Category Archives: Innovation

Day 1 KM Australia

Yesterday I was in Sydney for the first day of the KM Australia Conference. The conference is a two day event at Milson’s Point.

David Gurteen opened proceedings with an introduction extolling the benefits of conversation. David made references from Theodore Zeldin – “The kind of conversation I like is one in which you are prepared to emerge a slightly different person” and David Weinberger (Cluetrain Manifesto) – “better to understand the knowledge we already have”. The basic message is to engage, listen and learn.

The two stand out presentations today were from Nicolas Gorjestani (ex World Bank) and Pete Williams from Deloitte in Sydney.

Gorjestani focused on obstacles to change from existing mindsets, noting that cultural change at the World Bank started  in the mid-1990s with the ideal of a “knowledge bank” but that the ideal is still to be realised. That’s not to say that nothing has changed; however, change takes time and continuous encouragement.

Moreover, sometimes “unlearning” something is just as important as learning something new. Human mindsets see only some things; something that has been reinforced with me over the years with readings and presentations from people such as Dave Snowden from Cognitive Edge. Gorjestani emphasised the need to ask “what could be?” rather than “what can be?”  I imagine a few mindsets in some organisations that need a jackhammer of gargantuan proportions to shift….but that’s another story.

Pete Williams from Deloitte emphasised how existing communication tools can be used for good business outcomes. He was specifically focusing on social tools that allow connection and collaboration between individuals and teams. He informed us how Deloitte uses Yammer to share information and experiences within Deloitte. He gave many examples as to how the system was used to ask and solve problems; problems that might otherwise take much longer to solve or deal with. In a telling point about Sharepoint, Williams said this about the Microsoft product: “if I want to get a glass of water, Sharepoint wants to dig a well. Why not go to the tap that’s already there?”.

And the meaning here is that there are fabulous tools out there already to use.  So why spend time and resources building new things when it already exists, especially at such low cost? He continued by commenting that in many cases the customisation of Sharepoint from previously requested work still hasn’t been finished so how could new work be taken on board and completed in a timely manner? Indeed.

Williams also highlighted new ways to present information through mashups and through minor adjustments to existing software apps. Bamboo was a product that he mentioned that I need to investigare further. Again, Williams advocated a culture of “can do” rather than “won’t do”.

Deloitte actively encourages good ideas in many ways. They provide time and financial resources for new ideas to be tested and developed. Microfunding is available to anyone with an idea that has potential, approved by the innovation team.  In addition, Yammer is used across Deloitte to not only solve problems and respond to questions but to comment and improve upon decisions. Williams gave the example of the change from a per diem rate for expenses to actual cost recovery by individual receipts. When it was pointed out by many people that this procedure would take forever for those in consulting jobs at sites for months at a time, the CEO took this on board and changed the policy back.

All of these ideas and experiences work because of a culture of can do and of encouraging ideas for improvement. Unfortunately, many organisations prefer a command and control model where innovation is unlikely to get very far.

I look forward to hearing what speakers bring to the table on day 2.

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Reflections on Web 3.0 social media conference

I have had a few days now to reflect upon what was presented and discussed at the Web 3.0 social media conference that was held in Sydney last Thursday and Friday.

The key point is that social media cannot be ignored by companies and nor can it be ignored by “marketeers”. “Marketeers” is obviously some cutesy professional term used these days to describe marketing executives or marketing departments; a noun that I find strangely childish and stupid.  But I digress.

For the organisation, social media offers scope, range, and reach to potential customers and clients. Using social media tools such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allows organisations to communicate using channels that are becoming increasingly popular. 

Mark Higginson from Nielsens reported that growth in the online sector in Australia was strong, even showing a growth in online media use from the 55-plus demographic. Moreover, in the words of Alex Crompton from Aussie (Home Loans), “It’s (social media) where the people are.” In other words, look at where your audience is and work out the best (if not all) the media channels necessary to connect with them. The online space will continue to eat into traditional advertising channel revenue as people spend more time online.

