Saturday, July 19, 2008


I work in Information Technology as a Business Analyst. My background is in Human Relations and Community Development - so I've ventured a long way from home. I feel rather like an anthropologist working with an tribe on some isolated island somewhere. I wonder what Margaret Mead would say if she studied Information Technologists?

My point is this. My management, and many others around me persist in the notion that an organization, and the systems that inhabit them it, as a big machine - which, if we could make it work and keep it properly greased would operate flawlessly. This mechanistic view was spawned by Sir Issac Newton (1643 - 1727). No question, Sir Issac was brilliant - I saw his biography on TV once. He must be great.

The mechanistic view (mechanism theory) is a theory that proposes all natural phenomena can be explained by physical causes. It suggests that if one understood it, one could write a mathematical formula to adequately express it. This working premise has served us well during the Industrial Revolution - but will it take us beyond? I think not. There are flaws.

When we look at organizations as mechanisms or machines we fail to understand an essence deeper than that of a machine. The organization, which is an assemblage of human beings, has the desire to survive. Therefore it must learn to self-adapt - according to the Red Queen Principle.

Organization are not machines, they are living entities or systems that have a will of their own. A will to service. Next question, are organization self-aware. Certainly they must react to the environment in which they exist - else they won't survive for long, but self-ware, that is questionable.

In the early 1980s I became aware of the term metanoic (from the greek word metanoia) - as it relates to organizations. The paper I refer to is entitled, "Metanoic Organizations in the Transition to a Sustainable Society" and was written in 1982, by a guy named Peter Senge - more. I first came across the notion around 1985 through this article, and a guy named Brian Smith who introduced me to the work of Robert Fritz and his notion of Structural Tension.

Anyway, one thing leads to another and all these years later I bump into another article by Peter Senge called - "Awakening Faith in an Alternative Future - A consideration of Presence - 2004."

Monday, June 16, 2008

Social Networks - How incredible work gets done.

If you scratch the surface of any business, you'll find two very different organizations,the formal organization - the one that can be represented by the boxes of an org chart,the informal organization - the one shaped by the day-to-day interactions of employees - conversations in hallways or in airport lounges, exchanges of messages through email and voicemail, glances and whispers in meetings. Social networks have become a hot discussion topic of late.

What makes the notion of Social Networking so special? There’s nothing new about them. They’ve existed since our cave dwelling days. It’s the “online” part that is creating the buzz. Social Networks like WOW, Second Life, Facebook, MySpace, Tube, TED, FORA.TV etc are changing the way we view social organizations that primarily exist in cyberspace.

A social network is a social structure made up of nodes that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency. Social networks are essentially about who knows who, and who knows what, as well as how quickly and well they can be assembled.

Our ability to adapt or co-evolve that determines our relevance and utility. As the environment becomes prone to continuous change (chaos), about ability to organize, disorganize and reorganize ourselves becomes a defining skill and being able to assemble meaningful social networks and have these network operate in a purely virtual/online fashion is considered a bit of a holy grail. Organizations that can increase abilities of social networking will advance.

Four broader internet trends at play

  • On-line social networks will change the way we think, interact and view our corporation and they will change the way we think about enterprise software.

  • The applications you thought to be "consumer services only" will be inside the enterprise.

  • The rise of user generated content is upon us like a tidal wave - and its coming to an intranet near you.

  • The age and demographic profile of your users, customers, employees and yourself has shifted.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Collaboration Microsoft Style

Collaboration is a common buzzword these days. Everyone is selling it - including vendors Microsoft. In actual fact, this moment in time echoes in a new era of computing - one that moves us from Personal Computing (PC) to Corporate Computing (CC). You are either now sitting at your computer doing corporate work or you're working in isolation from the whole doing what some kind of personal work. People who collaborate initially showed up on portals like Face Book, MySpace, YouTube or, god fobid, eBay. After all, collaboration is all the rage these days. Why? Because, collaboration has been going on for millenia but has suddenly taken on a new turn. It has gone global. Suddenly, corporate giants found themselves behind the amateur weekend enthusiast geek. After the early adopters came the hordes.

The new world will be governed by controlled vocabulary so I better explain exactly what I mean. Social networks or social networking or whatever you want to call it. . . it what differentiates us from the beasts. Humans are social to a degree not apparent in other primates. Why, language probably has alot to do with it.

