Category Archives: Technology

On Information Online, London

Firstly, apologies for the late posting since mid-November. I am actually overseas (on holidays) at the moment for a few weeks and didn’t get around to updating the blog!

Nevertheless, I refocused some attention on information and knowledge management at the Information Online Conference in London today. The keynote speaker was Clay Shirky and he had some good things to say about the web 2.0 world. I have plenty of notes (as usual) that I will decipher for a future blog posting.

It was good to catch up with Euan Semple, David Wilcox and Ed Mitchell at the conference. I hope to catch up with David Gurteen tomorrow evening at a knowledge cafe hosted by Deloitte here in London.

One interesting thing I heard about today was a platform developed by Elsevier called 2Collab that provides user-generated profiles of individuals and links within the scientific community. I see a lot of potential in this system for organisational collaboration. It is interesting to hear how traditional publishers are responding to the internet and web 2.0 applications.

Hopefully, I will have a full report on the conference next week when I return to Australia. However, since I am flying Thai Airways there could still be problems with returning home given the problems at the airport in and around Bangkok. I will be speaking with Thai Airways tomorrow to hear how they will get me home!

Until next week then…

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On new ways to connect – the three minute soap

I was reading today’s Sydney Morning Herald online when this article caught my attention. The article is about a new web-based soap that will launch on Bebo next month. Mind you, this is not the first time I’ve commented on this type of thing – see a previous post on snack drama.

The really interesting thing is the genre and the communication channel – both particularly suitable for the mobile world. To date, much of the production of the three minute soap (or snack drama) is by amateurs and budding film producers experimenting through sites like YouTube. The real deal will come when advertisers and professional media production professionals start to invest in a big way in the three minute soap.

The appeal for the three minute soap has so far been on the production side of things. Grab a video camera and start shooting, hopefully with a reasonable storyline that will attract some regular attention. Much of what is produced today and channelled through YouTube is from amateurs and low-budget film-makers wanting to get product out into the world wide web.

The market is being driven by supply. However, demand will grow as more of these soap videocasts become known and gain sufficient following. As the market and consumer awareness develops, the supply will include more sophisticated production elements that will enhance the viewer experience, either through quality of production and/or quality of story and characterisation. Digital word-of-mouth through social networking will be a significant driver of demand. New production and editing techniques may develop that become unique to this type of media presentation and distribution channel.

Commercialisation will come about in a number of ways. Firstly, the three minute soap can be used to promote upcoming television series, movies, or games – almost like a set of pilot shows. Secondly, advertisers will use these digital videocasts for product placement and digital advertising. Thirdly, as the technology allowing for videocasts to mobile telephones improves sufficiently, a new and ubiquitous market platform emerges; just the thing for time-poor and attention-poor viewers to engage in habitual soap alone and with friends. And, there is the ability to leverage characterisation and the soap brand via other digital platforms – social media, blogs and other interactive fora.

Pricing structure needs to be considered. So long as access to the content remains nominally free, demand will accelerate. However, if commercial hunger overshoots demand by charging video subscription charges, then growth will be stymied. My tip is to grow the market first and see what happens before even contemplating pay-for-videocast soap!

But that’s not all. It will be possible for magazines to have sections of the printed product linked to videocasts as part of the magazine subscription or purchased as a stand-alone item. Imagine the gossip magazines with their grainy video shots of celebrities juggling groceries at the supermarket being available via videocast on a mobile phone or laptop? Videocasting using mobile telephony is exceptionally well suited for segmenting magazine news stories, either as stand alone content or as an extra to the print version.

I believe the genre will develop and really take off in the next 12-18 months.  The three minute “soap” is just the beginning of course. The genre can take different forms – news, profiles, and education being examples. My personal interest is in learning and development. Imagine a training manual with links to selected relevant videocasts viewable via your mobile phone for instance.

I will therefore be following the videocast soap (and any permutations) to see how the market grows in the coming year and where those learning and development opportunities might be be. And I’ll be watching mobile telephony technologies just as keenly over the same period.

Stay tuned….mobile digital video on your laptop and mobile telephone is coming your way.

