Monday, December 22, 2008

Whither Knowledge Sharing?

There was a news article recently carried in most Indian newspapers ... front page news ... about possible industrial espionage. Nothing concrete, mind you, but there are ample apprehensions for this ... and this brings up a few questions. Actually, more than a few.

One of the stories can be read here ... Indian infotech sector is main focus of Chinese spying ... Interesting reading. What i am writing about here, though, is not the instance of possible spying, but rather the implications this kind of incident can have on the psyche of people and organizations, and the possible impact on activities like knowledge sharing. After all, its all about knowledge, isnt it?

Lets take this at two levels ... restricting access to specific content to specific people, and, more importantly, to the realm of social computing.

Lets take an example ... if there are employees in a firm who are spying on the content in the firm, and passing it on to competitors, then the question this brings up is, to what extent is the whole idea of knowledge sharing valid? Maybe i am being a bit too cynical here, but look at it from the perspective of the company whose computers have been hacked into, and who lost a large deal. If there were employees of theirs who were responsible for leaking information, then the question is, would they like to have content shared across the larger canvas of the organization, or would not the temptation to restrict content to a need-to-know basis? And if the organization moves to that kind of scenario, then the challenge this brings up is how this can be integrated with the larger knowledge-sharing, dont-reinvent-the-wheel philosophy?

At the other level, an organization which enables its employees to blog about the work they are doing, and their experiences, there is always a possibility of someone, somewhere inadvertantly writing something which is sensitive in nature, and could lead to some issues. Would the organization want to keep looking over its shoulder?

Question is, how can we address these concerns? One important thing here is that there must be a clear distinction between what can be shared on a public platform, and what cannot be. There must be very clear definitions of these, which must define very clearly what content must be made available on a need-to-know basis, and what can be readily shared. On the other hand, there must be clear guidelines about information (i am not talking experiences, lessons learnt, or knowledge in the larger sense of the term ...) which should be kept away from social computing platforms, and information which can be shared on these platforms. Agreed, most organizations have corporate blogging policies in place, for example, but more often than not these tend to be too vague, with not even any examples about what is acceptable, and what is not.

There could be those who argue against the adoption of social computing given these kinds of things can happen, but this would, i think, be too drastic a thought process, because this negates the benefits that an organization can find from deploying social computing platforms. But, the fact remains that a tool ... any tool ... is as good as the user who is using it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Some Kind Of Logic ...

In this world, there is logic, and then ... well, let me write about some things i was watching on the net, to complete this! On a group on facebook, i came across links to recording of a show discussing the recent Mumbai attacks, and the larger canvas of India-Pakistan relations. This was a program aired on Kal-Tak! Talk about being one step behind ... nevertheless, i must say Javed Chaudhary seems to have conducted this discussion quite well. And this is saying a lot ... given the current state of tension in India-Pakistan relations in the backdrop of the Mumbai terror attacks, and the kind of public anger there seems to be out there for each other in the public mind (one just has to read some of the comments to these videos, or on facebook, or on any other platform). I must commend Mr. Chaudhary for conducting this extremely well, except for one question which he raised, and which i am pointing to.

This has been uploaded on youtube in three parts ... click here for part 3. You will also find parts 1 and 2 here. Because i am not privileged enough to discuss "defence analysis", i must here speak purely out of common sense ... something which, at times, seemed to be in short supply, at least from one of the two participants.

I would just like to put in a few points here ...

1. Javed Chaudhary says the Jamat-ud-Daawa is a welfare trust. Might be ... or then, might not be. When he says that no investigation has been done into the background of these trusts, how can he make a claim that they are purely welfare trusts, and have no linkage to any terrorist organizations?

There ... thats the only question i have of Mr. Chaudhary. Now, to Mr. Hamid ...

1. Mr. Hamid says that India is suffering from an inferiority complex vis vis Pakistan, given that "Pakistani" Muslims have ruled over India for a 1000 years. How then does Mr. Hamid explain the fact that since Independance, why is it that India has always been considered the more matured, and more powerful country in this part of the world? To the extent that this part of the world is the Indian sub-continent!

2. Mr. Hamid says that if India had the guts, India would have overrun Pakistan in 1947 only. To begin with, it must be said thatthe equating of non-violence and peaceful coexistence to cowardice is something which can happen only in a fanatical mind. Of course, the fact that Pakistan had more than its required share of blessings of the British Empire helped their cause, but having said that, if it was a question of guts, why is it that the ultimate Pakistan was a whittled down version of what was originally envisaged? Why did, for example, Assam, or Hyderabad, or Junagadh accede to India, or for that matter, why is it that Calcutta eluded them?

3. Mr. Hamid says that "Khalistan aur Sikh inse alag hone ko taiyyaar baithe hain" ... that Sikhs are ready to secede from India. Maybe Mr. Hamid might want to realize that we are in a millenium which is more than a decade removed from the era of militancy in Punjab. Suffice it to say that this reminded me, sort of, of Rip Van Winkle.

4. Naxalites in Tamil Nadu? wow ... if Mr. Hamid has met any, its interesting that none in the Indian media have. or, for that matter, how come Tamil Nadu has not reported Naxalite violence? Even in Orissa, and in Andhra Pradesh, Naxalites are a marginal presence, but Mr. Hamid is convinced that they hold centrestage in all parts of India, from Naxalbari to Tamil Nadu! Not many people in Naxalbari would agree with that, i guess!

5. There has been lot of speculation that the terrorists spoke Marathi. But does Mr. Hamid believe that it is impossible for someone from Pakistan to learn Marathi? One blog, in fact, mentions that a number of Jews come from Maharashtra, and hence speak fluent Marathi, and then goes on to suggest that these Marathi Jews have been recruited in large numbers by Mossad, and hence the Israeli hand behind the Mumbai terror attacks. This is the same genre of creative-writing which also claims that the Americans did 9/11 to themselves. Maybe someday they might actually go on to claim that the PLO is a creation of the Mossad?

6. Mr. hameed goes on to talk about agents being caught in FATA carrying Indian ID cards ... quick question ... why would an undercover agent be carrying ID cards? On the one hand the claim seems to be that R&AW is capable of fomenting all the trouble Pakistan is facing today, from FATA to Balochistan, to Karachi, and on the other hand, the same R&AW is incapable of hiding its complicity in these activities? Come on ... it has to be one way or the other.

7. Mukti Bahini ke gunde or dehshatgard ... the goons and terrorists of Mukti Bahini ... well ... how come nobody apart from Pakistan believe that they were terrorists?

8. Mr. Hameed goes on to say that India doesnt have either the guts, or the power to hit out at Pakistan. Interestingly, in the same breath he goes on to blame India for breaking up Pakistan. So, is it the former, or the latter?

9. Mr. Hameed goes on to say that when India can send the Army across international border, Kashmir is not even an international border. There are two implications that follow from here ... especially when the talk is about "agar hum is karz ko aaj chukaayen" ... if we repay the debt of 1971 today ... first, if India just wanted a reason to break Pakistan into two parts, as Capt. Verma implies, probably this could have been done from any time from 1947, buit it didnt happen, and second, if, as Mr. Hameed implies, any country can cross and change the Line of Control, and that the day is not far, the fact remains that any country also includes India. On the question of sending Muhajideens ... on the one hand, Mr. Hameed says it was the India Army which crossed the international border, on the other hand, he says that "agar hum Fauj ya Muhajideen bhejen to royaa na karen aap ..." ... "if we send the Army or Muhajideen then you shouldnt be crying" ... where do Muhajideen come into the equation, Mr. Hameed failed to mention. And if the Muhajideen are non-state actors, then where does the question of "hum bhejen", or " if we (Pakistan) send" ... where does the question of Pakistan sending Muhajideen come into the picture? Or, is this a tacit acceptance of the fact that the Muhajideen are not necessarily non-state players? And that, at one level, the term Muhajideen, according to Mr. Hameed's statement, is analogous to Army?

10. Mr. Hameed believes that it wont take them any time to reduce India to the size ofSri Lanka, if they want. And, he wants the world to believe that they dont want it ... he himself, in the same breath, said that the day when Pakistan will repay the debt of 1971 is not far. This means they believe they have to repay the debt of 1971 ... now, either they are already trying to repay the debt (which means they havent been successful for more than three decades), or they are not repaying the debt ... which would obviously be because they are unable to ... after all, what other reason could be there for not repaying, when the urge seems to be there.

