Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Bruce, David. "Using Metadata to organise an online collection." Update Magazine 12 2006: 36-37.

Looking through my RSS (opens in new window) feeds this morning, I came across an article by someone with the same name as me. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be an article by me! I had been told that the article that I had submitted sometime ago (September or so) would be published either as part of the December or January issue of Update Magazine (opens in new window), CILIP’s monthly magazine for members. Okay, so it isn’t the Guardian but I’m pretty pleased all the same.

The December issue is currently featured as part of the main Update page: http://www.cilip.org.uk/publications/updatemagazine (opens in new window)

As a more future-proof link to the article, though, here is its home in the archives:
http://www.cilip.org.uk/publications/updatemagazine/archive/archive2006/december/Bruce.htm (opens in new window)

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Implicit Knowledge

Heard of explicit knowledge? How about tacit knowledge? If you are an information professional, the answer is almost certainly "yes"; these are pretty widely accepted and understood terms and concepts. But what about implicit knowledge? Initially, I sort of felt like I knew what this was but pretty quickly realised that it was a concept I hadn’t come across before reading "Implicit Knowledge Management: the new frontier for corporate capability". It’s an interesting article (if a little ‘salesy’ towards the end) that covers a few different concepts. One of the concepts is knowledge harvesting, the subject of my management diploma dissertation and the reason this document surfaced in an online search.

Implicit Knowledge
Let’s start with implicit knowledge. The article defines it as a middle ground between explicit and tacit knowledge; it is the tacit knowledge that can be transformed into explicit knowledge. It’s not the same thing as tacit knowledge, just captured because, as the authors point out, "not all tacit knowledge can be transfigured into implicit knowledge. There will always be bodies of know-how and experience that remain tacit."

The authors are quite right in pointing out that most organisations that claim to engage in knowledge management would point to systems or processes whose principal function is to capture and consolidate existing explicit knowledge. Few organisations (and none that I know of) are actively engaged in some form of tacit knowledge management. The closest they seem to come is the provision of mechanisms for individuals to share their tacit knowledge. This step is a big one but not the same as capturing it for use once that person has left the organisation. The goal of implicit knowledge management, according to the authors, is "to determine how much of the tacit knowledge in your organisation defies any form of codification, and to mine that which does not."

The last thing on implicit knowledge as a concept is that the authors flag it as not being an effective way to bring staff values into line with company ones. Mentoring and storytelling are highlighted as better ways of achieving that objective.

Codification of process logic or expertise
The authors also touch on the need for a codification process for organising that tacit knowledge that is made implicit. Their example is:
  • Process: an overall series of related tasks resulting in a single business outcome or product
  • Module: major sub-routines in the process, tasks grouped by a common theme – processes may have more than one module
  • Task: an individual step taken in order to accomplish a module
In addition, they draw the distinction between the "cerebral inputs" to the tasks, distinguishing between "Guidance" (how to perform a process) and "Support" (explanations as to why tasks are executed in a particular manner).

Dimensions of knowledge harvesting
The article includes three case study examples of the application of implicit knowledge management, each of which is presented in terms of eight dimensions:
  1. Focus – the rationale for the project
  2. Find – the method for locating the tacit knowledge and is ‘codifiable’ (yes, I did make that word up)
  3. Elicit – the process used to harvest the knowledge
  4. Organise – the way in which the implicit knowledge was codified
  5. Package – the format in which the implicit knowledge was shared / published
  6. Share – the method for sharing / publishing the implicit knowledge
  7. Apply – how the implicit knowledge was used
  8. Evaluate & Adapt – the assessment process used to determine the success of the knowledge harvesting project
So why am I interested in this set of dimensions? Well, I think that they could prove useful if one ever had to assemble a business case and project plan for a knowledge harvesting project. The only aspects that I think are missing from this set of dimensions are: 1) something about target audience or intended users and 2) something about specific objectives and anticipated benefits. To be fair, the audience aspect may be picked up in a few of the dimensions above and the objectives one would probably be picked up under Focus but for the sake of evaluating the success (or lack thereof) of a particular project, these things are best made explicit.

…and finally…
Apparantly, Knowledge Harvesting is a service mark! How can this be? In my experience, it’s used quite freely to refer to the exact same concept that is service-marked…hmm…

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Long Tail

I have been reading about the shift that has taken place with the introduction of Internet retailing (specifically, The Long Tail) and came across the concept of "the long tail". This is a really interesting phenomenon that defines the Internet as a whole – "something for everyone".

