Tuesday 29 March 2005

IM Bogeyman Strikes Again

I see that the Instant Messaging Bogeyman is back in town :-) This time its local IT analyst, Bruce McCabe, writing for the Australian. In his opinion, "The only quality that makes instant messaging interesting as a business tool can be summed up in two words: presence detection."

I'm actually a little confused about the point McCabe is trying to make. On one hand he provides examples of where IM is useful (like a widely dispersed organisation) but then gives it the thumbs down because of lost productivity (interuptions, lack of richness, slow typing).

Its a shame that he fails to mention other benefits such as:

  • Integration with Webconferencing tools;
  • Access to information through interactive IM 'bots;
  • The ability to indicate if you are busy, away or free to talk;
  • As a secondary real-time communication tool while you are on the phone to someone else or to support a teleconferencing and videoconferencing meeting;
  • And so on...

Looking at the broader picture of IM you actually find there is more to it than just chat or presence alone.

Monday 28 March 2005

Enterprise blogging in practice cont'd

I said I would post a few more comments about this post yesterday. One thing to add is to make sure you read both the original and follow-up posts by Coté.

Now what I say here needs to be taken in the context of what I've said previously about corporate blogging and also these comments. Like Coté I don't think we should give up on enterprise blogging, but I do think many organisations are reinventing the wheel rather than building on what we already know about getting people to collaborate with technology inside the firewall.

In my previous life as a knowledge manager at Ernst & Young I faced similar problems with helping staff to develop and maintain successful knowledgebases that were components in the firm's award winning EY/KnowledgeWeb intranet. I know from direct experience that, just like a blog, running a successful discussion forum within an organisation requires ongoing effort both to create content but also to ensure sponsorship, readership and contribution.

However, I also had to spend a lot of time explaining to people why it was important to stay within the E&Y collaborative architecture so that the majority could contribute, access and search for content. Standards like RSS are excellent on the Internet where people use different applications to create and read public blog content, however this isn't necessarily a challenge faced within the enterprise. However, RSS can create problems where another standard platform exists (unless you can integrate the two of course).

So overall I see the challenges of enterprise blogging as a knowledge management challenge. The key to success is building on what we already know about getting people, process, technology and content to all work happily together.

Alarm Clock 2.0

Continuing my theme of looking for good and innovative information technology design, the Clocky alarm clock fits into the better mouse trap category.

As reported in the Guardian, Clocky was invented by MIT Media Lab researcher, Gauri Nanda. How does it work?

"Clocky is, quite simply, for people who have trouble waking up. When the alarm clock goes off and the snooze button is pressed, Clocky will roll off the bedside table and wheel away, bumping mindlessly into objects on the floor until it eventually finds a spot to rest. Minutes later, when the alarm sounds again, the sleeper must get up out of bed and search for Clocky. This ensures that the person is fully awake before turning it off. Small wheels that are concealed by Clocky's shag enable it to move and reposition itself, and an internal processor helps it find a new hiding spot every day."

Unfortunately Clocky is only an academic research project at this time.

Sunday 27 March 2005

Enterprise blogging in practice

Thanks to Jack Vinson in the US and BlogWalk, I came across this post by an IT guy called Coté on his experiences of enterprise blogging. I don't have time to add any further comments right now, but take a look as its an interesting post for anyone thinking of implementing blogs into a corporate environment.

Human Area Networks: RedTacton

Just yesterday I was talking about the potential for P2P file sharing based on mobile hardware, rather than the Internet. Then this morning I come across an article in the Sydney Mobile Herald on something called RedTacton.

"RedTacton is a new Human Area Networking technology that uses the surface of the human body as a safe, high speed network transmission path... RedTacton uses the minute electric fieldemitted on the surface of the human body. Technically, it is completely distinct from wireless and infrared... Communication is possible using any body surfaces, such as the hands, fingers, arms, feet, face, legs or torso. RedTacton works through shoes and clothing as well."

According to the Herald, RedTacton supports "speeds of up to 2mbps – equivalent to a fast broadband data connection."

