Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Social Computing In Engineering

There is an interesting post by Leslie Gordon about social computing in engineering ... for one, you dont read too much about the web 2.0 phenomenon in the engineering or industrial sectors, and for another, the discussion here is quite interesting.

One thing that folks working in the information technology space can read and feel a little better about is that just like int he technology sector, in the engineering sector, too, social computing is seen as a waste of time. In other words, anyone who is blogging, or networking with others is not working. Now now ... where have we heard that before? Having said that, this is probably expected, given that technology professionals are supposed to be on top of information technology (which includes web 2.0 tools), engineering professionals are not supposed to be. Which would make this kind of reluctance expected in the engineering space, but not really in the technology space. Having said that, this is more about the value perceived from social computing rather than aout attitudes, though attitudes towards technology also play a role here.

What is also interesting is how CAD software providers are integrating with social computing platforms. The example here is of SharePoint, and how CAD software can be integrated with SharePoint. This is interesting ... given that SharePoint could serve as the repository of documents generated using the CAD software, and at the same time, blend social computing functionality into CAD tools themselves.

Another aspect which might be worth looking at, is the possibilities of virtual worlds when it comes to engineering. There can be plenty of work where virtual worlds could contribute to the development of engineering and design platforms in a way such that visualization, re-visualization, and the entire process of developing prototypes can be simplified and made much more intuitive and fun. Did i hear anyone mention flight simulators?

Monday, May 18, 2009

PKM And Networks

I came across this interesting post by John Tropea, about Sensemaking, PKM, and Networks. He has written a rather interesting one about the value of networks. What is nice about this post is the way he distinguishes between the "best practices" (what i like to call codification), and the "network" (collaboration) approaches to KM. One thing which we usually tend to overlook is the fact that documents, or codified knowledge arises from the human mind. Rather, that all knowledge is directly or indirectly tacit, and documents are the result of externalization of tacit knowledge, into some form.

If we take this line of reasoning forward, it would be easy to arrive at the thinking that the idea of the network has not really been alien to the idea of KM, only that the importance of the network was overlooked for some time. Rather, if we look at history, before even the invention of printing, the traditions of storytelling (which, by the way, were, and still are, quite strong in human society), and the tradition of orally transmitting knowledge from one generation to another has always been a part of human civilization. This implies blending the codification and collaboration approaches. Only the last few years, with the over-emphasis of codification of just about everything, that we have actually deviated from this. Which means that the emphasis on networks is a welcome thing.

I quite agree with John when he says:

Now I know that many people develop PKM habits out of frustration. The information they need is not readily available through the company, or through the community, so they build their own stores. But as soon as the content of those personal knowledge stores starts to drift away from community knowledge, then all you are doing is introducing information and knowledge silos at the level of the individual.

However, i am not sure i agree with the observation:

So for me, PKM is a sign of failure of corporate KM. If you get corporate KM correct, you don’t need personal knowledge management, as all knowledge management will be collective, giving the individual access to far far more than their personal store.

The way i look at it, all knowledge is essentially peraonal (remember, all knowledge is directly or indirectly tacit?). If this be the way it is, then the question that we need to ask is what role does the network play, and what role the corporate KM initiative can play. To look at this simply, the idea of the corporate KM initiative is essentially to get the personal KM out of the personal space of the individual, into the community, or the corporate space, so that this knowledge is available, as easily as can be, to the network, the community, and the organization. The thing we need to appreciate is that by their very nature, networks are quite good at doing this, and this could be one reason why networks might need to be one of the central aspects of the KM initiatives.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Knowledge Maturity ...

Very interesting post by Nick Milton from Knoco ... this one is about how knowledge within the eco-system (here i would refer to this as the eco-system within the organizational context) evolves from one level of maturity to another, and the factors which influence this knowledge maturity. There are two reasons i find this interesting ... One, this is quite an interesting description of how knowledge matures within a system, and also, the correlation between the maturing of knowledge, and the maturing of the system as a whole. Though i believe that most systesm are knowledge-based (even hunting is based on the knowledge about the forest, the habits of the animals, and a number of other factors i dont have any expertise about), which would point us to the natural corollary that the maturity of knowledge is intricately linked to the maturity of the system (or organization, if thats the context you are referring to).