11. Mr. Hameed says that if they want they will do a hundred more Kargils ... two things emerge from there ... first, this seems to be a tacit admission that Pakistan did do Kargil, and second, that people like Mr. Hameed dont seem to have learnt their lessons from the Kargil drubbing. In the same breath, Mr. Hamid goes on to say that a LOC can be changed anytime one wants to ... while this is true in terms of international politics, this possibility is open to all countries which have access to a line of control ... that India has every bit of possibility to change the LOC as Pakistan might want to ... just that India has no inclination to use military force ... while, as Mr. Hamid himself admits that they have already done a Kargil ... a futile exercise in trying to change the LOC.

12. Mr. Hameed believes that India runs to America and Israel because we dont have the power to hit out at Pakistan ... this doesnt seem to go well with known facts ... that during the cold-war era, NAM notwithstanding, India did lean towards the USSR, while Pakistan was the American ally in the Indian sub-continent ... and also the fact that India, for a long time, did not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

Finally, i would agree with Capt. Verma ... that somewhere, Pakistan must introspect. That its a little difficult to believe that the entire international community is in the wrong, and that either India wields so much clout at the UN that at India's insistence, some organizations have been banned, or that the international community is so gullible that they dont really need proof to do this? Also, if the international community wants to disintegrate the ISI, why would they want to do that? Why is it that the international community doesnt want to disintegrate the R&AW, or Mossad, for that matter? Taking this one step further, i would say that both Pakistan and India must look at ways to live together in peace, and not in this atmosphere of mutual hatred ... for this is the only sure way to mutual destruction.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Social Computing In Organizations ... Interesting Study

There is an interesting paper by HP's Social Computing Lab about ... Long Tail in Office Conversations. This paper actually validates a lot of the thoughts that have been emerging from a number of thinkers in the social computing space, but even so, i would think this is a must-read for anyone interested in the subject.

Having said this, let me first tell the route by which i reached this paper, and this will be an indicator of the role serendipity plays in knowledge discovery ... I have set a google alert for social computing. This gives me a daily mail about some of the things happening around social computing. Today, one of the entries in this alert was this blog by Puneet Gupta (which i had some difficulty understanding, and probably more so agreeing with) and here, Puneet has written about this paper.

Coming now to the paper itself ... there are a few points which stand out here. Though, what this research does also is to validate some of the thinking which quite a few of us have been writing about. Some of the things which i wanted to write about ...

While these tools significantly lower the barriers to producing content, employees may perceive there to be little incentive to invest their own time in providing this content for public consumption.

As i have written before, what people are looking for is value from their interactions. The question is, how this value is derived by participants in this space. One of the means, of course, is recognition. As a number of folks have written, recognition is the equity of those who are contributing their thoughts and expertise to a knowledge platform.

The “long tail” of expertise and interests in large, distributed organizations offers potential opportunities for broad and diversified access to knowledge.

This is an interesting point ... that, as organizations are trying to deliver more value to customers, they necessarily need to enter domains which are niches of sorts, and as such, organizations find that the requirement for knowledge on highly diverse topics grows as this happens. As i have written before, this is one of the challenges which faces KM. If the topic is a niche, where are the people who can contribute, and impart knowledge on these niches (and the ones who are there, are too overloaded with work, to really bother about doing this). This then means that the organization must invest to some extent to create knowledge, maybe even from external sources, in these niches.

Encouraging adoption of social media within organizations requires overcoming these two challenges: motivating people to contribute information, and helping people to locate relevant information.

This is the key ... adoption. Adoption, as i keep telling anyone i talk to, is the key to the success of any KM initiative. And the issue that the paper is talking about is simply a demand and supply issue. First, how do we get people in the knowledge marketplace to "supply" knowledge, and even if are able to do this, how do we convince people to come this marketplace to "consume" knowledge ... in other words ... generate "demand". Which is why, i like to look at the KM role as a sales role ... selling the idea of "selling" to people who have knowledge, and selling the idea of "buying" to people who need it. Although, more and more, i find, the issue is to get people to contribute, rather than to locate ... with search, and (as i have written before, and so has Nirmala) communities.

What i found particularly important about this paper is the way it summarizes the strategies people use when they are looking for knowledge:

  • Novelty
  • Popularity
  • People
  • Topic
This is sort of the thing i was debating with Nirmala and Anjali.

Though what i found most interesting in the paper was the observation that ...

commenting patterns tend more to intra-group discussion.

What this implies is that more and more, people are using these platforms for more effective interactions within a particular group or team (not necessarily organizational, but could be based on any parameter, i guess ... maybe function, department, or even technology?). This also implies that more often than not, the usage of tools like blogs tend to revolve more and more around a community rather than a general read it all kind of scenario (one wouldnt expect it to be the latter, anyway, but this just validates that). The question this brings up ... what implications does this have for the organization? The way i see it, one important thing this brings up is that the key to generating adoption of these tools, and enhancing the level of collaboration groups or communities, which share a common parameter, either in terms of their objective, or interest. This could generate far more adoption than doing a be all things to all people approach. Any thoughts about this? All thoughts welcome ...

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Don't Go Overboard ...

I havent written my opinion about the terror attack on Mumbai. I dont think i could have written anything even remotely erudite compared to what folks far more intelligent and well-informed than me have written. Yes, i have shared the agony of the attacks ... yes, i have shared the general mood of anger, yes i have been upset with the media coverage ... yes i have blamed the media for going overboard because of its elitist leanings ... yes i have blamed the media for giving far more importance to this than to the local train blasts, or the blasts at Sarojini Nagar, because of the profile of the people killed ... and a number of other things.

And yet, i would like to say this ... dont go overboard. Dont go overboard projecting the romance of The Taj Mahal Hotel, or Cafe Leopold ... Dont go overboard, claiming Mumbai is the only international city we have. Dont go overboard trying to brand the recent legislature elections as the semi-finals ... after all, state and national elections are contested on different issues, and even if that sounds utopian, nothing can be the semi-final without huge states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu (see here) having had their say. Dont go overboard ...

Of course, the Jamat-ud-Dawa should be banned ... we have been able to get the UN to ban it. But please let this lead to something. We all remember the time when the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba was banned. Has that helped? Not really. This actually reminds me of a Tom and Jerry episode ... the balloon coming out of one cavity ... you try to push it back in, it comes out of another cavity. Also, i believe, lets not blame Pakistan. Lets face it ... if someone is coming to hit you, it is your foolishness if you let him, and then blame him. It is up to us to protect ourselves. But, the question is, are we serious?

A lot of us have blamed politicans. A lot of us have said enough is enough. Maybe we should stand in front of the mirror and say that? Let me explain what i mean ... how many of us actually think about what the other person may go through when we do something? Lets take an example ... you will see on the roads in any city, people who will cut you off, who will drive rash, on the wrong side of the road, etc. etc. ... for their own convenience (driving on the wrong side of the road is an awesome way to beat having to drive a longer distance and take a u-turn). By doing this, are we ever thinking of what other drivers on the road may go through?

Now, one could argue that theres no relation between driving and national security. But i am not even talking about that. I am talking about the attitude of people. As individuals, how many of us actually care about others? How many of us actually are concerned whether the other person lives or dies? Yes, there are folks who are, but then ... Lets ask a hypothetical question ... would we have reacted the same way if, for instance, these attacks were the work of, say, the Irish, or Spanish terrorists? If yes, then we would have evolved as a society, and as a nation. If no, then this outcry is not arising from serious concern.

Coming to the point of Pakistan ... lets understand one thing ... Pakistan was formed on an anti-India platform. Now, if a nation is formed on such a premise, then wouldnt it be folly to actually expect anything drastically different? Pakistan is in a state of denial, they say ... maybe they are a state of denial ... starting 1948?

Coming to the whole idea of Muslim bashing ... Yasin Merchant wrote a wonderful piece in the TOI yesterday ... but i am looking at something more basic ... When Pakistan was created, the idea was that of "Islam in danger". On this platform was mooted the idea of creation of Pakistan, comprising the Muslim-majority areas of the sub-continent. However, there is a fallacy here. In these areas, like in Punjab, or Bengal, the platform of "Islam in danger" didnt cut much ice, because the Muslim population wielded enormous political power within the existing system, while in the areas where the Muslims were in a minority, and the platform could actually have cut some ice, those areas were excluded from Pakistan. So let us understand one thing ... this is a political, and only a political issue ... this cannot be a religious issue. As Shah Rukh Khan said in an interview ... there is the Islam of Allah, and there is the Islam of the Mullahs.