Hmm. Thinking about this, H2H (human to human) file sharing could be an interesting experience. :-)

Saturday 26 March 2005

Subscribe to the ChiefTech blog

Just to let you know that you can now subscribe to the ChiefTech blog using the Bloglet service. Great for those of you not yet RSS'd or working in a corporate environment where you can't install an RSS reader yourself. Or maybe you just want to stay in touch by e-mail!

What are you waiting for? Enter your email address here and click subscribe:

Watch out! Technology has a habit of winning

Two related stories on Google News caught my eye today. One is this report by Wired on latest from the Australian Sharman Networks court case over the Kazza P2P software. The other a report in InfoWorld on the results of recent research completed on the sharing habits of digital music and video users.

Wired comments that "it's worth remembering that technology has a habit of winning in the end... If the music industry wants to survive, it needs to think outside the box and stay out of the courtroom."

It's an interesting comment because while the research (from the Pew Internet & American Life Project) reported in InfoWorld suggests the music industries actions are having an impact on Internet P2P file sharing, millions are still using informal sharing method. These informal sharing methods including e-mail, instant messaging and hardware-2-hardware (such as from one MP3 player to another).

Now considering that late last year saw the unveiling of the Samsung SPH-V5400, the first mobile phone with a 1.5GB hard drive, it really is only a matter of time before consumers will have the capability to share music through the "layer" of their choice from a single device. I wonder how the music industry would respond to a decentralised mobile phone based P2P music sharing system using some kind of wireless mesh networking? You know it could just work in densely populated areas or perhaps workplaces, universities or schools...

Thursday 24 March 2005

Invitation - effective e-mail seminars

I know that dealing with information overload and working effectively with collaborative technologies such as e-mail, instant messaging and groupware continue to be a problem for people in many organisations. So I wasn't surprised that as a result of my posting yesterday on mastering e-mail overload I received a request from an organisation to run a lunch time briefing session for staff on this subject.

I would like to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to any other organisations out there to contact me (details can be found on my Website) if you would like a short briefing to your staff on effective e-mail or just about any other workplace technology issue you can think of.

Some other ideas for briefings include:

  • Online customer service
  • Writing for the Web or Intranets
  • Empowering customers with technology
  • Instant messaging benefits
  • Getting on with groupware
  • Blogging and wikis for business (also see details of my upcoming seminar in Canberra)
  • Teleconferencing and videoconferencing best practices
  • Managing remote staff and virtual teams
  • The pros and cons of being always on, always connected
  • Information security essentials for staff
As I'm always up for a challenge, if you have another idea for a briefing session just let me know!

Wicked IT Problems

Ok, let me say first that this isn't what you think...

A thread on the ACT KM forum (a knowledge management discussion group) from the last few days talking about wicked problems reminded me that I wrote a short article on wicked information technology problems:

"People often throw their arms up at computers because as much as information technology can help us, it often causes problems that are difficult or time consuming to fix. The fact is information technology is complex and full of what is known in some circles as 'wicked' problems. A wicked problem has complex origins and typically the solution will only appear when we solve the problem. In other words, wicked problems are a bit like the chicken and egg paradox – we will not know the solution to a wicked problem until we find it."

Anyway, I've republished it on my Website and you can download it here (PDF, 77KB). (Please contact me if you would like a copy of this short article)

The intended audience for this piece was small business owners and managers but it might be of interest to anyone who is struggling to understand why computer systems don't always work as they expect them and why it isn't always straight forward to fix them. One of my recommendations, other than locking down and simplifying systems, is to develop wicked problem solving skills (or find someone who has them).

Wednesday 23 March 2005

Tips for Mastering E-mail Overload

The latest e-mail newsletter from Harvard Business School's Working Knowledge site highlighted a past article on mastering e-mail overload that is actually quite good.

The author, US-based professional speaker, facilitator and coach Stever Robbins, writes:

"Being at or near the top of your organization, everyone wants a piece of you. So they send you e-mail. It makes you feel important. Don't you love it? Really? Then, please take some of mine! Over 100 real e-mails come in each day. At three minutes apiece, it will take five hours just to read and respond. Let's not even think about the messages that take six minutes of work to deal with. Shudder. I'm buried in e-mail and chances are, you're not far behind. For whatever reason, everyone feels compelled to keep you "in the loop."

