How do you measure the productivity of someone like a librarian? Is it based on the number of reference sessions they service per hour? How about a researcher? Do you measure their productivity by the number of requests they process? Information work productivity is not measured in terms of output, as easily as say, the output of chocolates on a factory assembly line. People in the IT world, however, are interested in doing just that with information work -- finding ways to measure it in terms of productivity.
The Information Work Productivity Council held the Information Work Productivity Forum (presentations available) to announce the work they're doing in developing metrics and industry benchmarks for information work productivity (IWP). As Steve Lohr points out in a NY Times article, "Technology and Worker Efficiency" (also available on IHT.com), this council is looking for ways to account for improvements in productivity and present methodologies and cases that demonstrate best practices for productivity. While the council is described as an independent group of companies and academics gathered to research this issue, there is no denying that IT manufacturers and service companies/consultancies involved are behind this effort to benefit directly from the product of the group's research. Being able to provide metrics for IWP will give them the justification for selling IT systems and the consulting services that will provide gains in information work productivity.
The problem of quantifying productivity in information work is an old one. Relatively new, however, is that information technology has been used to support information work. Technology manufacturers and consultants attempt to attribute significant gains in some IWP to IT, but cannot clearly identify where these relationships exist. Richard Waters writes in the Business Day article, "Technocrats keep mulling over how to measure productivity", that "in an economic downturn, buyers of technology were demanding more proof that their purchases would have a direct influence on productivity. The body of knowledge needed to make this case simply did not exist." The need to measure the output of information work was made most prevalent by Peter Drucker, who argued that it needed to be measured as much as any process in the industrialized world. But history tells us that measuring knowledge work output hasn't been as easy as measuring manufacturing productivity. A common thread in the presentations given at the Forum was that focus needs to be placed on information processes rather than on technologies when looking for measurable aspects of information work that could be identified as contributing to IWP. Their focus, therefore, has been on merely identifying measurable aspects of information work. Much of the R&D presentations attest to this focus. The obvious outcome will be to enable companies such as Microsoft, which spearheaded this effort, to use these metrics for providing ROI numbers and justification for selling IT services.
Perhaps secondary, but equally important, is to use this research to uncover the real value of information work and the various aspects that determine IWP and sucesss -- including social, cultural, political, procedural and organizational aspects of information and knowledge work -- and to relate to businesses how IWP is clearly related to organizational and economic health. While these aspects seem soft and immeasurable, they are clearly the targets for investigation. John Seely Brown, Xerox PARC Chief Scientist and author of "The Social Life of Information", pointed out in his presentation, that observing users using methodologies coming from anthropology might be the right approach. Letting the world give us the solutions is wiser than letting IT determine the way and forcing people into that. Brown thinks IT should fit into the social fabric. The impact of this type of thinking might be to leverage the diversity in the information ecology and to allow the formation of loosely coupled systems. Clearly, if the direction IT takes is to be driven by these organic elements, then we need to understand them.
Richard Waters echoes this sentiment in Business Day saying that, "[i]t takes more than simply buying the latest personal computer applications from Microsoft or a faster router from Cisco Systems to raise the output of office workers. Redesigning business processes to make the best use of the technology, and teaching people how to use it effectively, may be more time-consuming and costly."
Craig Samuel, Chief Knowledge Officer for HP Services, shows one way they are trying to understand knowledge workers' information sharing by using visualization to map where corporate knowledge and connections between knowledge workers reside. He adds, however, that "...most knowledge workers are wary of sharing what they know: they believe that knowledge is power." Hoarding knowledge may be sensible with proprietary or secure data. It's probably closer to the truth that in this economy, companies that have a knowledge culture, characterized by openness in sharing and which provide incentives for doing so, are likely to succeed in being innovation leaders. His point seems to be that encouraging cultural aspects that support knowledge sharing affects productivity. So how do we understand that in order to measure it?
Gary Bridge, Vice President of Cisco's Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG), also echoes the theme of this council in saying that positive evironments in the world encourage productivity gains without necessitating tradeoffs/pain. On a macro level, he believes that a positive environment can be described as one that: fosters an environment of innovation, provides good public institutions (supported by IP protection, good courts and legal systems), maintains a superior educational system (with focus on math and science), and provides of widespread broadband access to all citizens. Driving the business with positive environments means also aligning the business strategy with the tech vision, getting cross functional leaders' support of this strategy, providing a clear definition of your core and context and then measuring sets of metrics (e.g. employee productivity and customer satisfaction) rather than individual metrics.
While some of the presentations -- all given by sponsors of the IWPC -- were laden with company and product advertisement in the guise of analysis of IWP issues, I found others quite valuable at raising issues that are relevant to the problem of understanding what was at issue when trying to measure IWP. While the corporate presenters alluded to the issues at a high level, the R&D presentation gave, perhaps, the most insight. Researchers indicated that they are not yet close to providing real and final metrics, but are only beginning to identify the common and relevant areas that might be measurable. Their research appears to be driven mainly by interviews and surveys. John Seely Brown's thoughts about where and how to look are relevant here, because they suggest a type of observation that is not based on elliciting data by asking questions about individual aspects of information work, it is concerned with taking a holistic approach to observing user processes. This approach, applied to various business processes means conducting a host of observational methodologies to find where productivity is affected. In the end, these observations can perhaps find ways of being supported by IT. Understanding how productivity is affected in information work clearly remains a difficult nut to crack, but by placing focus in the right places, this group seems most fit to do it.
