Thursday, December 20, 2007

Things that the IT Dept shouldn't be doing

I personally get allergic reactions when I experience in first person or hear about situations where the IT department create obstacles for employees, typically because it wants to enforce or prevent a specific kind of behaviour. All too often, these obstacles are created without any deeper understanding of what the employees need to be able to be productive and do their jobs in an efficient way. Here are some of the things that an IT department can do to provoke these allergic reactions:

  • Not allowing employees to buy or download and install software on their computers
  • Not allowing employees to set their own browser home page or not allowing multiple home pages in pages that support multiple tabs
  • Not allowing browser plug-ins such as Flash
  • Restricting access to information resources by default instead of only restricting access when it is really needed and having as default to let employees access information resources
  • Not allowing instant messaging
  • Not allowing external RSS feeds (simply because they are seen as something alien that the IT department cannot control)

Well, these are just a few examples and the list could be made much longer. I am sure that there are many and well motivated reasons for creating these kinds of obstacles, but I am also sure that these reasons rarely overshadow the reasons why the obstacles should NOT be created.

Typically, obstacles like these are created by an IT Department which has made security to its main concern and maybe even to its mission. It does not manage to balance the need for security with other business needs. Whatever the IT strategy might look like in detail, it cannot align very well with the business strategy.

The primary concern for the IT department should of course be to help employees to become more productive and do their jobs more efficiently, thereby contributing to the bottom line business results. By obstructing employees when they try to do their job, the IT department hurts the business instead of supporting it. By doing so they put their own existence at stake as employees will start to question the IT department, thereby alienating the IT Department even more and increasing the distance between it and the rest of the business. Employees will either accept the obstacles, or they will seek and find ways to sidestep them. If that becomes a common behaviour, there is a risk that not only the “bad” rules are broken but also the good ones. And that would definately be a dangerous road to travel.

Friday, December 14, 2007

SOA vendors bad at explaining their own products

Dave Linthicum at ZapThink argues that vendors use unsophisticated approaches for selling their products. The reason is that they cannot explain them to the customers, and this is especially true for SOA:
"They do know how to list buzzwords they think will "wow" their prospects and existing customers. However, in many cases, the customers become further confused or, worse, don't even get the core concept behind the product, not to mention SOA...//...Most vendors have never sold an architecture before, just tactical products that service some specific purpose."

Joe McKendrick comments on the article above and pretty much hits the nail on the head:
"One of the challenges with SOA, at least from a vendor perspective, is that ultimately, it’s a philosophy, not a tangible product. And, ultimately, SOA provides a way to extend and deploy functionality without the original vendor."

In reality, many vendors are just wrapping their monolitic products in new buzzwords, be it SOA or Enterprise 2.0. They might have modified their products and their technologies to support SOA or to include tools as blogs, RSS and Wikies - but have they really understood and practiced the underlying philosophies?

Using blogs and RSS-feeds for better decision making

Here's a train of thought and I hope you will be able to follow it.

On a high level, business intelligence can be defined as initiatives that use various forms of IT-resources to support better business decision making. But the most commonly definition narrows it down to using facts (= data) to support decisions, a fact being "something that is the case, something that actually exists, or something that can be verified according to an established standard of evaluation". (Wikipedia)

Facts can be good, especially aggregated facts that provide a highly informative context for decision making. However, I would argue that most business decisions are based on some kind of intuition and that this is not necessarily something bad. A decision might be the right decision even if it is is made in a split second and not based on facts or a rational process. Sometimes (often?) intuitive decisions are even better than fact based. Personal experiences and implicit and subjective information and knowledge might be just as important for decision making as hard explicit facts represented as data.

Intuition is about your previous experiences and lessons learned. It is about passive consuming and digesting information, information which is then processed by your sub-consciousness. It puts the active process of trying to figure out an answer aside and is based on effortless awarenesses. These awarenesses can create insights and solutions to problems that you are directly or indirectly working with.

In my mind, Enterprise 2.0 is not about creating gigantic data warehouses with numbers and figures from which management can get aggregated reports about how the enterprise performs from a hard fact-based perspective. No, Enterprise 2.0 has much more to do with enabling information to flow between people and making it easy to passively tap into these information flows to support intuitive decision making. This requires creating and fostering an environment where employees readily share their information and knowledge. In such an environment, tools such as blogs and wikis have their natural uses. When the information that is locked into departmental information silos and peoples' heads is eventually unlocked, we can all tap into relevant blogs, wikis and other tools and information sources with the use of push technologies such as RSS and passively and almost effortlessly consume and digest information. We will know a lot more about what is happening in the business and we will, as our sub-consciousness is constantly processing this information, become better at making intuitive decisions that actually turn out to be the right ones.

