Wednesday, 1 October 2008

More thoughts on knowledge and collaboration... IBM and Microsoft are getting in on the act

Since my post in August about collaboration tools and my post last month about the development of consumer technology vs 'professional' technology I found some interesting stuff from IBM, a major developer of knowledge management technology. 

On IBM's site Luis Suarez, a well known knowledge management expert (and IBM consultant), makes some very useful comparisons between old approaches to knowledge management and the social networking and collaboration tools I was discussing. 

1. KM was about explicit knowledge. Little attention was paid to tacit knowledge. 
2. KM was imposed from the top. It became an extra task for employees. What he calls 'social computing' arises as a core activity of daily work
3. KM was highly structured and inflexible. Social computing is flexible and personal

An interesting observation about these comments is that they are on IBM's website! That's because IBM now sells its own collaboration product,  Lotus Connections. Its something like facebook (profiles) combined with blogger (staff blogs) combined with digg/delicious (shared bookmarking) and bascamp (messaging and diaries). And unlike these other apps, it sits on an organisation's own server. I have no idea how much it costs. Probably quite a lot. 

Which makes me think of what I wrote about consumer vs professional technology development (see September posting). And makes me think that Lotus Connections is unlikely to succeed over time. It would be interesting to know what the ongoing research and development budget for Lotus Connections is. My bet is that it is a fraction of the development budget for facebook or any of the other free tools it emulates.  And so I suspect that in the end it will struggle to compete just as the makers of specialist tools in music production and television production have failed to compete with consumer orientated manufacturers. And the same applies to microsoft which is now trying to convince us that its office tools can be built on to make them the basis for social computing

But back to collaboration. Ive been working on some slides I will post soon, but my thinking is this....
1. social communication ('collaboration software' in my language, 'social computing' in microsofts and 'social software' in IBM's) models work better than traditional knowledge management and project management tools because they incentivise users to use them (rather than instruct them to use them)
2. they work better because they allow spontaneous connections between sources of information (ie PEOPLE!). 
3. we no longer need to try to impose such structured means of controlling or organising information because we have SEARCH! (cf Google - which can now be incorporated into any web site or intranet or even desktop)
4. email is how people in organisations have got around clumsy knowledge management systems. but as a work-around its got severe limitations. 
5. The shift required is from control and reporting as the dominant purpose of organisational software to tools that make keeping, organising, sharing and finding knowledge easy (in our everyday work).
6. The key tools required are:
  • messaging that keeps a secure searchable trail of our conversations (unlike email)
  • document sharing that is easy to file and flexible in structure (unlike database solutions) and that doesnt duplicate and is secure (unlike email)
  • networking that allows us to search what we need by people as easily or more easily than searching by subject (if you have a serious medical problem you dont search wikipedia you go to a doctor). 
  • ability to control the level of sharing of information and knowledge we have (and that enables us to share on a continuum from private to public). 

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