Friday, July 17, 2009

Conversations, Networks, Measurement

This is a question i have been thinking about for some time. The question of ROI ... and, how this impacts the way we look at KM. The question is simply this ... how does one measure the impact of KM initiatives on the financial health of the organization. This question can be answered depending on how you understand the question. Simply put, anything that has a financial impact, has an impact either on the revenues, or on the cost, whether directly or indirectly. Suresh Nair posted a commend over at the post where he refers to the whole discussion from the perspective of need. Do we need something? If yes, and it would have an impact on the performance of the organization, go for it. But then, another aspect to look for is, whether it is worth it, if you go for it. And that is probably the trickier question to answer. How does the CFO decide that its worth it investing in a Social Networking tool, for example.

This question can be looked at in two parts. One, content, and other, collaboration. Lets look at content first. This is a little simpler to address. To begin with, if you have a document, you could always look at the document, and look at how much effort this document would save. So, for example, if a document reduces rework, or reduces cyclc-time by, say, 10%, thats 10% reduction in cost for that particular process. Its a different matter that this kind of determination is by itself not something which is completely accurate, but if you get the opinion of enough people, you could come up with a number which is reasonably accurate, at least in theory.

This brings us to the second point about conversations. And this is where it gets tricky. How do you measure the impact of conversations? Here, lets look at it in two parts. One, when taking a decision to invest in a tool to enable conversation, how does the organization even know how, and in what form conversations are actually going to happen? There is probably no way to determine this, given one of the key factors is the adoption rate, and even once you move past that, the nature of the conversation, according to the basic paradigm, is something you cannot regulate. The other aspect, if you already have such a platform, is how to actually determine what value conversations are adding. This is where it seems the paradigm of ROI faces some resistance.

There was a recent post by John Husband about assessing productivity, where he describes some of the aspects of networks, and hence, conversations, which make measuring them tricky. To quote:

• They multiply rapidly because the value of a network increases exponentially with each additional connection.

• They become faster and faster because the denser the interconnections, the faster the cycle time.
• They subvert (unnecessary) hierarchy because previously scarce resources such as information are available to all.
• Network interactions yield volatile results because echo effects amplify signals.
• Networks connect with other networks to form complex adaptive systems whose outcomes are inherently unpredictable.

The interesting to see from these is that networks can open up ways of working which are new, which we havent yet seen in organizations. For example, the idea of bypassing hierarchies. This is something which is enabled by the network. Does this lead to quicker decision making? Probably, it does. What is the financial impact of quicker decision making? We dont know. Can this be measured in the context of specific decisions? I think so. An organization i was interacting with a few years ago, had a servicing scenario, where the service engineer, if facing a problem which he could not solve, would travel back to the office, consult his manager, who would tell him the solution to the problem, and then he would go back to the customer site, check if the spares required for solving the problem are there or not, and if not there, would come back to the office, order the spares, and when they are available, repair the product. With handheld devices, the engineer could interact directly with their counterparts across the country, and quickly get a solution, either through a Knowledgde Base, or through interactions with service engineers, and reduce the time taken to repair. At the same time, if the spares werent available, the engineer could broadcast a request for spares to other engineers who could provide them if they had stock which they didnt require. There is value in these conversations.

But, these are specific examples, and on the whole, it is not so simple to determine this kind of value from conversations, or from networks. But can at least define scenarios in which conversations can create value, in a specific context? As i have written before, measurements or possible improvements make sense more in a specific context, rather than being broad-based. And, if you can take this to the context of the business process, you can at least begin to understand the applicability. And, within this context, it is rather easy to identify how conversations could create value. Not that this exercise is feasible, especially if you try to do this across the organization, but it at least illustrates the value of conversations in the context of the organization.

Another thing that John mentions:

Continuous flows of information are the raw material of an organization’s value creation and overall performance.

This is the idea on which the concept of ERP was based, too. Of making the relevant information available to the relevant people, so they could take effective decisions, and processes could be streamlined. Only thing, ERPs focus on transaction processing, where data is made available across organization silos or departments, while we are talking about ideas and experiences being made available in a similar manner. It is a little easier to quantify the impact of data sharing (production planning cycle time reduced by 20%).