Staying on the topic of Pakistan ... while this might sound like toeing the Pakistan line, the fact is, and analysts have been saying this, a weak Pakistan is not in our best interests, whether we like it or not. Pushing the government too far will only give more power to the "fundos" as they are called, and probably bring the Taliban closer to our borders, and i dont think any of us would believe that that would be a nice thing. The idea needs to be to eliminate them, and we must think surgically in that direction.

Of Measurements ... Again

A lot of people have written a lot about the value of measurements. Most of us know the dictum that whatever cant be measured cant be managed. And this interesting post by Moria Levy about Measurement also starts with this dictum. But thats where she moves away from what a lot of folks are saying.

A lot has been written about the utility, or futility of measurements especially when it comes to intangibles. This is because of the basic definition of something intangible, which is defined by the dictionary as ...

existing only in connection with something else, as the goodwill of a business.

Now, if something exists only in connection with something else, how do we measure it? And, is it really important to measure it? Maybe it isnt.

The the example of knowledge ... Moria has forcefully described how and why measurement may not be the best thing to have happened to humanity since ... (fill in with whatever you like!). Apart from the usual issue that most measurements we do today are about where we have been, rather than where we are headed, an important thing to point is that in most scenarios, its not possible to identify cause and effect relationships between things. Its easy if we can keep all other variables constant, but thats easier said than done. As i have written before, KM is possibly one of the initiatives being run in the organization, and as such, its really difficult to identify cause and effect relationships which can define what led to which operational improvement. Like the swimmer's dilemma i have written about earlier (although in the context of training, but its equally applicable here).

Another aspect to this definition is that if intangibles exist only in connection with something else, the only way to measure these is by measuring those something elses, which is why, i have been talking about the whole idea of proxy measures, which means that we cannot, and maybe should not, have a universal definition for measurement of KM, but rather, derive these definitions based on the context in which they are applicable.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wiki Meets Social Networking ...

An interesting page i came across ... MySpace - WikiPatterns ... looks like a social networking meets wiki kind of concept. Though, i am not yet clear how or why we should look at this kind of meeting place. Rather, i would look at it the other way round ... that the central point for any kind of platform need to be the people ... the wiki is incidental. Well, not exactly incidental, but then, not the central point either, which is what seems to come out of here, unless i am missing something.

Having said this, this seems to have value when looking at the entire idea of social computing within the organization. Here, the point of importance from the organizational KM initiative perspective would be the wiki, because this is what can bring together the thoughts of people from diverse perspectives. However, this doesnt take anything away from the power of the social network, and hence, the way to look at this might be to look at the person centric social networking as the centrepiece driving the other pieces of the social computing strategy. This is something a lot of organizations seem to have missed out on, as i just said. I dont know why this is, but this is something which we need to look into, because what is happening because of this, is that the social computing initiatives of organizations are largely missing the point.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Social Enterprise Software ...

Bill Ives has written a post which is a comment on a post about social enterprise software being an oxymoron. Quite interesting reading, both of them. Though, i dont much agree with the original oxymoron question.

To begin with, i am not quite sure which ones are the oxymoron ... social+enterprise, or enterprise+software, or social+software. The only thing that comes remotely close is social+enterprise. Which is where i quite agree with Fred Wilson ...

And most enterprises don't want their employees to be active members of a community that it can't control, monitor, and moderate. So the software that tends to be adopted by the enterprise is usually hobbled by the needs of the enterprise and cannot get that magical lift that an unbounded community provides.

No, i dont agree with that entirely, but to some extent. First of all, i agree that enterprises dont want their employees to be members of communities which they cant monitor or control. Having said this, if we are looking at the e 2.0 scenario, and looking at it only within the firewall, then i must say that all communities can be monitored and controlled by the organization ... whether that is a nice thing or not.

Coming to the second part of this, the software which gets adopted within organizations is hobbled by the needs of the enterprise ... but isnt this meant to be? Agreed, having an unbounded sense of community within the organization would be really nice ... but, having said that, i dont think there are many organizations that have been able to achieve that, with or without social software. So, this is probably not so much a function of the nature of social software, or the approach of organizations towards it, but rather, a function of the kins of problems that social software is trying to solve.

As Bill says ...

These tools are developed for businesses to solve business problems. Businesses are run and operated by people, for the most part for now, and these tools look at the social context of information.

The key point here being the social context of information. Or, put differently, the human aspect of information. And this is what social software can bring into the organization ... the human aspect of business, after having tried to totally remove this aspect in the form of human-independant business processes, and looking at an organization as a collection of business processes. This view of business has not helped ... no way to explain how the same business process, being run by two different people operates so different. The fact that business processes are, in the end, run by people, and these people need to connect with each other, in order to create more value through business processes is something which can be brought into the organization by social software.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

KM ... Nothing New

A very encouraging post by Dave Snowden ... titled We just forgot it for a while ... encouraging because this affirms something i have been thinking about for some time now. I wrote about it, too ... and i quite agree with Mr. Srinivasan that KM, with the new aspects of technology, and the entire gamut of tools which are at our disposal, has changed the scope of knowledge interactions.

Something that i have been thinking about ... the basic nature of human interactions doesnt change. Sure, it changes in terms of its form, but not really in terms of substance. What really changes is the mechanics of these interactions, and this change is facilitated by the changes in technology which are coming in. And, to that extent, i agree with Dave, that social computing has simpy changed the scope for human interactions, by enabling people to interact with each other across barriers and boundaries. Before the advent of modern management as we know it today, there was conversation. And today, we are again emphasizing conversation as the mainstay of knowledge interactions. Somewhere in between, the focus shifted to documentation as a means of abstracting meaning from personal knowledge and making it more generically relevant.

Lets not get carried away, though. We need to understand that both documentation, as a form of content which can deliver generic content to an audience with widely varied contexts, as well as the conversation, which today accompanies this document, both make up an integral part of the "conversation" in the context of today's technology-enabled business scenario. While it can be argued that blogs and wikis, for example, also represent documents, i dont quite like to look at it this way. This is because these are tools, and tools, as such, re dependant on their usage by someone. So, its dependant on the user to decide whether to use these as tools for creating documents, or conversation. The difference being the reference to the context, with the conversation being highly context-rich.


Talk about serendipity ... ya, i have been using this word more often ever since i figured out what it means ... over at linkedin, a friend had joined a group, and i came to know about this from my homepage, and went and joined the group. The day after joining, someone posted an interesting link about the SAP vs Oracle wars. Shows something of the role communities can play in the free flow of knowledge, whether within or outside the organization.

But no, i am not writing about this. This post is about this article about the Oracle vs. SAP smackdown ... the gorillas of the enterprise apps market. Of course, knowing that i worked for quite some time (major part of my career) at Oracle, you can guess who i am rooting for. But, having said that, this is ot about who i am rooting for, but rather, what is being written by analysts. And it seems to be good news for Oracle over SAP. They are positioned much better off with respect to their vision in the enterprise apps space. Interesting ... for a long time (read at least the last couple of years), people have been trying to figure out what Oracle was thinking, acquiring over some of the enterprise apps heavyweights. In fact, at one point, folks has lost track of how many products Oracle had taken over. And i am talking about Oracle guys here.

But, it looks like they had a picture in mind, about where they see the apps headed. And, a good reason to take over PeopleSoft, Siebel, and a whole host of others ... Now, i am not clued into the details of this vision, but from what i read, there seems to be a coherent strategy in place, and its been in place even when people were wondering what Oracle was thinking.

Having said this, what is more important, when it comes to Oracle, is execution. This has not necessarily been their strong point. A lot of customers still have memories of what was called the "red bell of death", when you would see a red bell, and your browser would shut down. Things were better with R 12, but Oracle needs to make sure they can get large parts of Fusion right first up. Along with, of course, the migration path, but that is something which they would have already thought of, and been able to manage.

What are worth reading are also the comments from some of the readers. More so because they are a mixed bag. In fact, one comment reminded me about something which, i believe, was said of IBM:

Nobody lost his job for buying IBM.

Seems like a similar thought process running in favour of SAP?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Power ... Aggregator

My friend Mark pointed me to an interesting site ... you might need to check out Power ... interesting because this is doing something which was a requirement with a lot of people. To begin with, a lot of people have presence in multiple social networks. More often than not, you would have the same set of friends in your network on most of these networking sites, but then you might not.

Which is where power comes in. Instead of having to login to multiple social networking sites, you can actually point your multiple social networks to a single place, and actually connect with multiple social networks at a single place. This is quite neat, saving a lot of work, am sure. Of course, they still need to do a lot to bring this to a place where it can be more widely accepted, but what i liked most is the way you get the original facebook look and feel in the UI here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Social Media, Or KM?

