Friday, May 25, 2007

Web 2.0 here I come!

As promised, I’ll now acknowledge that blogs have value. In what ways I’m not sure yet, but it’s a losing proposition to continue down my former path. So—let’s expand the conversation. Let’s talk about what are commonly referred to as “web 2.0” technologies. They usually include such things as blogs, wikis, RSS, mashups, social networking, etc. Taken as a whole, I can get behind web 2.0 much more than I can for any one application. That’s because they all share an underlying driver that transcends a specific use. They all rely on peer-to-peer access. The need for monolithic sources of knowledge is fast becoming irrelevant. I’ve argued this point for some time, so in this case web 2.0 helps my cause.

The only fly in the ointment however, seems to be that organizations just aren’t ready for it. At our KM conference earlier this month, the theme was innovation and the presenters certainly did their best to illustrate the buzz around web 2.0 and the like. But what I heard from folks there were issues around implementing “old” technology, such as collaborative spaces, and repository management. With only a few very notable exceptions (and you know who you are), attendees were concerned about some very practical and long-standing knowledge sharing problems such as getting people to create, share, and reuse regardless of what technologies are available to them.

That leads me to consider that there may be a divide looming—those organizations that are taking a traditional knowledge sharing approach v. those that are testing the web 2.0 technologies to see if more knowledge sharing occurs. And, because web 2.0 technologies rely on the previously mentioned peer-to-peer model, one could argue that expertise location is enhanced as well. After all, if you get something from someone’s blog, being aware that that person has useful content on similar topics naturally allows you to stay connected with a person v. a repository.

Nevertheless, my work in KM—while straddling the divide—has still been in the traditional; taxonomies, repositories, validated content, knowledge maintenance processes, and so on. It’s not a resistance to the new, it’s what’s being asked for. Regardless of the technology used, some basic change management and human nature considerations are still king. Recently, a client senior executive said to me, “There’s nothing to keep my people from sharing; all they have to do is get up out of their chairs and go down the hall.” True enough, as far as I could tell nobody was shackled to their desks. Yet no sharing was going on. And, this organization has enough technology to make most of us jealousy—satellite VTC, webcams on PCs, instant messaging, and on and on. Still no sharing.

In another case, a member of a “gang of four” (her description) told me that she and her colleagues do get together in person to share what they know—but they have to do it secretly out of doors. When I suggested that we could help them with a collaboration space to allow them to share 24/7 (and stay inside during the Winter), she flatly said “no,” that putting those same kinds of comments in electronic form would be too risky.

So those cases and others, IT management’s concerns about effective management of all technologies, and the fact that some organizations haven’t even learned to walk with KM means that web 2.0 technologies would be the equivalent of immediately going to running with KM scissors in hand. But, if you’re worried about me being left in the last century, never fear. APQC’s next consortium learning benchmarking study, KM and Enabling Technologies (principally web 2.0 stuff), launches in July, and I get to play in it. I suspect that they’re taking the approach that making the nay-sayer a part of the experience will open my eyes to a brave, new world. By the way, we may even innovate the way we do studies with this one. There’s been some talk of using a wiki to develop parts of it. Stay tuned.


Jack Vinson said...

Thanks for coming back from the edge, Jim. :-)

Your observations on Web 2.0 and corporate readiness for the jump to these technologies is exactly in line with the discussion inspired by Tom Davenport's comment that the technology is not going to cause a change in enterprises. The issue is around trust and control and everything that goes with the way thigns have worked in the past.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Jack, thanks for the support. I do worry sometimes that press of current clients leaves me working with organizations that haven't experienced the trust that you know is needed as you pointed out so well. On the other hand, none of the technologies (web 2.0 in particular) are "bad" in the sense that they reduce sharing; it's merely how they're applied. Isn't that always the case?

This morning I saw yet another in the seemingly endless stories of how companies are checking candidates' MySpace and Facebook entries to see if their personal side reveals anything that their resume and interview sides don't. Naturally when their salacious behavior and predilections are exposed by themselves--no job offer! Good technology--dumb usage!

Dale Arseneault said...

Hi Jim.. as menionted in our last few emails, I'll be participating in the study you mention in your blog entry. I'm very much looking forward to it, though I suspect that finding "best practice" Web 2.0 / Enterprise 2.0 organizations to study could be a challenge; supported by your APQC KM conference observations.

A couple of interesting thoughts ... perhaps.

In a recent conversation, when asked "why?" they implemented a wiki under the radar rather than leverage existing corporate information tools, a project team simply said the tool "reduced barriers (ease of use, ease of organization) to sharing." So, do Web 2.0 tools, implemented effectively, reduce the barrier to sharing that are inherent in more traditional information / content tools? Good question for some analysis perhaps.

And the second thought ... There is a well discussed, somewhat gradual trend in organizations towards "self organization" - groups of people come together around a problem or issue and work together to solve it, then disband. And there seems to be a connection between this style of work and characteristics of Gen X and Ys. (Definitely different than being given permission / mission / mandate from a "higher-up"in a more traditional hierarchy.)

So, it would make sense to me that there needs to be some combination of; a) provding a suite of collaborative tools that self-organizing groups can select from and use as they see fit and b) an unincumbering background framework or structure that ensures that work output meets business needs and is recorded to satisfy any "duty to document" / legislation (e.g. SOX) / records management needs.

And of course Jim, it all comes down to people (users, decision makers), and that all comes down to individual and organizational readiness, in everything from available attention /mindshare, vested interest (or not) in the status quo, to availability of supporting business processes and technology architecture.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Dale, as usual you keep the conversation going very nicely. Thank you.

I do think that web 2.0 tools can be effective at breaking down sharing barriers. In fact I wish we had more of them! I also wonder however, if having more options is necessarily better--from a results standpoint. Two things come to mind there: 1) email is indispensable, yet why are some organizations employing moratorium periods to make phone calls instead; and, 2) the ever increasing time-slicing (and attention grabbing) workstyle today.

With respect to the coming together of somewhat spontaneous teams, I've enjoyed that style of collaboration for some time. In the trade we call it "management by project."

So let's see what will stick in this latest iteration of collaboration capability.