Having been mired for several weeks in a technological misalignment of the stars, I have to question how social tools (the technological kind) might have saved me boatloads of aggravation and time. Consider having all of these happen in one month:
• Wireless router that couldn’t support wireless (waiting for second replacement)
• IBM ThinkPad power adapter not usable with Lenovo ThinkPad
• Cable service not able to get a signal from street down my 1,000 ft. driveway
• Two cable modem failures and replacements
• ISP spam blocker blocking good stuff but does not retain it as suspect mail for review
• 10 hours of downtime from my web hosting/e-mail service provider
As one who guides and advises companies on enterprise search selection, implementation and deployment, and various aspects of knowledge asset management, it is a little ironic that I have my own challenges finding quality answers and knowledge to support my home office. I have used these tools in my search for answers:
• Phone – vendor customer service
• Chat – vendor website customer service
• Email – vendor customer service, and to some colleagues for advice
• Web searching – vendor site search, Internet general search engines
• Twitter – comments about troubles; search for similar comments by others
So far, phone discussions have been the only pathway to resolutions, and in one case a technician’s house call was required. Most of the issues are still open, however emails and automated phone calls solicit feedback about my satisfaction with support services daily.
What does this have to do with search? I am searching to solve very specific problems, not an uncommon reason to search within the enterprise. As an independent consultant, my “enterprise” is my professional network, the support services I pay for and the WWW. When I fail to garner information I need from electronic sources, I reach out directly to experts in my personal network for answers. Even then, I find electronic dialog mechanisms that require typing a back-and-forth Q & A session to be pretty painful. Usually, one of us resorts to the phone or an in-person session to “see” what is really going on.
What have I learned? 1. When a resolution is needed quickly and efficiently, talking to someone who is really an expert is the best path. 2. When I can’t find the answer on-line, I need to find an expert. 3. When I can’t find an answer or an expert, I flounder and waste huge amounts of time.
Conclusion: Social tools (public platforms, social search, email, and even phone) require substantive work or communication skill by participants to establish a benefit from communication interchanges. Contextual hooks are needed to improve the results of information exchanges. Socializing is critical to expanding our networks of experts in a way that builds relationships in which we can freely reach out and expect a productive dialogue when we have a need to know. This is something to work at and consider when we embrace social technologies. It isn’t the technology tool that makes us social, it is the surrounding sharing and communicating (aka socializing) that breeds the trusting and trusted relationships that will improve our search for answers. Social networks and platforms may give us the tools to search for and share content. But it is the socializing that adds rich context to make it more likely that the expert we want and the answers we seek are the most beneficial.
This title by Mike Altendorf, in CIO Magazine, October 31, 2008, mystifies me, Search Will Outshine KM. I did a little poking around to discover who he is and found a similar statement by him back in September, Search is being implemented in enterprises as the new knowledge management and what’s coming down the line is the ability to mine the huge amount of untapped structured and unstructured data in the organisation.
Because I follow enterprise search for the Gilbane Group while maintaining a separate consulting practice in knowledge management, I am struggling with his conflation of the two terms or even the migration of one to the other. The search we talk about is a set of software technologies that retrieve content. I’m tired of the debate about the terminology “enterprise search” vs. “behind the firewall search.” I tell vendors and buyers that my focus is on software products supporting search executed within (or from outside looking in) the enterprise on content that originates from within the enterprise or that is collected by the enterprise. I don’t judge whether the product is for an exclusive domain, content type or audience, or whether it is deployed with the “intent” of finding and retrieving every last scrap of content lying around the enterprise. It never does nor will do the latter but if that is what an enterprise aspires to, theirs is a judgment call I might help them re-evaluate in consultation.
It is pretty clear that Mr. Altendorf is impressed with the potential for Fast and Microsoft so he knows they are firmly entrenched in the software business. But knowledge management (KM) is not now, nor has it ever been, a software product or even a suite of products. I will acknowledge that KM is a messy thing to talk about and the label means many things even to those of us who focus on it as a practice area. It clearly got derailed as a useful “discipline” of focus in the 90s when tool vendors decided to place their products into a new category called “knowledge management.”
It sounded so promising and useful, this idea of KM software that could just suck the brains out of experts and the business know-how of enterprises out of hidden and lurking content. We know better, we who try to refine the art of leveraging knowledge by assisting our clients with blending people and technology to establish workable business practices around knowledge assets. We bring together IT, business managers, librarians, content managers, taxonomists, archivists, and records managers to facilitate good communication among many types of stakeholders. We work to define how to apply behavioral business practices and tools to business problems. Understanding how a software product is helpful in processes, its potential applications, or to encourage usability standards are part of the knowledge manager’s toolkit. It is quite an art, the KM process of bringing tools together with knowledge assets (people and content) into a productive balance.
Search is one of the tools that can facilitate leveraging knowledge assets and help us find the experts who might share some “how-to” knowledge, but it is not, nor will it ever be a substitute for KM. You can check out these links to see how others line up on the definitions of KM: CIO introduction to KM and Wikipedia. Let’s not have the “KM is dead” discussion again!
Hustling through my preparation list before the Gilbane San Francisco conference I have come to the fifth session on enterprise search that I’ll be moderating, Mining, Analyzing and Delivering Intelligent Content, featuring Amin Negandi, Principal, Echelon Consulting LLC, speaking on Enterprise Search at A.T. Kearney, and Rob Joachim, Information Systems Engineering Lead, MITRE Corporation presenting a case study on the development of An Expertise Finder Application Built on Enterprise Search. In listening to both of them talk about their projects, these are “must-attend” presentations for those seeking to build search-based solutions for their organizations. Both are examples of the practical and real challenges that surround value building projects. Both have positive outcomes but are hardly implementations that will become static legacy deployments; sustaining a value-based system is an ongoing activity.
As the session abstract states, there are as many technologies for finding content as there are types of content and types of enterprises. Locating a pile of links or citations is rarely the end game for those who really seek to leverage content. Both presenters in this session will talk about solutions that serve real and critical needs for one enterprise, in the first case being able to securely search content across a professional services firm in which collaboration is important within defined proprietary boundaries.
The second case also touches on the need for collaboration and sharing, in this case by enabling location of individuals who are experts. Using the context of content and associations to which they are linked for “defining” individual expertise, search filters relevant metadata to reveal those individuals. Connections are made to locate people and their professional work.
Delivering search results intelligently requires not only technology but also the art of the implementation team. Keeping the focus on specific business outcomes is the essence of ensuring that search delivers intelligent content. The stories of what problem was targeted, what tools were deployed, and how search was implemented by savvy search specialists are the most interesting and useful for learning. Finding out that serendipity also plays a role is getting closer to the best solution is always fun to discover in the process. We’ll be listening on June 19th.