Friday, January 14, 2011

Return on Networking

An interesting incident happened couple of months back. Before I describe that, let me tell you about our social networking site we use in our organization namely Yammer. Yammer has a free version and can be adopted by any organization which wants to have an internal social networking site for its employees. Once a site for an organization is created, employees of an organization can join in using their official email id. What Yammer allows us to do is provide an environment to post what we want to share / ask with our fellow employees and in no time you get different perspectives / answers to your queries etc. Of course what you post is there for everyone to see, search and respond to. Users can also create a room or a group for a discussing specific interest area, etc. I hope by know you have a brief idea on how Yammer works. We have more than 18,000 people on Yammer currently and it has turned out to be the go to place for our employees if you do not know who can help you with some information on a specific subject.

Let me now describe the incident. A colleague of mine who was also a member of Yammer but who was relatively new to the organization and also who wasn't actively involved in social interactions using this tool approached me and asked to help him by asking a specific question on his behalf. I was initially a bit surprised to hear the request because I knew he was on Yammer and he could ask the question himself. When I asked him why he wanted me to ask the question instead of he doing it himself. His reply was that I might get more responses to the question than he would if he posted the query. That made me think. Yes I too had noticed the fact that some people get better response from a network than others would. Even when the network is exactly same (for e.g. in an organization) some people tend to get better response than others. Who are these people? And why do people respond to them and not as much to others? When I looked at the interactions happening in the yammer community, I noticed some specific charateristics of these people:

1) They are accepted Thought Leaders in the organization. So when they ask something, you can be assured they are closely tracked and people who respond to get noticed too.

2) They are senior people in the management. Many of us like to help someone senior in the organization when they are looking for something, don't we! :-) Again this is a way to make yourself more visible to the top management. Well on this point, I did notice that not all senior people get the same level of response. Social networks also have been noticed to break down hierachies in organizations.The ones who were active contributors in the network tend to get better responses.

3) They are regular contributors to queries, so helping these people will be useful as they might respond back when you post a query for something you are looking for. These are well-networked individuals who have the knack to be in present when things happen! This is a point that needs to be noted. The response one gets from a social network is very much linked to how much one contributes to it!

4) Anyone with an interesting profile! - Cases where they are not the above but have an interesting profile - content, photo, etc. But then to sustain the attention that networks pays to you, this individual needs continuously be creative!

5) Anyone who asks an interesting question which many in the network find interesting or can contribute to (broader scope). In this case even if you don't know the person, you don't might helping out as he/she is talking about a space that you are interested in knowing more or can contribute in greater extent.

I guess the writing on the wall is clearer now. If you really need to benefit from a social network in an organization, you need to contribute too! There are of course one of exceptions but for sustained benefits from the network, get involved as much as possible. We all can try to become thought leaders and become senior too, but this does take time if you aren't one already! Interesting profiles etc may help bring initial interactions but later its all of about the content and the network you bring to your followers!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Making sense of Storing Knowledge – Part 1 – Thinking Through