Which is an interesting aspect of organizations (something which not a lot of people talk about ... the assumption is that manufacturing industry is purely to do with operating some machines, creating some output products, and so on ... purely mundane activities, having nothing to do with knowledge). So, in a nutshell, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the evokution of the organization is based on knowledge, which can be harnessed using some of the concepts of KM, and this evolution hastened greatly by applying some of the underlying principles of knowledge sharing, or rather, of getting the right form of knowledge from the right source to the right destination, at the right time, to solve the appropriate problems. Take this one step further, to innovation ... but thats another story.

Coming back to the post, the thing which catches the eye is the schematic which Nick has used for defining the path of the evolution of knowledge ... The the creation of knowledge begins from innovation (the discovery of fire? ... or maybe, the invention of the wheel?), to the stage where this knowledge is common, and is available as part of the day-to-day functioning of the system. In other words, from niche availability to general availability. From the point where something new is discovered (or invented?), to the point that it gets codified in the form of documents, knowledge is traversing a journey which is moving from the niche to the generally available.

However, this is where the most important part of the map comes ... that knowledge which is assumed to be embedded in the infrastructure, while being a part of the system itself, is not a product of the system, but rather, the product of the knowledge created by people. And this is something which i try to make clear ... that all knowledge is directly or indirectly tacit. In other words, there is no knowledge which is created by the system ... Rather, knowledge is created by the people who form the system, and the system can turn specific knowledge into generic knowledge, and ensure that it is available, and followed, by embedding it in the processes which make up the system.

And this is where i would like to add something ... Rather than looking at this entire process as being linear, i would like to look at this process as being circular. Lets look at it this way ... in the story Nick tells, the knowledge originates from individuals (Lewis and Clarke), is propagated through the system through a number of methods, and is used by individuals (the ultimate knowledge solution, according to Nick). Which brings me to a very important point ...

Knowledge is essentially created by individuals, and knowledge is essentially utilized by individuals. Organizations simply play the role of facilitators, building the systems and processes to get this knowledge from the individual who creates the knowledge (or has it, through some way), to the individual who needs the knowledge.

This raises the question, of course, of the role the organization, or other systems play in knowledge propagation. More about that later ... for the moment, lets just try to assimilate this, and the implications of this. One major implication, of course, is the fact that knowledge is directly or indirectly tacit in terms of its origin, and it definitely tacit in terms of its utility.

The Way To Enterprise 2.0 ...

I came across a very interesting blog by Gil Yehuda ... and how i came across this is quite interesting by itself. Speaks about the way discovery works ... Started with a log by Greg Lloyd which you can read here. Greg talks about the blog by Gil Yehuda which you can read here.

This is a rather interesting piece Gil has written. He has summarized some of the basic ideas, and the trends about E2.0 quite well. One aspect which i wanted to write about was the idea he puts forward:

Other indicators of maturity in the Enterprise 2.0 market is the focus on the workplace dynamics, not the tools themselves.

I have been reading a lot of posts about the technology aspects of E2.0. However, and this is the important part, that the whole idea of E2.0 is about the form of the organization, rather than anything else. E2.0 cannot be the end goal of an organization. The goal of an organization has been superbly defined by Eliyahu Goldratt in his book, The Goal. And i wouldnt say that the goal of an organization has changed from since The Goal as written. Or since any period of time. So, to assume that E2.0 is the end in itself is like saying that cooking food is theend in itself, instead of feeding someone. Once we conclude that E2.0 is about a new form for organizations, which is enabled by technology, we can then begin to see the real picture about the concept.

Another aspect which Gil elucidates quite well is the levels of conversation that go on in the organziation. And this is another aspect which i have been thinking about. The initial adoption for web 2.0 tools is coming from individuals who are using these tools outside the organization, whether it be to get in touch with friends, to stay in touch with topics of interest to them, or to stay on top of new information regarding their work, or topics of interest to them. And this is where the push for web 2.0 within the organization is coming from. People are seeing the impact this technology can make within the organization, and these people, as employees, are pushing for greater adoption of these tools.

