Tuesday, March 31, 2009

KM And Work

Andrew Gent has written an incredibly interesting post about the idea of sustainable KM. Why i say interesting is because this reaches at one of the basic issues around KM ... why should people actually participate? As you would agree, KM programs are not really going to be a success without the participation of people in the organization. And, if this is just additional work, why would they? Something i have written about before ... The idea being that the way we need to look at some of the web 2.0 tools within the organization, should be different from the way we find adoption for these outside the organization.

The question is ... if there are internal blogs, there are going to be some people who are going to write, and a host of people who are going to read, and few who will comment. But, would this reach anywhere the kind of participation the blogosphere finds? I dont think so, simply because of the questions that Andrew raises.

Which is why, i feel that some of the activities which KM programs expect people to do, in order to make the KM program successful, should actually not need to be done at all. These should be a product of the day-to-day working of people. For example, if someone is accessing documents on a particular topic on the corporate repository, maybe this should automatically be updated on their profile. Or, if someone is working on a particular project (according to the company systems), then this should be updated on their profile too. In other words, people should be doing their work ... technology can be harnessed to do the rest from there. Of course, this is not going to capture all the work that is being done out there, but this would be a good way to get people to see the value from programs like KM, and give an easier way for people to access what others are doing, without having to go through a lot of information.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Story About Recession

This is not original, but the story strikes a chord somewhere.

This story is about a man who once upon a time was selling Burgers by the roadside. He was illiterate, so he never read newspapers. He was hard of hearing, so he never listened to the radio. His eyes were weak, so he never watched television. But enthusiastically, he sold lots of Burgers.

He was smart enough to offer some attractive schemes to increase his sales. His sales and profit went up. He ordered more and more raw material and buns and sold more. He recruited more supporting staff to serve more customers. He started offering home -deliveries. Eventually he got himself a bigger and better stove. As his business was growing, the son, who had recently graduated from college, joined his father.

Then something strange happened.

The son asked, "Dad, aren't you aware of the great recession that is coming our way?" The father replied, "No, but tell me about it." The son said, "The international situation is terrible. The domestic situation is even worse. We should be prepared for the coming bad times."

The man thought that since his son had been to college, read the papers, listened to the radio and watched TV. He ought to know and his advice should not be taken lightly. So the next day onwards, the father cut down the his raw material order and buns, took down the colorful signboard, removed all the special schemes he was offering to the customers and was no longer as enthusiastic. He reduced his staff strength by giving layoffs. Very soon, fewer and fewer people bothered to stop at his Burger stand. And his sales started coming down rapidly and so did the profit. The father said to his son, "Son, you were right". "We are in the middle of a recession and crisis. I am glad you warned me ahead of time."

And this is a question we must pause and ask ... are we talking ourselves into economic recession? Is it, in some way, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy? I am not an economist, but i feel that maybe ... just maybe ... and this is not to say everything is hunky-dory with the economy ... we are creating the economic scenario by talking ourselves into it? True, sentiment is bearish, but somehow, the bad news makes front-page news, while the good news you must look for, and consider a job well-done if you actually manage to find it. In other words, just as there was a bubble of unrealistic expectations, are we seeing an opposite phenomenon, again made of unrealistic expectations?

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Economist: Social Networks

Thanks to Prithwis da, who posted this interesting article on facebook ... about Primates on Facebook ... this is an interesting article, because this brings the realms of sociology and anthropology into the realm of social network ... with good effect ... given that social networks are "social", and so, of interest to sociologists, and they are inhabited by "primates", hence being of interest to anthropologists of all hues.

The article throws light on an interesting aspect of social networking ... and something i have thought about, but not come to understand ... how do people who have more than say 500 connections on a social network actually keep track of their friends? Turns out, as this article tells, that maybe most of the connections are casual connections ... something Andrew McAfee had written about quite some time back ... when he talked about the strength of weak ties ... that indeed, there is a core of strong relationships, and an extended network which is made up primarily of weak connections. Which leads to the idea that more often than not, you wouldnt find a new job through who you know, but who they know.

Though what i am thinking about is what impact this information has for social networks within organizations. After all, we are talking about leveraging social networks for increasing knowledge-sharing, and enhancing knowledge flows within the organization. While this is a nice idea, the question is, wouldnt the information in this article imply that social networks, beyond a particular point, tend to wilt? Not really ... if you look at it carefully, the same phenomenon is applicable to email, as much as it is to social networks. After all, email is also used by the same primates, isnt it? How many people do you email on a regular basis, and how many do you mail on an "as required" basis? I am talking about at work. If you think about it, you would find similar patterns (and i am not talking about all those forwards). But then, within organizations, the people we connect with on a regular basis (the core, according to the article) are few. Having said that, the fact is that we connect with a lot of people on an "as required" basis. Need some information? Talk to someone, with whome you probably connect only infrequently. In other words, though the core makes up what are strong ties, there is also the larger network which people tap into, from time to time.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Learning And Knowledge ...

I came across a blog post by Luis about how the fields of Learning and Knowledge are essentially partners in the learning process. This is something i have been thinking about, and writing, for some time. Luis points out that with the emergence of social software, the two functions can walk hand in hand in the corporate environment.

I agree that the idea of the two functions is complementary to each other. And Luis has it spot on, because it is with the emergence of social software that the importance of networks (whether formal or informal) as a learning tool in the organization is becoming more apparent. However, the idea of the complementarity of the two functions is something which, to my mind, predates the idea of social software.