Not surprisingly, the case for social media use was strong. Not only did presenters emphasise the communication and marketing aspects, but many also told us of the importance of “community”, “engagement” and “the social” aspects of the online universe. Online brand reputation and “tribal support” are significant, as both Alex Crompton (Aussie) and Karen Ganschow (Telstra) indicated in their presentations. Products and services can be improved by using social media as a way of listening to customers, and then using the feedback to enhance the customer (and brand) experience – all good commercial sense. Generating online champions who advocate (and even solve problems) on your behalf, is even better!

Nick Love from Fox Interactive Media was confident that the internet in the near future would be totally about “the social”. Nick was so confident , that he forecast that “social” media would become redundant since the social aspects of online use and interaction would become embedded into everything that happens online. Nick referred to the “social web” as a way of explaining how pervasive the shift to social networks was becoming. Mark Higginson from Nielsen wasn’t convinced (and nor was I) that the internet in the future would be totally social, but I think Mark and I would agree that the social aspects of online communication and engagement will continue to grow and become very important.

The three of us would agree, however, that social media has an important “reputation currency” associated with it, something at the heart of authenticity and engagement. It remains to be seen how marketeers will leverage “authenticity” and “engagement” to sell their wares and promote their brands.  Actually, it is already beginning to happen on social media sites such as Youtube where content is becoming monetised (product placement is a classic example).

Karen Stocks from Youtube keenly promoted (financial) success from Youtube celebrity spinoffs and content creators such as Australian Natalie Tran. Youtube offered global reach, attention, and eyeballs for product placement and brand awareness. At the heart of Youtube success was “viral marketing” – some authentic and often accidentally successful Youtube clip that captured “people’s imagination” and took off. One quoted example was the Mentos mints in the bottles of diet coke that literally took off, and with it sales of diet coke to boot! Of course, it’s not all beer and skittles (or mints and coke) for Youtube content creators. Naomi Klein warned us in No Logo that companies prowl for ideas from a range of sources (and these days social media is one of them) for emerging trends and then commercialise without any profit going to the edgy content creators who displayed their ideas first.

Michael Kordehi proved that Microsoft has informed and entertaining speakers with a great presentation on enhancing a richer and deeper personal experience with the web. Michael showed off some of the IT whizz-bangery that he and his team had done for NineMSN’s Grazia magazine. The image quality of the digital fashion shoot photos were enhanced for much finer image detail (something clients wanted from fashion photos online) AND also to enhance the way readers could share these images with their friends. Using your own navigation around the images, you could then save and send it to friends so that they saw the same sequence of images as you did. I think he referred to it as an “e-journey” but I think he’ll need to do more work on that term to make it part of the popular lexicon.

Other professionally presented talks were from Paul Borrod of Facebook and Cliff Rosenberg from LinkedIn, both of whom promoted the social media benefits of their respective services. I already use LinkedIn but I must say that I am a little more inclined to take Facebook  more seriously than I have in the past, based on some improvements to the interface and an assurance to improve privacy.

Marc Lehmann (Saasu.com) talked about the naturally selected web which pretty much was about getting the web to cut through the mess and give you exactly what you want without relying on search. Because we are all still time-poor, we need a more life-like web that relates to our own needs and our own digital identity. Marc thought that today it is not about the web, it’s all about the data. How can we get the data we need and personalise the information to meet our individual demands and save us time?  And Nicholas Gruen, in his presentation on Government 2.0 and web 3.0, also advocated how the provision of (government) data could be used by people in many different ways – the classic example was the Gov 2.0 mashup late last year at which an inventive bunch of people reframed and rearticulated government data into informative and interesting ways. In other words, put the data out there and let the people work out for themselves how they will use it and what meaning they will derive from it.