Fortunately, being buried alive under electronic missives forced me to develop coping strategies. Let me share some of the nonobvious ones with you. Together, maybe we can start a revolution."

It has some great practical examples comparing good and bad e-mails. BTW If you want some more tips on writing effective e-mails, drop me a line and I'll send you a copy of my own tip sheet. Contact details are on my website.

PS Did you know that HBS Working Knowledge is also available via RSS and as an AvantGo channel for your PDA?

Tuesday 22 March 2005

Interactive Web Pages Changing Class Participation

elearningpost links to a story in the US's Washington Post on the emerging use of Blogs and Wikis by university students. They say about Wikis that:

"Some course sites read like journals, some like debates and some shimmy in and out of topics with music, photos and video pulling readers along... Wikis can encourage creativity, remove the limits on class time, give professors a better sense of student understanding and interest and keep students writing, thinking and questioning."

However, still suggesting there is a lot of existing know-how about collaborative technologies that can be applied to these new technologies they also comment that:

  • Professors who use blogs and wikis said they have had to set ground rules early on and act quickly to stamp out problems; and
  • They warn that as the technology goes mainstream, universities will have to think about libel and intellectual property issues.

Within the business environment we are already aware of issues relating to employees self-publishing with respect to problems with copyright, information security and inappropriate content. These same issues will need to be addressed when any kind of organisation provides or supports self-publishing through Blogs and Wikis for staff, clients or other stakeholders.

Jet fuel prices remain near record highs

News.com.au reports that near record highs for jet fuel prices mean that locally Qantas and Virgin Blue are likely to increase passenger fuel surcharges in the near future. Reducing business travel and related costs has always been a tangible motivator for remote work options and virtual teams, but it can be a false economy if implemented as a knee jerk reaction to issues such as increased fuel prices. Research and experience all show that people find it difficult to work virtually without the right support in place (what I call the collaborative infrastructure) - so if further increases to travel costs will impact on how the people in your organisation work together, start planning now to avoid greater disruption later.

Monday 21 March 2005

What's the Big Idea?

Is interest in innovation on it's way back? A couple of people have separately raised the issue of innovation in organisations recently and coincidentally I'm currently re-reading Tom Davenport and Laurence Prusak's book, What's the Big Idea.

What's the Big Idea is essentially about how new ideas diffuse into organisations through the efforts of what they call idea practitioners. Davenport and Prusak try to demonstrate that there are no faddish management ideas, only faddish ways of adopting them.

One observation they make is that most management fads peak after about five years, but knowledge management (one of my areas of interest) is still going strong and somewhat changed for the better from it's original incarnation. As idea practioners themselves Davenport and Prusak are also quite progressive in picking up on organisational story telling, the current hot topic in KM circles (the book was published in 2003).

Saturday 19 March 2005

PowerPoint: Less is more

Shawn Callahan links us to the blog of US PowerPoint specialist (for want of a better word), Cliff Atkinson, who talks about using PowerPoint to create "a strong narrative backbone" to a presentation, rather than a death by PowerPoint experience.

There has been growing awareness over the years of the problems of what might be termed gross misuse of presentation software - for example Edward Tufte writing in Wired magazine and on ABC Radio (you'll need to scroll down). While poor presentation and information overload is bad enough, perhaps the bigger concern is the use of PowerPoint to force a viewpoint or validate an unsupported fact. In other words, because some people see it written on a PowerPoint slide they believe it to be true.

On the other hand (and I've talked before about what might be considered to be good information technology innovations) presentation software is also a great example of a user-empowering information technology (even if we suffer because of it!). Probably as they conclude on ABC Radio, just because the tool is misused doesn't mean we should abandon it altogether.

