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Thursday 14 January 2010

Data Ubiquity Threatening Usefulness of Enterprise 2.0

This blog post is co-written with Lee Provoost from the social business consulting firm Headshift and started over a bowl of porridge
Part 1....

"Content and data are everywhere. People are creating and curating content like never before. As data storage becomes cheaper, businesses are storing,archiving, and mining more data than previously possible. The increasing openness of APIs and data portability make more enterprise data available for both consumers and employees to consume. Free flow of data also allows businesspartner relationships to be readily analyzed and optimized." (Emerging Opportunities in Social Business Design)
Filter Failure
With large corporations storing more and more data (be it for compliance, regulatory or internal mining purposes) in their Enterprise 2.0 (and overall IT) systems, we have the danger of getting big data silos or disparate solutions. To make matters worse, they are often stored locally in systems that are owned by different business units with different purposes. So, imagine that you have invested a lot of money and effort in a knowledge management system, just to realize after 3 years that it does not suit your needs anymore and you need something else? If you have a couple of thousands of files, it's still quite manageable. However, if you work in a very knowledge-intensive organisation, three years of data might have accumulated into several hundreds of gigabytes of data. Good luck with that migration.

Then go through a merger with your competitor or launch a whole load of new products or services and try to gain consensus and consistency across these disparate solutions.
With the increasing importance (and increasing amount) of data floating around your organisation, it becomes more and more important to think about open standards for data interoperability. Accept the reality of the day that a lot of your data is stored in silos. What we need to think of now is how we are going to make this data step-by-step accessible so that we don't need to do tedious and error-prone data migrations when the system doesn't cope with our demands anymore.

Perhaps to your surprise, I'd argue that the data silo lock-in is not your biggest problem. No, the inability to intelligently manage and reuse this volume of content in a meaningful way is a much bigger danger that has a direct impact on your business. Filter failure arises when individuals are unable to synthesize and understand the vast amounts of information being generated by an organisation.

Where the problem used to be getting enough information, now it's being able to make sense of it all. So in addition to filtering the underlying plethora of data and subsequent applications, you also have to be an inline translator. For anyone dealing with end users directly eg a front line customer agent dealing with lots of applications, they will always speak in their own language and never that of your systems, applications or processes. More importantly, they have no reason to.

The interface is the product
But what exactly are we trying to solve here? Why would we even care about this problem? Just a Bunch of Stuff That Happens perfectly coined it in the following cartoon:

Even this is being kind – the average knowledge worker will use between 6 and 15 of these apps, we have experienced people using upwards of 30 because of these data silos. The typical enterprise application looks much like "Your company's app" as shown in the cartoon. There is such a vast amount of data flowing around your company that you often end up with these kind of user interfaces. Instead of achieving the goal of bringing powerful information to the fingertips of the business end-user, it just confuses people. It just makes people unhappy and unproductive. For every new channel, (email, web, social channels, ...) and for every new product, the quick answer is often to bring in a new additional application. This all adds to the complexity and mess on the knowledge workers desktop.

And just in case you would forget, an IBM Design tweet nailed it:

Part 2 of this blog which will be published next week will go on to describe how the issues of data silos and increasingly numbers of application interfaces can be addressed.

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