One of the best presentations from the conference was from Sandy Carter of IBM. Sandy gave some excellent real-life examples of companies using social media for a variety of strategic purposes. The message was clear: before using social media, an organisation must articulate and understand the problem it is trying to solve and then work out how (or if) social media can make a positive difference. In fact, 80% of your time should be about planning and setting out the objectives and the strategy, while the remaining 20% is about the technology and the tools. Much of what Sandy had to say, and in far greater detail, is in her book The new language of marketing 2.0. The book outlines a set of six steps (ANGELS) that provide a useful guide to utilising traditional marketing techniques with what web 2.0 has to offer. And thanks Sandy for the free copy!

There  were other interesting papers that I summarised in my notes but I need not go into detail here. Suffice to say, the conference encouraged thought and good discussion about how social media can be leveraged to improve communication, enhance marketing and customer engagement, and promote new forms of interaction and community among online participants. The conference was very impressive indeed.

On open government

This evening I discovered the text of a speech by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on working smarter in government (i.e. the civil service).  Now working smarter, and leveraging what organisation’s already do more effectively,  are at the heart of good knowledge management.  The speech is much broader than simply having the civil service become more efficient – Brown outlines a vision for open government and engagement with the citizenry.  Interestingly, what Brown says about government and public engagement sounds very similar to the sentiments expressed in the Engage Report that I blogged about in my previous blog post.

In particular, Brown says: “We will ensure that people can get access to the information they need to engage in dialogue with public service professionals; and in doing so reduce bureaucratic burdens. This will drive improvements in public services, making them more personal and cost-effective, whilst at the same time strengthening democratic deliberation and giving frontline workers and voluntary organisations the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways. We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public … In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.”

I applaud the sentiments expressed in this speech by Gordon Brown.  Similarly, the Engage Report in Australia says: “Engagement is the central theme of this report. It deals with the connection of people to information so that knowledge assets can be re-used to create new and often unexpected value. It deals as well with the growing opportunities for more effective collaboration with citizens in different dimensions of government – policy development, regulatory reform, program and service design”.

Yet I still have that nagging concern that public-government engagement is not what it appears.  Sure, I understand the desire to publish government content (in greater volume no doubt, but hopefully in a form that is of most value to the public).  I applaud the use of web 2.0 tools to facilitate some form of public feedback or dialogue.  I certainly understand the view that the public has a right to be informed and that government needs to become more accountable.  These are all good things and are very big steps for government to be actively pursuing.  Yet, how much of all of this is just an enormous content dump, and how much of it will be real engagement – engagement where citizens actively become involved with the workings and decsions of government departments and agencies?

Web 2.0 requires a different way of thinking.  There is more emphasis on distributed intelligence and networks rather than centralised control systems and fixed hierarchies.  Web 2.0 is not about control, but more interested in the dialogue and “the conversation”. Web 2.0 tools and applications are interactive and immediate.  And most importantly, web 2.0 thinking is the thinking of the new world environment of the 21st century so there is no excuse not to partake of the best that web 2.0 can offer.  It’s simply evolutionary organisational dynamics.

Brown in his speech goes on to say: “But if the purpose of our reforms is not only to be more efficient, but to meet future challenges and re-engineer our public services from good to great, Whitehall has to let go – and empower staff and the public to shape provision in meeting local needs and priorities” (my bold and italics).  This cultural change will not be easy.  The same issue was identified in Australia in the Engage Report – that there is a strong cultural and operational tendency within government to withhold information.  There are many reasons, some of which are spurious and others that have some legitimacy. Traditional control-based organisations in government will need to change if open government is to become a reality. But there are realistic concerns around privacy, political risk, and copyright – challenges all of which can be overcome I must say.

The challenge for open government and increasing citizen engagement with government is not the web 2.0 tools which are readily available.  The challenge is how to foster a culture of openness and collaboration in government agencies.  In addition, there may be significant resource issues around content management and web sites, records management systems, information management, and knowledge management.  The classic organisational problem, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, is no longer now just a knowledge management problem; it’s now a government-wide problem that must be overcome before open government can be effective.  However, the fundamental success factor for open government will be people-based – trust and organisational culture being pivotal.