To take an example, i am having a conversation with Nirmala about something which we realized we were both thinking about. The whole interaction was sparked by a comment on twitter (and also on facebook), and brought out a conversation which could lead to ideas coming out of it. These ideas could have some form of value. Even so, it would be impossible to quantify this to begin with. And even then, if it is a new idea, then its easier to quantify the value, while if its just sharing of ideas, making people more effective in their work, then it is tricky to measure this, too. Add to this, that if nothing comes out of this idea, i would have at least learnt something, which again is very difficult to quantify.

Any thoughts, please feel free to comment.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Innovation ... Asia Or America ...

Interesting article over at McKinsey ... about whether Asis, or America will lead innovation in the 21st century. There has been a lot written about the 21st century being the Asian century, and so on ... but, taking this debate in perspective, there are some interesting ideas that come out of it.

To begin with, innovation has always happened, even when management thinkers werent looking for it. I feel the way Asia and America look at innovation is quite different. And, there are a number of reasons for this.

The most important aspect of innovation in Asia, however, is that the contours of Asia, in terms of society, economics, politics and trade, are very different from that of America. While much has been written about the market mechanisms of America, at the micro level, Asia has thriving markets. Its just that the idea of the market is quite different in Asia and in America. This is something i have blogged about before ... and this idea makes a bit of a difference. First of all, things in Asia are not as organized, or as large-scale as in America. Neither are markets, nor is entrepreneurship. Rather, Asia has found these things largely at the micro level.

Another aspect we need to understand, which, as Iqbal points out is that in Asia, resources are scarce. Actually, not really scarce, but given the population, they seem to be scarce. And, scarce resources lead to a scenario where innovation can be the means for survival, not necessarily improvement. Let us look at some examples ...

The first example that comes to mind ... Grameen Bank ... an innovation that by itself has redefined banking for a large number of people. Microfinance as a concept has taken root in Asia ... India, too, is doing remarkably in this respect. Other examples come to mind, too ... the Simputer, for example.

As you can see, none of these are the big-ticket innovations. Rather, these are smaller in nature, but have immense impact. The important thing to udnerstand is, that in Asia, the potential for a small, simple innovation to touch lives is massive, given that it is so much easier for simple innovations to reach out to people, and to reach out to a large number of people, which makes the reach, and the impact these innovations can have huge.

So, what am i trying to say? Simple ... That the way innovation is seen in Asia (or, at least in India), is very different from the way it is seen in America, and the impact of these two perspectives on innovation, and the innovation process is large, which means that the path to innovation for these two different parts of the world could be different from each other.

Function Or Tool ...

I had posted a poll at blog ... asking what you think most describes KM. Or, at least, the way we see KM today. The question comes from a thought about whether KM is becoming a hygiene criterion? I dont think so, but wanted to get opinion. Why i dont think this is because of two reasons. One, there is plenty to do in organizations to take KM to a level where it can deliver on its potential, and two, the changes that KM is seeing, with the evolution of technology, and the evolution of organizational concepts arount it, means that KM as a discipline itself is evolving into something which is creating even greater potential for creating value for organizations. For example, the power of conversations is something which is now being understood outside the organizational context, and this is something which managers are beginning to realize, too, as being applicable to within the organizational context, too.

The question i had asked was what you feel KM is ... whether a tool, or a function, or something else. There were 14 votes (ok, not too many), out of which 12 people thought that KM is a function. What this implies is that we feel that KM is not just a set of tools which can be used to solve specific business problems, but rather, a discipline or function by itself, which forms a part of the strategic framework of the organization.

To begin with, KM as an idea doesnt lend itself well to point intervention ... something i have written about ... rather, KM requires a continuum of activities, which can build up the environment for value-add. This is essentially because KM is basically about people, and so, cant be just used as a tool which is used to solve a particular problem, and kept back to the toolkit. Another is that KM, the idea of harnessing knowledge for solving problems, developing products, creating and sustaining excellence, or for a large number of other things, has to align with the strategic imperatives of the organization. What this implies is that there must be more understanding of how KM needs to align with business objectives, and to this extent, there must be greater connections between KM and the business functions.