There is much debate about the friction between Knowledge Management, and Social Networking. Venkatesh Rao has written an interesting piece about Social Media vs. Knowledge Management ... interesting because he treats these two as being the tools of two different generations. And then there is a post by Jeff Kelly about KM vs. Social Media (ya, the terms are inter-changed) ... and together they make for interesting reading.

For one, i dont quite agree with Venkatesh when he says there is a war between two opposing ideologies. First of all, i dont believe they are opposing ideologies. Neither Knowledge Management, nor Social Media (at least within the organizational context) are ends to themselves ... these are means to other ends ... whatever those be (and i am not trying to define them here, because most organizations have their goals defined for themselves, and there is no single goal that they envisage for either of these two, at least not the way they articulate it, though basically, they are all similar). Once we see these as means, they become tools which are to be used for delivering something (in this example, greater effectiveness of knowledge work). And once we look at it this way, the idea of war doesnt seem to stand. Lets look at it this way ... each generation has their own way of doing things ... viewpoints change ... and there is ample interest in Social Media among members of a few generations, though this interest is varied in terms of magnitude, or usage.

And then, Jeff goes into something which i basically disagree with ... treating these different tools as generational. While they may be (and no, i am not saying that they are), its not serving any purpose to classify them as such. Why? Look at it this way ... for a large part of "millenials" they dont even exist. I am talking here, about one-third of humanity ... India and China ... both countries with a large proportion of young people, who are not focussed on social media, though social media can change their lives in a large way, maybe not even thought about.

Having said this, i quite agree with Andrew McAfee when he asks the question of technologies being at war with each other. As i have written earlier, while people are at the focus of KM efforts, we should be careful not to over-compensate for the emphasis on technology, and ignore it completely.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Competing ...

A rather interesting one about creating a knowledge-sharing company ... who can pass reading something with this kind of title? Which is why i changed the title to my post ... Well, the story told about GIant Eagle is quite informative.

This points out to an interesting thing ... most organizations do not have the policies and incentives to have people collaborate with each other. In fact, i like the way Russ Ross puts it ...

Now they’re competing in the marketplace of ideas.

And this is the basic difference. On the one hand, you have what some people call the "scarcity" mentality ... which is about scarcity of things going around. Which means that if there are two people, there is no way both of them can get what they need, there is some trade-off that needs to be made, and in the process of making this trade-off, either of them, or both, have to give up something they want. In fact, this is one of the basic assumptions classical economics is based upon, and this is something we have grown up with. The other is what people call the "abundance" mentality ... which is about their being enough for everyone's needs. As Mahatma Gandhi said, that there is enough for meet humanity's needs, not greed.

The question is, which mentality you subscribe to. In the knowledge sphere, of course, the "abundance" mentality seems more apt, but its not really possible to get people to actually move from one to the other with different contexts. Having said this, there is the whole idea of how an organizations can build up the environment to enable people to think abundance. This is not too difficult to do, actually ... what this requires is transparency, and removal of a threat perception ... though, as humans, we somehow find this is difficult to do.

Mashlogic ...

I have been planning to write about this for quite some time now, but travelling, and not keeping well, and so, here i am, delayed writing about this for more than a month ... no, not excuses, but ... well, ya, excuses! Natasha had written this one about Mashlogic. And, it seems to be a cool tool. No, i dont think this is what web 3.0 (if at all we ever reach it ... and why i say that is because, in all probability, by the time we are ready to reach 3.0, someone somewhere will come up with something promising to take us to 4.0 ... isnt that what happened with 2.0?), but its a really nice tool. This is a plugin for Firefox, which tells you more, context sensitive things about the thing you are reading. This sounds really cool, somewhat on the lines of snap, but quite different. In fact, i would like to take this further (if i had even an iota of technical sensibilities in my pea-sized brain). Imagine this ... you are reading a blog, and you come across an idea on the blog. select the text, and this little add-on shows you other possible blogs, which could be related to this blog. Or, in the organizational context, this add-on runs a search through your repository of content, as well as through the various communities you run in your organization.

Why would you want to do that? No reason, really. Except that, there was an interesting statement that came out of KM India ... that people are not really interested in KM. They are interested in doing their work, and so, if knowledge contributions are over and above their work, then it is, in all probability, not going to happen. If this sounds a little cynical, this is something which is happening in most organizations. In some of the discussions that i had with folks over at KM India, this aspect came out quite too well ... that no matter what tools, processes, you bring in, adoption is the challenge. And, this is something i have believed for some time now ... that your KM initiatives are as good as the adoption for these initiatives. And i have written about this before. Which is probably one of the reasons one of the labels i put to my posts is "People Aspect". Which is why you find that social networking, within and outside the firewall are two totally different ballgames.

Now, the question that this brings up ... if people are only doing their work, how do we get them to relate to the entire idea of knowledge, and management and sharing ... something which is important, but hey ... why should i do it! And this is where serendipity (hey, i am liking this word more since i found out its meaning) comes into play. I think more and more KM initiatives will need to be centred around people, and will need to consider knowledge sharing as a product of the work people are doing, instead of being something they explicitly have to do. Think facebook ... and its not really that difficult to do. Most of the aspects of people's work is already to be found in some systems or the other in the organization, so its a question of integrating these web 2.0 tools with some of the enterprise apps you already have in place, and viola ... XYZ is rolling off from this project in another 2 months time, so if you are a Project Manager, you should be able to see whome you probably want to talk with.

Coming back to the idea of mashlogic, a tool like this could be built into one where a person, when seeking information, should be able to use this for quickly having a look at stuff similar to what they are looking at, and see where they can get more details ... making discovery that much simpler ... in a search mode, rather than in discovery mode.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Train Journey ... Bangalore - Chennai

A new experience altogether ... Or so it seems. This comes to you from the top berth of the Mysore-Chennai (beautiful pitcure of Chennai Central) Kaveri Express. I had thought this would be the opening line except that it would have been coming to you from the platform. But just as I was thinking of writing, the train arrived and no matter its almost midnight, the arrival of a train at any major junction in India can cause the buzzing of the beehive of activity astir. And this was no exception.

To cut a long story short, between reorienting myself, deciphering the bogie number printed on the ticket (in the absence of the charts they used to stick), hauling myself onto the train, navigating my way through the crowded aisle, and managing to perch myself on the top berth thanks to some pretty amazing gymnastics, I couldn't start writing till I was lying down on the berth, which by the way, I am hoping is meant for me tonight.

To start the story, let me inform you that I didn't intend to write about this journey. After all, this is just another train journey. I have had more luxurious ones (AC IÌ class), and a whole host of adventurous journeys, usually eithout reservation, whether it be from Varanasi to Delhi, or Lucknow to Berhampur, or Varanasi to Nagpur. But going to Bangalore City Junction, trying to locate the platform number for the train, in the face of a General Enquiry window totally devoid of human habitation (by the way, they have some slick touch-screen technology which can do this for you), hauling myself, laptop, and suitcase to the platform, trying to decipher the mystery of two trains ... Chennai Express and Kaveri Express, and the entire set of activities which I told you about earlier, and most important ... Unravelling the disorientation ... I thought that I must write about this. Besides, of course, the general din of people sleeping might render any thoughts of sleeping ineffective (though I am going to try), so I might as well write.

The usual smell that you find in almost any railway station was around, though what was missing were the vendors selling kulhars of garam-garam Chai ... Extra strong, extra sweet ... Just the way you like it. What was the surprise element was the disorientation. I felt like I was doing this for the first time. That I wouldn't, in all probability, not achieve what I had set out for ... To catch the train. Getting to the platform seemed to be an enormous task, and the entire set of activities culminating in me hoisting myself onto the berth seemed daunting. And this makes me think ... There was a time when I wouldn't think twice about it. It was almost second nature. And that's when I realized ... This is the first time in over a decade that I am going on a train journey. Coming to the disorientation ... It was comprehensive. I felt as though I didn't even know how to board the train, much less take the journey.

Ah ... The romance of the train! Taken away by the the tinted film on the window-panes, which, by the way, you can't open. And they effectively segregate you from the journey.

By the way, its morning, and I slept well ... Which is a relevation. Earlier, when I would travel bt train, I somehow wouldn't get sleep ... Or maybe, it had something to do with the way I used to travel. And I am reminded of a saying ...

Chaar aane ki Murgi, Baarah Aane ka Masala!