At this point, it might be important to say that this is not just about productivity. This is also about the participatory nature of these tools, which is precisely what enables these tools to bring about change, through harnessing the possibilities arising from this level of participation. Which is what makes me believe that the success of any web 2.0 adoption program is as good as its adoption. And this logic can be extended to formal KM initiatives, too.

The interactions i have with different organizations makes me think, though, that rather than the "phase 1 enterprise 2.0" that Gil talks about, the push for change is coming from the lower levels that he is talking about. To begin with, i find more and more, project teams showing more eagerness to adopting web 2.0 tools. This may be to do with the fact that when it comes to collaboration across project teams, or across organizational silos, the existing barriers to these communications are strong enough to resist those. Which means that the change is happening at levels smaller than what a lot might expect, but it is happening, nevertheless.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Twitter ...

I have an on-and-off kind of interaction with twitter. There are days when i am online most of the day, and there are days, when i just dont login. I wonder why. But, this gets me wondering ... What is twitter all about? I mean, i understand twitter from the perspective we are familiar with, but given my interactions with twitter, i am wondering ... what are the implications of a twitter within the organization. And this is something i havent been able to figure out.

There is lots written about the value of a twitter-like tool within the firewall, but i am thinking ... lets look at it simply. Twitter is a platform which lets you write short messages about whatever it is that you want to write, and your friends to follow those messages, and comment on them, if they like. The 140 character limit is quite nice ... stops people like me from ranting on and on. But, having said that, there is the other aspect of this ... the volume. There are so many activities people do. Which is why, oftentimes i find some kind of overload from twitter ... theres just too many tweets to go through. Which is actually nice the way i am using twitter today, but if you were to replace your connections on twitter with your colleagues at work, would you be so keen? Maybe ... or then, maybe not.

There is also the idea that by following what your colleagues are doing, you yourself can learn a bit. Colleague reading a blog? If they tweet about it, you could get to know about an interesting blog, which you might find helpful at work. But then, looking at it from a different perspective, how about social networking? Wouldnt a social networking platform do just about something similar? With the additional functionality for building your social networks, and interacting with people as they go about their day-to-day work? In other words, what about social networking (aka facebook) as an aggregator for the activities that people are doing? There is definitely an overlap here, though i tend to believe that maybe a facebook is something which i find easier to interact with, because it brings in a more social aspect to the interactions. And if one could link up a corporate facebook with some of the other systems, it could actually be an interesting concept.

I have posted a poll to find out what you think ... care to post your comments? Look forward to hearing.

Friday, May 8, 2009

About Wikis ...

If you are looking at wikis as a tool for collaboration within an organization, there are a number of factors you need to consider which are quite distinct from the implementation of wikis in the public space. One of the major aspects that i consider is the context in which wikis can play a major role. A rather interesting post by Matthew Clarke about the question of control vis a vis community in the context of wikis can be found here.

While Matthew talks about three kinds of wikis, namely Public, Team, and Enterprise, i think that within the organization, public wikis probably dont mean too much. This is not to say that organizations cant have public wikis, just that i would think these would be few and far between. Which means that you are responsible for whatever you are writing over at the wiki.

Coming now to the team and enterprise wikis, i feel that the team wiki is a concept which could have the maximum impact within the organization. One reason for this could be that the way organizations work, they are organized into teams for achieving a particular objective. And a number of people, part of the same team, can relate to each other, and to the shared context of the team much more than in a non-team, or, if i may say, enterprise context. This is not to say, though, that the enterprise context is something which doesnt show value. Where there are topics which run across the organization, and these topics can draw people from a number of different parts of the organization, the contribution of enterprise wikis towards knowledge-sharing is, i think, quite large. In fact, an enterprise wiki could be used to build up a repository of knowledge originating from diverse parts of the organization, and utilized too, in a diverse way.

There are two aspects of wiki usage, which i would like to point out here, which i feel could be the appropriate way of introducing wikis to the organization.