This is a question i had blogged about earlier ... and the response i am getting is quite different from what i was asking then. There is also the point to see that KM by itself is not an end in itself, and so, rather than being an output in itself, it is the facilitator for creating certain outputs. And what follows is that since KM is the facilitator, there must be some level of blending which KM has with other functions in the organization, which it is enabling. This overlap is actually a good thing, because this ensures that KM is indeed blended with the business functions, ensuring that the objectives of KM and the organizations are aligned.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Keeping Knowledge-Sharing Simple

This is a topic which keeps coming up from time to time ... i have blogged about this, and recently, there was an interesting post by Andrew Gent about this. There idea is simple ... its about keeping the entire gamut of knowledge-sharing activities simple. My friend, Sujit Sahu, has an interesting phrase for this ... Sarudemo Wakaru ... which, i am told, means make it so simple that even monkeys should understand it. Now, this is not to build any comparisons whatsoever, so if you are thinking something, that is purely a product of your mind. But this does make a point.

The idea, again, is to make knowledge-sharing a part of day-to-day work for people, rather than having it as a separate set of activities that they need to do. Because, it these are to be separate activities, then people tend to treat them as line items on a check-list, and while it may get done, you are probably not getting the most out of it.

One way of doing this is to make knowledge-sharing a part of the business processes of an organization. Now, this entails a number of things. To begin with, it requires some platform which enables this. Given that in most organizations, business processes are carried out on some technology platform, the idea here could be to blend the KM platform into this platform itself. While this may be feasible from the technology perspective, this doesnt seem to be so simple to do. Another thing, which is probably more important, is to actually get people to do it. And that, to my understanding, is going to be the challenge that it is today.

Coming to the other aspect of the complexity of knowledge-sharing, the idea of taxonomy comes in. Taxonomy, as we know, is meant to classify information, so that it is easy to find. The question that probably needs to be answered here is how much taxonomy is too much? And to what extent can we rely on search as an alternative to taxonomy? Something i have blogged about. However, this becomes simpler, for example, if we look at the paradigm of blogs, for instance. Here, tags suffice to describe the content of the conversation. Or, if we look at social networking, the network itself could be the source for information, as i have blogged about. So, there is taxonomy, search, and networks (or shall we say conversations) which could be combined to build a mechanism which is simpler, in a way that it enables people to discover knowledge more easily.

Stream Computing ...

Even before the cloud had settled on the computing scenario, the stream is flowing. One wonders ... is this being back to nature? While earlier there was grid computing, now its cloud, followed by streams ...

I came across this interesting post by Swathi Dharshana Naidu about Stream Computing ... You could actually get details here, and if you are technologically challenged, you could read this. One thing i liked about Swathi's blog is that she explains this quite simply.

What i could gather from this is that stream computing picks up large streams of data, and is able to analyze and correlate this. The question that this brings up is ... can this concept be used for making sense of the blogosphere? Given, that the blogosphere usually contains voices which usually dont agree with each other, and that there is a lot of content which is getting generated out there, could this technology not be used for analyzig, for example, the ideas that are coming out of twitter, or from your facebook feeds? I know, overkill, but if you take twitter, and combine it with an organization the size of, say IBM, or GE, certainly there could be large chunks of data that would be generated. And, something to make sense of this ...

The idea that i am basically talking about here is that as more and more opinions are coming online, in the form of blogs, tweets, social networks, there must be a way for making sense of these. You will see that the sense sort of emerges on its own in few scenarios, but in others, this is not necessarily so. And, if you look at this in the organizational context, with organizations more and more understanding that value is to be generated from conversations, the sense emerging from these conversations becomes something which is important. Something i have written about before ... Probably where something like sentiment analysis could play a part? Though, from what i can understand, sentiment analysis is about whether you like something or not. At least thats what i got on wikipedia ... or, if you look at this overview from a site from IBM, though looking through some more search results i got for this from google, you may find this to be interesting reading. This is not to say that search would replace human thinking (at least not as of now), but this could give a better sense of the thoughts which are coming out from different parts of the organization.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Its Cyclical ...