What is knowledge and can it be stored?
Before we talk about storing it, let’s quickly define what knowledge is? A topic if discussed can go on and on but for my benefit, I will go with what the Oxford dictionary and define it as – expertise, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. Another question that comes to our mind at this point is 'Can knowledge me stored?' It is not easy certainly but let’s assume that someone spends a good amount of time and effort and captures what he or she knows on a particular subject / topics into a document / ppt or any other available media. The person might have obtained this knowledge by a combination of reading, learning from personal experience or experience of others who interact with him, etc.
Why does someone want to store knowledge?
Well for start, although our brains are extremely powerful systems that can store and retrieve a huge amount of information, we prefer to have some support mechanisms in place to help us store our knowledge in external media for easy sharing and quick ‘guaranteed’ retrieval when required (why guaranteed? Well sometimes we forget what we know and our memory kind of plays tricks…If I may put it that way. An external medium from that extent doesn’t lose what it has captured unless someone wants it to or there is some an accident or physical damage to that medium).
Storing knowledge in these external media also helps in easy sharing. With time limitations and effort required in sharing something you know to another person or a group of people, it is easier to send them what you know in the form of a document or file that you have build up over a period of time. This also saves you from repeating what you said to multiple people who may not interact with you at the same time.
Where does one keep this stored knowledge?
Well if it is not much then you can keep it is as documents and file it for future reference (Considering the future, I suggest you not print these documents but keep it in a folder in your computer). In an organization, we may not want our employees to keep the knowledge that they have all in their computers. For the benefit of organization as a whole the knowledge in a replicable form is kept in a database – let’s call it a ‘knowledge base’ distinguishing them from the various databases that we have in the org.
So far so good - Knowledge obtained by individual --> converted into a shareable format --> store in central repository for public access --> knowledge seekers go to this database, search and find what they are looking for --> Use the knowledge from the database and submit back the new knowledge that they have / generate to the database and the cycle continues. Simple – Well not really. Organizations of course are working on making this cycle happen and it would not be understatement to say that most KMs in various organizations work towards manually running this cycle. The ideal situation is for this cycle to run on its own (A situation of knowledge continuously is being generated, captured, stored, re-used, re-vitalized and re-captured).
Who uses this stored knowledge?
Now that we have the knowledge stored in the database, let’s try to find who uses this knowledge. Assumption here is that it is getting used (A major challenge organizations face it to be able to measure this usage. I am not going talk about that now in this article). Well who uses it? 1) People who are looking for this knowledge hmmm…..why are they looking for it? ….maybe because they have a need that is immediate….so immediate that they can’t wait to learn / experience on their own so therefore better for them to learn from someone else’s experience / education. Also my experience from school days tells me, the fastest way to learn something is to learn it from someone who has taken the longer way of learning it by reading / experiencing it!! In this way you get the essence without actually getting involved in the extraction process!! From an examination perspective, this approach was pretty effective – a short term fix for the requirements of a faulty system of evaluations in schools.
Does knowledge age?