In other words, the Chicken costing less than the Masala used for cooking ... You would ask what brings that on. Delay of two and half hours for a five hour journey. But maybe I shouldn't be complaining ... Had the train been on time, I wouldn't have slept so well. Rather, I would have overslept.

Bangalore Trip ...

Usually, going to Bangalore is about work, and about business. This time round, however, it was a little different. To begin with, I was travelling from Bangalore to Chennai, by train (more on that soon), and then, we managed to eat at some of the places we usually don’t go to.

Take, for example, Kabab Korner, on St. Marks Road. Up a flight of stairs, down a narrow corridor, which doesn’t exactly inspire too much confidence, but does give a nice view of St. Marks Road, you reach the restaurant. The first floor has the AC restaurant, while the second floor is the non-AC outlet. And going by the difference in prices between the two, air-conditioning must be quite expensive here. But, the food is reasonably good. We had Chicken Pepper Tikka, which was nice, and Chicken Tikka Masala, but somehow, I feel they actually gave us Chicken Bharta. Nevertheless, it tasted good, so that was ok. Not extraordinary, but reasonably nice, I would say.
The next day, my friend and colleague, Uday Vipra, took us to quite a nice place. Tucked away on the lane next to K. C. Das, you could actually miss it if you walked too fast … this is a restaurant named Chung Wah. Reasonably priced, excellent Chinese food to be had in the first floor establishment. We started with Veg Manchow Soup, which is quite good, and followed this up with Vegetable Balls in Hot Garlic, which is reasonably good, lightly spicy. We had Ved Fried Rice, and followed this up with Veg Chow Mein … there were ample crunchy sprouts there. The piece de resistance, however, are the Pepper Salt Prawns … it would be ample to say that these are worth eating, anytime you go this part of town. If you haven’t eaten these, there is a wonderful Prawn dish you are missing out on.
Then there is the Moti Mahal Deluxe … the ambience does justice to the establishment they have setup at Gurgaon … in fact, it would be apt to say that the establishment here seems to be more posh, although I think they don’t serve alcohol here, which is a big negative given the general style of Moti Mahal. Nevertheless, the food is as delicious as anywhere … we started out with the Grand Chicken Tikka platter … this has the Methi Tikka, the Zafraani Tikka, and the Rajasthani Soola … the latter being definitely fiery, not for the faint hearted. And, they accompanied these with chilly coated Onion rings. Wonderful beginning. We followed this up with the Murgh Korma from Old Delhi … the Chicken could have been more tender, but the taste was definitely reminding of Dilli. Surely, a continuance of the legacy of Moti Mahal, with a bit more of the touch required, but nevertheless … this was accompanied by the Khushka, which is Buttered Rice … quite nice. Overall, an experience which one must savour … from my experience, Moti Mahal is a restaurant one must go to, again, and yet again … and this is no exception.
The food was not the only thing about this trip. I met an elderly gentleman on the street … and a conversation which got me thinking. He evidently took me to be someone else, but never mind. How old was he? I don’t know. And maybe it doesn’t matter, either. Suffice it to say he was toothless. Was he 70? Was he 80? Like I said, it doesn’t matter … so lets not think more about this. It turns out, this gentleman doesn’t work any longer. No, this is not the same as retiring. He has been forced into this. He used to sit outside the Bangalore GPO, and used to provide a simple service, yet one which was of more than adequate use for lot of people … writing telegrams. Today, he says, who sends telegrams? I don’t think there are many. He is of the opinion that with the advent of the mobile, telegrams have been made redundant, and this change has cost him his work. He doesn’t get clients any more. And this raised a question … how many such people are there … with skills which are becoming fast outdated, with skills which are no longer relevant in a changed world order. And more important a question … what are we doing to ensure that these people can be re-skilled? What are we doing to see to it that their experience, their productivity and efficiency can be tapped into, in order to build a society which is inclusive, and not uncaring for those who fall by the wayside, because a society which does that maybe cant even be called society … because the root word for society is social, and this, I think, is not.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

People, Or Technology

As i have written before, Dr. Kavi Mahesh, moderating the panel discussion on the role of technology in KM, was of the opinion that at times its fashionable to downplay the role of technology in KM. My friend Anjali has raised a comment on this ... that people are the centre of KM.

I quite agree with that. In fact, theres no two ways about it. But, the way i see it, in practically most systems (and Peter Senge has mentioned this in Fifth Discipline as well), it is very, very difficult to attain an equilibrium. And, the larger and more complex the system, and the larger the gap, in terms of time, or otherwise, between cause and effect, the more difficult it becomes. Which is why, we fine, inspite of economic theory, hardly any markets which are at equilibrium. The way i see it, its like a pendulum ... it goes from one end, to the centre, which is the equilibrium, but due to intertia, it overshoots, and so on ...

I think this is, to an extent, happening in the people or technology aspect today. People are at the centre of KM ... there is no way i am going to try to negate that. But, after a decade of overemphasizing technology, the pendulum is now trying to move towards the centre, which is the equilibrium between the three aspects of people, process, and technology. Having said this, the changes in the technology landscape are such as they cannot be overlooked, which is somewhat bringing the technology dimension to the centre, along with the people.

In fact, you would find that i have a separate label on my posts for "People Aspect", which is the way i can show that i believe that the people aspect of KM is critical, but at the same time, the technology also is very important.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

KM India ... Day 2

Day 2 at KM India brought some rather interesting discussions ... it began with Debra Amidon making a presentation about Knowledge Innovation Zones, and the implications for India. This made a very eloquent point about the way the knowledge economy is evolving, and the role specific knowledge zones can play in this. This almost flies in the face of current wisdom that geography is irrelevant. But then, one thinks ... is it? If it is, how would one explain that Bangalore happens to be the hub of technology development in India. Or, Silicon Valley, for that matter ... Not that i unerstand too much about this, focused as i am on how KM works within the organizational sphere, but nevertheless ...

This was followed by a panel discussion about the Role of Technology in KM. The keynote address by Mr. A. Srinivasan from TCS, was a very interesting one ... it began with Dr. Kavi Mahesh raising the point about it being fashionable to downplay technology, and focus on the people aspect of KM. While i do agree with his point, i think its more about re-emphasizing the importance of people in the entire KM scheme of things, given that KM practitioners have spent quite some time focusing on the technology aspects alone, with not much emphasis on the people aspects. But, he does have a point ... and, this point was very well illustrated by Mr. Srinivasan, when he said that KM has been around for long ... technology has changed the scope of the activities which can be done to facilitate KM on a much larger scale.

This is something i quite agree with ... that Knowledge Management has been around ever since Knowledge has been around. Whether it was the passing down of traditions from generation to generation, or the writing down ot texts, both religious and secular, or whether you look at the idea of guilds, transforming into apprenticeships, into training, and KM as we know it today ... and this is where the point Mr. Srinivasan made come in ... that today, the way we can reach out to people, exchange thoughts and ideas, is very different, and much larger in terms of scale, and this is something which has been enabled by technology. Another aspect which came out quite well was the idea that KM technologies must integrate, over a period of time, with enterprise applications ... something on the lines of what i have written about, from the perspective of CRM apps. What the panel also quite agreed about was the two aspects of the technology framework for KM, which they pointed out to be serendipity, and presentation. This looks similar to the idea that David Tai raised on day 1 ... that people are interested in doing their work, and not necessarily KM. Taking this one step further, people's contribution to KM could be seen as a by-product of their work, rather than being in addition to it. For example, take facebook ... when you join a group, you dont go about telling your friends about it. They just get to see it without you having to do anything additional. Something on similar lines within the firewall ...

Another interesting point that came up was about the contribution distribution. There seems to be a general picture that contribution to KM platforms comes from a minority of people, with the rest of the people being consumers. So, there are a set of people who actively contribute (say, 10%), another set of people who comment on these, or provide feedback (say, 20%), and the majority who simply read (say 70%) ... of course, these figures are something i just made up.

Raj Datta came up with the idea that social networks, with their people to people interactions, could be used as a catalyst for generating contributions from larger proportion of people. This could be because this gives them a trusted channel for collaboration. To an extent i agree with this, but i think serendipity would also need to play an important role for this to happen.

There was an interesting question which was raised ... that most companies seem to be using similar strategies for KM. Does this represent a convergence to a possibly right way of doing things, or does this mean that we have run out of ideas? To my mind, its the latter ... the way i look at it, we have yet to come up with a best approach to much older questions (remember the core competence vis a vis diversification debate?), and hence, i wouldnt think we could have arrived to a best approach to such a new question. This also brings to mind the fact that most organizations are facing similar challenges in taking KM to the next level, but this is to be expected because the basic, underlying problem they are trying to solve remains the same, irrespective of organization.

