Tag Archives: knowledge

In Memorium Carl Frappaolo

Carl_FrappaoloLThe Information and Knowledge Management worlds suffered a devastating loss this week. Carl Frappaolo died on Sunday, March 17th after suffering a series of strokes over the previous days. Carl’s untimely passing (he was 59) has left me stunned and in pain, but also deeply appreciative and grateful for having had the chance to work and enjoy life with him.

I first met Carl in 1999, when I interviewed for a job at the Delphi Group, which he had co-founded a few years earlier. Our initial meeting, which was scheduled for an hour, expanded into a conversation that lasted well over five and a half hours. When I left his office that day, I had no doubt that I very much wanted to work for and with Carl. Such was the immediate and overwhelmingly positive effect of his large personality.

I reported directly to Carl during just my first two years at Delphi, but he mentored me throughout my employment there and beyond. In fact, on separate occasions within the last month, I sought out Carl’s guidance on a professional matter, and he presented me with a potential business opportunity. I knew I could always turn to him for not only advice, but also for active assistance.

To say that Carl was a mentor is actually an understatement, because he treated me almost as if I were his son. I was always overjoyed by the pride he displayed when I performed well. On one occasion, I failed a potential client (and Carl, by extension), leading to Carl being so intensely disappointed in me that neither he nor I ever forgot the incident.

After hours, Carl was a delight to be with. I have many fond memories of eating, drinking and laughing with him , mostly while we were on the road serving a client or working a Delphi event. Carl nearly always had a joke or an entertaining story to tell. I will forever remember the two exhausting, exhilerating weeks we spent together in Western Europe, where we worked very long days on behalf of our client, but found time to have fun later in the evening or on a rare day off. Perhaps the best stretch of that trip took place in Milan. Carl always openly and enthusiastically celebrated his Italian heritage, and he was literally in his element while we were in Italy.

Carl was a remarkable man, in the truest sense of the word. The purpose, commitment and tenacity he exhibited in his professional life were exceptional, as were his compassion, caring and desire to help. While the intensity with which he thought, spoke and gestured could be almost frightening at times, few doubted his good intentions. Those who had the privilege of knowing Carl well also saw the other end of his emotional spectrum. Although he was usually boisterous, he could also be very calm, quiet and contemplative.

In fact, Carl was a bundle of contradictions. High strung and easy going. Profound and vulgar. Deeply serious and (more frequently) smiling and laughing. A very active and competent speaker, but also one of the best listeners I have ever encountered. Someone with many insightful answers, but also an unparalleled ability to ask the right questions.

I have learned so much from Carl over the last decade plus. Anyone who is at all concerned with Information or Knowledge Management has. His too-soon passing leaves an enormous hole in those fields and an even bigger void my life. Goodbye, Carl, and thank you for the genuine concern and compassion you displayed to me and everyone you encountered. Thank you for teaching me so much about consulting, business and being a good person. Rest in peace.

If you knew, met or were otherwise impacted by Carl, please consider remembering him by making a donation in his name to the Italian Home for Children, located in Boston.

Filtering in Social Software: Protective Bubble v. Serendipitous Awareness

Bubble Boy DavidThere was an interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday about the personalization of information via algorithm-based filters. It was started by Megan Murray, and Thomas Vander Wal, Gordon Ross, and Susan Scrupski quickly joined in with their viewpoints. Rachel Happe and I were late to the conversation, but we were able to interact with some of the original participants.

.The gist of the conversation was that some consumer social services (i.e. Facebook, Google Search, Yahoo News) have gotten rather aggressive about applying algorithms to narrow what we see in our personal activity streams. As a result, we aren’t able to see other information that might be useful or entertaining in our default view; we may only digest what the algorithm “thinks” is important or relevant to us. Or we must switch to a different view to see additional information (e.g. Live Feed v. News Feed in Facebook). Even worse, in some cases, the other information is simply not available to us, because the service doesn’t provide a way to override the algorithm that excluded it.

It was also noted in the Twitter conversation that the current crop of enterprise social software lacks sophisticated personalization facilities. In fact, it works the opposite way of consumer social services; the entire activity stream is usually exposed to an individual, who then has to narrow it by manually selecting and applying pre-defined filters. IBM, Jive, NewsGator, and others are beginning to use algorithms to include certain status events and updates in the stream, and to exclude others, but their efforts will require fine tuning after organizations have experimented with these nascent (or yet-to-be released) personalization features.

The default view of an enterprise activity stream should be highly personalized to the context in which an individual is working (e.g. role, business process, location, time, etc.) Optional views should allow individuals to override the algorithmically chosen results and see information relevant to a specific parameter (e.g. person, group, application, task, tag, etc.) Finally, an individual should be able to view the entire stream, if he or she so desires.