My first introduction to Collaboration (social networking) Software - aka Content Management Software was with an open source product called Plone. It was recognized within the enterprise as a corporately approved standard and the price was right. Over a relatively short period, over 2000 individuals adopted the product at 100 different sites. Right about this same time, the Microsoft faction within the I&IT organization realized that they were getting displaced by an open source community - or so they feared. Their response was to put previously unsupported Microsoft Sharepoint into the running as an alternative to Plone. . . or so it looked. History has it that Sharepoint had previously been considered as a Collaboration Tool Service but had not risen to the corporate standard challenge. Evidently, it was not scalable.

My introduction to Plone was OK. I really liked the open source concept but found the interface to be awkward or better put - not Windows-based. The paradigm was different and although it created a much better environment for collaboration than anything provided by our corporate Windows-based environment it still lacked certain features.

This time last year, I was on special assignment in a business unit wanting to manage its content better. I broadcast that Plone was freely available and recommended that the division use it to better manage it's (LMDA) content. No sooner was this made public than the local IT folks announced that it was planning to support Sharepoint even if it was not recognized as a corporate standard. As soon as the division got wind of this, my recommendation went up in a puff of smoke. Why would the division use Plone when IT indicated if preferred to support Sharepoint. After all, it was supported by Microsoft - like all the other products IT already supported.

The history of Microsoft in this enterprise of 65,000 employees is amazing.

In the early days, and we must never forget, Microsoft Corporation allowed its products to be copied and freely distributed by anyone. This was unlike the leading PC software products of the day - Lotus 123, dBase and WordPerfect.

Now, at that time I was a bit of a neutral participant. In 1986, I used an integrated software product called SMART. Long before MS Office, I was writing code that integrated my database manager with word processor and Smart Spreadsheet - but that's another story.

The Lotus 123 zealots thought I was a little bazaar for not using their product. The Smart Database Manager was OK because in those days, as is still true today, few end-users know how to use a database of any kind when they can get by with a spreadsheet. It was the WordPerfect Users who laughed the loudest. They could not understand why a relatively small band of individuals bothered to use the SMART Word Processor when it did not have something as basic as REVEAL CODES.

While these people were busy laughing at me and my colleagues, Billy Gates and the boys were releasing uncopy-protected end-user tools called MS Word, EXCEL and ACCESS.

Although it was possible to get your hands on an copy of, say, Lotus 123, unless you knew the KEY CODE, it would not install. In the pre-internet, pre-email days of Lotus123 (the 1st real BIG Killer App.) is was not uncommon to get a 4 1/4" copy of the Lotus installation diskette. It was much less common to get the copy to install.

While Lotus 123, dBase and WordPerfect were making millions selling copy protected software, Microsoft Corporation systematically knocked each of them off their pedestals by releasing software versions that were not copy protected.

So, as a consequence of what will be recognized as the most brilliant marketing strategy of the 20th century, Microsoft toppled the 3 great software giants of the initial "Killer App" era - WordPerfect, dBase and Lotus123. Today, they are essentially dead.

So, what's the point. . ? Twenty-plus years later, Microsoft is again entering the software arena with a new generation of product. From personal productivity, to group collaboration we have moved - this due to a number of factors essentially the establishment of corporate intranet infrastructure and of course, its predecessor, the invention of the INTERNET - the semantic internet and web2.0 - blah blah.

Sharepoint has been hanging around for a number of years now, without much excitement. So, what's going on right now? It's called convergence . . . when the right set of circumstances arrive at the same place in time to achieve synergies that have been waiting to happen.

Oh yah, I just got back from Sharepoint training - a 4 day intro. I'll say that again - " A 4 day intro . " 20 years ago, in 4 days, you could learn everything you needed to know about WordPerfect, Lotus 123 and dBase to change the world. Today, 4 days will get you an overview to what some might think is an end-user tool while others will be convinced it is an application development platform - a place where IT can be told by the business who to AUTOMATE its operation.

Be careful. I will say that again. Be careful. The business, at this point in the 21st century has little appreciation for how it should be automated. When I asked Learning Tree Professor - Gord about the difference between Automation and Workflow, he told me they are the same. When I asked if all workflow can be automated or if all automation is workflow, Gord hesitated.

