Enterprise Wolfram Alpha

Nova Spivack of Twine has an interesting post (on Twine) introducing us to Stephan Wolfram's 'Wolfram Alpha'. This is really exciting news and I'm looking forward to get my hands on this new "answer engine".

I still have to think Spivak's post through to really understand what this means for the internet, for search and natural language processing. But, I have a question (for you) without having many answers to this question myself: Can this be used for the enterprise too? If answers to questions can truly be computed, can enterprise-specific questions also be answered using enterprise data (if needed, combined with external world knowledge/data)? Can questions as: why does this part have these specifications, why were they chosen?, be answered? If so, this could be very interesting for companies having loads of unstructured and structured information hanging out all over the place. Providing smart insights over this information using this engine could drastically improve corporate efficiency, support strategic decision making, etc.

I'd really like to hear what you think. Let's discuss it here (or on Twitter) and try to grasp the implications of Wolfram Alpha for the enterprise (-- without having seen it).

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Keeping the Blogging Faith

Sometimes I need encouragement to keep on blogging. And then you bump into two older posts by big bloggers like Chris Brogan and Bill Ives. The first has an interesting post about getting little comments on your posts - which does relate to my blog... As one commenter to that post says: Comments are 'the big moral boost for the author'. This is true to me too. But as I wrote before, my primary reason to blog is to structure my thoughts and share them with my readers. Hopefully they will find them interesting and comment every now-and-then.

Bill Ives has an interesting post telling bloggers to keep up the good work and don't give up too soon. I too have experienced this. Give blogging time to fit in your system and make sure it remains there. This is where commenting kicks in. Commenting lures you back to your blog and generates ideas for new posts.

Maybe we should start saying 'thank you' (as micro-comment) more after reading a post. At least the blogger knows someone's enjoying what they right.

What do you think? Are there more subtle but explicit ways to show we enjoy a blog? Retweeting for blogs?


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Your Email Client as the Ideal Enterprise 2.0 tool?

email_large Tom Kronenburg of CapGemini recently wrote an interesting post on the (Dutch) blog Frankwatching. His post was titled: 'Microsoft Outlook the best Enterprise 2.0 tool...' Nice title eh? At least Luis Suarez won't agree... ;-)

If you want to read the whole post, go ahead and translate it with Google Translate. In short Tom's point is: the only successful enterprise 2.0 tools relate directly to email/the email client.

This is an interesting thought! His post provides lots of input for discussion. I commented on his post and would like to pass my remarks on to my readers as well, and elaborate a bit.

In the first place, I agree with his thesis that web 2.0 concepts and tools should integrate well with the primary workplace of knowledge workers. Which is email mostly. Email is the knowledge worker's habitat. In whatever way you look at it, if you don't integrate with the email client the new tool will be perceived as 'an extra tool'. And in my experience, people have a hard time maintaining content in more than one spot. On the other hand I find that most good web 2.0 tools do exactly this (- although it could be done more deeply).

I think this is something social media evangelists tend to forget (- and I consider myself to be one of them). We are so enthralled by the possibilities of the new web, that we forget the way knowledge workers work and the tools they always use to get things done. Of course we can talk about when to use email and when not. However life in companies is that email is THE communication tool. Lots of research has shown this too. James Dellow over at Chieftech pointed to some of this lately. E.g. research by Stenmark shows knowledge workers prefer to use their email client to collect information for research. (I've pointed to other research on my blog too.)

So, a key issue in social media adoption is truly understanding the way people work and relating and connecting to that reality instead of say: 'Hey, there's lots of good tools way over here! Far away from your email!' Most knowledge workers will take a peak and continue using email. That's where we (still) get new info and manage our tasks.

Tom points to Xobni as a successful e2.0 tool, easily used by many knowledge workers. True, Xobni and other email client add-ons, such as Taglocity, have added value. However, in my daily practice I don't see Xobni helping us to become a more open, transparent and social company. It helps me manage my email in a better way (- although I stopped using Xobni and Taglocity because it slowed down my email client...). It doesn't help me easily shared my information/knowledge, etc.

Well, what do you think? Is email the starting point for enterprise 2.0 initiatives? How tightly should these initiative integrate with email? Or should we stop focusing on email and provide added-value tools that should be integrated in daily work processes? I'd love to hear what you think!


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PLM meets Enterprise 2.0?

sunset313In my role as an information architect I move between several very different worlds. For one I try to connect business and IT together by speaking their language and translating. Secondly I also move between the more formal systems and informal tooling. Formal systems, strictly related to defined and described business and information processes, seen as harnesses by knowledge workers, but essential to manage product and resource information. On the other hand you have all the 'good stuff' for knowledge workers: email, wiki's, blogs, social networking, bookmarking, etc. They usually love this part!