One thing to be said about people in India ... everyone has a theory about everything. Now, this is not to say that this is a localized phenomenon, pnly thing is, this is the only country which i could try to write about. So here goes ... My neighbour probably has an opinion about Salman Khan's neighbour's dog's dietician's hairstyle! Phew!

No, thats not what i am writing about. But, the point is, i have an opinion about something ... a theory, if you may. And thats what i am going to write about. And, the theory is simply this:

Civilizations face cycles of something or the other.

OK, so i havent quite refined this theory, but it is a theory nevertheless. The way i see it, time is cyclical, not a straight time ... if it exists at all. No, lets not get too theoretical here, but without doing so, i cant seem to be able to make a point ... i am writing about a theory after all, remember? And the theory is simply this ... That everything seems to be going round in cycles.

For example, take human civilization. The earliest points of history where we know of human beings as social creatures record the idea of a community ... a tribe, maybe, for want of a better word? Anthropologists may be able to identify some of them in the tribes of today. And what did man do after that? Somehow got into his head the idea that big is beautiful. No, no ... no snickering, please! As a mechanism of protection from rivals, and for hunting/gathering, probably the tribe structure and size was the most suited one. But then, agriculture came, and man settled down, and the village came up as a social unit. This social unit, to cut a long story short, over a period of time, metamorphosed into the kingdom, which later metamorphosed into the nation-state, which now has gone and converted into trading blocks. Along with this, there was also the evolution of human beings from sical creatures into asocial elements. Where the individual began to gain more importance than the collective. I am not saying whats right or wrong (i have no reason to do anything of the kind), the point is, things have changed over a period of time.

Having said that, today, as we must have seen, given the wave of technology, man is moving again towards the mode of community. We are, today, more and more, parts of networks, parts of groups or a circle of some form of connected people ... connected by shared tastes or interests, but whatever be the connection parameter, more and more, people are becoming part of a community, and more and more, we are seeing this community creating value, and driving change in a world which is today seeing this transition with some sort of helplessness. There are people who are convinced that the new things which are coming wont help in any way (though probably they wont say it in so many words), but who understand that there isnt much which can be done about it. Today, new products are created by communities, problems are solved by communities, new markets explored, existing markets expanded by communities ... communities are even driving public opinion ... the world saw that at Iran! To summarize, today, more and more, it is communities ... communities which bring together people, invidivuals who share something (akin to the tribe?), which are coming more and more into their own.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Delhi ... Or Dilli?

Delhi is a city of varied colours. And this can be said not just in the metaphorical sense, but rather in the physical sense, too. Delhi, as a city, is a little different from Mumbai. While Mumbai is the melting-pot, Delhi is much the salad-bowl. The ingredients of this salad-bowl do acquire much of the taste of the dressing, the aromas that the city sprinkles on her people. But that said, you can see how they manage to keep their individuality, while at the same time, being the Dilliwala. So you would see Delhi as being a salad with the Tomatoes, Radish, Parsley, Coriander, smelling refreshingly of themselves, while letting you know clearly that they are all beautiful parts of the same salad.

In this manner, Delhi is the ideal city to be the capital of a country like India. Where all communities are at once Indian, while at the same time Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, or any other community, whether based on region, religion, or any other basis. Ok, so you must have heard these thoughts, or something similar, being spoken so many times, you are wondering why i am even writing this.

If you are still with me, let me just write on. For all the romance which Calcuttans generate (at times much more than what one would think required, this having said that Calcutta is one of the most charming cities in the world), or the hoopla people from Mumbai tend to create, the romance of Delhi is something which isn't written about as much as one would, if one just looks around the city.

Now, the romance of Delhi itself is multifarious. The romance of Delhi is Divine, and it is material. It is of this world, and of the Beyond. But it is definitely not commonplace. To begin with, Delhi shows immense capacity of displaying so many facets of it's romance ... With the Lord, and with the world. And Delhi loves with all her heart. As the song from Delhi 6 goes ...