More about this later.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Collaborative Tagging

Traditional classification systems, like that devised by Melvil Dewey in 1876, have served us well. Nevertheless, it is time to reconsider the value of an approach that requires that a document be categorized in a single uniform way in order that it can be returned to a single place in a library somewhere. In today's cyber library people are not concerned with how a document is named (categorized) or where it is located. They only need to know what they need to know.

Formal classification systems require a trained professional to do the classifying in a consistent manner - over time. Once classified, the document is then moved to the physical location that corresponds to its code. To find the document, one need only know the code or ask the professional librarian for assistance. This process was further simplified by creating card indices according to Subject, Author and Title. This additional level of abstraction actually made it easier to live within the system of codification.

As we move further into cyberspace, the establishment is contending that a formal system of document classification is still needed. I describe these people as “establishment” because when probed, they maintain that a document can only be correctly classified or tagged in one specific way. When asked why this should be the case, the establishment has no answer. They don’t know why at document could not be coded more than one way.

In the old world, a book could only appear in one location. The code was used to locate the document and the rule stated that multiple copies of a book could not exist in more than one location. Every time you walked into the library you could be sure to find the document in its defined place. Not only that, if knew the code, you could walk into any library and quickly locate the document.

Cyberspace, would not be what it is today is it adhered to a rule that said a document could not exist of it was not first classified according to a unified codification system. It wouldn’t work. First, it would take too long to reach consensus on a universal system of codification. Next, organizations would need to create hundreds of thousands of new librarian positions to ensure that codifications were applied in a consistent manner. Finally, over time, the codification system will need to be modified and updated. What a horrendous task that would be. The Dewey Decimal System has been modified greatly since its inception – most recently in 2004. Imagine keeping an internet-based classification system updated.

The problem with traditional classification (control) systems is that they require constant maintenance. They require centralization in order to maintain control required to ensure that the document is returned to the same location every time in order that you and the librarian can be assured of retrieving it easily. The internet however works on a far different premise. It acknowledges that a single document can appear to be in several locations at the same time. In reality the document never leaves the shelf upon which it is stored and the need to have it diligently returned to its original location removed.

It’s probably too early to determine how collaborative tagging , also referred to as 'open tagging', 'faceted hierarchy', 'social tagging' and 'folksonomies', will be received. The Red Queen will help determine this. (So much for a controlled vocabulary.)

How about an intranet that provides an opportunity for you to tag a document at whenever you go to book mark it. Imaging what it would be like if your tag (categorization) was taken into account by the search engine along with the tags of all the others who took the time to contribute their two cents. Would it lead to meaningful search results? The jury is still out.

Also See Collaborative Tagging Sites Like:
- Flickr

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cluetrain & the Semantic Web

People of the world.
A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

So starts probably the first web site after which, in 1999, a book was written. The book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, can be read for free - click here if you're interested. It consists of 95 theses organized into a call to action for a newly organized community - the Internet (common unity or communal unity).

Now this notion of the internet may seem a a little old to us after the past 10 of 15 years but in 1999, the concepts presented therein laid forth the basis of what is now being called Web 2.0 or what will probably be remembered as the semantic web. The place the great conversation took place.

The internet, cyberspace or world-wide-web has shifted from the electronic bulletin board filled with messages to a dynamic environment rich in conversations and other unstructured transactions. The internet has become a place where people go to act, interact and transact. It is the new agora. The world is in the process of an enormous reorganization. The definition of community is being expanded to include virtual or fully abstacted and highly configurable groupings of people.

. . .In ancient Roman cities, the public market was located
on or adjacent to the forum and varied somewhat in shape.

Today, March 12, 2008, the term Web 2.0 is is wide use - more. The term Web 2.0 is credited back to Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media. The term however relates more properly to the web as a place of the great semantic conversation - or semantic web.

So the web, is the place where people go to converse, but with whom? People in their own community of course. But who are these people?

First, THESE PEOPLE, though they exist in reality have been virtualized. Separated from their mortal coils. By this I mean, my web page will exist for 1000 years. I have instructed by son to instruct his progeny - and so on, to continue paying $67 per annum, or whatever the falling rate is by then, for the service which hosts my site. This will represent a relatively insignificant compounded cost for the service if managed reasonably. I've also provided Darren with approximately 450 entries which should be included into this blog at a rate of 10 per annum. This will ensure that my personal entries will be continued for at least 40 or 50 years after my death and that is assuming I don't have time to compose at least another 4 or 500 entries before I say good by. As such, I am and will continue to be, in cyberspace, a virtual persona held to my mortal thread by perhaps only a very thin thread.

