STRIVING FOR CONTROL WITHOUT COMMITTEES

Sjoerd Vogt

Vice-President & General Manager – Dialog OnDisc/@Site Division

 

Our Changing Industry

For more than 25 years, DIALOG has provided value to the customer by ”aggregating” the data supplied by information providers, and by making these databases available to customers via powerful retrieval tools. The value to the customer in coming to DIALOG was (and of course still is for the majority of our customers) the speed and power of searching; the number of databases under the same search umbrella; and the price. You paid only for what you used and therefore – as long as you were an expert searcher, then DIALOG represented good value for money. Information was disseminated throughout the organisation via the expertise of the information specialist.

HOWEVER… the new technologies now make it possible for customers to share internal and external information within their organisation in many different ways. The move is towards ”knowledge management” and as a result the online information marketplace is undergoing change more rapidly now than at any other time in its brief history.

Information purchasing decisions are becoming increasingly devolved throughout the typical organisation, and customers are faced with a number of alternatives to the traditional aggregators such as Dialog.

The number of end-users is also predicted to continue to increase over the coming years. In targeting these new opportunities, Dialog needs to understand the problems and challenges that such new ”learning Organisations” face – as they try to build their intranets and implement KM strategies.

 

Committee Control versus Individual Autonomy

It is not surprising that at present, intranets and KM strategies are simply seen as parts of the same animal – in that the emerging organisation-wide intranet acts as the KM glue – the backbone to hang and try out the KM initiatives. However, ensuring a successful intranet is by no means a simple. Technology is only a very small part of the implementation; by far the greatest part is the people who will use that intranet. And – in this respect, there is one potential contradiction that must be faced. The successful intranet MUST be highly structured or it does more harm than good. BUT – at the same time it must be seen as belonging to each individual within the organisation. In summary – the categorising and organising MUST be done by the individuals, and yet you need to end up with a well-structured pool of information. Is this possible? Can you have the level of control necessary without having to invoke the dreaded committees?

There are both cultural issues and practical issues in building the successful intranet. However, it is the CULTURAL issues that are by far the most important, and unfortunately these are all too often not addressed – because they are also the more difficult.

Both the TEAM needs and the INDIVIDUAL needs must be addressed fully.

Team:

Individual:

 

It is no good thinking that the secret to success is to turn the clock back to a bygone era of control by intermediaries; the trends of empowerment that we’re now seeing are only likely to accelerate. It is paramount that this takes place UNDER our control rather than OUT of our control. At the same time we can look forward to a tapestry of information types that will only help to enrich the experience.

To bring together the personal agendas of the individuals with the organisational agendas of the teams WILL require a paradigm shift – meaning significant cultural change within most organisations.

Fast Company founder Alan Webber: ”It adds up,” he says, ”to the quality of conversations. The tools enable the rapid/rich conversations. The human factor -- leadership! -- elicits, inspires, and guides those conversations so that important information and insights are exchanged. The result is a company that functions as a global "university" -- stimulated minds hungrily and excitedly learning from thousands of others how to do just about everything better.

It’s always useful to have a goal – and in this context we can define the perfect KM – the ”virtuous circle”: The right information, the right tools, AND the right people! Dialog can certainly be of assistance in providing the right information and the right tools; and by being aware of the issues surrounding the people, we can also help to make the ”virtuous circle” closer to reality!

 

Solutions For Business – Ours AND the Customers’

From a business point of view, we MUST find new ways to add value; our traditional aggregator role is simply not enough to drive our business in this brave new KM world.

Our solutions MUST be able to provide the vital ”control without committees”; they must offer individual ownership and yet be highly structured.

Dialog is working on providing solutions to these challenges in a number of different ways:– not the least of which is the advanced automatic categorisation tool ”INFOSORT” . The AUTOMATIC categorisation is the key to its success. Each individual within the organisation can submit a piece of vital information to the corporate intranet. This is then categorised automatically within seconds and is made available to all.

Categorising also needs to be customised. Specific rule bases must be written for each proprietary category – an important but time-consuming exercise. Dialog is also able to offer custom categorisation as a service. By using newly-developed automatic rule-base generation software we are now able to offer this service for the first time as something that individual organisations would consider as cost-effective.

”Virtual Publishing” is another area that Dialog is working on very actively. This gives individuals within organisations the ability to specify their own uniquely constructed databases – rather than having to rely on the predefined traditional offerings.

Over the past 18 months, Dialog has developed a number of ”tools” that are specifically designed to populate intranets with genuinely meaningful information.

The changes to our industry are providing many challenges to providers and users alike. Dialog is is confident that the solutions we offer at present and are working on for the future will help our customers to meet the KM challenge!