On customer experience for information and knowledge projects

A few days ago I received the Good Experience newsletter with a feature story on customer experience. The article makes great reading about the importance of really understanding your customer and really listening to what they have to say. The article focuses on the retail customer experience but the same applies to a range of information, knowledge and content management projects, as well as general business activities.

Similarly, Roger Corbett, former CEO of Australian retail grocery giant Woolworths, was often out visiting stores and talking with staff and customers. He was even renowned for bringing back Woolworths shopping trolleys from the supermarket carpark on any of his regular store visits.

Being visible, interacting and listening to your customers (both external customers and internal customers like staff) should be the hallmark of any type of knowledge and information-based project. Unlike factory-process work popular among conveyor belt managers, knowledge workers have thoughts, opinions and motivations when they are at work.

Knowledge workers make decisions and they interact and communicate with other people. These workers will be more willing to approach new or adapted systems and processes when they are part of the process itself. And part of that “process” is in listening and understanding what they have to say, preferably based on a personal and trusting relationship. Maximising “what’s in it for me” is not just the maxim of the project manager, but your people as well.

And listening does transcend into action. The conversations do impact on the actual project and change management. The conversations do feed into the systematic project fundamentals of project design and implementation. PRINCE2 is no real prince if the kingdom is full of unwilling followers!

I was talking yesterday afternoon with a professional colleague lamenting the difficulties of information management implementations. He was asking (rhetorically) why it was so difficult to get implementations to work when the project plan and methodology had been so carefully worked out. And how come there was still confusion about workflow and work policies and procedures when the vendor-client relationship had been so professionally managed by the systems and implementation team (of one). He sighed deeply, shook his head, and said: “and now we have the system and we’re well into the implementation, but after that we need to start the change management process!”

Indeed.

I asked him if he’d thought about the change management issue even before he started the project. I asked him if he or anyone else had gone out to the staff to understand their workplace behaviour and motivations before the project had begun, or even during the Gantt chart timetable.

I asked if he was seen as someone trusted enough to have an honest and open conversation on the issues and opinions of staff before the proposed project took on its own momentum. He interrupted to remind me that stakeholder consultation was part of the project plan. I pointed out that consultation is really conversation – and not a one way dialogue or information dump devoid of personalisation and meaning.

He looked at me as if I was crazy!

“I don’t have time for all of that. I have a project to run, mileposts to get through, work to document, and a change management program to develop and roll-out!”.

I am sure everything he was thinking and everything he was doing made sense to him. I am sure he was truly earnest about implementing a system with the best of processes and the best of project fundamentals. My final question was whether it made sense to the customer (the staff) – his internal stakeholders who would actually be the ones using the new system and working with it in their jobs every day.

According to the Good Experience story (and translating the message to your internal customers and clients): “Even so, few companies actually do [listen]. Listening to customers is DIFFICULT. I think it’s just too plain and simple for many companies to really commit to. You can just imagine executives thinking: something so mundane as talking to another person who happens to be my customer – surely that couldn’t be the key to success, when there are so many newer, flashier solutions available?”

Quite.

On RMAA Convention 2008 – report (3)

Who would have thought that I could make three  blog posts out of the first day of a conference? Well this is the third instalment. I will focus on three papers that dealt with electronic document and records management systems strategy and implementations.

The three presentations were delivered by Jo Stephenson (Victorian Department of Transport), Matt O’Mara (Wellington City Libraries), and Jo Golding (Eraring Energy).

Jo Stephenson detailed her experience in project managing the implementation of an EDRMS across a state government department. The focus was on the people in the strategy and this implementation. Key messages included understanding the diverse work practices and variety of information systems in use; use stories from the front line about the current unstructured information environment (and this is something I am currently collating myself in my current role to support the rest of the EDRMS strategy); listen, capture and reflect on what people are saying; understand the organisational drivers and business activities; involve people along the journey; agree on a start and an end point; communicate often and widely; and, simplify the message – save it, find it, secure it, and save it.