So what is a virtual community? it is one that can assemble and unassemble with little or almost no energy/efforts and can then reassemble without leaving much of a trace of it's previous footprint or existence. It is science fiction in action.

The virtual community represents the next level in social organization. An agile, mobile, highly adaptable organism equipped to respond to the measure of the day. It is relevant to an unstable or rapidly changing environment because is is an assemblage of many with little or no investment in current reality. Virtual communities are ready to move on.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Re-Organizing the World

According to David Wienberger the old ways of organizing things don't apply in cyberspace as they do in the real material world. But more on Weinberger and his book Everything is Miscellaneous, later.

Progress seems to be based on our ability to move to increasing levels of abstraction.
The process of abstraction is at the root of progress itself. Let me try to explain.

From bare hands to tools and instruments, we constantly organize and reorganize our ability to do things better. A spear is an abstract projection (pardon the pun) of that which came before it - hurling a rock to bring down wild game. Before that, we probably needed to form in groups of collectives to chase down and corner wild game then with bare hands and objects, kill the beast for food and, at times, even lodging .

Beating the animal senseless with a rock was good but throwing a projectile was even better. The discovery of abstract concepts like projecting a rock (with bare hand, sling, or arrow) was simply a refinement over killing the beast with bare hand. Our minds, probably through accident, learned to create abstract extensions - extension of our selves out into what we recognized as reality.

We create and re-create at increased levels of abstraction our recipe for survival through progress and advancement.

For example, numbers are a form of abstraction. I can count the number of fingers on my hand by showing them to you one at a time or I can abstractly illustrate that number by having 10 pebbles represent that number. The pebbles are not that number, they are an abstract representation of that number. In a sense, the pebbles are data about the data - otherwise referred to as metadata.

Money is another example of abstraction. Exchanging 12 bushels of grain for a goat worked well. but what happened if I needed a goat but was not carrying any grain? Would you accept from me a promissory note as a symbolic abstraction of my commitment to pay you later... or better yet how if I gave you some tokens or coins of equal value to the goat? These are all abstract representations. When we take things to increasing levels of abstraction we stand a chance of advancement. But how to we do this, how does this work.

The nice thing about moving to increasing levels of abstraction is that material or physical limits get transcended. For example how could I use the number of fingers on my hand to represent the number 20? I know this sounds silly but look what happens once pebbles are used to abstractly represent fingers. Now I can easily gather 20 stones to abstractly represent or symbolize the number of digits on the hands of 2 people.

If we went to move to yet higher levels of abstraction, we'd probably end up inventing numbers as we know them today. Abstraction allows us to symbolically represent things in a non-material fashion and this is good because it is much easier to manipulate the symbols than it is the physical objects they represent.

We are really good at organizing the physical world at increasing levels of abstration. As a matter of fact, we call most important institutions ORGANIZATIONS.

Look, for example, at the way we have combine some simple rules to organize to create, for example, a library system. First a guy named Melvin Dewey came up with an abstract, rather arbitrary, library classification system. Next a rule was created that said a book needed to be classified and placed in a location that corresponded with its classification. The next rule specified that a book could be found in only one location in the library.

What we have in the example above is an abstract classification or codification system which when combined with simple rules forms a knowledge management system which revolutionized information access through the public library system. It even goes further than this. If we take each book and create an abstract representation of the library according to author on a 3 by 5 inch card, we can go to the card index and see a list of all the books or articles in that library written by a particular author. As many of us remember, a similar card index was organized by subject.

The interesting thing is that to make the system work, the consumer didn't need to know anything about the classification system or the associated business rules to make the library work for us. The same holds true of whenever we perform a web-search. We don't need to know how the internet is organized or the search algorithms (rules) used to locate content. By creating increasing levels of abstraction, our ability to locate information that is seemingly disorganized is actually increased. Most libraries are are organized around the Dewey Decimal System of categorization. By comparison the internet organizes or indexes almost every word on every web page. Next, companies look at which web pages get the most usage.

Think of the internet as a vast global library of information that is attaining new levels of virtualization or abstraction never thought possible before. Truly a remarkable feat. . . and all this is being done without a tidy decimal-based classification system like that developed by Dewey. By comparison the internet is an organizational mess but because it is organized at a higher level of abstraction it works very well. On the internet there is no need to know where, for example, a document is physically located or what it is physically called. When you think of it, this is a breakthrough.