To be more descriptive - Does the knowledge captured in a database remain as valid some time after it was captured or recorded or does time have an impact on the usefulness of knowledge? I feel it does have an impact. Let me explain this point using an example. Let’s assume we try to capture how we can get from Mumbai to Dubai and imagine we are doing this in 1850. Well at that period the known modes of travel from Mumbai to Dubai might be by road, rail or sea. Well if in 2010 someone where to find this knowledge object (any capturable form of this knowledge) and try using this to get from Mumbai to Dubai again how successful will he be? Well the same three modes of travel still exists (road, rail and sea) but they all have changed a lot since 1850. Also they have been joined by another mode which is the most used mode currently and that is air travel. In fact there are other developments which might even eliminate the requirement for travel in the first place like telephones, e-mails and video conferences, etc. Now what is the problem here? Why is knowledge captured in 1850 not useful to us currently in 2010? Is it because it was captured the wrong way in the first place or if Mumbai or Dubai changed their places in the world map? Of course not, but what had happened is that over a period of time technological and political changes and developments have resulted in the evolution of much better solutions to travelling between these two locations. What I am trying to bring out here is that knowledge of today might not still be relevant sometime in future. Every knowledge object that we try to capture has a life period of validity.
In the above example, I took this large difference in time period to make the point of knowledge being impacted by time pretty obvious but if one were to apply this to ones everyday life then it obviously applicable here too.
What’s wrong with stored knowledge?
Well if knowledge ages and shows all signs of it - applicability reduces; situations change; new and more improved approaches and technologies emerge, etc then storing knowledge in a database may not be all that useful. What if we were able to constantly update the knowledge in database with recent experiences, developments etc? In this case, any piece of knowledge in the database will more useful to the seeker that it was if not regularly updated. The problem organizations face when they store knowledge in a database is that they assume that a further build on this knowledge gets uploaded in the database too. My experience has basically told me that using something from the knowledge base, assuming it is the latest piece of information that that organization has generated internally is a mistake. Employees do not upload the latest piece of knowledge that they generate in the knowledge base immediately if not ever.
Now take a look at your knowledge base. How many knowledge objects do you have in it and how many can be used as-is in a typical issue or situation that you face at your workplace with complete confidence that it is the best available answer or latest piece of knowledge that could come from your colleagues at that point in time. Well I seriously doubt if you find any that meet that criteria. Even if it is the latest content that has been captured in an organization, it always makes sense to check if there is a different perspective or solution that might exist in someone’s desktop or head that hasn’t got its way into the knowledge base. Also there is the fact that only a very small percentage of the knowledge that an organization generates gets into the knowledge base anyway. The rest remain with the employees either in their desktops or in their heads. Of course we are only talking about knowledge that can actually be captured in a format to be stored in databases! There is so much we don’t know we know and that’s outside the preview of this article!!
The question that emerges next is if the knowledge base in your organization is not really useful because it doesn’t really get updated / have useful content then why have it at all? Many organizations refuse to accept the existence of this question because unfortunately the number of the knowledge objects in the knowledge base seems to be one of the ways they try to quantify the amount of knowledge that exists in their organization and thus justify the existence of their KM practice in the organization. More the content in the knowledge base more KMs required to ‘manage’ them?! …You are the getting the drift right! I am sure you would have reports that tell you that we have captured ‘X’ number of documents / presentations / videos this year which have been accessed ‘N’ number of times and therefore ‘All’s well’ wrt to knowledge management!! The problem here is accessing a document in your knowledge base doesn’t mean that it is useful or that it be used in any form as such. Nowadays we have options to also place a comment but again usage of this feature hasn’t been very positive at least internally. Rating works better as its easier to do but it still doesn’t mean that highest rated document in the knowledge base on the topic you are looking for is the best content available in your company.