That's enough of thinking for today.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A few voices on why information governance is important

"Delivering Information Governance or just flogging more kit?" by Ramesh Manghirmalani:

FEW WOULD disagree that their corporate information is probably their biggest strategic asset.../...The problem with corporate information is that it’s inevitably locked up in silos that range in size from one person’s head to another through departments and regions...//...Unlocking such information is a huge challenge that needs to cross the boundaries of technology, politics, people and processes. This is probably one of the biggest challenges faced by reasonably sized organizations.

Here's a press release from Gartner on the subject - "Gartner Says Start Managing Information, Not Just Technology":
Gartner predicts that organisations who do not approach information management in a coordinated, enterprise manner, will fail in the first or second year at a rate of more than 90 per cent. Many organisations want to exploit their information assets and address issues surrounding information overload in order to achieve their efficiency, transparency and differentiation objectives. At the same time, they want to ensure appropriate safeguards and measures are in place to protect sensitive information and minimise risk. Despite the recognition of the importance of the issue, many organisations do not have formal information governance programmes, or coordinated information management strategies in place.

“IT professionals have focused for too long on technology and not enough on information,” said David Newman, research vice-president at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo. “The business expects to have the right information at the right time to get the job done. It also expects information to be accurate and consistent. Furthermore, senior management expects that adequate controls and defined accountabilities are in place to assure compliance and reduce risk. That’s why information governance is top-of-mind among any of our clients today.”

Finally, here’s an overview of information governance, "Mike2.0 Information Governance Overview", shared by Sean McClowry from BearingPoint on slideshare.net:

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Bridging Data And Content For Enterprise Information Management (EIM)

Enterprise Information Management (EIM) is a concept with potential for improving business management and operations. Its key purpose is to manage enterprise information assets across enterprise and application domains.

Information assets are based on data and content which means that successful EIM needs to bridge the traditionally separated areas of Data Management and Content Management. Both areas have been oriented to the production side of data and content including techniques for creation, integration, administration, access and delivery. Data and Content Management also work with e.g. security, quality assurance and consolidation into master sources.

But there are some differences, as plainly described below:

  • Data Management has its roots in managing data for process workers and users. Data Management has followed the evolution of Enterprise Applications which have required high-volume transactional data.
  • Content Management has its roots in managing documents for information workers and users. Content Management has followed the evolution of the web which has required the aggregation of multiple types of media.

There is also a difference on the consumption side of data and content. Data Management is often complemented with Business Intelligence, which concerns gathering and analysing data for business decisions. Content Management goes well with Enterprise Portals that offers multi-channel delivery of digital content.

The gap between Data and Content Management is very inefficient both from an IT and a worker/user perspective. So, Data Management and Business Intelligence must be better combined with Content Management and Enterprise Portals to enable the potential for EIM.

What is missing? Where should we start?

Enterprise information assets are fundamental to EIM, according to the definition above. Therefore an EIM approach should include the following key activities:

  • Creation of a strategy that provides a unified direction for utilizing information assets (data and content)
  • Definition of an architecture with a common blueprint for information assets (data and content)
  • Establishment of an administration that continuously govern and improve information assets (data and content)

What is your experience?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

How to make people collaborate more and better

How do you make people collaborate more with each other? How do you make them collaborate more efficiently? My recipe is simple, even if the execution is nothing but simple:
  • Make it easy to collaborate by supporting different needs in different situations with VERY easy-to-use collaboration tools
  • Motivate and help people to change their attitudes and behaviour towards collaboration, making them question how they do things today and how they can do it better
The latter is the most important ingredient of the recipe because humans are lazy by nature (or a nicer way to put it would be that we are economical, using our resources with great care). We rather use what we already know and do things as we are used to do them than invest time and effort in challenging what we already know and how we do things. We need strong reasons to change. Someone needs to motivate us to climb up the hill, making us believe that a smoother ride is waiting for us on the other side of the hill.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

E2.0 - A renaissance for collaboration and knowledge management

Almost as a follow-up on my post "Rules are meant to be broken" and Henrik Gustafssons post "Will Web 2.0 Drive Knowledge Management?", here's a quote from Mike Gotta who blogs about the new report "Enterprise 2.0: Collaboration and Knowledge Management Renaissance" that he has authored for Burton Group:

Enterprise strategists have long been aware that the “informal organization” has tremendous influence on business success or failure. A vibrant culture with a strong sense of community and cross-functional network of employee relationships can significantly augment traditional management methods and processes structures. Hierarchy and formal controls can inadvertently result in compliance policies, decision-making roles, and work handing rules that constrain the ability of people to effectively communicate, share information, and collaborate. In many cases, these “gating mechanisms” are necessary business constructs that serve valid purposes (e.g., security), but they have unintended consequences: communication may not be timely, relevant knowledge might not be shared, and collaboration may not occur across departmental boundaries.