The long tail refers to the market for those non-mainstream products that traditional retailers cannot afford to stock. Your local Virgin Megastore cannot stock every album ever recorded; it simply hasn’t got the room to store them all. As a result, they choose those albums that they can be sure of selling at least enough copies to cover the cost of storing them. iTunes, on the other hand, just needs some server space to store its stock. Of course, there is a cost associated with this form of storage as well but it is far less expensive. As a result, iTunes can quite feasibly stock every album ever recorded (of course there are challenges associated with doing so – some are pretty esoteric for starters) but there is no disputing that they can offer consumers more choice. The market for those non-mainstream albums that Virgin Megastore cannot afford to stock but that iTunes makes available is the "long tail" and where this market becomes commercially interesting is when the "long tail" represents more sales than the mainstream products do.

Not only is Internet retailing a step forward in terms of consumer and retailer convenience, it has opened up a whole new way of satisfying each and every individual consumer’s preferences.

An interesting concept, certainly, and one with which any commercial information professional should be familiar but is there more to this idea? Could it change society at all? Ever notice how you see certain popular books being read by commuters around the same time? The Da Vinci Code is a really good example of this phenomenon. About two or three years ago, you could pretty much count on seeing one of the dozen or so people near you on the train reading that book (never mind the dozens of others you cannot see on the train who might also be reading it). These days, though, no one is reading it. It was pushed to the market through all available channels and consumers responded. So, given that:
  • less-mainstream products are just as readily available as the mainstream ones
  • Web 2.0 makes it possible for consumers to have a louder voice in recommending books/music/etc
  • Internet retailing continues to grow and the ‘long tail’ phenomenon continues to have commercial appeal
I wonder if this means that over time, we will have more diversity in society – not everyone will be listening to the same albums or reading the same books at the same time…

Thursday, November 16, 2006

PPDP-specific notes from November mentoring meeting

Coming out of my recent meeting with Karen, there are a few PPDP-specific things that I need to do / remember.

First, I need to add a few things under Training and Development Need:
  • negotiation skills
  • marketing skills
  • industry-specific familiarisation course that I’m due to attend later this month
Second, I need to be open-minded about what my proposed actions can be. They can include:
  • courses (the obvious starting point)
  • gaining experience in a particular skill
  • reading about a particular discipline or skill set
  • having conversations with people on specific topics
Finally, I need to set up my training log. If the PPDP is the theory, the training log is the practice. There isn’t really a great deal of format exerted on this log by the Chartership committee but it needs to complement the PPDP. I think that I will record my entries in this blog and tag them appropriately to identify them as being a Training Log entry. Each entry will be in response to a particular activity specified in the PPDP (some activities are longer-term ones and will end up with multiple entries against them, others (like courses) will be fixed-term activities and only have one entry against them. My proposed structure for each entry is:
  • Activity Objectives
  • Outcomes
  • Benefits Derived
  • Reflection and Analysis
I think that’s it for now. Next week I hope to spend a bit of time on my draft PPDP and given that one of the activities that will be on it is a course that I’m doing later next week, I guess I’ll be starting that Training Log not long after!

My blogroll

As I mentioned in my posting "Bye bye Bloglines, hello Blogger (beta)", I still rate Bloglines as a RSS aggregator.

The people there are working on improving things and have added various features including the ability to make your personal blogroll public.

Ideally, I’d like to have my blogroll integrated into this Chartership blog but until I figure out someway of doing that (without entering each one manually), I’ll just have to be content with a link to it: http://www.bloglines.com/public/djlbruce

Monday, November 13, 2006

November mentoring meeting

Last Thursday, my mentor and I had our monthly meeting. This time we talked about a range of different topics (career development, CV formats, writing for publication) but the main topic was my Personal Professional Development Plan (PPDP).

This is a document that is meant to be a roadmap of my intended continuing professional development (CPD) over the coming year. We are given a template to use for this document by CILIP and I had a quick go at filling it in but when I met up with Karen and we started discussing it, it was clear that I had hugely underestimated what was required here.

I was completing the template in a bulleted format but it seems that they (the evaluation committee) are expecting something significantly more substantial. Karen provided me with the detailed guidelines that are provided to civil servant applicants so I’m going to use that as a template.