Personally I think Atkinson's advice to minimise what you put on a slide is good, but I think there are probably three good ways to use presentation software:

  1. For helping to organise ideas into a linear flow or story - but the resulting slidedeck is not necessarily presented (this can be done on your own or in a group);
  2. As a well considered presentation aid - just the right amount of information to help the presenter and the audience; and
  3. To create diagrams, simple multimedia animations or basic e-learning modules - there are better tools for doing this, but people who are familiar with presentation software can often easily put things together for themselves.
PS Did you know that Abraham Lincoln used PowerPoint as early as 1863? It was news to me :-)

Thursday 17 March 2005

The Australian newspaper - special KM edition today

If you can get hold of a copy, today's Australian newspaper has a special edition covering Knowledge Management. They quote Dr Laurence Prusak, a managing principal with IBM Consulting and former principal in Ernst and Young's* centre for business innovation:

"An unintended consequence of ubiquitous and transparent computing is the premium value of knowledge that cannot be digitised, codified, or easily distributed...The value of the cognitive skills (such as judgment, design, leadership, better decisions, persuasiveness, wit, innovation, aesthetics, and humor) becomes more than ever before. "

It also includes some interviews and articles from local members of the NSW KM Forum (I'm a member of the coordinating committee).

However, while it's great to see KM get some profile in the media, I think the Australian was a little lazy in pointing readers to KMWorld's 100 Companies that Matter in Knowledge Management 2005 rather than coming up with some local case studies.

I actually think that perhaps the AFR's Boss Magazine has covered KM much better in the past (try searching the site for "knowledge management" and "intellectual property").

*PS For some further reading on E&Y's approach to KM have a look at the links here on my main Website.

Update: Matt Moore has pointed out that Larry isn't with IBM anymore as was reported in the Australian. Matt's with IBM Consulting so I guess he should know! I found a more recent version of Larry's bio on this conference site.

Tuesday 15 March 2005

More comments on Wikis in the Enterprise

I recently asked a few people in the industry for comments on the use of wikis in the enterprise for a forthcoming article.

Unfortunately, Geoff McQueen from Internetrix, an Internet-based marketing and management software solutions business, didn't quite make my editorial deadline (he has a good excuse - he was out racing cars for charity). However, since he took the time to give me some feedback, I thought I'd post it here in full and unedited:

"Wikis, blogging and instant messaging have all found a demand in the corporate arena. Through experiences 'outside' in private life, innovative users are aware that these tools can improve their productivity at work, and the challenge is to reconcile corporate priorities with innovative user demands, particularly when the users feel that policies are holding them back from being the best they can be.

Like many of the 'generalist' technology toolsets, the flexibility of Wikis is also their greatest drawback in a corporate environment. Because they are a quick and simple platform designed to be as flexible as possible, they’re also prone to messy and inconsistent application due to being 'user driven'. At the opposite end of the scale are the corporate, technology driven solutions offered by vendors, where an often unrepresentative sample of the organisation makes a corporate level commitment to a platform that fails.

One approach that can pay solid dividends is to encourage 'user driven' adoption of flexible and generally unacceptable systems for a defined time period. Organisations can take advantage of the change management benefits of having users – lots of users – pursue a new way of working, and through this process, word of mouth, peer pressure and other psych principles can drive adoption, with the clear understanding that the actual technical mechanics of the system will change once users have 'found their feet'.

As a result, Wikis could best be seen in a corporate environment as a trial, a way to let users set the terms of engagement while accepting that corporate prerogatives – security, ubiquity and sustainability – will gradually take effect within a defined time period. You can even get your most avid contributors, who’ve demonstrated their passion, to form the basis of your evaluation committee when you do decide to go to a corporate/vendor solution."

Ray Ozzie off to Microsoft

Ray Ozzie, creator of Lotus Notes, founder of Groove Networks, and dare I say a founding father of groupware, is joining Microsoft as the company's chief technology officer! Reports around the world, like this one in ComputerWorld, describe it as a move by Microsoft to fill a gap in it's current collaborative offerings.

According to Groove's own press release on the matter, "Ozzie will assume the role of chief technical officer, reporting to Bill Gates, Microsoft founder, chairman and chief software architect, with responsibility for influencing corporatewide communication and collaboration offerings and associated platform infrastructure. Ozzie also will continue his work with the Groove team, which will be part of Microsoft's Information Worker Group."

It's going to be very interesting to see what impact Groove's expertise will have on Microsoft's collaborative tools.

Monday 14 March 2005

Use it or lose it now available for download

Use it or lose it, the article I gave a preview of last month, is now available for download from my archive of Image and Data Manager (IDM) magazine columns. It was originally published in the Jan/Feb 2005 edition of IDM and discusses the link between usability, measuring results and success with technology.