On the topic of Innovation, Venky Rao, from Satyam, made an interesting observation ... this is something i have been thinking for quite some time now, and it was nice to get validation ... that real innovation happens where the rubber hits the road. That ideas are aplenty in organizations, only thing is, not many managers actually listen to those ideas. This could, in large part, be because most managers, with conventional experience are not comfortable with some of these ideas, because represent something which is different from conventional experience.

This, more or less, covers the two informative days at KM India ... Day 3 was the master-classes, though i would think of them more as break-out sessions. More about them soon ...

Thursday, November 6, 2008

KM India ... Day 1

OK ... I am at Mumbai ... attending KM India 2008. So this is a little dated, considering that today was day 2 of the event ... but then, with the Cocktails and Dinner last night, you didnt think i would have been blogging, did you? I did think i would blog live from the venue, but then i realized i am yet to perfect the art of listening, understanding, and commenting about a topic, all at the same time. Hence the delay ...

Nevertheless, the opening day brought up some interesting topics. It opened with an address by K. V. Kamath. Needless to say, a large part of the address was about the current (ok, so most of us would like to use the word recent rather than current) financial crisis. This was followed by a talk by Suresh Prabhu ... and i must say that when K. V. Kamath said that he would go anywhere to hear Suresh Prabhu speak, he wasnt exaggerating. Prabhu made a strong pitch for integrating knowledge into the organizational structures. Of course, we know this is far easier said than done, but then, this did kick-off the proceedings in the appropriate way. Especially interesting point he made ...

A conformist attitude is a problem in any social setup, and can be handled if some level of deviation from the ideal is encouraged.

Of course, this makes sense. This was, in fact, brought forth quite strongly by S. K. Sharma from Airtel, who raised the point ... about the inherent tension between Knowledge Management, and Quality. This was in response to my question at the panel discussion with few of the MAKE award winners ... actually, i was trying to understand the difference between the communities they have been able to foster at Tata Steel (i still call it TISCO ... guess i am too old to call it anything else) and some similar initiatives which have been around for some time now ... especially Quality Circles. To cut a long story short, one way of addressing this tension could be to make the KM initiatives dovetail into the quality initiatives running in the organization. So, if you generate some great ideas, you work with the Quality team to bring them in as an integral part of the quality processes in the organization.

With this, the session on KM Strategy and Assessment got underway ... and Prof. Jayanta Chatterjee from IIT-Kanpur (or, IITK, to the old hands ...) made a rather impressive presentation about the work they have done with creating a platform for knowledge-sharing in the agriculture value-chain, from the farmer to the trader. Its quite an impressive model, bringing together all the participants in the agriculture value-chain. What i found stood out in this discussion was the description of the "knowledge-grid". Here, to take an example, they would take a particular crop variety, e.g. Pulses on one axis, and different aspects of cultivating the crop, e.g. pesticides, harvesting, etc., on another axis, and clicking on the intersection one can reach the discussions around the intersection of the two. The question this brought to mind was how they managed to address the fuidity in topics, or whether they did even have such a fluidity. I think not, if they can capture the various aspects of cultivating the crop, then all information related to this can be classified into one aspect or the other. Some sort of taxonomy, but what is interesting is the way they have worked out the intersection of the two dimensions.

William Miller gave a very interesting talk about the whole idea of knowledge and innovation. He used the example, where he likened inhaling to learning, and exhaling to innovation, to make the point that knowledge creation must lead to innovation, and vice-versa. Quite convincing, especially the way i look at it ... that we create knowledge through everyday work that we do. And in this manner, this learning, or the process of creation of knowledge, must lead to new ideas, new ways of doing things ... whether we know it or not. He also tried to bring in the whole idea of best practices, as not necessarily the place where you need to stop ... rather, to use best practices as the benchmark in a way so that you can use them as a launchpad to create something better.

Dr. J. K. Suresh from Infosys reflected on the idea that knowledge is communal property, which means that it belongs not just to one individual, but rather, by its very nature of multiplying by sharing, to the community. However, when we are trying to measure knowledge, we are trying to ascribe it to particular individuals. This is a basic mis-match which needs to be addressed. This, i believe, must be something which must be looked at, when we are trying to understand the basic dynamics of knowledge creation in the organization. One possibility is to encourage the treatment of knowledge as belonging to the entire community, rather than to the individual. Of course, this is far easier said than done, and i agree that this is a rather vague way of looking at things, but this mis-match must be addressed.

Ed Cohen from Satyam made a rather interesting point ... that the essence of leadership is collaboration. Or, in other words, that the main role of leaders is to facilitate collaboration. This makes sense to an extent (no, i am not going into the other aspects of leadership ... i dont think i am best suited to write about them), since collaboration is about getting people to work with each other, together, towards a common goal, in a way where the whole is greater than the sum. It made sense when i was listening to him, but i guess somewhere i lost my threads on this line of thinking ... need to think more.

Debra Miller made a rather interesting comment ... about the need to empower people to contribute and share knowledge as themselves, as individuals, rather than as parts of a business process. This is pretty much similar to the philosophy of social networking ... the focus being on people, rather than on the content, and the role of people in generating knowledge, and sharing knowledge, being central, and being acknowledged as such.

David Tai from IBM made a very impressive presentation about the web 2.0 initiatives being run at IBM. I say impressive, because this presentation described very well the journey IBM has taken over the years from the ICM days of Lotus Notes databases, to the new w3, and KnowledgeView, and the further step towards social computing. An interesting point that David made is about the way he uses his social network within IBM, and outside to learn, because people in his network have already synthesized knowledge, and he gets to see the outcome of this synthesis, so he has a lot to learn from his network, rather than searching for things. This is something i have written about before. This brought up an interesting conversation i had with my friend Nirmala Palaniappan, though i still do believe that social networking is not going to do away with search, though it is going to impact search in some ways.

Raj Datta (looking quite different from the picture you see in the profile) from MindTree Consulting came up with a very interesting idea ... of breaking up knowledge-space into four quadrants:

  • Q1: i know what i know
  • Q2:  i dont know what i know
  • Q3: i dont know what i know
  • Q4: i dont know what i dont know
From here, he went on to raise the question that since the largest of the four is the "i dont know what i dont know" quadrant, and this is also the fastest growing of the four, why is it that most KM strategies focus on the "i know what i know" Q1? The interesting part here is that the Q4 "i dont know what i dont know" quadrant, while being the most difficult to discover, is the one with the most possibilities. Of course, this is easier said than done, but this does take us somewhat into the realm of innovation, but this is something that William Miller mentioned, too, describing knowledge and innovation as being two parts of a single whole.

As you can see, it was quite a packed day at KM India, and this was followed by Cocktails and Dinner, and though i couldnt commune with the Old Monk (please read the odes penned by a number of followers), with Mr. Walker for company, you wont be surprised at the delay in writing, would you?

Oh, and please do look to the right, to see the most interesting aspect of KM India ... and no marks for guessing why there's only half a plate of Cookies there!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wikis ... Practical Example ...

I like to see examples of some of the things I talk about and work on, in daily life. Why? As we shall see, this provides an invaluable way to illustrate the principles. Such an opportunity is at hand ... Planning for a wedding. Planning for a wedding, you might exclaim. But allow me to hasten to mention that illustrations of the kind I am talikng about are usually to be found in the unlikliest of places ... Preparations for the wedding, for example.

The wedding is of a Brother in Law ... Poor fellow finally succumbed, and is getting hitched this month, actually happy with the prospect. You se, he doesn't know any better. Ah well ... But let me not digress. Planning the catering for the days leading up to the wedding is turning out to be a far more complex activity than one would think. This is, in part, due to the distributed nature of the team. Allow me to explain ... The boy and his family are in Mumbai, while the wedding is to happen in Delhi. So, the requirements definition is happening in Mumbai, while the delivery of the project has to happen in Delhi with a local caterer.

Now, this is a simple scenario, except that requirements keep on changing, and there are a number of iterations the menu has gone through, and promises to go through quite a few more. As a result, in trying to co-ordinate the menu, we have come up with four different versions of an excel file which contain four different versions of the menu, and with at least five people taking part in the planning (the stakeholders and the participants), noone is quite sure which is the latest version of the menu. While someone believes the final version contains Bhetki, others think it contains Rohu.

