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Managing Knowledge in the Fractal Enterprise (Retro Alert 1999)


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A blast from the past - a talk I gave at Documation 1999 entitled "Managing Knowledge in the Fractal Enterprise". Interestingly, the themes touched on in this presentation have proved resilient and useful in all the years since. If anything, the ideas seem closer to the mark today than they did 20 years ago!

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Managing Knowledge in the Fractal Enterprise (Retro Alert 1999)

  1. 1. November 17, 1999 Documation, Toronto, Canada Managing Knowledge in the Fractal Enterprise
  2. 2. “If it isn’t on the Web - it doesn’t exist” Tim Berners-Lee Weaving the Web (1999)
  3. 3. Memex 1940 1960 1980 2000
  4. 4. Knowledge Management The Question  The latter 20th Century will be noted for:  unprecedented pace of research and innovation  technology growth driven by the Cold War  Knowledge is Power (Scientia est Potentia)  As creating, managing and applying knowledge has become more vital, so has it become more difficult to accomplish  Knowledge Management  “A buzzword with a message”
  5. 5. What is Knowledge A Practical Definition  Knowledge is a public artifact  Knowledge is different than ideas, experience, habits, and opinions  Knowledge has been “published” and is available for testing and criticism  Knowledge is part of a professional discourse  Knowledge evolves through “natural selection”  The Knowledge Value-Chain connects: • Data • Information • Knowledge
  6. 6. Data  Data is a collection of discrete factual records  A Unit of Data, a Datum, is devoid of meaning beyond the virtue of having been:  selected  retained  managed
  7. 7. Information  Information is a meaningful organization of data  Information is meaningful because it has been organized and communicated within a specific context and with a specific purpose (intention)  In information, data is organized so as to influence or direct (inform) the actions of an intended recipient
  8. 8. Knowledge  Knowledge is a meaningful organization of information  Knowledge is therefore a form of communication  Unlike information, the usefulness of a piece of knowledge is not limited to a specific context  Communicating knowledge entails conveying an understanding that allows the recipient to apply the intention and organizing principles behind the information to a broad range of contexts
  9. 9. Knowledge in Action An Example Task Instruction Examples Feedback Theory Information Knowledge Author Commentary Information Action Knowledge Understanding
  10. 10. Knowledge Management Building a Working Definition  What do we manage when we manage knowledge?  Physical Information Messages and their: • Connection to Events (Context) • Connection to Author and Audience • Connection to Organization and Process • Relationships to other Information Messages • Training modules, examples, background principles • Commentary (feedback) • Classifications, interpretations, criticisms • Implementation Feedback
  11. 11. Knowledge Management Building a Working Definition  What does managing Knowledge mean?  A Physical Dimension • Creating and Managing a Matrix of Information Messages (a web of connections) that forms the Knowledge Assets of an organization • Managing the ongoing availability and accessibility of Knowledge Assets  A Behavioural Dimension • Designing and Managing a process for creating, sharing, retaining, evolving and applying knowledge
  12. 12. Control Systems Applying Knowledge 1940 1960 1980 2000
  13. 13. Automation Investments in Knowledge Application  Automated Systems  implement process knowledge to reduce workload • initial instructions • feedback responses • exception handling  focus on limited problem domains  have relied on controlled environments  have demanded continuous optimization  Organizations exhibit a “rage to automate”  symptom of the volume of knowledge being applied
  14. 14. Internet Connecting Organizations 1940 1960 1980 2000
  15. 15. The Distributed Enterprise The walls come tumbling down  The Notion of an Enterprise  Not the same as an Organization • Single entity from an ownership perspective  Enterprise  “A bold or imaginative undertaking” (OED)  Any collection of organizational components assembled to undertake a common endeavour  An Enterprise is always distributed  Sharing Knowledge is the defining feature
  16. 16. The Distributed Enterprise The Challenge  Sharing Knowledge across boundaries  easier said than done  a myriad of barriers including political, legal & cultural  Two technical barriers:  Knowledge Assets cannot move between enterprise components due to: • Proprietary formats prevent data exchange • Automated Systems were never designed to share information with other systems (proprietary by nature)
  17. 17. Proprietary Formats Limit the interchangeability of all data types
  18. 18. CALS US DOD tackles the problem head-on (1985) 1940 1960 1980 2000 GOAL Supplier and Client STDS INTERIM SOLUTION Supplier ClientSupplier PROBLEM Client