And there’s a lot more we do as we diverge further from the right track. More on that and what we should do to set things right soon in my follow-up article. Coming soon!!

Have you folks had similar experiences and if yes, how are you handling these situations? Love to hear from you all!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Short learning cycles - Are students prepared to handle the dynamicity!?

An ex-colleague Hal Harz who is currently with Booz and Company had this up on his linkedin status 'Kettering-Emory Mulling: % of knowledge you need to do your job that is stored in your brain- 1986/75%, 1997/10-20%, 2008/8-10%' and this has made me think ever since. I did try to find the exact source of this statement but haven't been successful so far. Also I am not sure if the percentages gives here are correct but one thing for certain I do agree that dependency of the knowledge in our brain to do our work has been falling rapidly. With the coming of internet and the so called read-only web or Web 1.0 as we now know it, there were about 250,000 websites in 1996. With the advent of web 2.0 and the so called read-write web the number of websites have increase to around 186 million in Dec 2008 and if you include the number of blogs to this number then it increases by another 133 million (as tracked by Technorati). With so much of information / knowledge available for one to search through it is not surprising that we tend to be less dependent on individual memory and processing power to do specific tasks at our work place. Memory I am sure you agree but processing? The reason I included processing is because to a large extent many processed and semi processed information is already available for you to take a decision or do further work on. By processed I mean, I mean information that has been worked on, developed with experience and shared by people who have used it in situations that could be similar to yours. I was just taking a look at the work I do currently which can be categorized under sales support and knowledge management . When I started my career in sales support side of an IT organization in 2001, there wasn't much available online. You might get some books that could be bought but nothing on public domain that would talk about real life experiences, best practices, etc. The way I learned my job was purely by interactions with my seniors in my organization and my personal experience. For me to independently handle a bid, it took me atleast 6 to 12 months and that too was dependent on the number of propsals I was exposed to. Well looking at the situation now, the new comer to this job is exposed to a huge wealth of content available on the internet, blogs, forums, social networking sites, etc along with robust knowledge management systems that capture the internal experiences and knowledge of the organization. This bascially means a newbie will be able to come up to speed in relatively lesser time period. That's the good part of the story. The downside is that everyone knows this and expects you to be ready to take on the big bad world as soon as possible. Nothing wrong with it but then time to succeed and tendency to take risks for a newcomer is relatively lower as the pressure to succeed is extremely high overall.
Now coming to the point about usage of memory and the evaluation system in India. The older or to some extent existing education mode require a large amount of memorizing skills. Memorize what you read in books and vomit these into your answer sheets. More the exact match between the content on your text books and your answer sheets, more the chance of you scoring high in your examinations. This made sense earlier because the work you did later when you started working required the same type of memorization and replication with set patterns and processes. The current work environment has become extremely dynamic. No longer can you draw a clear boundary of the scope of your activities at your work. Exceptions to processes are becoming more and more evident, the better word here would be 'required' as the environment that we work in is becoming extremely dynamic and unpredictable. It is becoming humanly impossible for us to memorize all that is required at the same time with so much of content available for free access, the question is why memorize at all as long as you know where to find what you are looking for.
The education system of the future in India needs to take this into consideration and needs to make our students ready for this new world. There is not of literature available online stating why US is losing out to China and India because of lower number of students there taking up science and engineering. But what is important in addition to quantity is the quality of the students that we produce through our educational systems - those who are ready to handle the complexity of the world we live in. Earlier observation of students with better ability to memorize doing well in examinations maybe true still (depends upon how quickly our education system changes) but certainly expecting these same students to do well in their jobs just because they scored high in their examinations may not be a right. The expectations from today's students are changing rapidly but the question we face is - Are our education systems changing fast enough?!!

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Increasing the responsiveness of an organization using enterprise 2.0?

Faced this situation before? A propsective customer of yours wants to know some specific details of your company before taking the decision on whether your company is the right one to give the order to and you are the one they reach out. You do not have the necessary information and are not sure whom to contact to get the right information in this short period of time. Well I am sure many of us can relate to this situation. The main problem we face is that the information that is required is not available on your sales portal / website and therefore you are typically lost on where to go and whom to contact to get the right answer. You know someone one in management team will have this information but it not easy to identify who the right person is quickly and then get the response considering he/she might be travelling or attending a seminar or in a meeting or busy with some of other work. I am sure many of us in sales have faced this situation. Its situations like these where one really feels the requirement for a good KM system. A KM environment which is 24x7 and will give you the information you require in the shortest time possible. The surpise here is that most of the organizations have some KM systems in place but even then a sales person finds it difficult to get the specific information that he/she is looking for. The content at a high level might be available but if you are looking at specific details then you could be disappointed. The next option here is to start contacting the person / people who might be the designated point of contact for the information you are require. But again the probability that one gets the answer quickly is dependent on whether this person sees your e-mail or picks up your call. In some cases this person may not be in the organization and then its the information roadblock that we all dread so much. Well things are changing now. Web 2.0 tools are helping us break that barrier. The various social networking tools are increasing the channels through which one can try source the information that one requires so basically increasing the probability of finding it. So what was earlier dependent on personal connections, ability to search databases, Forums, telephone calls or even face to face meetings has more options in the form of enterprise and external web 2.0 tools, advanced video conferencing facilities, etc. This of course does not discount the need for having an overall Knowledge Management framework in place. The point that I would like to make here is that Web 2.0 tools does not replace KM in a organization but only helps improve the ways in which employees can share knowledge, increase the probability of finding what one is looking for and collaborate better. Organizations now have to take a re-look at their KM strategy and ensure they include enterprise 2.0 as an important component of this strategy. This blog post is just the beginning. Although in this blog entry, I have looked at only one problem that organizations face, I will be blogging more on how organizations can be more effective and responsive overall by implementing Entperise 2.0 technologies.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Do Knowledge Managers do what they preach - Share Knowledge?