This is the type of confusion which usually crops up during projects. The larger and more complex the projects, the more this type of confusion. Now, bring in a wiki into this mix, and the scenario changes. If all the updates, all the iterations to the menu are simply recorded on a wiki, then firstly, everyone participating in the project gets a single view of the work being done and the deliverables, and secondly, nobody needs to add to the confusion by sending out multiple updates multiple times.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

What People Are Saying ...

One of the important aspects of blogging is reading. Yes, reading, understanding what people are saying is probably a more important aspect of blogging than the actual writing. Many a times, ideas come from some of the conversation that goes on. And this brings me to the blogs i subscribe to. And this is what gives me the idea to write this.

On the blogs that i am reading these days, there is a lot of stuff being written about technology. About the technology of web 2.0. Thing is, there is not much being written about the basic concept, and the implications of something like the tools which we are seeing today, on the organization. Does this mean that we have figured them out? Not many folks think so ... we are yet to completely figure out the web 2.0 tools, and their impact on the organization. We are yet to figure out what are the possibilities for trying to attract people to the corporate blog, or the wiki, or to communities which are there within the firewall.

On the other hand, I am reading more and more about the disillusion with web 2.0. There are more folks writing today, about the non-utility of web 2.0 tools. I have written about this. This then brings up the question ... does this mean that web 2.0 tools have no utility? No matter how cynical one might be, this is not what one would think. Then, could this mean that some of the tools, and hence, their potential, was maybe hyped beyond actual utility? Could be. But by and large, i feel, more and more of the discussion, and the euphoria about web 2.0 has been directed to outside the firewall, with not much thought going towards how this would work within the firewall.

So what, one might ask. Not much. Except that some thought needs to go into this as well. Lets face it ... web 2.0 is not a tool which is the end by itself. It has to be part of a larger picture, and somehow, i think this aspect is not being discussed too much. And this is where i think the problem is.

For one, inside the firewall, web 2.0 tools may not be deployed the way they are outside the firewall. For instance, wikis may be more acceptable within a team, where the team-members can collaborate, using the wiki as a notice-board kind of application. This is different from the wikipedia style of implementation, which a lot of organizations are looking at. Or, blogs which are centred around a particular aspect of the business, which are part of a group of tools, which are focussed around the business function. In other words, i feel that web 2.0 implementations in organizations would be people focussed, but demarcated based on business functions or processes. These would probably not be the one big-bang application the way we see it outside the firewall.

I would like to hear your opinions about this. All thoughts more than welcome. Do drop in a note.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

About Driving ...

Sunday morning ... plenty to write about feminine automotive sensibilities ... brought to mind something i had written earlier ...

If you have driven in Kolkata, or Mumbai, you would know how much of a nightmare it can be. Well, Gurgaon is well on its way to becoming a world city, and hence ... Can Gurgaon be far behind? Just today ... there was a lady, driving a SUV ... no, i have no problems with that. Never ... wouldnt even think about it. Just that she was driving while having an Apple, and trying to call up someone on her mobile. Now, this surely is a juggling act highly difficult to emulate, and i would hope not many folks try to do that, either. At least, not the eating ... its always much more wonderful eating in peace, dont you think? Now, this is not to say that this is the preserve of women, but being the MCP that i am (ya, ya, i heard you say this earlier ...), i just had to write this! No, no ... i dont hate women. In fact, much the opposite ... tongue in cheek ... its just their driving skills i am worried about.

Like today, for instance. I was trying to be a good boy ... here was a girl, driving a green Santro (a la Jatayu? ... from Feluda, remember ... yes, he has moved from Ambassador to Santro). As the usual rule, i give them side of way. Like a nice guy, i stopped the car on the side of the road, so as to let her pass. And, whats the next thing that happens? She is seen hurling abuses at me ... cigarette smoke bellowing, along with those words! No, i didnt hear it, thanks to my windows being rolled up, and Junoon playing in the car.

Moral of the story? Dont give right of way! Thats what everybody seems to be doing, anyway. Actually, this is not such a big deal. The issue, i feel, is the way we are becoming more and more narrow-minded. Take this post, for instance. An incident like this probably wouldnt have got me writing about it, but i guess i am also part of the larger human society, and hence, prone the same level of intolerance as the rest of us. Whether it is religion, or region, or for that matter, any parameter which divides man from man ... today, more than ever before, probably, it is successful in dividing man from man. Tempers are growing shorter as the bank-balances of people are becoming longer. Today, there is far more affluence than there has ever been, and yet, there is also far more anger. There is far more frustration.

Having said this, i feel this is part of a cycle of human existence. From a state where tolerance levels were high, people were content with what they had, and happiness measures were higher, society seems to be moving to a state of high intolerance. The good news is, this cannot persist. The cycle must move, so i believe, which means, this intolerance must make way for a world order of greater trust, love, happiness, and tolerance.

Well ... now that i have raved on and on, heres the other side of the story ...

On the subject of Gurgaon ... i think Gurgaon is growing up, and quick. The other day, i was out buying Beer (yes, this was before my Diet, for the record ...). Two girls came in (i would call them girls, given the grey hair in my goatee, and the fact that they looked much, much younger) ... They asked for strong Beer. Now, thats cool ... Girls can drink anything they want to ... What i would like to write about here is that the shopkeeper didnt bat an eyelid. The usual glances, head to toe, sizing them up ... they were just not there! And, this, to my mind, is a sign of a city where the boys are finally growing up!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wikis ... Useful Or ...

Olaf S has asked a question over at linkedin, about the utility of wikis as a tool for Knowledge Management. What’s more interesting are the responses this question has generated. The responses are actually a wide spectrum, in terms of the way people perceive the utility of wikis as a tool for externalizing knowledge.

These responses range from wikis being an excellent tool for sharing knowledge, to them being not as useful as they are made out to be. But please read them for yourself.

So, what are wikis all about? The way I see it, a completely open solution a-la Wikipedia may not be the appropriate solution within the organization. On the other hand, however, from what I have experienced, people in organizations are more comfortable with wiki based collaboration within teams, rather than with a larger audience. This is where I think a tool like knoll could add more value.

Coming now to the question of adoption … it would be folly to assume that just because you have built it, they will come. Far from it, the challenge is rather to get people to contribute. And this is the challenge, I feel, which needs to be addressed, if wikis are to be successful. For, people will not take to them till they see value coming from them, and wikis will not deliver value, till people take to them. So, in a cyclical situation like this, some mechanism is required for the initial push. And this is where quite some thought process must go in. The way I see it, there are going to be no big wins on the way to wiki adoption. Rather, it would be a better option to accumulate a set of small wins, thereby building up a much larger adoption footprint.

For example, the first thing that could be done is to identify the people who would benefit most from a tool like a wiki. For instance, it may be Project Managers who could use wikis for managing project data, schedules, issues, etc. Or, it could be a helpdesk team using wikis to manage commonly occurring issues, documenting problem and resolution on a single wiki source. Once this has been identified, then one could look at targeting positioning of wikis to this select audience. And once we can get wikis to deliver value in the context of a particular role, we can then use this as a base to launch to other target audiences in the organization.

What this presupposes is that there wont be a widespread adoption of wikis in the organization. This, in fact, is a realistic assumption, given the experience we have had with social computing tools, and this is indeed not unique to wikis alone.

Coming to the idea that wiki contribution is high to begin with, and tapers off at a later point, the question that comes is whether this is to be expected? If there is a wiki for a particular topic, over a period of time, most of the things that need to be written have been written, and hence, maybe its reasonable to assume that this would happen, and that, as the wiki matures, there could be more emphasis on the usage in terms of read rather than write, on the wiki? Any thoughts, anyone? Would like to hear them …

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Search Or Communities ...

No, i dont think they are mutually exclusive. Interesting post by Nirmala ... where she is posing the question ... about what is it that lets your choose between google and wikipedia? to my mind, not much ... or, to put it differently, when i search on google, more often than not, wikipedia results are among the first few to appear.

Now, this is interesting. Nirmala mentions someone being of the opinion that the rise of social networking would spell the end of search. While, on the face of it, this sounds like a tempting assumption, this is probably a bit of an oversimplification. Let me put it this way ... if i am looking for something, i search. If someone on my network has found something, and i find it useful, i go through it. The opinion here seems to be a bit too much of a stretch, if you ask me.

Lets look at it this way ... social networking is about knowing who you know, and this leads to (more often than not) knowing what you know. And the two, to my mind, are related, but different things. What could happen (and this is something i have been looking at, for some time now ...) is that search could change ... in the way tools enable users to interact with them. One of the possibilities is the availability of aggregators, or the possibility of searching for opinions.