Taking some inspiration from Lou's EIA roadmap, I offer my view of the milestones in in the development of enterprise weblog information services. This illustration will be used in my Computers in Libraries presentation. While it provides the basis for my discussion around weblog services, it also allows me an opportunity to further discuss my view of information systems in the wake of recent doubts about KM as a valuable commodity in enterprise.
This is a short roadmap and the milestones are somewhat large targets, i.e. not considering the small steps in between. In my presentation I touch on some of the smaller steps necessary to get to the milestones and some of the cultural and political aspects that affect success at reaching each goal. This is mostly reactive strategy. It is a way to prepare for growth of grass-roots created knowledge and to meet the growth with information systems that can be used for sense making. I must stress that it is NOT intended to suggest that you must urge knowledge creation in the enterprise. I don't think that needs to be the goal of the information services organization.
I should note that the "near term" milestone suggests taking one or both of two paths: 1) providing enterprise blogging software and/or 2) being able to work with a diverse set of grassroots created knowledge. The second path has to do with my mention of diverse ecology, and alludes to the creation of a system that can aggregate XML data. My position is that an enterprise information services organization needn't push individuals to capture knowledge in blogs, but should instead react to organic efforts to capture knowledge. I should also note that this is not encouraging tacit knowledge capture. While some bloggers may choose to blog tacit knowledge if they like, the idea of forcing this kind of recording is the cause of many failed KM efforts. A good deal of explicit knowledge capture contained in writings, email discussion, formal publications, etc. is fodder for knowledge mining.
Some market researchers have been attempting to describe the failure of KM in recent years while others attempt to describe how KM is evolving now to allow diversity in the information ecology. But these reports remain nebulous about how to do KM right -- how to better extract and represented knowledge in information systems. For me, the process of envisioning a narrow information services roadmap has helped organize in my mind the concepts for information systems that take the burden of knowledge creation and organization away from the individual knowledge worker. A lot of my vision is interested in watching the interests of users in information nuggets they publish, in topic tracking interests they record, etc. The design concept is concerned with turning patterns of use into describable entities. For instance, "Michael Angeles (person)" is interested in "Information Architecture (topic)". The idea is to clearly define those entities and create rules for the extraction of those entities from various forms of published matter. That is to say, to let the system parse and extract terms and be able to distinguish that "Michael Angeles" is a known person or that "Information Architecture" is a known topic. Those entities can then used for social networking -- to interconnect experts in the enterprise. I discuss this idea a bit in my previous blog entry.
Extracting bits of explicit knowledge and inferring and suggesting the relationships of people to concepts, concepts to concepts, and people to people should be the role of the knowledge-based information system. This is the far off goal.
The InfoWorld interview with Anil Dash provides some insight into SixApart's vision/roadmap for the future. MovableType has been slowly evolving over the years and has arguably the best UI offering of any weblogging application available now. I'm not sure who holds the marketshare for weblog applications or services, but clearly SixApart must be in the top three. They've been successful, largely due to the usable UI and to the grassroots community that uses and expands (through plugin modules) the Movable Type app. Dash provides us with a vision of how the company expects to move into the enterprise world and discusses how their software will interact with existing communications tools to ease the integration of enterprise knowledge work with blogging.
Dash says that SixApart has been looking at and discussing with vendors of email and instant messaging clients. They're envisioning a future where email, IM and other communications clients will natively support some XML format. This is clearly the future that enterprise IT people will want to see. SixApart is clearly looking to integrating with user processes rather than limiting the communication to the web interface. The web publishing UI has been their focus, which makes sense for now, but they will clearly need to provides ways of integrating non-web communications into their publishing product using APIs or some form of XML integration. Their model for doing business is going to focus on keeping the software inexpensive and selling services around software. This is clearly different from companies like Traction Software which is offering a more expensive CMS model, selling licenses based on number of seats. But Traction is also offering a much more robust application than SixApart's, so it is easy to see how much more can be handled without additional services after making the initial investment in their tool. I wouldn't doubt if future Miscrosoft .Net offerings are similarly modeled around seats and service, but with so much time lost in getting a similarly-minded publishing tool out, I wonder if they'll be able to catch up to SixApart in mindshare. Expensive tools with the MicroSoft brand might get the attention of IT, but in the end, the user experience and integration with knowledge workers' processes will drive how effectively these things get accepted and used -- unless, of course, the future includes knowledge collection in the form of invisible IM and email harvesting, which it very well may.
It will be interesting to see where SixApart goes with their future developments. Clearly they have the mind share of savvy Web users and by marketing themselves in interviews and articles in the popular business press, they're going to gain more mindshare with business decision makers. They will need to keep a keen eye on how these tools integrate with knowledge work processes in different information ecologies (e.g. small organizations with centralizsed IT infrastructures, large corporations with decentralized IT systems) to maintain a strategy for addressing all of these.
This InfoWorld Interview with Anil Dash, Six Apart's Vice President of Business development, Dash discusses how they are positioning themselves for enterprise growth. Dash outlined his vision for online publishing and his take on Weblog business models.
This page documents the history and progress of Lilia Efimova's work on the paper for the BlogTalk conference titled Blogs: the stickiness factor.
People have been asking for the PHP script that runs the GraphViz Site Map Generator so with some reluctance I am now offering it for free use under GPL. I'm mainly reluctant to share it so openly because it shows my limited understanding of PHP :(. But if you want to hack away at it to make it better, please send me back the improvements you've made. You can grab the script (it's one file), but I'm not going to be offering any major support. Let me know if you use it successfully somewhere.