Here are some video references you might find interesting. . . or better yet, go to the library and get Weinberger's book - Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the new Digital Disorder.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

OLPC - One Laptop Per Child - 2

One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) is an educational project not a laptop project according to founder — Nicholas Negroponte.

Nicholas Negroponte was the talk of Davos Switzerland when he unveiled his plan for a $100 Laptop - more.

This project has been highly controversial. Many people have argued with its choice of technologies (Open Source), business model (partnering with the United Nations and with national governments, rather than with private companies) was off target. Some people have questioned whether the computer itself is the critical resource bottleneck, citing Internet access as being an equally important and more difficult to solve problem. There is still a way to go.

There are still a few minor obstacles associated with a project attempting to ensure that every child on the planet not only has a computer but that it is connected to the World Wide Web of opportunities, information and possibility. Nevertheless the endeavour seems to be off to a good start and maybe Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation might lend a hand. Bob are you listening?

For Nicholas Negroponte podcast - click here.

For technical discussion video (35min) - click here.

Friday, February 22, 2008

OLPC - One Laptop Per Child - I

The world is going through hyper-change mode, transforming before our eyes on a variety of fronts - largely enables by advances in telecommunication technology. As a result, we are entering a new phase of information management - one where personal productivity tools that recognized the power of the individual to one where information is recognized a something groups of people either utilize of produce in some kind of supply chain. Seldom is corporate information handled by a lone individual. It is the consequence of an as yet usually ill defined production cycle. First let me explain.

I'm referring to what is typically called unstructured information - documents and messages of one kind or another.
Merrill Lynch estimates that more than 85% of all business information is unstructured data – commonly appearing in e-mails, memos, notes from call centres and support operations, news, user groups, chats, reports, letters, surveys, white papers, marketing material,research, presentations and Web pages.

This unstructured content or what is being called UGC (User Generated Content) is beginning to move from enterprise drives
behind the fire wall to domains that are accessible via the internet. . .

But what does this all have to do with OLPC? As the knowledge of the world gets better reorganized and becomes more accessible and therefore made accessible to anyone on the planet with broadband access, one has to wonder what would happen if every child were given computer access to the knowledge of the world?

Did you know that less than half of the content contained in Wikipedia is in English. Did you know that the Google Boys are excited about advances in automated translation technologies. The world is shifting - if we could but perceive. Information is leaking from the hands of the few to the hands of the many - at exponential rates.

If this leakage is actually taking place, what would happen if OLPC took place. Most probably, concepts of Intellectual Property (IP) would attempt to limit who gets to learn and know what. That seems to be what IP rights do.

[1] DM Review Magazine, February 2003

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Two Views of Information

The traditional view holds that information or its derivative knowledge is power. Therefore it has value and needs to be protected against loss, corruption and misuse by others. Historically we have protected information because it was scarce or conversely, perhaps scarcity itself was created as a means of increasing value and associated power.

The traditional view, however, is giving way to the modern notion that information actually derives value through use and reuse. This decentralized view holds that substantial community benefit can be realized through the free flow of information from the hands of the few to the hands of the many. The more information is used by the community, the greater the return on the community investment. But who actually owns the information? What is the notion of intellectual property? If I invent a good idea, like the alphabet, should I be allowed to own it - forever? What would the world be like if numbers were intellectual property owned by a corporation, would I go to a distributer and have them fill up my spreadsheet to I can perform the next set of tasks? Consider the american company that received a US Paten on Bismati Rice - ref1, ref2.

In September 1997, a Texas company called RiceTec won a patent (U.S. Patent No. 5,663,484) on "basmati rice lines and grains." The patent secures lines of basmati and basmati-like rice and ways of analyzing that rice. RiceTec, owned by Prince Hans-Adam of Liechtenstein, faced international outrage over allegations of biopiracy. Both voluntarily and due to review decisions by the United States Patent Office, RiceTec has lost most of the claims of the patent, including, most importantly, the right to call their rice lines "basmati." This was a huge victory for India, whose farmers faced enormous economic losses from the patent - source, Wikipedia.

