Wednesday 8 July 2009

Choosing your web 2.0 technology from the bottom up

Sweet shop
Originally uploaded by pedrosimoes7
There's a lot of interesting and exciting technology out there at the moment, and it's very easy to approach it like a "kid in a sweetshop" - "lets get blogs, lets get wikis, lets get facebook, lets get twitter, lets get youtube - they are very popular on the web, so these social technologies must add value to business".

I would much rather we took a step back, and asked "what do we need to be able to do in order to seek, share and re-use knowledge, and what technology should we choose to enable and encourage this?"

In one company I was consulting with recently, we looked at the KM functionality that was required and decided that was needed was

1. The ability to find people, based on what they knew ("who knows about legal frameworks in Brazil?")
2. The ability to ask questions of a community of practice ("can anyone out there advise me on this issue?")
3. The ability for a community (or for SMEs in a community) to create and maintain knowledge products such as guidelines, tips and hints, processes and procedures
4. The ability to find this community knowledge, quickly and easily
5. The ability to log new lessons and learnings, for validation and incorporation into the knowledge products (and to be able to track this, to make sure the lessons cycle is being closed)
6. The ability for an individual project to create, maintain and find its own project-specific knowledge products
7. The ability for an individual project to log new lessons, for incorporation into the project-specific knowledge products (and to be able to track this)

We ended up with a toolkit comprising yellow pages, shared learning systems at project and community scale, knowledge libraries at project and community scale, and community discussion forums.

With hindsight, I would now add

8. the ability for a community or a community leader to broadcast new knowledge

You could address these functionality needs in a number of ways

1. needs a yellow pages system, and one based on a good taxonomy. The free-form approaches of MySpace and FaceBook are designed for easy publishing and for serendipitous encounters, but not for easy search for specific knowledge-holders

2. needs some bulletin-board or discussion functionality. Facebook and Linked-In provide this, as do products such as Sitescape and SigmaConnect (used by Shell and BP respectively). Ideally there should be cross-links between 1 and 2, and the yellow pages should also provide and index of community membership

3. needs a wiki. The shell wiki is an excellent example of this. Again, the structure of the wiki needs to match the structure of the communities

4. means good search.

5. is a combination of lessons database and action tracker. There are some excellent examples of this in the Military, used to track lessons right through to implementation. This is not web 2.0, but its a crucial component in a KM system

6. is a good information management system for the projects, plus items such as project blogs. SharePoint could work well at this level

7. is a lessons learned database like 5, but on a project scale. It could be the same software, but you dont want to clog up the corporate lessons system with project-scale lessons.

8 is either community blogs, or good tagging and subscription of new knowledge products, or most probably both.

I haven't included twitter. There was no need in this company for any of the functionality twitter could provide. I could imagine other companies (sales companies for example) where it would have a very valuable place, but I am not going to push technology in where there is no need for it.

(Which reminds me of a conversation I had in Dubrovnik last year regarding new technology, and someone said "You could use Twitter on an oil rig for example - say you were running a perforating gun into the hole and you wanted radio silence for 10 minutes so as not to set off the charges accidentally when people were nearby - you could send out a twitter alert and notify everyone". Well, you could, but if you wanted to notify everyone, there is a perfectly good existing technology - its called a Tannoy system, and for the required purpose, its actually much more effective than Twitter. Sometimes the old tools work the best)

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