The vision for open government espoused by UK PM Gordon Brown and in the Engage Report for Australia are commendable.  They are optimistic and challenging.  But they also offer opportunities for knowledge management to become a significant and active stakeholder in the way in which open government might unfold.  I certainly hope so.

On engaging government with web 2.0

The draft report Engage: getting on with government 2.0 has just been released.  The report is 159 pages long so it’s a fairly hefty piece of work looking at how government can better engage with the Australian public.

The sentiments within the report are good.  Open government is a nice idea but it remains to be seen whether open means “just ajar” or whether the door is really left open.  I am still to see how open government works within a political system that is essentially both protective of information and adversarial politically.  Perhaps there are some lessons from the UK government experience.  From what I hear, open government over there has caused a massive tsunami of useless information being made available at considerable expense.

Engagement is a nice idea too.  Government needs to better hear from, and collaborate with, the public.  There needs to be improved transparency and a more informed conversation between the public and government.  Online engagement will certainly be assisted if Australia ever manages to get a decent and affordable  telecommunications system.  The great Australian broadband initiative is still to come online.

One key message is for better engagement between the public and public servants. However, I sense from the report that what this engagement really means is that government departments increase information on websites to gargantuan proportions and, somehow, this plethora of “government information” is actually what people want.  Using my content management experience, I can tell you that what people use the internet for is to complete a particular task, or find out some information to complete a task, not just a casual trawl through government documents for the fun of it!

The report does talk about the web 2.0 tools and suggests that they can be used to facilitate greater engagement and interaction between the public and government.  The trouble is, for these tools to be effective they have to be placed within an information architecture and organisational culture that is not currently the norm, and in some cases completely opposed to openness and innovation.  Such conservative long-held public service cultural norms will not easily be dismantled and this will certainly limit the effectiveness of web 2.0 tools.  The tools won’t be the problem, but the operational architecture and hierarchical workforce structure of government will be inhibitors.

The online engagement strategy using public servants is also interesting.  I think this aspect will involve some major organisational cultural shifts, especially at senior levels of the public service.  Engaging online with public servants  has some pretty important ramifications. 

To start with, public servants work for the Minister first and the workplace culture is still one of protectiveness rather than openness. I’d love to see a truly open and innovative public service but I am not confident that one will emerge quickly enough to really make true public engagement count.  The notion of a public service that offers fearless and frank advice, let alone responds that way to the public, remains elusive in the current Australian political domain.

Furthermore,  there needs to be better funding of public servant agencies to allow people to allocate time to engage and respond to the public.  It’s all very well to say that government information is a public resource, but it’s people in the public service who have to find the time to provide appropriate information, and actually find and deliver the necessary information.  One only has to experience the intricacies of obtaining assistance through Centrelink, Veterans Affairs, and Health to know how difficult and time-consuming obtaining the right information can be.

There is likely to be a significant resource issue here since the technology alone will not be sufficient to really provide true levels of public-government engagement.  Perhaps the web 2.0 technologies, and some traditional web 1.0 technologies, will help governments provide a platform for engagement.  But these are only platforms.  This is why I fear that government websites will become massive dumping grounds for information rather than true portals of public-government engagement.  Plonk a trillion words and documents on a website and bingo – engagement!  It really doesn’t sound like a pathway for successful engagement to me.