Well a dumb question you might say. But then if you were to take a deeper look at this question you may not find it all that stupid. Well I am aware of a lot of Knowledge Managers who share their experiences to the larger world. Recently I have come across a lot of Knowledge Managers in India who I don't find in any forums or on social collaboration sites. Yes of course India is relatively a late entrant to the KM Universe but then let me tell you though it is late it surely is making up for the lost time. Organizations have a shorter learning curve here and are quickly catching up with organizations globally. There are some active forums like the KM-forums from Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore and Mumbai (recently) but really not much participation from the Practitioners. Of course the participation has been more theoretical than experience sharing. I am one of the culprits too. I haven't been active either in this forum. But then I do try to share my thoughts through this blog. This is not just an India thing. The more I explore sites like linkedin, Xing, etc the more I come across people who do KM though they don't really call it that. (Sometime makes me think is KM a dirty word!!). It is pretty ironical that as KM we work towards ensuring that knowledge is shared in our respective organizations but if we were to look at ourselves, we might be at fault of not doing it!! I do understand that it a competitive world out there and some of out cutting edge initiatives some of us don't really want to share with our competitors lest they get ahead (if there anyway to prove that in the first place). But then wouldn't it be better if we all benefit together than remain in the dark ages for a day longer!! KM as a discipline some say is on the decline. Well our not working together is not going to help improve this situation any bit. Awake my fellow Knowledge Managers, its time that we worked closely together to collectively more forward.

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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Exploring YouTube and being impressed!!

I had visited YouTube before but never really explored it in detail. Always thought it contained videos from people who love to shoot themselves do stupid things in life but I surely was surprised when I explored it in detail this weekend. I was searching for videos on Knowledge Management and CRM and saw some very interesting stuff. I also tried searching for videos from technology companies like IBM, Accenture and Capgemini and noticed that there were some good content there which described what these companies were doing the Consulting and Technology space, though the hits they were getting on this wasn't much. But then one thing is for sure the traffic to these links are bound to increase and before long YouTube has a potential to be a major venue for advertising an organizations services and capabilities. The advantage is that these kind of ads will be viewed by people interested in viewing it. Maybe YouTube can open-up a new revenue stream by promoting such ads and get paid on the basis of how many hits a video gets. I am sure this could be case in MySpace and Facebook too. Considering successful work with Google adwords it won't be long before Google taps into this potential (Well Google might have already done by now). Back to presence of technology and consulting companies in YouTube, I was also surprised with the absence of India companies like Infosys, Wipro, TCS and Satyam here. No organization can afford to not be in YouTube for long. I am sure these organizations will be looking at website like YouTube carefully. It's no brainer if someone were to say there would be an explosion of corporate presence in YouTube very soon. Keep buying Google stocks people!!


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

AMR's recent report on Knowledge Management spending by U.S. companies in 2007 - Interestingly KM ain't dead yet?

AMR recently came out with the report - AMR Research Finds Spending on Knowledge Management Will Hit $73B in 2007. There will always be debates on the definition of knowledge management, whether knowledge management initiatives provides value or not. I have even read of opinions from people saying that knowledge management is dead. Well if it is dead then what are these companies that AMR has surveyed doing spending so much money on these technologies. I am sure we all agree that this is not restricted to just spending on technologies but also on the KM processes and people too so the actual spending would be lot more than $73B. The point is not how much spending is done but that organizations are still looking for the benefits that they get from knowledge management. I haven't seen the full report but I am sure I would see a shift in these spending from portals and content/document management systems, which have been the so called only technology components of KM for sometime, to enterprise search and collaborative systems and tools. Also this report brings out the emergence of SaaS and Open source technologies in KM implementations. Remains to be seen how much of impetus does this provide to the Open source movement.


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