Monday, August 25, 2008

Releasing the power of networks

Hyperlinks connect content with content.

Social networks connect people with people.

RSS feeds connect people with content.

Together, these technologies can be used to make information flow between people in an organization almost like water flows in a metropolitan water system. They can help people find other people with knowledge, information or ideas that when intersecting with their own spawn new knowledge, value and innovations.

If virtually all information would be allowed to flow freely through these networks in an organization, the organization could actually become the sum of all its parts. It could potentially use and benefit from the collective intelligence of all its people.

How come then that many organizations are still not seizing this opportunity as fast as they possibly can? I believe a that major part of the answer is quite simple; the people who build their power on keeping information for themselves feel threatened. They might have built their current positions on hoarding information instead of sharing it. It is obvious that they won't let go of the information if they do not get something in return that makes them feel safe in their positions.

Threats to existing power structures in organizations must be handled very carefully, but they should not be allowed to hinder the democratization of information. It is the responsibility of top management to understand and act according to this insight.

Not doing anything is a deadly strategy. No organization can put the genie back in the bottle. People have already gotten used to freely expressing themselves and sharing and consuming information and experiences on the web. We must remind ourselves that these are the same people who go to work and feel that the IT department is - passively or actively - hindering them to do the same things at work, the same people that either will give up and loose their motivation or quit to start working for a competitor that actually tries to empower its employees instead of hindering them.

The point here is that any organization needs to create a strategy that addresses how to make use of these new opportunities to improve communication and collaboration and how leverage any ongoing grass-root initiatives instead of hindering them. But this strategy also needs to address how to deal with barriers to change such as existing power structures that might be threatened by the change, counteractive attitudes and behaviours among coworkers, and a complex and inflexible IT legacy.


  1. HI Oscar, yes RSS is great. But for a business it is not about connecting content with content. That does NOT produce revenue or profits. It just might produce information overload. What a business needs is connecting content with process. Business context is not simply achieved by indexing content as many believe, because the proper index values are automatically created by the process. In a business there is no process without content and no content without process. Pure information has no business value. If you dump office tools and enforce process related content you not even need a search engine.

  2. What I saying in this post is that hyperlinks, social networks and RSS in combination create an "ecosystem" for information exchange between people in a business. Social networks and RSS are the missing pieces of the puzzle, allowing people to connect with relevant information encoded in content via RSS or with other people that might be in possession of the information they need.

    As I have argued many times before, information exists only in the head of people but can be encoded into various forms of content and thereby transferred to other people (just as you can transfer it via voice and body language). So, by connecting people with people, you are actually connecting information with information directly.

    People are the ones participating in structured business processes or engaged knowledge work. You see the connection? I get the sense that you are abstracting people from the process (work) and from the information, but there simply is no process and no information if you leave the people out of the equation. People are the ones who use information and their knowledge to perform actions which might be part of a predefined process or performed ad hoc.

    If you see this connection, any software should focus on empowering its users, making it easy to find other people and to exchange information and knowledge with these.

    Sadly, most traditional enterprise systems have been designed top-down for highly structured processes with a lot of business rules and awkward user interfaces. They just don't fit users work-styles, which cause users to communicate and collaborate via e-mail instead. Social tools fill this gap and brings people closer together and provide more efficient means of communicating and collaborating than e-mail. Integrating them into traditional enterprise software and make enterprise software more social is important get value from Web 2.0 technologies.

    Whether or not EMC really has got this I cannot say, but I like that they seem to be trying to focus more on their users.