What I find very strange is the fact that you pay millions for the more formal systems, define big projects to implement them and knowledge workers still find them 'hard to use', 'not encouraging creativity and innovation', etc. On the other hand social media are usually free or very cheap, easy to use, etc. What going on here? And isn't there something fundamentally wrong with the way we're looking at information and knowledge?

Not too long ago I ran into this about about the connection between PLM and Enterprise 2.0 (on the Enovation matters blog). Basically it tells us that PLM vendors are integrating with Sharepoint. This is good news. However, I don't find Sharepoint an example of enterprise 2.0 tooling. It's a fancy fileshare with version (and a good one!) By simply integrating with Sharepoint doesn't mean you understand both worlds and are truly solving the problem of integrated information management.

I'm curious if my readers agree with this post and experience this in their companies too. I haven't run into too many people that try to bridge these worlds. Most work in one or the other. I'd love to connect with you're working in the same area as I am.


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Intranet or Extranet?: The Wrong Question

A late comment on a nice post by Ted Schadler over at Forrester! Tom's post is about the emergence of extranet collaboration platforms and the issues it brings to companies.

This is a big trend and big companies are slowly moving their intranet to the extranet. But is this really what we need in our networked world. Is the dichotomy intranet-extranet correct? Isn't our world moving towards a much more mixed landscape, with a very small intranet and the rest is extranet (or should we call it internet)? Knowledge workers want to work on one platform (the internet) and decide which content they want to share with which audience. So, I write a blogpost and decide to share it with only my colleagues, or colleagues and partners, or with the world. I don't want to repost internal stuff on the extranet or the other way around. I want one transparent system to work securely: inside the organization, with partners and with the world.

Do you agree? Is this what knowledge workers want?


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Intranet Strategy and a fusion between Business and ICT (Intranet 2009)

Peter Hinssen will talk about the relation between business and IT. This is problematic, he says. We are still at Intranet 2009.

Change is difficult.

Big change in IT is consumerization. This is a bad word for IT. IT dispensed cool stuff. That is now over! Bottom-up instead of top-down. We have better IT at home than at work and that changes everything. 'We use Gmail, Google Docs, etc.' And this process will continue in the coming years.

The evolving role of IT. Refers to old commercial of IBM, explaining why online is important.

Peter is translator between business and IT.

The problems for IT started with Y2K. 'IT forgot a 0'... After Y2K nothing changed.

IT is dead, IT departments are dead too. IT made silos in the past. Now plug-and-play.

The role of IT is now changing too. They can play the central role in innovation in the future. Proctor & Gamble (P&G) as example: 700 IT-ers outsourced to Hewlett-Packard. The other 2000 IT-ers were connected to the business. They are facilitating the business with innovative technology. P&G has most innovative use of technology.

We don't need the nerds in IT, but creative thinkers. Left and right brain people. IT-ers are good left-brainers. E.g. Randstad was looking for 'ICT thoughtleader'. This means change of attitude. Business and IT blame each other. IT has 'can't do attitude'.

What does an IT-er mean when he says: 'This is not technically feasible' and 'This will take six months'.

Web 1.0 and 2.0: resp. Netscape and Google. Shows great slide about Google searches around the world. This shows difference between old and new IT. Email is old-skool. The new generation will also look at our intranet in this way.

The new generation thinks bottom-up. The new generation is about wiki instead of intranet. A self-correcting mechanism. Learn to live with less control! Also in hardware world this will be the case (automated cars). Tells about Xobni as an example how this works. Xobni tells you what email is most important. We find this difficult, definitely IT. Also points to US who all drive automatics. In Europe we don't.

Intranet has two role:

  1. shop window
  2. warehouse

Most intranets can't handle both.

Gartner says: the future is more collaboration, more sametime. Move to Portals. Integrating information. But this doesn't work in this way. Portals are a disaster. Portal is just a door to information.

Don't look for balance between everything: top-down/bottom-up, etc. Content is the root problem. We are overloaded with information. And this will only increase. Content is all over the place. This cannot be solved with technology. It's all about fundamental principles defining how the company wants to handle information. Metadata will be very important. (Refers to Lakeoff's book.)

Information does not work any longer. We thought: structured-unstructured, etc. But this is pointless. Rethink information. What is relevant? Type of content? What is it's reach and it's quality?

But who should do this? We should do this together. Don't let IT do this alone.

The new generation will push this heavily. IT is not scary but their way of life.

A fool with a tool is still a tool. This still applies.

Know your capability!

Technology has never been so exciting. Compare this to the IT...


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How to design an intranet? (Intranet 2009)

James Robertson's next talk at Intranet 2009 is about 'How to design an intranet?'

Why do people come to the intranet?

  1. They are looking for a specific piece of information
  2. They want to complete a specific task

What are they not doing on the intranet?