Ye Dilli hai mere yaar,

bas ishq mohabbat, pyaar ...

Ishq, mohabbat, pyaar, and much more is Dilli. And she shows it amply. There are many things you would see in Dilli. After all, Dilli, as we know it today, is not one city, one seven cities, from the time of Indraprastha, to the time Of Lutyens, and on to Punjabi times ... Dilli has all the fragrances. Whether they are the Langars celebrating the Equality of all humanity to the Divine Father, or whether they are the Chhabeels ... Delightful and refreshing rose-milk ... Quenching parched throats in the name of God.
Whether you are Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish ... Delhi embraces all. Whether you are seeking God through the Akhand Paath ... Wending your ways to Gurudwara Bangla Sahib, or the Gurudwara Sis Ganj ... Or you may be the devout Hindu ... Whether Faith draws you to Hanuman Mandir, or to the Kaali Baadi, or the LakshmiNarayan Mandir, or the Malai Mandir ... Or if Faith draws you to the Jama Masjid, or the Fatehpuri Masjid, Idgah ... Or if Faith draws you, in the spirit of Dilli ... To the by-lanes of Nimazuddin ... Where you may take your fariyaad to the great Saint ... And none shall ever leave empty-handed the doors of Hazrat Nimauddin Auliya! And Delhi bows in reverence to all the manifestations of God. And continues the Divine romance ... Whether serenading the Divine Beloved through Bhajans, Jagratte, Shabads, or the Qawwalis ... Dilli has a flair for singing her love. Bas ishq, mohabbat pyaar ...

With love more material ... Dilli derives her name from the heart of the matter ... The Heart ... Dil!

Kaun jaaye aey Zauq, Dilli ki galiyaan chhod ke!

Or so asked Shaikh Mohammad Ibrahim Zauq, the legendary poet, who graced both the Urdu language, and Dilli.

Dilli dilwaalon ki hai!

Or so said Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib!

Such is the magic of Dilli ... Whether it be cricket in the streets, or Pakode with Saunth, or Chhole Bhature ... Chaat, Tikki, Kulche Matar ... Tandoori Chicken, Kadi Chaawal, or Rajma Chawal ... Or Fish Fry, or Fish Cutlets ... Or if you prefer Dosas ... Or Paya, Nihari, or Nargisi Kofte, Shammi Kababs, Galouti Kababs, or Seekhs ... With soft Rotis ... Or whether it's Lassi in tall brass glasses ... Or Desi Ghee ki Mithai ... The flavours of Dilli ... Mughlai, or Punjabi, Bengali, or Tamil, or the quintessential Dilli ... These are all flavours Dilli calls her own. And many more, of course.

Whether it be the Laal Qila, Chandni Chowk, Hauz Qazi, or it be Ajmeri, Kashmiri, Turkman gates ... Or the Jantar Mantar, the Delhi of Lutyens, or the Purana Qila, Humayun ka Maqbara, or Safdarjung ka Maqbara, Jamali Kamali, or the Qutub Minar, or Mehrauli, phholwaalon ki sair, or Tilak Nagar, or Punjabi Bagh ... All of these tell the story of a city which says ...

Bas ishq mohabbat pyaar ...

If i were to sum this up, it's simple to say that Delhi is a city which straddles multiple worlds. You can hear, probably only in Delhi, the strains of Bhajans wafting from one direction, and the melody of the Qawwali from another, Bollywood from a third ... And Delhi is the city which straddles the world of Qawwali and that of the Commonwealth Games. With a number of new-age symbols defining the city ... One of them ... The Delhi Metro. And the city lives, and loves on ... In the past, the present, and the future ... And continues to live, and dream, in myriad worlds ... Many seemingly different from others, and yet, in Dilli, as in Delhi ... These worlds yet continue to live on.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Principles Of Economics

Have you ever been to a restaurant? And not been able to figure out how it is that no matter when you go, you always have to wait? Or, been travelling and tried to find out why your suitcase is almost always among the last to emerge? Well, this is a little one about collective thinking ... And, in my incomparable style, i will try to link it to some principles.