I've been told that my critical review of corporate Wiki technology will be out in the next edition of IDM. Stay tuned, as hopefully it should ruffle a few feathers!

Sunday 13 March 2005

Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques

Just to let you know that I've created a new page on my main Website that provides an overview of the chapter I contributed to the recently published book, Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques. This chapter combines my experiences of using IBM Lotus Quickplace (aka Team Workplace) at Ernst & Young with some research I completed as part of my masters (which I'm due to complete soon). It also draws on the classic Tom Davenport case study on E&Y. If you would like to know more, just drop me a line.

Friday 11 March 2005

Blog Discovery Tools

My friend, Brian Bailey from Gadens Lawyers, continues to fuel my current focus on blogging (sorry everyone, normal service will be resumed soon) by pointing me in the direction of this article on specialised blog search engines here on the Search Engine Watch site. I quite like the visual neighborhood tool on the Blogstreet site.

These specialised search tools are really useful considering our need to "keeping found things found". Also, related to search, Brian himself wrote this short article on How much knowledge is enough? The role of satisfice in decision-making.

PS I had some nice feedback from Ellen R. Cohn on my post about life blogging. Ellen is one of the authors behind a paper I linked from that post. I'll add a further response to Ellen's comments when I get a chance as she makes a good point about IT innovation and the gap between IT professionals and the academic world.

Thursday 10 March 2005

Wireless Time Management

Amanda Horne is a Canberra-based consultant and mentor, who helps organisations to develop thriving, positive people and positive workplace cultures. In her recent newsletter she talks about Managing Time or Managing ‘You’ (PDF file). She makes a great point about some of her clients who have an over expectation that getting a palm pilot will solve all their time management problems. While Amanda then goes on to give some tips on 'You' management (rather than time or thing management!), her point reminds me of a short e-zine article I wrote about the people challenges of being always on, always connected:

"If you believe what they say, then mobile phones and wireless computing devices give people the opportunity to live the most wonderful, “unwired life”. For business this is a world where we are constantly connected to the information systems that are increasingly critical to getting work done. No doubt we expect the industry to talk up the benefits of a wireless world, but the trouble with disruptive technologies like this is that we can never be quite sure of the end result. What is clear from looking at the past is that disruptive technologies through out the ages have changed society in surprising ways."

You can download this short article here (PDF, 73KB). This later turned into a presentation at Going Virtual 2004.

New Economy Customer Service Revisited

Yesterday was a busy day as I attended a Telstra breakfast in Wollongong where we had the unusual pleasure of hearing from Michael Ossipoff, Director, Enterprise Capability at Telstra.

I say unusual because I spoke to Michael before his presentation and it isn't very often I meet someone in my adopted home town who has heard of Dave Snowden and even fellow KM consultant Shawn Callahan! Incidentally I now realise that we were both speakers at Corporate Portal World last year (small world, eh?). Unfortunately Michael wasn't speaking about KM. Instead he was there to evangelise about Internet Protocol (IP) based telecommunications networks to local SMEs, so still an interesting presentation from my perspective. While this was obviously a marketing effort for Telstra, the use of video testimonials by real businesses was a great way to help people understand how technology can be applied in practice. So a thumbs up for the effort.

Later in the evening I headed up to Sydney to attend a function at UNSW from students and alumni in the Master of Business & Technology program (I'm just completing my last unit in my masters at the moment). The speaker was Bill Price, Former Vice-President of Global Customer Service for Amazon.com. Bill actually worked for a while at McKinsey & Company with Tom Peters. He has a great customer service philosophy along the lines of trying to make it as easy as possible for customers to do business with companies and to avoid what he calls "dumb contacts" and empowering customer service staff to fix problems.

What have these two presenters got in common? Well, the simplicity of IP based telecommunications (from the users point of view) may renew interest in e-business. However, organisations will need to be more considerate of customer service again. Amazon is a great example of a company that empowers customers with it's systems but also knows how to make things right when they go wrong. PS I talked a little about this the other day in reference to Flight Centre.

Tuesday 8 March 2005

Life Blogging

Sorry if I sound a little self-obsessed with blogs and wikis etc at the moment, but as I'll be writing and presenting around this topic later in the month this is top of mind at the moment.

