Sunday, November 30, 2014

Knowledge Management - but what does it mean in practice?

Is it not a paradox? Knowledge Management is a widely accepted management concept that also renders high consulting fees in the companies aiming to implement it. Yet, we still find endless discussions about how to define the asset that is being managed, i.e., ‘knowledge’. So far, very few, if any, have actually been able to provide a sensible definition of the concept ‘knowledge’ that makes it manageable. My personal opinion is that when, if ever, we reach a point where anyone can claim actual success in managing someone else’s knowledge, we are all in very big trouble, as this more or less equals mental manipulation.

Rather, what we are talking about is the management of enabling processes and tools for the business utilization of knowledge (whatever we mean by that?). My favorite quote, capturing most of this paradox, comes from Larry Prusac, at that time at IBM consulting:
I call my field knowledge management but you cannot manage knowledge, nobody can. What you do, what a company does, is managing the environment that optimizes knowledge.”

To me, "knowledge" is something that is very personal and simply refers to each individual’s own ability to put new information in a perspective based on formal education and experiences, including values and personality. If my "definition" is correct, Knowledge Management quickly boils down to two core activities:
  • An active HR strategy that aims to inspire and enable employees and partners to increase their personal knowledge domains, and
  • An active business strategy that focuses on making information and colleagues accessible for the employees, depending on their business needs and roles in the company's decision process.

Now, those of you that followed my old blog (dead and buried for some time now) will recognize that this piece of text above is very similar to a piece I wrote some years ago, with one significant difference; the addition of “and colleagues“ in the second bullet above. Is this what we mean by corporations “going social” ? Is “social enterprise” just an addition to the existing infrastructures to enable me to find and communicate with colleagues but in a new and more efficient environment?

Finally a question for us definition geeks; are enterprise social tools and models a part of Knowledge Management or is it the other way around, or are they not related at all? J

You can read a more elaborated text of my definition thoughts on

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Whats new with Big Data?

Big data… We hear about it literally everywhere these days but what is it, really??

This past spring I was contacted by a specialist network I am engaged in (Informed Decisions). They asked if I, on very short notice, could participate as a speaker at a seminar arranged by Embarcadero (  in Manchester. The brief was short and swift; “just talk about your ‘standard’ information modeling and taxonomy management approaches”. “OK, I can do that. 40 minutes, you said? Right, no problem!”

Next call was from the seminar planner at Embarcadero. Disregarding the 99% super nice chatting during the call, the comment “Bear in mind that the audience is expecting talks to address Big Data and Information Architecture content” almost made me choke. I called back to ID… “Listen guys, you know I am not a Big Data Architect…”

Let’s spare you the details of the calls that followed, but somehow they all managed to convince me that it all was a really good idea. Personally I felt like I was about to enter the lions’ pit in ancient Collosseum. Not only do I not know that much about database models, I also tend to resent databases as I work mainly with unstructured information and find the theories behind database architectures too limiting. In either case, this truly forced me to start thinking about what “Big Data” really is and what it means to us.     

After a rather quick read through of a number of papers on the matter I came to an “astonishing conclusion”. My revelation: Big Data simply equals an obscene amount of data… Joke aside, it is quite clear that the label itself, rather than referring to the actual numbers of Petabytes, is a label set on the challenges we face in dealing with these obscene amounts of data, very much from a technology and hardware perspective. 

Reading on, I also came across some analyst reports on the topic that added to the same conclusion but also brought in a perspective which, to me, is more interesting, namely that of how to use the Big Data. There was one particular quote that really caught my attention: “All the data in the world doesn’t help if the right questions aren’t asked, and big data does not generate such questions, or even contribute to their formulation.” (Jones/Silberzahn, Forbes Leadership 7 feb 2013). It reminded me of another, more than a decade old, quote (source forgotten) saying roughly that “the volume of information which an individual in an eighteenth century village encountered during a lifetime about the world outside the village equals one issue of the Financial Times.” This, of course, is an allegory of sorts but with the purpose of putting us humans in the center of the information tsunami we are, to a greater and greater extent, experiencing.

The main theme of my presentation hence ended up being that when it comes to humans, Big Data is nothing new whatsoever. The challenge has been with us for decades and to the human brain, the difference between far too much and obscenely too much is nil. We just cannot handle it. Hence, from a human usage perspective, we can still approach the data volumes with the same models and tools we have used for some time now. The true super power of Big Data, however, comes when we can start combining such practices with the new models growing out of the sheer hardware and software needs driven by the obscene amounts of Petabytes that need to be handled. I further realized, during my “research” prior to the presentation, that if this is to happen, people like me and true BigData/architecture people need to get together and start bouncing ideas off each other. Maybe that is already happening everywhere, but for me this was a first encounter. I have continued my “quest for more understanding in the field” by doing just that and it truly seems like there are lots of learnings to be gained in both directions so let’s start  bouncing ideas off each other!

So, did the presentation go down well? This is not for me to judge but from the feedback I got, yes it did.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this below.

