organization. 

The leaders and managers of corporations using mainframes looked with considerable ambivalence at the advent of the personal computer.  Certainly, the new machines’ compact, flexible power was impressive.  Their capacities for direct data entry, and for uploading to other machines, obviated entire rooms full of older technology, such as card punches and card readers, and reduced the numbers of staff required.  But the very name, “personal computer”, warned of disruption and disorder.  The mainframe-using organizations depended vitally on formal control of process and interpretation. Personal information management threatened the capability of the organization to be operated in agreed-upon ways for agreed-upon goals. 

The large corporations dealt with this situation by embracing the computing power of PCs, while they networked the new machines and used them as special purpose terminals and workstations, with centralized data storage on existing mainframes or on servers.  These adjustments were largely successful, and are still being followed:

Despite such adjustments, however, PC capabilities meant that originals or copies of many data resource elements could be stored and used in decentralized and even independent fashion.  PCs presented business hazards, therefore, and the situation was not helped as individual employees did work outside the office on their own machines or on office portables, and as they sometimes uploaded, sometimes stored locally the analysis they produced. 

Thus there was a sigh of relief among large companies when in 1995 IBM acquired the leading personal computer groupware product, Lotus Notes.  Now, IBM was announcing effectively that information which had been moved to the peripheries of a corporation could be re-centralized.

Moreover, a powerful but economical solution was being provided.  Companies could benefit from the flexible but process-defining and workgroup-oriented character of Notes, while they avoided the costs of commissioning expensive, special purpose workgroup systems.   Finally, they could benefit from IBM’s own experience with centralizing the storage, the security, and the analysis of data resources. 

Small and medium-sized companies, by contrast, often continued to lack a PC strategy for data regularity and integrity. Situations became common in which the only unifying applications were the PC operating system, the PC office suite, and email.  In the absence of central control and of systematic software updating and security reinforcement, organizations were exposed to risk from hacking damage, through their PC operating systems and through PC office software, both designed originally for open communication. 

As for email:  it has come to be used in many smaller organizations as a defacto workgroup tool, but this adaptation of email has not provided the focus, the unified vision, and the security that formal workgroup systems have provided to their adopters.  Email communication is vulnerable to individuals’ diffuse and varying ideas about process structure and needs.  Finally, in an internet world in particular, common standards of email management offer especially low security while allowing for the introduction of incompatible material from downloaded programs and data. 
Knowledge Energies stands ready to help small- and medium-sized organizations take the crucial first step by identifying organizational processes.  Process needs for data and document storage and analysis can be identified, simultaneously with process identification and description. 

Ephemeral Collaboration

Electronic collaboration and communication systems are helping us share ideas, our knowledge and information. We work in this communication virtual world and get instant gratification from the empowerment it brings us; great!

Where do we save this information? Do we organize it and use it in our work? Do we share it with others? Do we want to access a conversation that took place somewhere else in our company? Did we forget that when we type information on a screen it is no more valuable than a spoken conversation unless it is saved? The convergence of informal information and collaborative application give us an unprecedented opportunity to capture the context and turn these conversations into assets that we can reuse. Unfortunately most of us do not have the time or motivation to share and organize our knowledge; we know what we know and that’s good enough. We’ll share it when asked. Nonetheless we do seek knowledge from others to better ourselves and complete our work. Some solution providers offer data mining tools that can sift through terabytes of information and extract themes. Others web complex semantic networks. Most do not address the information that travels in collaborative tools.

Over the years I have worked with companies who believed that work-related conversation contained valuable information and knowledge nuggets that needed to be captured. Thus, Knowledge Management solutions were addressing human, cultural and technology issues to solve the problem. Today many IT and business savvy business people refuse to entertain Knowledge Management solutions for fear of never-ending complexity and running after an impossible prize. A contradiction remains; what do we do with all this unstructured information? Many IT departments have resolved the problem by pushing the information to the extremity; the user! IT will ensure backup of emails and connectivity, but it only truly care about the well-understood transaction-base databases. Business people are not complaining. As a matter of fact they enjoy the empowerment of email, instant messaging, web-conferences, blogs, wikis and other cool tools to come. We can observe that the more people use these tools, the more people start to build their own informal process networks, thus lose and misplace valuable information of the company they work for. I remember visiting a major worldwide bio-pharmaceutical company’s head of marketing. She was showing me how she collected information from the field about demographics and sales. I was appalled to observe that a fortune-500 company used email to gather measurable information that was embedded in PowerPoint presentations. It took her more than 30 minutes to remember where she had saved these “reports”. She then had to hire an assistant to cut and paste the information to provide a consolidated report to management. This is a typical case of a manager not being supported by IT (or not wanting to be supported) using basic email technology to build her own chaotic and undocumented process to measure progress and set a worldwide action plan.

Unless companies become aware of this communication Trojan horse, many will find that similar informal and damaging processes exist in every division and tier of the organization. These tools are the identical from organization to organization. Just observe how new employees are more independent and make less demands on IT to solve business processes. The solution is not to limit the power of communication tools. Working on integrating them into core business processes and applications is the desired answer. Admittedly, the latest trends of action-based computing and taxonomy management are starting to offer hope and reduce the effort and complexity associated with traditional Knowledge Management. We believe that a near-seamless Integrated Collaboration approach offers less compromise for the user and for the company wanting to capitalize on the knowledge found in collaboration.