One nice convergent idea I came across is life blogging (aka life caching). Nokia have a software tool called Lifeblog that helps people to keep chronological record of messages and photos captured via their mobile phone. This isn't really news since the BBC covered this back in March 2004 and from there I discovered that Microsoft have an earlier research project known as MyLifeBits, an "experiment in lifetime storage".

In a way the idea of a Life Blogs and MyLifeBits sounds very similar to the idea of electronic student portfolios from the world of education that I had already heard of. I discovered some interesting articles around this subject linked from the UK site, e-Learning Centre, including one titled Beyond the Electronic Portfolio: A Lifetime Personal Web Space.

Keeping Found Things Found

There is lots of excitement about the idea of desktop search, with probably Google Desktop leading the way in this space. However search only represents one part of human information gathering behaviour.
Earlier in February the Seattle Times in the US reported on the work of a University of Washington research group, called Keeping Found Things Found. They appear to be looking beyond just the technology and asking how people manage the information they find. According to this report while they think desktop search is helping people to deal with information overload their fieldwork observations shows that people still "expressed a desire to organize their information, even if it could be easily found through search tools". Typically this appears to mean putting things into folders or some kind of hierarchical structure.
Having observed this behaviour first hand in the work place when designing intranets and shared workspaces for virtual teams etc, I wonder if this has something to do with the (or at least the perception of) confidence and context a folder or hierarchy provides pieces of information? And underlying this might even be a basic, but very human, mistrust of technology.

Monday 7 March 2005

Blogs & Wikis for Trainers, Canberra, 30 Mar 05

Details of the seminar on blogs and wikis I'll be running for the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) in Canberra on the 30 March are now available. I'll be covering:

  • • Blogs and wikis explained, including live demonstrations:
  • • The value of using blogs and wikis as e-learning tools;
  • • What information technology you need to host a blog or wiki;
  • • Other issues related to using blogs and wikis in organisations; and
  • • How to get started with your own blog.
If you can't make this event but are interested in implementing blogs, wikis or any other type of collaborative technology in your organisation, please visit my Website at www.chieftech.com.au to make contact. I'm happy to present at other industry forums, provide in house seminars or scope a more detailed consulting project depending on your needs.

Saturday 5 March 2005

Flying into a tangled web

An article in the Australian Financial Review about Flight Centre, titled Flying into a tangled web (5 March 2005), caught my attention this weekend. Others, like the Australian, had already covered Flight Centre's disappointing results but the AFR made a link to the impact of the Internet and discount fares on their performance.

This story caught my eye because I remember reading this case study on Flight Centre's use of thin client computing that apparently cut their IT costs by 40%. At the time I thought this looked like a good strategic decision, but it appears that despite saving money related to the expansion of their physical stores they subsequently found themselves having to catch up in terms of their systems and online store front. In August last year they announced they had acquired some additional e-commerce capabilities and range of other internal IT projects, although from what has been reported more recently it doesn't look like this has all been smooth sailing for them.

While it looks like Flight Centre are big enough to ride through this in the long term, it serves as a good reminder that the results of a good IT strategy aren't always just about controlling costs or simply making organisations more efficient. I made a similar point in this short article I wrote last year for an e-zine, Empower customers with self-service, not automation (PDF, 77KB).

Wednesday 2 March 2005

Blogging and E-Learning

Later in March I'll be presenting to a group in Canberra (ACT, Australia) on the role of Blogs and Wikis in learning as well as providing some practical demonstrations of how this technology works. I was asked to find some pre-presentation reading materials related to blogging and e-learning, so I thought I would share them here too:

This one isn't about blogging but looks at the related role of Wikis in e-learning:

Australian Innovation Showcase 2005

Unfortunately I can't make this event myself, but the Australian Centre for Advanced Computing and Communications (aka ac3) is hosting a showcase at the Australian Technology Park tomorrow morning. It's a chance to hear about a range of innovative software products from companies who you may not be that familiar with - for example Crux Cybernetics, DocBanq and Grouputer and others. Having attended an earlier ac3 breakfast and as I know some of the people behind these companies, I can say it's worth attending to see what they have to offer.