Why is the latter important? It introduces serendipity into the mix. Highly personalized information views can increase productivity for an individual as they do their job, but at the expense of awareness of what else is occurring around them (I wrote about this earlier this week, in this post.) This condition of overly-personalized information presentation has been called a “filter bubble”. The bubble is a virtual, protective barrier against information overload that is analogous to a plastic enclosure used in hospitals to shield highly vulnerable patients from potential infections.

Organizations must consciously balance the need to protect (and maximize the productivity of) their constituents from information overload with the desire to encourage and increase innovation (through serendipitous connection of individuals, their knowledge and ideas, and information they produce and consume.) That balance point is different for every organization and every individual who works in or with it.

Enterprise social software must be designed to accommodate the varying needs of organizations with respect to the productivity versus awareness issue. Personalization algorithms should be easily tunable, so an organization can configure an appropriate level of personalization (for example, InMagic’s core Presto technology features a “Social Volume Knob” that allows an an administrator to control what and how content is affected by social media. Different kinds of social content from certain people can carry different weight or influence.) More discrete, granular filters should be built into social software so individuals can customize their activity stream view on the fly (I made that case, just over a year ago, in this post.) A contextually personalized view should be the default, but enterprise social software must be designed so individuals can quickly and easily switch to a different (highly specific or broader) view of organizational activity.

What do you think? Should personalization be the default, or applied only when desired? What specific filters would you like to see in enterprise social software that aren’t currently available? What role does/could portal technology play in the personalization of organizational information and activity flows? What other concerns do you have about information overload, filter bubbles, and missed opportunities for serendipity and innovation? Please weigh in with a comment below.

This entry was cross-posted from Meanders: The Dow Brook Blog

Image © 2003 Texas Children’s Hospital

You Are Your Organization’s Chief Collaboration Officer

I Want You!There have been a couple of interesting blog posts about organizational collaboration leadership penned recently by respected, influential thinkers. Last week, Morten Hansen and Scott Tapp published Who Should Be Your Chief Collaboration Officer? on the Harvard Business Review site. Yesterday, Dion Hinchcliffe posted Who should be in charge of Enterprise 2.0? on Enterprise Irregulars.

It is logical that the question of the proper seat of ownership for enterprise collaboration efforts is being raised frequently at this moment. Many organizations are starting the process of rationalizing numerous, small collaboration projects supported by enterprise social software. Those social pilots not only need to be reconciled with each other, but with legacy collaboration efforts as well. That effort requires leadership and accountability.

Both of the posts cited above – as well as the comments made on them – add valuable ideas to the debate about who should be responsible for stimulating and guiding collaboration efforts within organizations. However, both discussions miss a critical conclusion, which I will make below. First, allow me to share my thoughts on the leadership models suggested in the posts and comments.

While it is critical to have collaboration leadership articulated and demonstrated at the senior executive level, the responsibility for enterprise collaboration cannot rest on one person, especially one who is already extremely busy and most likely does not have the nurturing and coaching skills needed for the job. Besides, any function that is so widely distributed as collaboration cannot be owned by one individual; organizations proved that long ago when they unsuccessfully appointed Chief Knowledge Officers.

Governance of enterprise collaboration can (and should) be provided by a Collaboration Board. That body can offer and prescribe tools, and establish and communicate policy, as well as good practices. However, they cannot compel others in the organization to collaborate more or better. Yes, Human Resources can measure and reward collaboration efforts of individuals, but they can only dangle the carrot; I have never seen an organization punish an employee for not collaborating when they are meeting other goals and objectives that are given higher value by the organization.

There is only one person (or many, depending on your perspective) for the job of actively collaborating – YOU! Ultimately, each individual in the organization is responsible for collaboration. He can be encouraged and incented to collaborate, but the will to work with others must come from the individual.

Collaboration in the enterprise is similar in this regard to knowledge management, where the notion of Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) has been gaining acceptance. PKM advocates believe that having each member of the organization capture, share, and reuse knowledge, in ways that benefit them personally, is far more effective than corporate mandated knowledge management efforts, which generally produce benefits for the enterprise, but not the individuals of which it is comprised.

So it is with collaboration. If an individual does not see any direct benefit from working with others, they will not do so. Conversely, if every employee is empowered to collaborate and rewarded in ways that make their job easier, they will.

The Enterprise 2.0 movement has correctly emphasized the emergent nature of collaboration. Individuals must be given collaboration tools and guidance by the organization, but then must be trusted to work together to meet personal goals that roll-up into measures of organizational success. The only individual that can “own” collaboration is each of us.

Enterprise Social Software and Portals: A Brief Comparison of Deployment Patterns

In my last post, I examined whether or not Enterprise Social Software (ESS) is the functional equivalent of enterprise portal applications as they existed ten years ago. My conclusion was:

From a functional perspective, ESS is quite similar to enterprise portal software in the way that it presents information, but that does not tell the whole story. ESS lacks critical personalization capabilities, but provides better collaboration, process, publication and distribution, categorization, and integration functionality than portals. In my judgment, ESS is somewhat similar to portal software, but mainly in appearance. It makes more functionality available than portals did, but needs to add a key missing piece – personalization.

