Sunday, July 25, 2004

Collaboration vs. KM

Yet more hints of Collaboration being the new KM in Encourage Employee Socializing - CIO Magazine Jun 1,2004. One symptom of a new hype is the way it disparages the last one.

"The assumption underlying knowledge management efforts is that untapped power lies within an organization and needs only to be brought forth. But what if KM software, communities of practice and offsite team-building exercises are actually part of the problem?"
The article goes on to argue that indiscriminate sharing generates spurious collaboration and therefore you need to work out where to act.  Exactly the same message of any decent KM position, of course.

More positively, the aticle is about a book by Rob Cross and Andrew Parker "The Hidden Power of Social Networks: Understanding How Work Really Gets Done in Organizations" ,  and the assertion that more collaboration is not necessarily better is a sound one.

What happened to the formatting?

Apologies for the recent blank pages and current lack of sidebar on ICP. Blogger lost my template somehow so I'm currently trying to rebuild it. Scroll down if you want the sidebar content!

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Expertise management Still Waiting in the Wings

CIO Insight has a well-rounded introduction to Expertise Management: Who Knows About This?. The tone of the article pitches EM as a trend apart from KM, rather than a sub-topic of it "Because expertise management promises to deliver where knowledge management hasn't, it will have to overcome some bad PR". This is a little dangerous as, whilst the technology may be different, it still needs to fit in a KM framework and not dismiss the KM thinking that has gone before. There's no point in being really good at finding experts that are loathe to share, something the latter part of the article touches on with the issue of incentives.

As a concept its been around about a decade, but its slow uptake is frustrating. One reason given is, as always, power:

"the people who are more traditional in their view of the old command-and-control stuff don't like this. It's peer-to-peer, so it's very threatening to the traditional organization, just like the Web was very threatening."

It is a barrier, but I think there's an earlier barrier of even finding funding for a pilot, and that's getting senior managers (with budgets) to understand there's a problem to be addressed at all. Senior managers have a much easier expertise space to navigate:
1) The knowledge they need tends to be about the organization, so who the 'expert' is normally well-specified by the org chart whereas once you get down to the level of 'Engineer', this does not differentiate what they know.
2) Senior managers have influence so when they ask a question its easier for them to mobilise the organisation to generate a response
3) They trend to travel more so can network face-to-face. In many orgs, those who are naturally talented at networking also get promoted, so those near the top have no empathy with what its like to find it hard to access the right people

[Thanks to Ed Jones for the pointer to this article]

Yogesh Malhotra of Brint makes a similar point regarding EM not being a a different beast to KM in Expertise Management and Knowledge Management: New Myths and Old Realities

Monday, July 19, 2004

Wiki Best Practice
Dave Pollard talks about A recipe for Managing Risk and a company called ProCarta that justifies codification by focusing on high risk areas. What really caught my eye was this:

"The flexible nature of the software allows the ideas, suggestions, newly-discovered best practices and warnings to be written, wiki-style, into the recipe, providing additional guidance for other users."

What a great idea. Often best practice takes so long to agree on that its outdated by the time its circulated and hence becomes distrusted, or it dies because new insights require a whole new release cycle. This sounds like an excellent balance.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Blinkx - Kenjin Lives again!
A new search engine blinkx is getting a lot of publicity now as a potential 'Google Killer'. A BBC article does a good job of putting it into context as a personal KM tool. What sets it apart is that it indexes e-mail and your hard-drive as well as the web. I've been experimenting with similar tools for some time and currently use Enfish, but this could tempt me to swap.

Like Kenjin, Blinkx watches what you're working on and suggests relevant links to e.g. what you're writing in a word processor. I found this rather distracting in Kenjin - possibly because following links is generally far more interesting than finishing a report - but Blinkx seems to do it more discretely.

It's only a Beta, so I don't want to judge too early as the results it gives currently far from Google-quality. Another downside is that it requires an installation to work which makes switching less simple than, say, defecting from Yahoo to Google search. But once switched, the lock-in is much stronger.

Also check out the Visualiser - looks like 'The Brain' software, but the way it grows as it continues to search is funky.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Learning by Teaching
Last week I gave a guest lecture on Nottingham Law School's Diploma in Know How Management. I was curious to see how KM looked from the legal perspective, and it was great to meet such enthusiastic students.

I got a strong sense that they considered KM in industry to be well ahead of the legal world, and I'm not sure that's true. The conservatism of leadership, the ingrained practices, the unwillingness to share -- well, that could be anywhere.

The main speaker of the day was Richard Susskind who is regarded as a guru in legal IT-KM circles.

He commented that information structures in law tend to be taxonomy-driven and that they'd be much more useful if structured around how people use them for a given task. i.e. the opposite of the industry tendency to drive everything through process. I can see how this may have arisen - underlying much of his talk was a plea to be more 'systematised' in law i.e. to do the kind of automation that industry sprang from. To do this you need to be process-centric. Yet the application of legal knowledge is immensely flexible - the kind of flexibility that many in industry could learn from. And for that a more taxonomic structure probably suits. There's no great dichotomy really - basically, everyone needs both. With paper its impractical to file things in 2 very different ways, but with IT its not an issue. Well, it shouldn't be an issue except that few are taught to think this way and even when I talk to people about intranets, they still talk as if it were an either\or choice about where a file 'lives'.

Richard also bemoaned the short-termism of legal partners and contrasted with stock-market listed companies that plan for distant horizons. Yet I'd see it as the other way round - listed companies can go into frenzies on a quarterly basis for fear of a share-price dip.
I had a discussion with one participant about stakeholders. I was claiming that change in a small organisation was much easier as there were fewer leaders to influence. She pointed out that in a law firm you may have to speak to 50 partners to get them all to agree before you could move forward. My conclusion is KM is tough for all of us!