Friday, August 29, 2014

In search for the Social Enterprise

For many years by now I have fought a futile battle against the bonanza of definitions in the field of Information Management (for a summary see article here) . I am getting inclined to embark on a similar route with regards to “The Social Enterprise” (and possibly the concept of Big Data). However, before anything more is said; when I talk about Social Enterprise I do not refer to companies that, according to Wikipedia, “apply commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being, rather than maximizing profits for external shareholders”. No, I refer to companies that are struggling or succeeding in implementing tools as well as work procedures that enable their staff to truly leverage each other’s expertise and capabilities, disregarding organizational boundaries or mandates.

Not too many years ago, this was simply referred to as collaboration. The best “organization model” was suggested to be communities of practice. Available software (or, rather, the lack of it) was perceived as the key problem but the concept as such has been around for long. Already in 1999 I wrote a white paper on a topic labeled “Intelligent Communities”, so the context is far from new. Then, in the mid 2000’s, came the “social media internet” that has since changed our lives forever. The current giants are of course Facebook and Linked In. Google+ does its best to compete and others are following. With the true proliferation of smartphones throughout all age groups and professions around 2010+/-, the social connectivity was a fact. Teenagers today simply do not know any other world. Instagram, SnapChat, Kik, WhatsApp, etc. are now in everyone’s pocket. This latter insight seems to be the key driver for many corporations these days to “go social”, in order to attract young people to their organization and also, of course, reap the benefits of the obvious efficiency gains which will be the result if we all work better together.
Now, any new need, real or perceived, from the world of business always results in an immediate reaction from potential providers of products or services meeting such need, in this case how to make companies “go social”. A very quick search provided the following list of labels on various offerings targeted at that purpose:

Collaborative Enterprises
Content Collaboration
Enterprise Social Content
Enterprise Social Networking
Enterprise Social Software
Social Collaboration
Social Content Management
Social Enterprise Collaboration

My intention is to address this field in a similar way as I did with Information Management and Knowledge Management in the article referred to above, but before I start, I’d like more input on this range of definitions. In the commentary field below; please add any other “labels” you know of. What do they call “this” in your company? Do you have an outspoken definition, policy or strategy in this field? I am eager to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Surfing the Digital Wave

Some time ago I stumbled over an article in my favorite magazine, the Economist. The title was Surfing the Digital Wave, or drowning?  (Dec7, 2013). I have since read it a number of times, contemplating the consequences for many corporations.  Read it, I recommend! Click here.

In essence the message is; Corporate IT departments, please adapt, or die! The details reveal that it is not that straightforward but the following quote from the article basically describes the driving force many companies face these days.  “Demands for digitization are coming from every corner of the company. The marketing department would like to run digital campaigns. Sales teams want seamless connections to customers as well as to each other. Everyone wants the latest mobile device and to try out the cleverest new app. And they all want it now.”

And they all want it now… That is probably the key to many challenges these days ¬ we are no longer prepared to wait as our private digital sphere more often than not provides a much more dynamic set of productivity and connectivity tools than even modern corporate IT environments do.

The Economist, however, only touches on one major consequence of the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) trend, namely that of corporate IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) protection. “Above all they (IT bosses) must keep essential systems running—and safe.”  Yes, safe! Even if the digital social culture of the last decade has developed a completely new modus operandi for IPR protection in the media industry (that eventually opened up for models like Spotify), corporate IPR in the industries of e.g. finance, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications etc.  are not as easily replaced by writing a new song. I am not at all supporting copyright infringement (!), but ever since the tape recorder made its way into households, kids have recorded from radio and records and copied among friends. What’s new is the volume of the copying that has been enabled by the digitization. Also, many artists these days consider the distribution of their content as marketing for their live appearances. Clearly we have not seen the end of content copyright models in the media industry yet.

However, let’s go back to BYOD and corporate IPR. I’d be the first to admit that if I were ever again hired by a large corporation, I’d require a BYOD environment into which my smartphone and my laptop were given access. On top of this I would obviously require offline sync of the documents I have access to, so that I can work e.g. on airplanes and in other non-online environments. Add to that a couple of thousands of other “me’s” in the same company and the entire IPR the company possesses is constantly on the move outside the company’s firewalls and protected premises. So is this a new situation? Not at all, it is just different.

At the very first appearance of laptops in business, IPR started to walk out of the door in terms of e-mail attachments. It has continued to do so ever since. Outlook and other mail clients all download attachments and store them locally on my laptop. With the mail habit of most organizations to cc every thinkable individual in each project you participate in, the consequence is obvious. How many laptop hard drives are truly encrypted these days…?

As I said in the introduction above, it makes me contemplate….

At what level are we to protect content going forward? How do I make sure that those, and only those, that I intend to see/hear my content do so? Can we really let this old problem stop us from using new technology just because the risks just appear to be more obvious? I cannot come to any other conclusion than that each content element (document, song, image etc.) must be protected on element level as any sort of “batch model” immediately will open up for abuse at some level.

So, how should we craft the “access right architecture” to meet this gigantic challenge? Well, the article ends with “Corporate IT bosses are right to fear being overwhelmed. But cleaving to their old tasks and letting others take on the new unsupervised is not an option. Forrester calls this a “titanic mistake”. The IT department is not about to die, even if many functions ascend to the cloud. However, those of its chiefs who cannot adapt may fade away.”

The text above is hence just some food for thought for IT bosses who strive to adapt. In this case I would not even dream of yet trying to come up with an answer, at least not in a public forum like this :) .

As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts about my perspective! Please comment below!