In this post, I will focus on the observation that ESS resembles enterprise portals in another regard – how and why it is deployed.

Enterprise v. Smaller Deployments

Portals were initially marketed as a tool for enterprise-wide communication and interaction, with each internal or external user role having its own personalized set of resources available in the user interface. While there were some early enterprise-wide deployments, portal software was deployed far more often at the functional level to support specific business processes (e.g. sales, procurement, and research portals) or at the departmental level to support operations.

Enterprise social software has also been touted as most valuable when deployed across an organization. However, like portal software, ESS has most often been deployed at the functional level in support of activities such as marketing, customer service, and competitive intelligence. As a result, the promised network effects of enterprise-wide deployments have not been realized to-date, just as they were not with most portal deployments.

Internal- v. External-Facing Deployments

Most early portal deployments were internally-focused, as shown in this InformationWeek summary of market research conducted in 2001. Not only was there a smaller number of externally-focused deployments, mixed-audience deployments did not begin to appear until the portal market was extremely mature. ESS deployments have followed this same pattern, and we are just now seeing early efforts to blend inward- and outward-facing business activity in common ESS environments.

Internal Use Cases

Portal software was often deployed in response to a specific business need. Among the most common were:

  • intranet replacement/updgrade
  • self-service HR
  • application aggregation
  • document/content management
  • expertise location
  • knowledge sharing
  • executive dashboards

ESS has been deployed for many of the same reasons, especially intranet replacement, application aggregation, expertise location, and knowledge sharing.

External Use Cases

Portal software was deployed externally to provide self-service access to corporate information. In some cases, access to selected application functionality was also provided to key business partners. Retail and B2B portals enabled customers to purchase goods and services online. Process acceleration, revenue growth, and cost reduction were the key business drivers behind nearly all external portal uses.

ESS doesn’t seem to have the same goals. I have seen some, but little, evidence that external communities are being leveraged to accelerate business processes or reduce costs. Peer support communities are a good example of cost reduction via ESS. The goal of most outward-facing ESS deployments seems to be customer engagement that translates (eventually) into increased innovation and revenue for the deploying organization.

Conclusions

ESS deployments today strongly resemble portal projects that were undertaken ten years ago. Few, if any, ESS deployments have been enterprise-wide. Instead, ESS is deployed to many of the same department and functional groups, to support the same business processes, and to drive many of the same business results as portals were a decade ago (and still are.)

What does this commonality with early portal deployments mean for ESS? I will examine that in my next post. Until then, I would love to hear your reaction to what I have presented here.

Integration of Social Software and Content Management Systems: The Big Picture

jive-sbs-connected-11198Jive Software’s announcement last week of the Jive SharePoint Connector was met with a “so what” reaction by many people. They criticized Jive for not waiting to make the announcement until the SharePoint Connector is actually available later this quarter (even though pre-announcing product is now a fairly common practice in the industry.) Many also viewed this as a late effort by Jive to match existing SharePoint content connectivity found in competitor’s offerings, most notably those of NewsGator, Telligent, Tomoye, Atlassian, Socialtext, and Connectbeam.

Those critics missed the historical context of Jive’s announcement and, therefore, failed to understand its ramifications. Jive’s SharePoint integration announcement is very important because it:

  • underscores the dominance of SharePoint in the marketplace, in terms of deployments as a central content store, forcing all competitors to acknowledge that fact and play nice (provide integration)
  • reinforces the commonly-held opinion that SharePoint’s current social and collaboration tools are too difficult and expensive to deploy, causing organizations to layer third-party solution on top of existing SharePoint deployments
  • is the first of several planned connections from Jive Social Business Software (SBS) to third-party content management systems, meaning that SBS users will eventually be able to find and interact with enterprise content without regard for where it is stored
  • signals Jive’s desire to become the de facto user interface for all knowledge workers in organizations using SBS

The last point is the most important. Jive’s ambition is bigger than just out-selling other social software vendors. The company intends to compete with other enterprise software vendors, particularly with platform players (e.g. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and SAP), to be the primary productivity system choice of large organizations. Jive wants to position SBS as the knowledge workers’ desktop, and their ability to integrate bi-directionally with third-party enterprise applications will be key to attaining that goal.

Jive’s corporate strategy was revealed in March, when they decreed a new category of enterprise software — Social Business Software. Last week’s announcement of an ECM connector strategy reaffirms that Jive will not be satisfied by merely increasing its Social Media or Enterprise 2.0 software market share. Instead, Jive will seek to dominate its own category that bleeds customers from other enterprise software market spaces.