1. Policies. A few organizations use wikis as a place where the policies of the organization are written down, and are periodically updated by people who are responsible for maintaining these policies. This, of course, assumes that not everyone is able to write to these wikis, but is a nice way of getting people from diverse backgrounds together, to create content which can be useful for a particular audience. For example, if you have a Sales wiki, this could be used to write the sales policies, which could originate from the sales team, from the manufacturing, design, and customer service teams. Here, the utility is the ease of use, and the collaborative capability (across teams) which wikis can provide.

2. Transactions. Wikis can be also used as a tool which brings transactional information from a number of sources to a single place, for use by different teams in the organization (notice board, maybe?) in a way that this information is easily available (doesnt have to be circulated), and up-to-date (containing links to the latest reports). This, probably, gains even more improtance within the team, because this is a simple way of getting information across to entire teams, from a single source.

As such, these are aspects of the wiki which also need to be considered, in addition to the "wisdom of the crowd" concept which wikis can be based on.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Poll ...

Been a few days ... i ran a poll on the blog here. The idea behind the poll was simple. What do we think is the way forward for KM. Why ask this question? Simple ... the way the realm of business is moving today, it seems that this question is a natural corollary. But, that wasnt really the reason for the question. The question came up from the more basic concern. More and more, KM practitioners are coming round to the idea that KM is not just about documents. There are a few organizations which i have interacted with, which seem to disagree, but these are not large in numbers. This implies that the idea of KM is surely moving away from content to collaboration. Or, the way i like to put it ... from codification of knowledge, to a scenario where KM is the facilitator for the flow of knowledge. This seems to make sense, because knowledge is primarily created by its flow. There was a poster i had seen ... It went ... If i have one idea, and you have one idea, and if we share those ideas, together, we now have four ideas. Makes sense ... at least in the context of shared knowledge. We agree that knowledge grows exponentially when it is shared. So, this is not a question anymore. Or, so i think.

The question then comes up is, what next. And this is where i could come up with three scenarios ...

1. The next big thing in KM could be the drive of KM towards Web 2.0, more participative, more interactive tools. I am not trying to be restrictive here, and used the term Web 2.0 to avoid death-by-jargon. You could include here virtual worlds, semantic web, or anything similar that you like. The idea is that the nature of tools going forward is participative.

2. Or, the next big thing in KM could be the dovetailing of KM as a function, or a discipline with other disciplines in the organization, so the two can function together to deliver greater value to the organization. One example that came to mind was that of innovation. What some organizations refer to as Non-Linear growth. Agreed, plenty has been written and discussed about the idea of innovation. But, the idea here is not to do that in the first place. Rather, the question is, would KM dovetail to a function like Innovation, or Ideation, to become part of the new-idea/innovation value chain? After all, innovation is knowledge-driven at its basic level.

3. Or, the next big thing in KM could be KM becoming an operational excellence tool, one of the tools available to oeprational managers to drive excellence in sales and delivery processes.

The results were quite expected. Web 2.0 got 45% of the votes, while Innovation got 36% of the votes, and Operational Excellence got 18% of the votes. What this means is that KM is far from being a hygiene factor, and we are yet to see the evolution of KM into something different. That going forward, KM would tend to drive the idea of conversations in the organizations to the next level, and at the same time, could move towards being a tool which can be leveraged for driving the next level of change for organizations. Actually, this reminds me of a post by Luis Suarez (cant seem to locate it!) where he mentioned the idea of a CKO being re-christened the Chief Conversation Officer. this also brings home the point that there is expectation that the contribution of KM as a driver of next-generation change is high, and that KM can be expected to play a meaningful role here.

This, actually, stands to reason. With the tools of social computing being more and more felt within organizations, there are changes (howsoever slight) in the way organizations are accepting the fact that knowledge, and expertise, are in fact disaggregated in nature, and that to deliver value, organizations need to not just recognize this, but also tap into this, by tapping into the distributed knowledge base, and also the networks that naturally develop withn an organization around this distributed knowledge base. True, this change is far slower than what a lot of us expect, but that is not surprising either, given the shift in dynamics that this seems to signify. Having said that, however, this is something which seems to have begun. And this, probably, is the large part of the change which organizations are looking at.