Lets look at it this way ... what is the goal of a Learning function. The idea is basically to get people to be more effective in doing their work, to enable them to be able to deliver work in more effective manner. Now, lets see what is the goal of Knowledge Management? Again, it is to enable people to be able to deliver their work in a more effective manner. Question ... how can this be achieved? By having a scenario where the people are able to learn from their work, learn from the work of others, and incorporate this learning into their work. Now, the question is, what is the difference between the two? While there are differences in the way the two functions approach this, the basic objective is the same. Hence, while the approaches may be different, the goals being the same, at a basic level, the two functions must complement each other.

Let me take an example ... and we will start this example from the Training aspect. Suppose someone comes out after attending a training. They have learnt some concepts (at least thats what Training managers are assuming). They are in a position to apply these concepts into their work. Which is nice. But, does learning stop the moment you come out of the classroom? Or, if you take e-learning, does learning stop the moment you complete the course? No it doesnt. And this is where KM must complement the Training aspect.

And this is where i agree with Luis that social software needs to play a role. In addition to the role of bringing out the value which can be delivered by networks, social software must be in a position to connect people with networks which can add value to the training they have attended, by enabling them to build upon the training. As such, this needs to be a process which must continue even after the training is over. Taking this one step further (or back, depending on where you are standing), social software is also emerging as a tool for training delivery itself. By enabling organizations to build communities of learners (and i am not just talking about people attending training, but in the larger sense of the term), social software can enlarge the scope of learning, as also deliver it in much more meaningful ways. As i had written in my earlier post, social software can be used to source content (this is not just about structured training material ... one learns a lot from blogs, too), as well as to connect people. One step further would be to use social software to identify the concepts or training that is required to solve a particular problem.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Of Systems

In today's work environment, disaggregated systems are a reality. As much as ERP vendors would like to push for one, centralized system, this doesnt seem to be becoming a reality. Quite of a few of the systems seem to have been integrated in a large number of organizations, but this is something which is an ongoing process, though i am not sure how far this is going. Which is something Rachel Happe has written about in her post about The Future of the Social Web. Interesting reading ...

The way i like to look at it, systems within the organization can be classified as personal (ok, so you might put productivity tools as part of this classification), and enterprise apps. Personal systems, like IM, blogs, wikis, communities are tools you use to enhance your way of working. Enterprise apps, on the other hand (i reckon ERP to be probably the largest piece here), are those which you are told to use by the organization (ok, even here, there seem to be islands of information). The point here is, there doesnt seem to be any amount of talking happening between these two disparate systems. As i had written earlier, SAP was working on incorporating components of web 2.0 into their apps (though we havent heard much about this after this, or maybe i missed it ... please do let me know!), but one doesnt see them bringing out comprehensive social computing functionality in their apps. As such, the gap between the enterprise and personal tools seems as though it would remain.

And this is one of the sources of information which organizations seem to be missing out on. Between the different terms like Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence (personally, i havent been able to make out the difference, but then, thats not surprising ... i have been a Supply Chain consultant for quite some time), and a number of others, there seems to be quite a bit of information that seems to be slipping through. And maybe, this gap is one of the reasons that organizations are not able to make the mostof knowledge which is essentially personal in nature, and gets expressed and shared on the personal platforms, and enterprise apps have no way of accessing this.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Learning And Work ...

Something i have been thinking about for some time now ... though, for some reason (dont know what that was), i was just not able to write it down ... couldnt quite get to articulating it. Which is why the post by Jay Cross which is looking into the future was something which i quite liked. For the simple reason that he has articulated what i was thinking quite well ...

In a knowledge society, learning is the work.

I quite agree. In a scenario where the nature of business, and hence work, was more or less the same over a period of time, this was not necessarily so. Of course, thats not entirely true, but somewhat so. But, in a scenario where the nature of business, the markets, customers, and hence the work that people do at office changes quite regularly, using static trainings to enable people to find solutions to ever-changing business problems is not exactly the ideal way of doing things. What this implies is that training, for whatever form it takes, must evolve as work content changes. Now, this is a tricky proposition, because noone knows in advance what direction change will take. So, the only possibility i can see is that of developing platforms which can enable people to find the appropriate sources of information (not necessarily training courses) for a particular scenario.

And this, to my mind, can be done through the people-to-people connections which technologies like social computing are bringing to the table. Rather than looking at developing training courses, which are obsolete by the time they are launched (given the lead time of development for some of these, this is not an exaggeration), a training function needs to look at creating a platform which is capable of finding bits and pieces of knowledge across the organization (usually to be found in a highly distriuted scenario), and collating these into some form of a dynamic training course (for want of a better term).

Its like saying ... someone is facing a particular problem ... lets say, client management. Now, there are standard training courses which are available for this. What i am saying, however, is that if the client is a utility company, then maybe a short nugget made up of a write-up about the utilities industry, the specific problem they are trying to solve, and similar experiences from others can be grouped together to make a small capsule. Its not as though this is too far out ... if you see carefully, in the blogosphere, most of this kind of content would usually be already available. Its a question of creating a dynamic book (again, for want of a better word) from specific blog posts (lets say) which is capable to solving the specific problem. Not something which is sort of a one-size-fits-all. There is, of course, still some components lacking from this picture, and i would ask you to fill in these pieces?