In my career so far, I have come across a lot of confusion about the terms Knowledge Management, Document Management and now Social Collaboration. Of these the latter is of course the newest, but the other two are still essential disciplines for any organisation to get a grip of if it intends to become smarter, leverage its staff better and unlock the competitive potential it has.
There are many definitions of these terms out there on the internet and in published literature and I am not about to argue with any of them. Suffice to say, that Document Management has been with us since we started scratching stuff on tablets of stone. Knowledge Management is a much more cerebral pursuit where the organisation seeks to control and access the information held in the data their document management system provides them with. Oh, and the social collaboration thing? Well, that’s just Facebook and the likes, isn’t it? No.
To my thinking, I see the three disciplines like this:
Traditionally Document Management, Knowledge Management and Enterprise Social Networking solutions are designed for their purpose and for nothing else. Document Management might well support commenting on documents. Knowledge Management might well let you upload a file and so on. What’s been missing from these disciplines is the kind of engagement in the content which we are becoming used to when we use a collaborative network in our organisations:
But what does “Social Collaboration” mean and what does it bring to our business information systems?
Document Management solutions are designed to provide a level of control over complex or important documents. They are often employed to house large volumes of data and provide access to these via a business process or through search. For the most part they do their jobs well, and they are a very mature business.
Often Document Management Libraries become limited by the fact that you need to know where to look in order to find something.
One of the downsides to a Document Management solution is that it is a Library of data. It’s not easy to share thoughts, insights and work together on getting the document produced. Very often a Document Management system is embedded into an intranet to provide a context for the Library itself. Unless the Library is maintained well it soon just becomes a place where people now put stuff instead of saving it on their hard disks. Often Document Management Libraries become limited by the fact that you need to know where to look in order to find something. If you don’t know a document exists in the first place then your options are therefore quite limited.
The wikipedia definition of Knowledge Management is
“the process of capturing, developing, sharing and effectively using organisational knowledge”.
This means it can relate to the collecting of paper, tablets of stone, electronic documents, wiki pages, or anything that has “organisational knowledge”. The key with Knowledge Management is to “effectively use” that knowledge to the benefit of the organisation. So, Knowledge Management is not a “thing”, it’s a practice.
Enterprise Social Networking is the use of social networking technologies like networks of people based on proximity, knowledge, department, etc to leverage information to better effect. Its a form of unstructured Information Management where apparently random information put out into the network by its participants become of value to others. It offers a collaborative structure to work together on a “thing” to get a job done – that “thing” being a document, a business process, or whatever.
Social Collaboration fits into the model by enabling the Knowledge Management and Document Management to have a context to the business of the organization. Looked at in the cold light of day, a document or other piece of knowledge may have a completely different appearance than when it was produced in the flow of a business process, or as part of a decision-making system. Thus, I would propose that the role of Social Collaboration fits as shown in the diagram below:
The diagram aims to show that all organizations have information silos and many have some sort of knowledge and document management processes, however ad-hoc in nature. Social Collaboration (in purple) brings the management of these sources of information together with less formal forms of documentation and knowledge. Status updates, recommendations, feedback and likes are all such examples – implicit expressions of experience and knowledge turned into explicit and merged with more formal means of documentation.
As well as augmenting traditional approaches to business information management, Social Collaboration can bring an exciting additional aspect to unlock the experience and expertise in your organization. Connecting Expertise Location – i.e. providing a mechanism to find people based on their contributions to the corporate body of knowledge together with Expertise Sharing Practices allows the organization to truly become self-educating. If done properly the socially-collaborating organization can begin to unlock the experience in the heads and hearts of its people and bring that together with the explicit knowledge and documents being collected using business processes. It’s for this reason that I show it at the top of my diagram. It’s the pinnacle of knowledge management and is as far abstracted from word processor documents and faxes as you can get.
In my next article I’ll look more closely at the concepts of Expertise Location and Expertise Sharing Practices to delve more deeply into how your organization could become self-learning.
In the meantime, please get in touch or post your thoughts in the comments below.
Today’s social tools for communication can make collaboration easier, and give you the ability to quickly find information in the right context. So how do organizations get their workforce to adopt new social technologies? Begin your social business transformation when you turn the familiar email experience into a launchpad for socially-enabled business processes.
Being a more collaborative organization might seem a long way from how you work just now. Many organizations use group mail boxes or task mail boxes to provide a collaborative, i.e. multi-user, approach to handling email. One of the difficulties with such setups is of course that multiple people are looking at the same information and because the basic user interface is intended to be single user, there are generally no controls to track actions, who has seen what, etc.
On an engagement several years ago a client was migrating from Outlook to Notes and found that their users were complaining about the behavior of Notes compared to Outlook when multiple users looked at the same group mail file. In Outlook an unread email appeared unread for all users. When someone, anyone, looked at that email, the unread email showed up as read. But it showed up as read for all users. In IBM Notes, that same email would remain unread for you until you read it. Fundamentally IBM Notes is working correctly. It’s showing you what YOU have read, or not read. The customer said that they didn’t know whether someone had actioned the email in Notes because it always showed up as unread, whereas Outlook would show that someone had read it. To my understanding that customer had attempted to shoehorn what needed to be a collaborative process into Outlook’s functionality but with a fundamental flaw. Outlook could give the impression that something was being done about it, whereas Notes continued to show what you had or had not read.