Jo also had some common sense advice about communicating the “what’s in it for me message?”. This is always good practice in my opinion, but too often these basic behavioural and attitudinal factors are left until the end of the implementation. If staff are only exposed to the EDRMS for the first time in training and then in a live operating environment, then people not only feel left out of the actual process but are also reluctant to embrace change based on a lack of understanding about “what’s in it for me?”. Usually, we offer compliance and governance as key drivers for user adoption. Jo recommends advocating other attributes of more direct relevance to people doing the work – for example, improve access and retrieval of documents, assist in decision-making, and saving time.

I recommend understanding the workplace behaviours and workplace needs of individuals within your particular organisation in order to give you a better understanding of where these “touchpoints” are most relevant and where there is likely to be the greatest impact.

I did ask Jo about critical success factors, especially one she mentioned on increased data storage requirements. Increasing data storage might not always indicate success in my opionion. Volume does not always equate to data quality.

Matt O’Mara spoke about implementing an information strategy. Matt only had four months in which to develop a strategy and he chose to concentrate on identifying business needs and business problems, and then looking at what solutions might be relevant and how the solutions would be enabled. I certainly agree that matching problems to solutions helps in getting senior executive interest rather than trying to win support based on records management principles alone. Matt also recommended doing a benefits analysis. In addition, Matt talked about information management maturity models (I have alluded to them in a previous post) and the use of an issues register.

I had to agree with Matt that building sound information management foundations was a critical dimension for organisational success, something that still rings true in the Web 2.0 world.

Jo Golding outlined how she approached the task of establishing an EDRMS within a major NSW energy utility. The corporate information strategy was based on three key objectives:

  • protect our information
  • decrease risk
  • effective use of business information

There was wide consultation with the different Eraring Energy sites. Jo emphasised the importantce of utilising the knowledge of the people within the organisation to discover culture (at different power generation sites), staff-organisation relations, leaders and champions, and effective rewards. Rollout and training occurred together and Jo admitted being fortunate that Eraring had compulsory training days (T-days) that she could leverage for the necessary EDRMS training and skill updates (among other channels).

The common theme that struck me was the recognition that any strategy and implementation needs to find acceptance and support within the organisation. One of the ways I have approached this kind of thing in the past has been to use informal channels to build internal relationships from which more structured and formal communication initiatives can take place. In large organisations (like giant government departments) this approach may well be impractical.

Establishing an authentic personal profile and building relationships within and between organisations helps improve the effectiveness of raising awareness and garnering participation through more formal communication channels. Moreover, marketing a service or a new workplace activity is improved by harnessing real and personal connections.

My notes reveal one final thought for further consideration: we need to see beyond information management and knowledge management within our organisations. Sure, we have discrete activities and responsibilites that fall within particular designations (as do health professionals), but we need to improve our understanding of the relationship between those knowledge and information activities, increase the depth of our networks, and leverage our skills and capabilities more effectively. I believe we are all heading in the same direction so let’s work together to make the journey more valuable.

Finally, I must thank the presenters and the attendees of the RMAA Convention 2008 whom I managed to talk with on Monday (and Professor Julie McLeod this morning at the IIM breakfast) for some stimulating thinking and discussion – all good stuff!

On ABC’s iview full screen television streaming

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has recently launched full screen internet television via their iview web site.

I tried out iview last night on my computer with the episode of The Gruen Transfer from last week, before watching last night’s final episode on TV. The Gruen Transfer is a great programme about television advertising; informative and funny at the same time.

One of the highlights of The Gruen Factor is the segment, “selling the unsellable”. This segment involves two advertising agencies who are each asked to create a television advertisement to sell what might ordinarily be, “unsellable”. Last week the challenge was why climate change is good for us, and last night the campaign was to tell tourists NOT to visit Australia. Great stuff!

Anyway, my experience with iview on my computer was less than perfect. Australia’s abominably slow internet speeds and bandwidth constraints, when compared to Europe and North America, doesn’t help the iview experience at all! Frequently, the audio and vision stuttered away, usually at critical points in the dialogue. The quality of the show on iview certainly suffered, and I have supposedly good quality broadband!

Until iview can be viewed without interruption on my computer, I will stay with the smaller screen option (Youtube size) on the ABC programme sites to view my selected ABC shows, especially the shows with quick wit and intelligence. The Hollowmen is one such show worth a good look without interruption – a great Australian political comedy.