Breakdowns in information sharing and collaboration and a poor sense of community within an enterprise can impact a worker's willingness to share insight and pass along experiences. Catalyzing the informal organization is becoming a more complex challenge for business and information technology (IT) strategists as shifting employee demographics crystallize concerns regarding aging workforce trends and expectations of younger employees (e.g., new work models).

“E2.0” as a catch phrase has merit and deserves attention from business and IT strategists. Beyond the meme, however, E2.0 represents new packaging for strategic collaboration and KM. Organizations often rely on collaboration and KM initiatives to attain innovation, growth, productivity, and performance goals. Collaboration and KM efforts can also help address needs of the informal organization when these efforts are properly linked to human capital management programs that improve HR and employee talent strategies.

John Newton has written "A Manifesto for Social Computing in the Enterprise", listing what capabilities are needed in a social computing platform for helping to "empower people to collaborate at any time or place". Here's a few quotes from the post:

The balance is shifting from contained and controlled companies to engaged and empowered collaborative enterprises driven by Web 2.0-inspired social computing. At the center of the shift from old models of computing in the enterprise to new social models are companies that are inspired to innovate or to engage more with their customers...//...Those using social computing are interested in engaging people, such as customers, employees or partners. They are using new people-centric tools and facilitate creating or extending existing social networks.

This does not mean that the need for traditional enterprise content technologies such as document and records management goes away. They are still repositories of the truth and verifiable information and thus play an important role in sharing knowledge within social networks. However, these traditional technologies lack the usability, empowerment, and breadth of reach that Web 2.0 sites provide. They lack the collaborative nature that invites in people without barriers and restrictions to contribute to the sharing of knowledge and information.

Finally, here's the finale in Andrew McAfee's post "Enterprise 2.0 May be Fine for the Business, But What About the IT Department?", commenting on a recent article in InformationWeek ("Growing Pains: Can Web 2.0 Evolve Into An Enterprise Technology?"):

Among the least kind terms I hear used to describe IT organizations are ‘priesthood’ and ‘empire.’ These words imply a belief that corporate IT departments consciously exclude outsiders and outside influences, and are concerned primarily with expanding themselves. If this is the case, then Enterprise 2.0 will certainly be resisted by IT; its tools are cheap, often housed outside the firewall, and require relatively little configuration, support, and maintenance. Enterprise 2.0 comes from outside the priesthood, in other words, and doesn’t expand the empire. As the article says in its opening sentence, "forget outsourcing. the real threat to IT pros could be Web 2.0." I think a larger threat to the continued health and relevance of corporate IT departments might be the worldview underlying that sentence.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Collaborate to reduce the production of carbon dioxide

Gary Griffiths argues in his column "Harnessing the Internet to Boost Conservation Efforts" at GreenerComputing how collaborative web applications (SaaS) can enable organizations to "conserve energy and operate more efficiently by increasing organizational efficiencies, reducing the need for in-person meetings and decreasing the amount of technology infrastructure needed to maintain productivity." He illustrates with an example:

"...by eliminating the need to make four round trip flights between New York City and Chicago for two co-workers, a business can save 3.19 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year. Not taking these four trips also reclaims 26 hours of travel time and approximately $1400 in airfare. Furthermore, giving employees the option of telecommuting, even one day a week, can reduce carbon dioxide production by a considerable amount. One driver making a forty mile round-trip commute once a week at 24 MPG can prevent the production of three-quarters of a ton of carbon dioxide by working from home."

Almost a year ago, my fellow blogger Anders Bännstrand shared his frustration over the fact that we still are not using available technology to communicate and collaborate instead of traveling (Are We Finally Ready For Ecomeetings?):

"I believe that one important reason why we meet in person is due to the fact that we are not trained to communicate certain matters in any other way than eye to eye. Another reason could of course be that people like to get away from the daily routines and in the same time earn bonus points for their private travel…"

All of us who blog about the potential benefits of collaboration technologies could (and should!) help to bring this major benefit of collaboration technologies up to the surface and make it the primary driver for adoption of collaboration technologies and new ways of working in the tail of Web 2.0. We all have a responsibility to save the earth from overheating.