The view that information was the source of some power that can best be handled inside protective vaults or silos could be described as a contributing for vertical organizational designs intended to support differentiation and control balances based on who gets to see and do what with the information. The emerging view that as information becomes more readily available through the creation of horizontal structures like the internet or its variant the intranet, a natural consequence will be the discovery of new opportunities and possibilities. The basic idea is that as more information are given access to access or discover relevant information and the knowledge or literacy levels increase, the organization will be better able to make better plans and decisions. This premise was presented in 1945 by economist Friedrich Hayek in The Use of Knowledge in Society. In it, Hayek proposes that information sharing, which arises when diverse individuals interacting for their own varying goals, results serendipitously in order and universal benefit. He suggested that cooperation is an inevitable outcome of social interaction because of the benefits of distributed knowledge.

Modernization III

An environment required to support innovation is fundamentally different from one need to implement and sustain the innovation. In like innovation which benefits for participation and collaboration which can to some extent be self-organized and regulated, the implementation of the innovation must systematic – capable of being consistently repeated in a variety of situations and locations - over time. The notion of assembly line replication, though mechanistic in nature, appears to be a key ingredient to future success.

To accomplish this success, “systems” must be codified or thoroughly described before consistent implemented can occur. Without this codification, system replication is made difficult or impossible. Codification [1] could, for example, be expressed in several ways or at various levels of abstraction. That’s what codification is, a form of abstraction or virtualization or simulation. Written language is an abstraction of the spoken word and the alphabet is its codification. Written laws, business process definitions, computer programming scripts are abstract codifications intended to define, govern and regulate system behaviour. Codification is a critical component of the ongoing reformation or modernization process – including the way information is managed.

Some codifications, when put into place, are resilient – meant to last – intended to be impervious to change – strong and powerful. In a world of continuous change, however, where by the time the need for the change has been agreed to and an innovative response defined, tested and implemented, problems arise when the response is no longer appropriate to the external environment. In other words, what happens when the time it takes to conceive of and implement an innovation is so long that the circumstances that originally prompted that change no longer exist. In other words what happens when the time left to sustain change is reduced to zero? This is the zero point of entry - the point of continuous change. We are at this point where, for example, by the time the new product can be developed, it is no longer relevant.


[1] here codification refers to the identification and restating of a business rule or process in an organized and logical in order that it can be more easily interpreted.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Business of Information

I was writing a paper about managing content in the organization and wondered if people had an idea about what went on when one submits a web-search? I posed the question to my associate - Arlene, who paused and with a quizzical look responsed she had never really thought about it.

In brief I explained that these powerful search engines index every word (except words like a, an, the, but, to, ect.) on every webpage and essentially return to you the results. The Google boys, of course, made some enormous improvements on this search technology - that dates back to the 1960s - but that's essentially how it works. Anyway, we had an interesting chat and I found that Arlene was taking some courses and the information I passed to her was of some interest. So, I followed up with the following email.

Hi Arlene,
Thanks for your input yesterday. You were very helpful. Our ensuing conversation about information management was also interesting. As mentioned here are some pointers that may help you further explore the topic.

There are sectors of the Marketplace that are being transformed by ICT (Information and Communications Technology). At the core of this is the advent of a new global communications structure called the internet. What we call the internet consists of various layers of technology like physical wires and networks operating under a common standard called TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol & Internet Protocol). As we move up the layers things start to look more familiar and we come to something called http:// (HyperText Transfer Protocol). This is where interfaces, links and user navigation takes place.

We have moved from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 – a shift from web as massive bulletin board to a place were people go to interact and transact. The seemingly sudden emergence of massive social networking sites like YouTube, MySpace and FaceBook are testament to this. In 2006, Time Magazine declared “You” as “Person of the Year” in recognition that “You” can control and contribute to information on a world wide scale.

Underneath all this, another phenomenon was taking place – the emergence of Open Source (free) software. Highly customized Open Source software has been used to create many of the dynamic new sites that are emerging – like the ones mentioned above. One of the most phenomenal uses of Open Source was the emergence in 2001 of an online encyclopedia called Wikipedia – a vast compendium of information created by on free software by volunteers on a scale never seen before witnessed, in peacetime, on this planet. It is the 9th most used site in the world, it is controlled by a non-profit foundation and operated with a staff that has grown to seven, on a budget that will this year be between 2 and $3M. Wanna listen to the founder, Jimmy Wales? Still more. In the last link, Wales refers to Economist Friedrich Hayek and a paper her wrote in 1945 called “The Use of Knowledge in Society.” It’s tough reading so if you want a synopsis – go here.