There is also the issue about understanding what is required and who has the ability and capacity to find it.  As any librarian knows, the “reference interview” is sometimes difficult in any one-to-one encounter, let alone online.  In many public service agencies, these type of informal information requests come to a “library” or some “library-like function” because libraries are traditionally staffed by people whose experience is understanding the reference question and finding the resources best suited in answering the question.  Unfortunately, there is a perception in some quarters that libraries are not needed, or are not key players, within government departments.  Oddly, there are no additional resources elsewhere in government departments to undertake this kind of work, let alone by people skilled in finding, reviewing, and making quality judgements on.  Once again, I fear engagement only goes as far as a website crammed to the gunwales with information….and then sinking slowly under the weight.  Still, there might be opportunities for content managers and librarians in this area of government engagement.

The draft report also makes recommendations about privacy, security, and the “Commonwealth Record”.  Well folks, I gotta say, that many government agencies don’t have a complete understanding or proper record of the historical and current information within its own walls.  Unless there is significant investment in electronic document and records management, there can be no guarantee that government  information will be input onto a database within the organisation, let alone found and made available at the appropriate level of security and with accurate version control.  Records management and knowledge management need far greater attention in government than is currently the case.

I truly hope that the Australian government is open to many of the recommendations in the report, especially the important issues of openness and citizen engagement.  The job won’t be easy but I can say with confidence that there are plenty of information professionals – librarians, content managers, information architects, knowledge managers, records managers, information specialists, and web editors – that are keen to make the report’s message a reality if only government would give them the responsibility, the authority and resources to make it actually happen.

On innovative thought and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

During the week I listened to the first series of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy on CD. I have listened to the series hundreds of times before, the first time being the original radio broadcast on 2JJ when I was at school in Sydney. The radio series never fails to make me laugh or wonder at the clever storyline and characterisation.

But this week I also listened to the CD that explained how the original BBC radio series came about. Having listened to the CD a couple of times now, I can see that there are several knowledge management and strategic organisational issues that come across.

The creator, the late Douglas Adams, first had a thought about a hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy one drunken evening lying down in a field looking up at the stars in Innsbruck, Austria in 1970 or 1971. A few years later Adam’s creative, yet eccentric, writing talents and ideas were picked up by a radio show producer at the BBC who could see the innovative and creative talent of this chap Douglas Adams but wasn’t sure how it could be utilised for the best.

They met for lunch, discussed a few ideas, and the first formative writing of a series began. The initial plan was to have a series of single episodes with different stories but with the same ending. However, Adams looked to find a more satisfying and meaningful storyline that became a single series of episodes, continuing from one episode to the next.

Suffice to say, the first episodes were written (often on the fly, as Adams was renowned for his procrastination and late delivery of story content) and the first series completed. And of course, there was the whole production process working to complete a quality radio show – actor selection and voice recordings, taping and editing (using an eight-track tape machine – all pre-computer and digitisation) and the ingenious people from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop who created all the sound effects. The radio series and subsequent books were an enormous success.

The point of this summation is this. An idea was born but that circumstances for that idea to become something tangible did not come into play until a few years later. Conditions and circumstances matter. Secondly, an individual with innovative thoughts and imagination is not always recognised or appreciated within the organisation where such an individual works. There needs to be awareness, recognition and vision. Fostering innovative thought needs a supporting environment, and open and attuned decsion-makers so that an idea becomes realised into something more than just a thought. Thirdly, the production of the idea into a tangible product also relies on the existing social and professional networks to bring people into the project in order to deliver a finished output – a number of actors and production people for the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy came on board due to friendships, university contacts, and having worked together on previous projects. Professional and social networks are important in the workplace.

I wonder what would have happened if Douglas Adams’ talents had gone unnoticed and unappreciated at the BBC. Imagine if the BBC hierarchy had simply said that “we don’t do that kind of thinking around here”. Would Adams’ Innsbruck idea ever have become anything more than an idea? Thinking beyond what is considered the norm or the usual is something we need to encourage if we are to fully realise innovative thoughts within organisations.

And in putting the various members of the production team together, could it have worked out as well as it did if not for all the networked connections between people and past associations?

Listening to how the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy came together has highlighted some key thinking that good knowledge management within organisations must take on board.