The truth of the situation is that for the foreseeable future most organizations will continue their transformation from paper and fax-based messages to email. Yes there is a transition to interconnected systems to avoid messaging like this, but we’re still in a transition and will be for a long time to come. We need therefore to start with the inbox when we want to improve how we work with information.
Notes’ solution to this collaborative paradox was the invention of the Mail-In Database. This is a Notes database which can receive email and have its own unique email address. With the application of a little coding an Agent in the Notes database can automatically issue a response, a notification or forward that email to another system. i.e. the Mail-In Database acts as a key component in electronic process control. This has been the case for the last fifteen or so years. Customers of IBM Notes know how good it is at just getting on with improving these business processes.
When you’re looking to automate a business process, the Notes Mail-In Database is an excellent place to start. It gets more complicated, though, when you need to deal with ad-hoc information which you might receive, or when information comes in that can’t easily be categorized and automated. For the most part these are the emails we continue to receive in our inbox which need to be shared with our colleagues, transferred into another system, or dealt-with in a different way.
Someone who works on several projects at once, or has several customers they deal with simultaneously will recognize this issue. You don’t know what format an email will come in and so therefore you have to manually file, forward and reply to those messages. This is where the collaboration problem starts.
I, and many others, have attempted over the years to come up with smart ways of tagging reference codes, footers and all sorts of other coded signals into replies users would send so that a database system in the middle might have a chance of collecting and sharing the information automatically. The truth is that so far such systems are not at the reliability level which most organizations would accept. We therefore still have to handle quite a lot of email manually ourselves.
Without any modification to my email handling procedures – either in Notes, Outlook or any other email client you care to mention – I need to decide what I want to share with my colleagues. I need to decide what to keep and I need to decide how I am going to file it for future access. If I am the only one who has received the email I am a single point of failure in the information flow. If I forward an important email to three of my colleagues, I need to explicitly state who I want to do something about it, or to record what I have done about it. They then have a copy of the message too; the original one email is now four emails, four times the storage, four copies of the same information and no-one sure whether or not they have the up to date copy.
Being able to move that important email out of my inbox into a shared area, accessible to everyone who needs access to the information would seem to be the logical thing to do. A shared location where all communications on a specific topic can be placed and where everyone can refer to the same information (a single version of the truth, if you like) is much more efficient. It means that we all have the same information and can see what each other has done. It also removes the reliance on me storing information in my mail box in a way you would understand. If you’ve ever tried to find something in someone else’s kitchen, you’ll understand what I mean.
Using a social collaboration solution to become a System of Record as well as a System of Engagement means that your colleagues can step out of the fire hose of information and become more selective about what they want to be updated on.
Thus, making it easy to get information out of my inbox and into a shared area is one of the key functions for a social inbox. You need to socialize email by connecting it to your colleagues. But hold on – won’t your colleagues be bombarded by all sorts of unnecessary information if you do this? Do they need to see every single email transaction you store? Wouldn’t you be back to the same scenario as before?
Using a social collaboration solution to become a System of Record as well as a System of Engagement means that your colleagues can step out of the fire hose of information and become more selective about what they want to be updated on. A social collaboration solution, like IBM Connections, gives you a way to do this and means that communications sent and received can be digested in a news feed and can be kept separate from their own email. That way, they can choose what information to see, and not drown in copied and forwarded emails that others choose to tell them about. A while ago I produced an infographic with the phrase:
Email is like standing in a shower of information others choose to pour over you.
When you recognize that there are simple and effective ways to step out of that shower and take better control of the information and knowledge in your organization then you are ready to start becoming a social business.
Check out IBM’s infographic on this – GrowingSocBus_Infographic_linked
One obstacle any social business project faces is getting users to actually log into it. Once they’ve done that they often find that they have a quick look round, don’t immediately find something of interest and then never log in again. No matter how much content you might have, and how carefully-crafted your enterprise social network might be, if people don’t use it, you’ve not succeeded.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a new user could be welcomed, encouraged to provide some simple details about themselves, and have the system recognise where they sit in the organisation? Once it has done that, it might recommend people that they would want to connect with, communities they’d want to join, and so on. That way, they would find something of interest in the system more quickly and be more inclined to get going.
The very clever guys at IBM Software Services for Collaboration have done just that. Their Connections TouchPoint solution enhances a Connections implementation to provide a guided start for new users:
It uses some advanced analytics and mining of profiles and communities to present relevant information to the user and to provide sensible suggestions about communities and colleagues to connect with.
With a small amount of information added, TouchPoint moves on to ask you about some of the things you’re known for, and are interested in:
Next comes the magic. Once you’ve supplied some info about yourself, TouchPoint recommends some people to add to your network:
And, based on your interests, seeks to hook you up with relevant colleagues in other parts of the organisation:
OK, so you’ve got some people to keep up with now, but how about getting into some communities and getting useful information from the social system?