At the office, we have the canteen. This is the place where we all go for Lunch. Now, lunch-time is usually from 1:00 pm, but then, you could go there before or after. Depends how hungry you are (which is why you would usually find me there at 12:30 pm).There used to be a time when the canteen would be empty at 12:30 pm, and you would get a nice place to sit and eat. This is actually how i started going for lunch at 12:30 pm. The peak crowd would be at around 1:30 pm, which is when most people would go to eat. However, over a period of time, for some reason, more and more people would come to eat at 12:30 pm, so that you wouldnt find a place to sit. This went on for some time, till recently, again, the crowd at 12:30 pm has dwindled, and more and more people go to eat at 1:30 pm.

The way i see it ... some folks got the bright idea, that you could beat the rush if you went an hour before the majority of the crowd went to eat. Thing is, a lot of people got the same idea, which is why a large part of the crowd switched from 1:30 pm to 12:30 pm. However, as more and more people got this idea, the canteen got overcrowded. Till, over a period of time, some folks got the brilliant idea that one could beat the rush by going there an hour later. And, soon, many of the folks got the same idea, and ...

Now, by now you are wondering what this has to do with economics. Just this ... this is probably the same logic by which prices in markets are regulated ... if prices are too low, so many people would buy, that prices would be pushed up, and pushed to a point where they would overshoot the equilibrium, till a point when a number of people realize that prices are too high, when they would stop buying, bringing prices down, to a point that they become too low.

Is this reasoning logical? All comments welcome!

Formal And Informal ...

My friend, Subash Thyagarajan recently shared an interesting diagram over at the K-Community site. I am posting this here, thanks to him ...

This picture gives quite an interesting representation of the various initiatives which together make up for KM. I agree that i dont quite understand some of the terms he has mentioned here, but even so ... This shows that knowledge sharing has to be a convergence of informal and formal means. For over a decade, we have been looking at the right part of the picture, which is about the sharing of content in terms of documents, or means of learning like formal training. The left part, on the other hand, refers to the informal means of learning which are emerging as the next set of tools available to the organization for knowledge sharing.
The important point, though, is that these are to converge into a single set of tools, driving the entire idea of knowledge sharing. Which means that conversations, for example, which, within the organizational context, revolve around topics, could bring into their fold documents, learning content, and other formal means of learning, and documents could be managed in a way that lends them to be leveraged more easily to conversations. This is something we are seeing. So today, there could be tag-clouds for documents, just as they are for blogs, and people could reference documents they have written, or read on their profiles.
This is a picture which i have in mind when it comes to social networking, within the organizational context. That all people in the organization have their own profile, and they should be able to connect with others based on topics, as well as based on documents, and formal means. So, for example, if you are interested in a particular topic, you might like to see who are the people who have attended the training on that topic which happened some time ago. Or, who are people who are writing documents, or reading documents on that topic from the corporate content repository.
While these are just examples (and i would look forward to more such examples from you to add to this picture), these do make a point, that the KM strategy of the organization must be inclusive to these varied forms of knowledge-sharing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Importance Of Context

One about the importance of context. Lot has been written about how context is important to knowledge, and that without the appropriate context, knowledge lacks some crucial element.

Talking recently with a gentleman who is well versed with the Fahrenheit scale ... the topic came to the weather. When the gentleman mentioned that it must be 80 degrees, i had no idea what that meant. I was experiencing the same weather as he, but without the context, i had no idea what 80 degrees meant. Of course, 80F is approximately 28C, but thats something which i had to look up.

And this is the point i am trying to illustrate. That the information being there, probably it is the context which is important to actually bringing some meaning into it. If someone were to tell you, for example, that the temperature at some place where you are going is 80F, you wouldnt know whether to pack woollens, or swimwear, unless you have the context of the conversion of F to C (provided C is the context that you have available to you to refer to).

From this, could it be said that

Information + Context = Knowledge

Any thoughts? Please feel free to comment.