  1. check news every day. There is no news so exciting that people go there every day.
  2. browsing around to see what's available, although 'new starters' are a significant audience
  3. People don't go to the intranet to have fun.

The intranet will be used if it's useful.

James explains the UCD methodology to help you design your intranet. Not many people use usability analysis for their intranet evaluation and improvement.

Try to answer the question 'I'm looking for' instead of 'How do I?'

All navigation is at the left-hand side. But James says: Left-hand navigation is evil.

Use information scent to design your intranet. It should be easy to find where you should be on the page when your looking for something. 'Don't make me think'. James says: Buy it! People should have a good idea what to click on. If they don't they'll leave.

Most intranets are news focused. Not good, says James. The homepage does not need to be interesting. Focus on good browsing support so people can find what they're looking for.

James does not believe in 'personalization'. Two types of personalization:

  1. user-driven (tailor own experience), but only 5-10% will do this. People just don't care. iGoogle works great on the web, but no in organizations. However, he's not saying: don't do it, but beware.
  2. Staff segmentation. Segment intranet based on role, business unit, location, etc. Note: your ActiveDirectory has to be ready for this segmentation. Usually it's not. And it's a lot of work.

By the way, pictures of the conference can be found here (not my pictures by the way.


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AegonNet and Self Service (Intranet 2009)

Breakout session at Intranet 2009 on 'AEGONNet and self service' by Paulien van der Lee (Online Communications Manager).

Gives overview of the development of their intranet (focus Aegon The Netherlands) and what they're doing on employee self service using intranet.

AegonNet consists of 3 parts: eHRM manager, eHRM employee and eHRM worker.

Introduced first self service modules some time ago: vacation planning. Plan your vacation removing the role of HR.

Did intranet redesign by learning from old one. Brought the amount of page types back to a minimum.

Now they have more self service modules. For employees:

  1. Vacation planning,
  2. My education (no education outside this module!),
  3. HR cycle (manager-employee talks, appraisal, etc.
  4. Employee benefits choice system,
  5. My facility services (meeting reservation system, etc)

For managers:

  1. View your department
  2. Salary change procedure
  3. Central account administration (role administration)
  4. Central invoice management

They are working on modules for 'Aegon Flexshop' and 'Declarations/Expenses'.

Paulien shows a screenshot of their intranet (HR part). Looks nice, not too crowded homepage. Also shows plans for new/updated homepage. New design is focused on unification of intranets. Used 'card sorting' to find out what the design should be and the names/titles of the parts. They have two profiles for managers, because a manager is also an employee.

Redesigning their intranet will take years, Paulien thinks.

The screenshot she showed focused on the HR part of the intranet. Corporate news can be found on their intranet homepage.

The governance of their intranet is divided into editorial offices (80 in total!).

They're thinking about global people finder to work on one global intranet (- this presentation is about Aegon NL's intranet).

They are working on 'fun and intranet'. But priorities are elsewhere at the moment.

They have one HR system: Peoplesoft. The platform for their intranet is Morello (version 5.7).


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The human factor as criterion for the Intranet (Intranet 2009)

René Jansen of Winkwaves talks on 'De menselijke maat als toetssteen voor het intranet' [The human factor as criterion for the intranet] at Intranet 2009.

Stresses that we and most people are knowledge workers. How are these workers motivated? Not by clicking through their ERP system. He believes we should focus on social networking and use it more inside organizations. He talks us back to the way it used to be.

Communication used to be direct. Then mediated communication came around (post cards, etc.). Next step is mass communication (TV, radio). This implied the distance between individuals increased. We needed new way to manage our contacts. This is the start of social networking, Rene says, to find back weak ties. It is also used to maintain social ties. We use social networks to get new contacts and maintain them. But what are these connections and what do they mean? What does the number of friends in your social network (tool) mean? 17 friends is a lot in the real world. In the virtual world you're a looser...

Rene also asks who's Twittering. Not too many. Follow tweet at #intra09. He encourages Twittering meetings and at conferences.

But what is the consequence of being in social networks. From the day we are born we're in them. People set up websites for their babies. In the new mobile world this will increase even more. These networks are (becoming) the mirror of our lives.

But what does this mean for intranet? We'll organization have become more and more virtual too. More distance. But how do we maintain our network? We need social network tooling in our companies. We need a social intranet, connecting people to people.

You need to things:

  1. Designing a social intranet
  2. Hosting a social intranet.

Uses the analogy of a rose. And points to one of the most successful social networking sites, LastFM. Funny, it's now being used for something totally different than for what it was intended. For designing the social intranet you need a different way of looking.

Design is purposed activity to transform human thinking and behavior. He also defines social software. It's a thing with which you can live. He points to the soft systems methodology (Beer): rich picture > relevant (social) systems > model development > transformation (and back to 'rich picture' - circle). Stresses that we should really understand the way our customer/people work. Don't give them what they ask for (right away).