Once you’ve followed these simple steps, TouchPoint fills out your profile, makes the connections and joins you to the communities you selected – boom, now you’re being social!
As I said, TouchPoint is a really nice way to making it easy to get over the initial resistance many users exhibit when presented with a social collaborative environment. The really cool thing is that you can try it out for yourself today, now in fact.
Go to greenhouse.lotus.com and sign up for an account, if you haven’t already. Then go to this link: https://greenhouse.lotus.com/ghouse.nav/labs/ConnectionsTouchpoint/touchpoint/ to get started!
I have the need from time to time to install sidebar widgets and other plugins in to my IBM Notes installation. One thing which is not enabled by default in Notes is the Install menu:
The common way to do this is to edit a file in your IBM Notes application called plugin_customization.ini:
cd ~/Library cd "Application Support" cd "IBM Notes Data" cd Expeditor/Applications/.metadata/.plugins cd org.eclipse.core.runtime/.settings nano com.ibm.notes.branding.prefs
and change false to true by typing true
Here’s a useful little video a colleague shared with me. It’s a great demonstration of how a common business communication issue is solved using a social collaboration environment, and it’s used every day by Bosch:
I don’t often find marketing videos inspiring and worth sharing, but one landed on my desk this morning which I felt I had to share:
It has been released as part of the keynote event happening on 18th September where Jeff Schick, Alistair Rennie, Erik Brynjolfsson and many others will present the latest update to IBM’s SmartCloud for Social Business.
For me, being partisan I suppose, it presents something that is truly the best of IBM – it’s well-engineered, well-designed, secure and simple. These are phrases which you don’t often see together in software or cloud-offerings these days.
The webcast itself looks to be really inspiring, in keeping with the video, and I’d thoroughly recommend anyone interested in social business or collaborating with colleagues and partners to check it out:
Colonel Tim Collins famously rallied his troops at the start of the second Iraq war with a speech intended to set the ground rules for engagement by his men in the conflict. One of most famous lines of this electrifying speech is this one:
…if you are ferocious in battle, be magnanimous in victory.
Being magnanimous in victory with your social business project, and congratulating your sponsor is an excellent way of bringing closure to your efforts. Many people drag projects around with them like orphans. Recognizing that you have given a project the best of you, and thanking the person who cleared the road to make it happen helps to show that while people know you have done a lot of work to turn your organization into a social business to some degree, the risk your sponsor took by supporting you is both appreciated and recognized.
Take the opportunity when congratulating your sponsor to ask for feedback. What do they think you could have done better? What went well from their perspective? This is very valuable feedback and you may feel inclined to share some of it with your successors, to help them along their way.
I don’t need a successor, only willing hands to accept the torch for a new generation.Rev. Billy Graham
The Chasm of Disillusionment is where the initial euphoria of success has passed and “normality” starts to return in your organization. It’s where your champions and early adopters are pushing the systems further and further into the organization. Without this process you could not possibly scale the solution out to all your users. Disillusionment sets in like Chinese Whispers – misunderstandings occur, workarounds are found because someone doesn’t know the answer, or there’s a deadline to meet and people don’t have time to embrace a new solution. Because you are increasingly distant from the people who are affected by this, the disillusionment sets in. The gap between the promise made at the beginning of the project and the reality of what people now have seems to be enormous.
This disillusionment can stop your adoption in its tracks. Consequently the whole success of your project is in danger with people perceiving your transformation to a social business as another one of these fads.
To cross the chasm and to continue up the user adoption curve you need to ensure you have the following:
The stage you are at now in your social business journey is all about GROWTH – not evangelizing. It’s about:
The qualities of such a person may be quite different from your qualities. You might be good at “selling” the concept but not good at detail or finishing things. You might be an extrovert with a keen eye for feelings, but not for numbers. Whichever type of person you are, recognize that the person to take it forward may be completely different from you.
The successor, in my opinion, should be appointed from within the organization and from one of the earlier groups, such as the champions or early adopters. It should be someone relatively well known, who has been with the organization a reasonable period of time and be known for being methodical and practical.
Your next job, having found that person is to make sure that every aspect of what you’ve done and why you’ve done it is understood. You need to be “joined at the hip” for a while to make sure your successor understands your thought processes in driving the project the way you have.
Equally, as this process goes on, you need to accept that your successor is a new broom – they will sweep in different ways and approach problems in different manners and from different angles. You need to be able to let go of that and let them do it.
Your executive sponsor has been your rock throughout this process. They have been the person who gave your project credibility at the time when everyone thought it was mad, or just another one of those passing fads. You need to be sure that your successor understands your sponsor. You need to make sure that your successor’s eye is firmly focused on the same prize that your sponsor has had all along.
The answer to this, of course, is communication. Communication over a period of time suitable for the project and for the organization.
Remember that the purpose of this is to hand the project on to the next generation who will take it forward – don’t leave a mess or bodies buried in the back yard – they will come back to haunt you.