  19. 19. SGML Standard Generalized Markup Language 1940 1960 1980 2000
  20. 20. SGML The First Experience in Knowledge Interchange  SGML  Provided phenomenal power for describing, exchanging and processing knowledge • Syntax of SGML reflected human communication • Absolute flexibility allowed infinite adaptations • Computationally difficult to implement  Adopted in the Military and Aerospace domains • where money was not the main consideration  Not leveraged to address non-textual information  EDI, Graphics, Product Data, Business Forms
  21. 21. SGML Key Innovation  The Key Innovation of SGML: • Naming Something (understanding it) is different than describing what should be done with it (defining its behaviour) • Naming Something is the important part  SGML gives us the ability to: • abstract Knowledge from Behaviour • manage an organization’s knowledge assets and thereby determine how it will behave (its potential)
  22. 22. World Wide Web Where there’s a Will there’s a Way 1940 1960 1980 2000
  23. 23. World Wide Web Opening the door to even the smallest player  Original Objective (1989)  “to allow information sharing within internationally dispersed teams”  The Web proved several things:  Simplicity will always succeed (HTML)  Universal goals could be met by a simple application of a complex standard (SGML)  The Web changed the business landscape  Now any organization could play in the “Enterprise”
  24. 24. World Wide Web Key Innovation  The Key Innovation of the Web: • Deciding what to do (intention) is different than determining how it should be done (execution) • Deciding what to do is the important part  The Web gives us the ability to: • abstract Intention from Execution • form and evolve the intention (objective) behind an enterprise separately from how it will be executed technically and organizationally
  25. 25. XML Answers the Question of Knowledge Sharing 1940 1960 1980 2000
  26. 26. XML offers Simplicity A Double Edged Sword  XML offers Simplicity • An Application Profile constraining the use of SGML • Promises Broader application support • Potential for ubiquitous browser support  Simplicity leads to Adoption • Potential for Knowledge Sharing becomes a reality  Wide-scale Adoption leads to Complexity • Previously isolated systems become connected • All Knowledge Assets can be exchanged between systems and organizations
  27. 27. XML The Potential  XML can be used to:  Encode and manage the Matrix of Information Messages that make up Knowledge Assets  Encode all forms of information: • Graphics (e.g. Scalable Vector Graphics) • Multimedia (e.g. Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language) • Product Data (e.g. it will re-implement STEP) • EDI / Forms  Exchange knowledge assets in their full form across all manner of boundary
  28. 28. XML Key Innovation  The Key Innovation of XML: • Fusing the innovations of SGML and the Web • Naming Something (understanding it) is different than describing what should be done with it (defining its behaviour) • Deciding what to do (intention) is different than determining how it should be done (execution)  XML gives us the ability to: • abstract Knowledge from Behaviour • abstract Intention from Execution
  29. 29. XML The Language of the Fractal Enterprise  The Fractal Enterprise • Each entity enters an Enterprise with its own knowledge assets and intentions • The Enterprise must aggregate these assets and intentions into a whole • It is a fractal enterprise because each entity is similar to the whole and to the other parts of the enterprise (right down to individuals) • The aggregated knowledge and intention determine the collective behaviour (potential) of the enterprise and guide its physical actions (execution)
  30. 30. The Unconscious Organization The Opposite of the Fractal Enterprise  The Unconscious Organization • Guided by opinion and supposition • No Matrix exists in which Knowledge can be “published” and no shared intention exists • Systems implement things that are not understood • objectives and requirements are unarticulated • business rules are “hardwired” • the consequences are often unexpected • entropy erodes the investment rapidly • This is reality today for most organizations
  31. 31. The Future Managing Knowledge in the Fractal Enterprise  XML provides the technical ability to manage knowledge  XML gives us the abstraction tools for addressing the complex issues of forming and managing the modern enterprise • Knowledge and Intention must exist on a separate plane from potential behaviour and actual execution • Knowledge and Intention must continually guide behaviour and execution
  32. 32. The Future Deliberate Systems  Deliberate Systems • Automated Systems entirely formed based on a clear understanding of the knowledge to be implemented and the intentions that will guide it • Automated Systems designed to respond to the evolving knowledge of an enterprise and to its adapting intentions • Automated Systems that are critical to applying the vast knowledge assets of the modern enterprise
  33. 33. Managing knowledge on one plane while facilitating its application on another Recurrent Pattern