Iview is certainly where the future of television is heading but our telecommunications infrastructure is not up to the task, and certainly not value for money! The ABC is on the right track with iview but we need better bandwidth and internet line speeds. Yes.

On digital games

In late 2006 I met up with Euan Semple over a few hot beverages at the hotel I was staying in for my London visit to Information Online. As part of our discussion, Euan recommended the book, The kids are alright, by John Beck and Mitchell Wade (actually somewhat dated now). I bought the book in Charing Cross Road and it stood on my bookshelf at home in Sydney for some time before I got around to reading it late last year.

But before I read that book, my interest in online games was stimulated by a couple of items I haphazardly found on the web and downloaded for interest. One was a 2006 article on games and learning, and the second was a podcast by Richard van Eck of the University of North Dakota (USA) on the thinking behind the effectiveness of games in teaching and learning (I listened to the podcast again this evening and it is still very relevant).

Since then, I have read quite a few more articles on the topic and I am gradually changing my previously sceptical viewpoint about digital games. Now this is quite a revelation to me since I have always had the opinion that play and games are vital for learning. When I was at primary school and in the early years of high school, I made games myself with cardboard, cards, tokens, and spin-wheels. I created characters, currencies, and problems that were developed for the board games and I did all of this for fun. Moreover, my research to make the game and the rules was also fun!

But somehow, as an adult, I have clung on to the notion that board games are good and digital games are bad (and this is despite the fact that I spent considerable time playing Galaxians during my early university years, and becoming quite proficient I might add). I have held the view that board games are “more than just fun” but digital games are just leisure, not something to take seriously.

But I am now reviewing my attitudes more and more about digital games and learning. I have become much more interested in the role of digital games within the educational domain. To a lesser extent, I am interested in understanding and using digital gaming as another form of entertainment. I’d say my lack of spare time prohibits my full exploration of digital games for fun but the prevalence and variety of such games is astounding.

Having said all this, I have some doubts as to the effectiveness of online training systems. I have completed a few workplace-based online training sessions (funnily enough, most often dealing with compliance issues) but always felt that the learning session was more interested in checking off tick-boxes rather than any meaningful learning. Essentially, the online training sessions relied on the ability to memorise a few bits of information, answer the multiple choice questions, and move on. But did I really learn anything??

When it comes to digital games I am more positive given their emphasis on problem-solving in particular. It was therefore interesting to read today that gaming can indeed be a positive learning and thinking medium, using alternate reality games (ARGs) such as World without oil. Not only does the game look at dealing with real world problems like global oil deficits, but the nature of the game is indeed very collaborative.

The article cites Andrea Phillips, an ARG writer and producer, who says that the key appeal of these games is in the art of crafting a collaborative narrative. “Collaboration in storytelling is an old tradition, even older than print,” she says. “So you could say we’re working to reclaim something we lost hundreds of years ago when we first started recording narratives with pen and paper, and later with film.”

[And interestingly, there’s a conference next week on narrative and interactive learning to be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. Could be worth a look to anyone living in the British Isles. I have also been alerted to the 2nd European Conference on Games-Based Learning to be held in Barcelona, Spain, in October].

Digital games as a learning media are certainly gaining some traction. As the book, “The kids are alright” argued, our doubts and fears about the online digital space in which these games are conducted need to be re-examined in the light of the positive digital gaming taking place around the world. And like most things, the good and the bad are determined by the context, not the technology.

If we can use digital games for educational learning, and to generate new ideas by examining real world problems in a collaborative environment, then we should be supportive, shouldn’t we?

On upcoming conferences – 2008

As anyone who has followed my blog should have noted, I think that particular conferences are exceptionally fruitful as networking and learning experiences. It should therefore be no surprise that I am eyeing some upcoming conferences.

There are five that I have my eye on at the moment, although I won’t be able to go to RMAA in September unfortunately.

Whether I can go to all of them will depend on what leave I have available and how much I can afford in conference fees. However, I will definitely be going to Online Information in London (thanks for the non-profit organisation discount) since that is the key reason for my UK trip, fully paid for by myself I might add. For the other conferences, I will have to see what is possible.