I’ll bet you didn’t know the organization even supports an Open Source Product called Plone. Anyone with Managers approval can have it installed free of charge in order to set up collaboration environments where information can be created and managed by people in different branches, division and organizations. People can even have it configured to invite stakeholders from outside the firewall to collaborate. The product is known internally as The Collaboration Tool Service (CTS) - more. In the past 12 to 18 months 200+ CTS sites have sprung up with 5,000+ registered users.

Open Source Software exists legally through something called the GNU General Public License. If you’re interested in learning more about what that’s about in the attached WORD presentation by Eben Moglen else – click here.

More on free software.

So how does all this relate to business and economic models? Microsoft has become immensely wealthy by selling a product that costs little to manufacture. I suggest pharmaceutical companies live in a similar world where cost is essentially in the up front research and development. In other words, we actually purchase IP – intellectual property. Look what happened to the music industry when people got feed up paying $20 for an album that contained 1 or 2 good tunes. As a result, we now purchase music for $.99 per song. The movie industry didn’t experience the bootleg fate apparent in the music industry. Perhaps it was because this industry said pay $15 to come in and experience the movie in state-of-the-art comfort or wait for a month or 2 and watch the movie in the comfort of your home for $5 or even less. We rent movies and purchase music.

In essence, when we “purchase” software, we rental or licence the right to use the product – that is those of use who don’t use bootlegged or pirated software. The fact is that most of us are very 90% happy with our software and are not looking forward to paying several hundred dollars to upgrade to the latest version of MS Windows and MS Office – if that’s what you use. Certainly MS sits with billions in its reserves is not on the verge of bankruptcy but stockholders are looking and increasing their returns. So how will Microsoft, whose stocks have been declining of late, ensure profits and survival. No one on the outside can profess to answer this, however it could look down its products to ensure they can only be installed on one machine. But won’t that discourage people who don’t have enough cash from upgrading to new MSs products which will prevent illegal copying?

First it must be noted that Microsoft would probably not be in the position it is in today if it did not at one time passively promote the free distribution of its software. In the days when the computer operating system of the day was MS DOS, the predominant software products were Lotus 123, dBase and WordPerfect. Each product its product against unauthorized, bootleg distribution by digitally protecting its installation disks against unauthorized use – and this worked relatively well, that was until the company that made the operating system moved into the application software business and produced a product that could be readily copied and distributed between friends, family members and neighbours. This practice was contagious – viral in nature. One by one, the 3 great software industry leaders were brought to their knees.

The death knell occurred at the point the DOS based versions of MS WORD, EXCEL and Access were transformed into something new Рversions that would operate under what came to be called Windows. Of course only Microsoft had a full picture of this new operating system. The corporate that provided the operating system on which Lotus 123, dBase and WordPerfect depended and not only become competitor, it had rewritten the operating system. The 3 competitors of MS had a choice, invest in a total rewrite of their products or wait and watch to see if the new operating system would be adopted by consumers. Consumers loved MS Windows. In many cases, individuals had Windows operating at home long before it was adopted in the workplace. Why? MS continued to consumer market share by allowing people to copy and freely distribute its Windows operating system and integrated suite of products. This is not to say that the products were not good, they were consequently adopted widely in the workplace after receiving acceptance by everyone from the office managers teenage kids to the technician who was chomping to have MS Window Product Support replace DOS Technician on his or her resum̩. Has MS skilfully executed a well developed marketing plan or been involved in some predatory practices. A quick look to the other side of the pond shows MS contesting an EU court decision Рmore.

The other day, a colleague noted, “Other accelerators already in evidence that influence our ability to collaborate are our attitude to IP and our ability to 'waste' things. The entry phase of the new business model requires the establishment of 'reputation' which is gained by freely sharing IP; the latter phase (which can be quite small) involves conversion for commercial gain. When the cost of something virtually disappears (and it can therefore be 'wasted') and the leverage to be gained from sharing is apparent, then collaboration happens! That way be both gain confidence in our potential collaborations, are presented with the means to enable them, and maybe turn them into something worthwhile!”

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


This morning, one of my work colleagues asked about the difference between a Blog and a Wiki. Here's what IBM has to say.