Unfortunately, because the guidelines that I am following are quite new, there aren’t many examples out there to look at. We have agreed that I am will look into attending a Career Development Group (one of the CILIP special interest groups) sessions on the Chartership process (I have already attended one of these but it was a long time ago) and on the PPDP – hopefully they will have some useful examples for me.

Action: D – find and register for Chartership process seminar and PPDP information seminar

I also now need to go back and alter the project plan to reflect the fact that I am going to be spending a lot of time on the PPDP over the next month in preparation for our next meeting where we will have a look at my first draft copy.

Action: D – update project plan to reflect additional time required to complete PPDP

I will write a separate entry pertaining to some of the specific suggestions and conclusions that we reached regarding the PPDP itself.

Bye bye Bloglines, hello Blogger (beta)

Hooray! After a little research, I found that Blogger's beta version not only let's me update posts without altering their posting date but it will:
  • let me set the posting date (so I can restore the original posting order and dates)
  • allow me to create, assign and alter labels for individual postings
  • let me restrict the readership of the blog to a list of invited guests
This is a big improvement and I have already started playing around with the labels function. It also lets me set a template for my postings so that I can make sure that they all follow the same standards without having to remember the settings.

So much better...

Having said that, I still rate Bloglines as an RSS aggregator - it just isn't as functional as I would like on the Blog front.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Bloglines software

So that's a pain in the backside. In my meeting with my mentor yesterday, we talked about assigning categories to these entries. I have just been through all of my previous entries to give them a category only to discover that it updates the original posting date to today's

I had to go back through all of the entries and add a tag for the original posting date and do so in chronological order (I had to guess at the date for one of the entries - Project Plan - and I guessed wrong so it appears to be out of order but in reality, isn't. Grr... too frustrated to go back and fix it.

The fact that I'm kind of making up the categories as I go along (folksonomy style!) and will almost certainly want to alter them at some point in the future means that I will have to go through each entry and update it even if I have no changes to make to it, just to maintain the chronological order. This is quickly becoming unsustainable. I think that I'm going to look into an alternative platform for this blog. This one is just too limited in its functionality.

Obliquity: delivering value in a sympathetic environment

I have just read an article originally published in the Financial Times (17 January 2004) entitled "Obliquity". What is "obliquity"? Well, that was what I wanted know. Here's how the article starts:

"Strange as it may seem, overcoming geographic obstacles, winning decisive battles or meeting global business targets are the type of goals often best achieved when pursued indirectly. This is the idea of Obliquity. Oblique approaches are most effective in difficult terrain, or where outcomes depend on interactions with other people."

Sounds like an interesting take on strategy setting for businesses so I read on. It goes on to state that "Obliquity is characteristic of systems that are complex, imperfectly understood, and change their nature as we engage with them." Again, I'm interested because it shows an understanding of the concept and nature of complex systems.

From here the article goes on to give some examples of where companies have succeeded when they weren't focussed on profit and others that have failed when they were. Ultimately, though, the article is saying that companies are most profitable when they focus on delivering value to customers and not when they are focussed on turning a profit. This isn't sounding like anything revolutionary to me anymore, just good strategy setting. The reader is then presented with a life-equivalent regarding the pursuit of happiness which has been shown to be a by-product of social interactions and facing challenges that stretch us. Looking at the pursuit of happiness from a business perspective (happiness = profit), you could argue that again, the pursuit here is value to the customer (oneself) rather than happiness in itself.

At this point, I don't disagree with the article and I think that it's an interesting way of looking at business strategy but I don't feel as though I am being exposed to any novel ideas. However, the article then starts to contradict itself in a way. The first is a concession that obliquity is not a business panacea, concluding that on average, a concerted effort to achieve profit will result more consistently in the achievement of profit than the pursuit of some other goal but that those sucesses that do result from an oblique approach will, on average, be greater. This isn't shaping up to be a very sound business strategy, but wait, there's more... The next dent in the argument comes in the form of an example that argues that genes survive not because they want to survive but because they do what it is they do in an environment that happens to favour them over others. So does that mean that this on-average-greater-success is actually a result of sheer chance?

The conclusion that I reached as a result of reading this article was that the wildly profitable business achieves that profit through a combination of focussing on delivering customer value and a sympathetic environment. Well, it held such promise but in the end, right place / right time isn't a strategy that I would hang my hat on. I'll stick to delivering value to customers with a view to making a profit and the law of averages.