Thursday, January 02, 2003

Portland will be the template

back in the .... It was twenty years ago that I visited my first communist country. In 1982, I trekked through most of Eastern Europe, and a bit of the Soviet Union. I can still remember well the terror at the border to East Germany, when guards searched every inch of my bags before letting me pass. They even forced me to remove my shoes! (The last time that happened to me was, well, I guess SFO.) A Russian woman on the train told me: "Don't worry. As long as you stay on the path, you're fine. It's only people who slip off the path who fall into the abyss." "The abyss." I was reminded of that story on my last trip to a communist country. My wife and I just returned from China. The reminder, however, was not the behavior of the Chinese border guards. Indeed, getting through customs and onto a plane there is like it was in the US 20 years ago -- relaxed, respectful, easy, and you even get to keep your shoes. I was reminded instead by the Portland airport story that has been popped in blog space. Stay on the path, and you're safe. Slip, and you're in the abyss. People -- on both the left and right -- boil in this space about what's happening outside. Yet outside blog space, there is just more of the same. The Times writes about Democratic hopefuls rallying to attack Bush for not making America safe enough. Wonderful. Who ever wins in 2004, we can be assured of more petty fascism to keep America safe. Where is the candidate who asks: Must we sell our soul to win this "war"? Where is the political party that demands respect for principles that I thought were fundamental. If we must detain Arabs, must we do so inhumanely? If we must frisk every air traveler, can't we at least build in checks to the system to assure that it is not abused? If we must fight to defend America, can it at least be America that we defend? I'm all with Dave that this space will be the space for political action in the future. If only the future comes soon enough. [Lessig Blog]

The Portland airport story is indeed a frightening example of the witches brew of petty beauracracy and police state powers.  It's a reminder that we shouldn't have given guns to people with small minds and it's frightening precisely because we can all put ourselves in that situation and know it might easily have been us.

This anti-terrorism kick is all about state power.  As corporations rob the state of it's social & commercial powers what has it left to do except flex it's muscles and remind us whose in charge?

Now I don't really know what kind of man Mr. Bush is, but I have my suspicions based on the evidence (mainly reporting) available to me. I think he is an ambitious, clever, devious, ignorant and mean spirited individual.  He is used to privilege and influence helping him to get his way. 

According to dictionary.com:

fascism: A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

02/01/2003 10:30 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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Hiring a KM system, the old fashioned way

I read a lot about calculating ROI for Knowledge Management.  I also hear a fair amount about problems with doing so.  I think this is because:

  • the value of knowledge is, in general, not well understood, e.g. how much is a new product worth? (it's particularly difficult when considering the risks involved with developing new knowledge and the opportunity cost in exploiting it)
  • the relative value of different chunks of knowledge can be hard to estimate
  • it's often hard to know what impact a KM system has had in capturing or leveraging knowledge, particularly before the fact
  • knowledge is so tightly interwoven into the fabric of what we do that it can be hard to make sensible comparisons

In many ways I am inclined to think of ROI as a red-herring.  Here's my theory:

At some point, somewhere, some accountant said: "Hey! We're spending all this money on IT equipment, but what does it ever do for us?" Then some clever person with a background in selling plant equipment or something said "let's use a funky calculation to make it seem like it saves lots of money."  And they did, and, fortunately, nobody ever went back to check the figures.  This quickly became the industry norm because the purchasing process was now so much easier "Look, the ROI numbers are great!"  Then came the great budget squeeze, the sky fell and everyone is wondering how to justify spending.  Suddenly we're stuck with ROI and we don't really know what it means.

I'm not saying that ROI is specifically bad, just that it may not be applicable in all cases and that coming up with some arbitrary way of calculating things to satisfy the bean counters seems a poor justification for using, or not using, a knowledge management approach.

But is there another way?

I think so.

I believe that knowledge is a fundamental aspect of our work.  If it wasn't then why would you bother with interviewing to fill new positions? With job specs?  With resumes?  If knowledge wasn't important then the first joe off the streets could fill any position (the goal of any turnkey business).

So when you hire a new member of staff you are really buying packaged knowledge off the shelf.  Recruitment agents are really nothing more than knowledge shops! (And like all shops the service and quality of the product may vary).

But when you hire new staff members do you ask "What's the ROI on this position?"  Well I guess you might, but I think it is more usual to work a different way around:

"We need to do X.  Hmm... we don't have anyone available.  Okay let's hire someone.  What's the market value of those skills?  We can't afford that!! Oh, alright then..."

and so on.  A job description gets posted, resumes are sorted, interviews are held, someone is appointed.  Usually on a 3 or 6 month probation period.  At that point you decide whether to keep them (the need is being fulfilled) or let them go (their not right for the job, or the situation has changed).

The key point for me is that the determination is not what is the ROI on this person but does the need get fulfilled at a price we can justify.  It's more about needs & their fulfillment than it is about costs & investment.

And so, I think, it should be for knowledge management.  I believe companies would be more successful if they took the approach that buying a KM package was more like hiring a new employee or two (the capital costs are likely not dissimilar for SME's).

Start with an understanding of what the needs are that must be fulfilled.  Ask how much it's worth to you to fulfill those needs.  Get the software on probation.  Run with it.  Then buy it, or go back to the market.

I think you will find that, by the time you have a firm understanding of what your knowledge needs are, you will more than understand where the ROI comes from (even if your calculator displays it as "a suffusion of yellow!")

Comments?

02/01/2003 15:33 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:

Current progress on liveTopics 1.1

liveTopics 1.1 has been further delayed.  Unfortunately the delay is not entirely due to my inability to finish the user guide.  Well it is, but it's not quite that simple.  Allow me to explain:

I've gotten to the stage of writing the part about how you configure the product.  At this point I have realised that the configuration process is a mess and needs fixing.  It's too complicated and basically too broken as it stands.

So I'm going back to fix how preferences are handled once and for all.  This should lead to a better product and, hopefully, one that is easier for me to document!

With luck it will only introduce a small delay and I can confidently state that liveTopics 1.1 will be released in 2003!

02/01/2003 16:22 by Matt Mower | Permalink | comments:
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