What it is: A blog (short for “web log”) is a website that consists of a series of entries arranged in reverse chronological order. It may be the recorded ideas of an individual or a complex collaboration open to anyone. Blogs often focus on a particular subject, such as technology, politics or local news. A typical blog combines text, images and links to other media related to its topic. The “blogosphere” doubles in size every 6 months. 75,000 new blogs are started every day and 1.2 million new entries are posted daily — or about 50,000 blog updates every hour.

What it does: Because they can be updated in real-time and provide a sense of personal connection between readers and authors, blogs have become an increasingly influential form of communication. The role of blogs in breaking, shaping and spinning new stories has revolutionized communication tactics for a variety of activities including political campaigns, marketing efforts and business analysis.

What it is: A wiki is a type of website that allows users to add, remove or edit content, very quickly and easily. In essence, a wiki is a simplified way of creating web pages, that has been combined with a system to record each individual change over time. The most famous example of a wiki is Wikipedia. Started only five years ago, Wikipedia is already the world’s largest and most accurate encyclopedia, boasting more than 3.8 million articles and editions in 100+ languages — all produced through content contributed voluntarily by more than 360,000 people around the world.What it does: Because wikis are so easy to use, they’ve become an effective tool for collaborative writing and knowledge-management. Wikis are gaining recognition as valuable knowledge resources, helping to foster a sense that the recording of language and history belongs to a global community rather than a select group of academics.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Modernization II

To modernize successfully, “systems” must be codified or thoroughly described before consistent implementation can occur. Without codification, system replication is made difficult or impossible - therefore the system is simply not scalable.

Codification could, for example, be expressed in several ways or at various levels of abstraction. That’s what codification is, a form of abstraction or virtualization or simulation.

Written language, for example, is an abstraction of the spoken word and the alphabet is its codification or abstraction. Written laws, business process definitions, computer programming scripts are all abstract codifications intended to define, describe, govern and regulate system behaviour. Codification is a critical component of the ongoing reformation or modernization process – including the way information is managed.

Some codifications, when put into place, are resilient – meant to last – intended to be impervious to change – strong and powerful. In a world of continuous change, however, where by the time the need for the change has been recognized and an innovative response defined, tested and implemented, problems arise when the response is no longer appropriate to the external environment.

When the time it takes to conceive of and implement an innovation is so long that the circumstances that originally prompted the change no longer exist, then you're too late.

In other words when the time left to sustain change is reduced to is shorter than the time needed to innovate and create, you're shit out'a luck. If your ability to sustain an innovation exceeds the time required to create and implement it, you've created the dynamic of change. Isn't that what it's all about - modernization, change, development.

This is the zero point of entry - the point of contiguous change. We are at this point. The point where, for example, by the time the new product can be developed, it is no longer relevant to the marketplace. Conversely said, the market place responds best to products and services that are most responsive.

Here codification refers to the identification and restating of business rules or processes that exist in an organized and manner. This way, the codification can be more readily interpreted by others.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


The need to modernize the way work is performed and services delivered is agreed to and generally understood. Modernization is about keeping up with external environments – adapting and remaining relevant in a world of continuous change.
It is generally agreed that technology will play a central role in the modernization process. However, modernization is no simple task. It is an adaptive strategy that requires teamwork and innovation on one hand, as well as, discipline and rigour on the other – ingredients which don’t readily coexist.

To be sure, technology is an essential element to improving the way information is managed but as the award winning computer scientist E. W. Dijkstra said, “Computer Science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”

Friday, February 8, 2008

Structure & Content

Working in IT is great. It allows me to see leading edge advancements as they begin to occur and sometimes I'm even able to anticipate them. Before one can really understand technology, however, one must understand that everything in the Universe is either Structure or Content and that what seems to be structure in some situations may actually be content waiting to occur in another universe. Think about it!

This much we know, the purpose of structure is to facilitate communication. Whether the structure is in the form of an organization chart or a network diagram, structure facilitates communication. Right?

Our job then is to build communication networks that work.

In technology, structures would include network cables, computers, routers etc. In the real world we're looking at roads, electrical grids and even sewage systems. Structure facilitates the passage of information or change states.

The value of information is derived from Structure. If the structure of the network is poorly designed, the content that contained therein will be affected. If the structure of this article is bad, the intended message will also suffer.

To understand information management one must see the world in terms of its Structure and Content.