Video Conferencing Uptake Is Really About Changing Role of Organizations

I was interviewed last week for an article on how companies are using collaboration technologies to reduce operating costs during the current economic downturn. The article, entitled Virtual Conference Victory for Cisco Systems, was published in the Technology section of the Financial Times today.

When I spoke with the author, Joseph Menn, I tried to make it clear that using Web-based collaboration technologies like video conferencing to avoid travel costs was simply a baseline management activity. The most effective organizations use these technologies in bad and good times to not only minimize operating costs, but also to maximize productivity. After reading the FT article today, it was clear to me that Joe had indeed understood my point.

There is a larger story here though. The quote from me that was actually published,

“There’s a real, fundamental change going on in the way we work, both as companies and as individuals.”

is a c. 5 second sound-bite of a much longer conversation, in which Joe and I discussed how enterprise collaboration and social software are changing the way organizations are structured and how work gets done. Most of that didn’t make it into the article, but that’s OK. We can discuss it here.

Increasingly, organizations exist to provide specific assets and services to employees, including:

  • a clearly defined and shared business mission and strategy
  • a favorably recognized brand
  • marketing and sales
  • project management
  • bookkeeping and accounting
  • legal services
  • organizational knowledge networks and repositories

Individual employees can provide pretty much everything else they need to work efficiently and effectively themselves.

The role that corporate IT departments play has evolved markedly over the last decade. Ten years ago, IT departments laid infrastructure, built and deployed applications, and managed both as their primary function. The focus was not on the end user. Today, the IT function is viewed as providing assets and support services that enable workers to do their jobs in a productive manner. A huge and important change in perspective has occurred.

I believe we are nearing the time when entire organizations will make that same shift of perspective. Hierarchical command and control structures already have (mostly) given way to matrixed organizations. The next step in organizational evolution will be the formation of networks of individuals who work together to solve a specific business challenge, and then disband. The organization will support their endeavors by providing the assets and services listed above. Organizations will endure only as long as they can continue to form networks of knowledge workers and supply the assets and services those workers need.

How do I know this? I already work for such an organization!

A New Proxy for ROI in Collaboration and KM?

I had an interesting conversation this morning with a leader of internal collaboration and knowledge management (KM) services inside one of the large audit/consulting firms.  We were discussing alternatives to demonstrating hard, currency-based ROI in KM and collaboration efforts.  He was experimenting with alternative valuation methods because calculating credible ROI is always extremely difficult, if not completely impossible, in the “prove it conclusively” culture of an audit firm.

His organization is experimenting with ways to assign value to KM and collaboration projects by proxy.  My conversation partner described one such proxy as follows (in my words, not a quotation of his):

What if the KM and collaboration functions could be outsourced?  How much would it cost our firm to have someone else manage those activities?

The idea is that by calculating a hypothetical, but provable, cost for how much a third party would charge to manage your organization’s KM and collaboration infrastructure, applications, and activities, you can determine a proxy, expressed as currency, for how valuable those assets are to your company.  Hosting charges for infrastructure and applications can easily be determined by floating an RFP for those services to potential providers.  Much of the cost of KM and collaboration management activities are bundled in the salaries of staff assigned to lead and support those functions.  So, yes, it is possible to come up with a hypothetical cost to outsource these support processes.

But is it desirable?  I don’t think so.

First, discussing a hypothetical outsourcing of collaboration and KM functions sends the wrong message to the organization.  It says that these things are not very important to success; they are commodities that provide relatively little value, no matter in what terms that value is expressed.  It also ignores that these functions are embedded in an organization’s culture, which is impossible to value definitively, but undeniably important to the long-term success of the company.

Additionally there are a couple of mathematical problems with the approach.  The proxy doesn’t include the cost of contributing and reusing knowledge, or of collaborating, accrued by each and every employee of the firm; only the avoided costs of staff managing those functions is recognized.  Even worse, potential bottom-line benefits (or penalties) resulting from conducting effective (or ineffective) KM and collaboration activities are not recognized.  This is the return, whereas the proxy described above only determines the (avoided) investment, and only partially does that.

So, as I see it, this proposed valuation method sends a death-wish message to the organization, understates actual incurred costs, and fails to recognize performance benefits (or penalties) to the organization.  Is that right?  Have I missed anything else?

To be fair to the individual who shared this approach with me, he’s no dummy.  In fact he has great experience and understands KM, collaboration, and ROI better than most practitioners.  I’m sure he realizes all  of the limitations that I’ve stated.  What is interesting to me is that we’ve reached a point in the ROI debate where someone of his stature  would be suggesting such an approach to proxy valuation for KM and collaboration in the first place.

Please let me know how you feel about the use of a hypothetical outsourcing cost as a proxy for value added to a company by it’s KM and collaboration programs.