In other words, and this is something i have been chatting about on the KM India Forum as well (as i am sure, my friend Sumeet Anand would agree ...), that "collaboration", and what i like to call "codification" are complementary, and not competitive in terms of the value they can add to the larger KM initiatives, and stressing on one, to the deteiment of the other, is not something which is nice. And if we agree with this, we would also tend to agree with the idea that content is an integral part of the knowledge inventory of the organization, and as long as this is so, search (in some form or the other), must also be around.

Where, then, does this bring social networking? To my mind, social networking is about bringing value which was not possible with the "KM 1.0" paradigm of the 90s. This is more about bringing the people aspect into the entire way of doing things, which was lacking. Now, one could argue that documents originate from people, and hence, looking at the people aspect should be enough to enable us to not look at the "codification" aspect, but the point remains that its not possible for you to know everyone in the organization (even if you are working in a mid-sized organization), and hence, to some extent, it is imperative to abstract knowledge, and this is where the content, and the search aspects come in.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Belonging To ...

The Orlov Trotter has been immortalized by Count Lev Tolstoy, in the short story titled Kholstomer. This is, indeed, a wonderful story ... reflecting on some of the events that happened, and at the same time, a reflection on the rationale behind some of the things people do ... like the treatment of Kholstomer at the hands of people ... from a celebrated descendant of Smetanka, to the gelding it died.

Why am i writing about this? There are a few reasons ... One, the chord the story touches. For its amazing description of Russian society as it looked then, to the attitudes of people, which only someone with the genius of Count Tolstoy can depict. Another, probably larger reason, is one part of the story, which goes somewhat like ...

The mistake he made was to think of me belonging to him. Human beings believe that others belong to them, which is not true. We after all belong only to God, and to ourselves.

Something to that effect ... i am sure something would have gotten lost in the translation, and not knowing Russian myself, i would prefer to let someone better than me at the translation (which is a lot of people, i must say!) dwell on the details of the passage. All i would like to write about is the idea ... that we belong only to God, and to ourselves. We do not belong to anything or anyone else in this world. That such a belonging, while being obvious, is only temporary, and must go away. So it would only stand to reason that all belonging must be only to the soul, and to the Supreme Soul ...

Interesting ... especially if we try to understand what this could imply.

Measurement And E2.0 ...

Back after a week ... and, Diwali! And here's wishing all of you Happy Diwali and a Prosperous New Year. The Mahurat trading session yesterday had most stocks going up on the BSE, so thats a nice start.

Andrew McAfee has a rather interesting conversationg going ... about a topic which tends to have about the most divergent views when it comes to social computing ... yes, you got it ... measurement. Andrew has written a rather interesting post about the whole idea of rating knowledge workers, encapsulating a large range of divergent views on the subject.

What i believe comes out of the entire discussion is that while the whole idea of putting a rating to someone's contribution to a social computing platform is quite against the entire idea of social computing, there has to be a way this can be addressed. After all, when we look at anything in the organizational perspective, there has to be a way of finding out whether we are on the right track, and whether there need to be changes to the way things are being done.

There could be two ways of looking at this ... one could be in terms of a performance appraisal type of rating on contributions and knowledge sharing efforts, and the other in terms of community feedback on these. While the first could end up stifling the entire effort (because this would look at it more quantitatively, rather than qualitatively ... how many blog posts could your boss go through to give you a rating ...), the second option is actually quite in line with the overall idea of social computing.

Lets take an example ... when someone from your network posts something on their profile, say, on facebook, you, and lots of others have the means to comment on this. These comments are essentially feedback, and could work as a form of ranking on this contribution. Take this one step further, into the organizational context ... if people had the possibility of giving you stars (ya, this is something i picked up from my son ... they get stars for doing well at school), they could show their appreciation of whatever you have contributed. The nice part is that there is no limit to the supply of these stars ... so, you dont necessarily rank someone to the exclusion of someone else, and considered over the larger audience, this could be a reasonable way for people to show their appreciation of your work, at the same time, work well in terms of recommending things to others.

In addition to this, different people look at the same contribution from different perspective. An expert looks at it trying to understand how well this could communicate a concept to a larger audience, a novice could look at it to learn something new, while someone who is simply trying to solve a problem would look at it from the perspective of relevance. Aggregating feedback from such diverse viewpoints would, i think, give an overall qualitative perspective.

In other words, if we take a scenario where feedback could be gathered by the larger community, this could be a reasonably nice way of understanding how the entire idea of social computing is working in the organization.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Enterprise Apps Weds Web 2.0 ...

Oracle has announced its new product ... Social CRM. When i read this, my first reaction was ... maybe this is just something about marketing. You know, how a lot of vendors are putting the magic 2 after their product names, and believe that they have come up with a market-capturing product.

And then, i read the details. And, they are quite interesting. As of now, there are three modules which they are launching (are there going to be more?) ... Oracle Sales Prospector, Oracle Sales Campaigns, and Oracle Sales Library.

Oracle Sales Prospector seems to be a tool which is combining some of the business intelligence aspects of enterprise applications, and building in the collaboration aspect to provide a solution, which seems to be quite an interesting one. However, i would have liked to see more of the social networking aspects (or maybe they are there, but i am missing something). There seems to be some amount of networking here, but there could have been more. This reminded me of a demo i had seen some time back, of Lotus Connections, and  it would be quite interesting to see some of those capabilities integrated with this application.

Oracle Sales Campaigns is the application which i havent been able to understand much, so i guess i will wait for more material to be available, before writing about it.

Oracle Sales Library seems to be the new-look content system, which can be used to manage collateral, along with some of the collaborative aspects like tagging, reviews, etc. This seems to be an interesting application, because this seems to be able to enable sales people to leverage the inputs of others on collateral which they are going to use when trying to close a deal. This could be used well with the Oracle Sales Campaign, and  the Oracle Sales Prospector applications.

Taking this one step further, it would be useful to have recommendations from Oracle Sales Library in the Oracle Sales Prospector application, as well as integration with Oracle Sales Campaigns, to enable sales people to pull out content from either application, based on their requirements, and to review comments, tags, ratings, and more importantly, it would be nice to see a recommendation engine, which could use tags to recommend content to users.

I guess having been a Consultant, its a natural instinct to go into solution mode ... but then, these are solutions, arent they? So, heres to the wedding ... when's the reception?

Memories ... Dilli Or Dehli

I was seeing this program on travel & living channel ... This program is called Feast India. I don't know what its supposed to be about ... Feast gives the impression its about food. But I guess the program is about the feast that is India ... A feast for the senses, body, mind, and soul. From the Aazaan at the Jama Masjid ... Or, if you have lived in Darya Ganj, the Ghataa Masjid, or the Zinat-Ul Masjid ... To the Langar at Gurudwara Sis Ganj, the Jawan Gurdwara at Darya Ganj (from where my Grandmother would get a cup-ful of Kaadhaa every morning, only small portions for the rest of the family, the rest for me ...), or at any Gurudwara anywhere you might go ... Feast again for the senses, definitely for the body, and the soul.

What am I writing about? Nothing in particular. Quite a few things in general. Having born and grown up in Darya Ganj, I have experienced, and continue to experience, the magic of Dilli ... Or Dehli, if you may. From the fruit juice shops of nayaa Darya Ganj, to the small shop, with some of the best Mutton on offer. From Bedmiyaan (Pooris stuffed with ground Daal ... Which is also called Pitthi) at Jain's next to Ansari Road, to the Seekh Kababs sold on carts in the neighbourhood of Jama Masjid, to the Mutton Korma and Nargisi Koftas at Karim's, or the Rabdi Faloodaa at Akashdeep, to the Giani's Fruit Cream, and of course ... Pindi de Chholle Bhatoore ... You can be assured of a feast.

So much for the feast for the palate. Now, to the senses. From the bylanes of Chandni Chowk, Khari Baoli, Chawri Bazaar, to the chaos and magic of Meena Bazaar (wikipedia doesnt have an article for Meena Bazar ... at least, not the original one). That's an expression I quite liked ... Chaos and Magic. Describes Dilli to the T. So, chaos and magic it is. Or, is the chaos part of the magic? Or does the magic spring from chaos? I don't know, and maybe, beyond a point, I would just call this semantics. What I do know ... I am Hindu, but I do miss, at times, the wafting of the strains of the Aazaan across rooftops, carried forth by the breeze, accompanied by those beautiful kites.