Rene states you can design for sociality. Shows model. And gives example of how political party website (D66) was improved using it.

In sum: when thinking about an intranet try to ask the answer the question how you can help knowledge workers connect so they can to their work. Use the soft systems methodology to improve your intranet.

Whitepapers can be found on Winkwaves on their method(ology).

One big tip by Rene: understand what people are doing and why.


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The Evolution of Intranet (Intranet 2009)

Ah, we're starting to live blog Intranet 2009! Great ambiance at MediaPlaza, Utrecht, The Netherlands. I'll be tweeting too here (#intranet2009 and #intra09). Using Twitter search is great during a conference! Found some new interesting people.

James Robertson of StepTwo Design will first talk on 'the evolution of intranet'.

James says this is the single biggest gathering on intranet in the world!

The intranet seem to be at the same point all over the world. James distinguishes 6 phases of intranet.

  1. The intranet is born. "We need an intranet!"
  2. Rapid organic growth. Common problems emerge: browsing problems, finding problems, management commitment lagging, etc. We were asked to stick up our hands if we recognize this. Almost all did...
  3. Repeated redesigns. Problems usually pop up again immediately. In 2-3 years the intranet is a mess again. Then the intranet team says: Let's do a redesign. None of the underlying issues are addressed.
  4. Usability and Information Architecture. Refer to Jakob Nielsen. Huge step.
  5. Useful, not just usable. Didn't really investigate what people really need in daily work. 'What does staff need?' Don't ask about intranets but what people do.
  6. Intranets as a business tool. The intranet connecting to the core of your business.

Not much of the audience in phase 1 and 2. More in 3, just about the same in 4 and 5. Not much in phase 6.

But what do we know by phase 6. There are 4 fundamental purposes of an intranet:

  1. Content. Most companies are good at this.
  2. Communication. This is the news box on the homepage. But also blogs and pushing news to mobile devices.
  3. Collaboration. Collaboration is hot, very sexy at the moment. Fueled by Sharepoint and wiki's. Not one of the organizations here doesn't not have one of these two somewhere. But the challenge of the rapid spread of these tools is anti-knowledge sharing. Finding information gets hard. We need to manage them sit along side the intranet. Needs lots of thinking. Shows intranet with 12 pages (their 12 major competitors).
  4. Activity. The intranet is the place for doing things, not just reading. For instance, forms.

1 and 2 is not enough for an intranet. There is no business case for this. 1 and 2 is the traditional focus of the intranet. Productivity improvement is not enough. The numbers are soft. Jakob Nielsen says to focus on time saving. James wrote a blog post why this is not good.

You should focus on collaboration and activity. But collaboration is usually done by IT... Make sure you deliver something new every 3 months! Deliver business value. Focus on activity.

Wraps up his talk by telling about intranet and innovation (Intranet Innovation Awards). Innovation = originality + impact. Also points to lots of articles on StepTwo Design website.


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Hope to see you at Intranet 2009

Tweeted about this some time ago: I will be at Intranet 2009 (in Utrecht, The Netherlands). Really looking forward to it. James Robertson of StepTwo Designs will be there as one of the keynotes. I will be organzing one of the break-out sessions together with Marcel Bijlsma of Telematica Instituut/Novay. It will be about intranet and news ways of working. My part will focus on our enterprise microblogging experiences.

I hope to liveblog the conference. And if that's not possible, I'll blog about it afterwards.

Hope to see you there. If you're there, please leave a comment or tweet me.


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It's OK to be an Artist

Great pod- and vidcast by Tom Kelley of IDEO at Stanford! (Thanks for link @frogpond.) The title of his talk is "How to 42-19652961be an innovator for live?" He give five practical (but hard) tips to tap into the innovator in you. Yes, the innovator, the artist, is in you, Tom says. He shares an interesting anecdote about an artist who went through the classes of an elementary school asking all classes the same question. The question was: 'Who's an artist here?' As you understand in kindergarten everyone was, in 6th grade almost nobody dared to say they were. And if they did, they would look around to see what their friends thought about it.

Tom encourages all of use to stay childlike (not childish). 'It's OK to be an artist!' Don't accept the common saying 'Deja vu', but say 'Vu ja de' ('Deja vu' backward...), as they say at IDEO.

I love these talks. They inspire me to the max. Maybe because in the adult world we see so little 'Vu ja de'. On the other hand knowledge management (KM) professionals usually do have a 'big hairy audacious goal', think in ideals and want to change the world/company. That's what I find so inspirational from reading blogs and discussions in the KM area. Their ideas and thoughts are creative, build on other's ideas, thinking hard about ways to improve knowledge sharing and are not afraid to try approaches and tools, and even fail and share failures to learn from them.

Let's keep up this attitude and if we loose our childlike behaviour, kindly correct each other back into the right mode!


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