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Behind Glass Walls

Can enterprise and transparency mix?

Here we go! I’m involved with a student consulting team at QUT. Our task was to create a Business Proposal to encourage the QUT Library to genuinely adopt Web 2.0 technologies and techniques. The team consists of:

We’ve really tried to cover a wide range of areas, and think we really can show solid reasons for the uptake of Enterprise 2.0. As part of our report, we produced a video, detailing the content of the report in audio and visual form. Enjoy!

By ToniVC from Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND

By ToniVC from Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND

Enterprise 2.0:

  • Where did my Time go?
  • Generic Toolbox or Specific Solution?

Dion Hinchcliffe‘s article on 14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail provides some insight into the current effectiveness of the QUT Library’s initiatives, and some lessons that they could take on board. There is a a definite road bump in the form of governance (point seven), as well as islands of participation surrounded by inaction (point ten). I’m going to talk about “Pushing Enterprise 2.0 as a generic toolbox instead of the solution to specific problems” (point eight), which can lead to “Not waiting long enough to let critical mass build” (point fourteen).

There are a range of issues in the area of pushing Enterprise 2.0 as a generic solution, rather than choosing solutions that best fit specific problems.

For example, the Library does have a twitter account, which at the moment is almost exclusively used for announcements and Library news. This is an old point, but Twitter usually works best as a social platform, not a broadcast platform. It can be used that way, but I think this could be partly due to seeing Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 as a hammer, and treating everything as a nail.

A central issue for the Library is one of time. Staff time. Student time. Students have little time to spare, and adding to that load through extra features on the Library website may not be the best path. Instead, some specific issues should be addressed.

For example, rather than incorporating rating functionality that requires extra work, a recommendation system could use the number of visits, visit lengths, and time of stay to calculate ratings for each resource. This would utilise a core element of Web 2.0 – data is important, and can be used for a huge range of things. Essentially, the ratings are already there, just waiting for an algorithm to extract them, and a method of displaying them.

Finally, in the course of using tools that might not fit the purpose or building functionality that requires more user input, there is a very real risk that these errors will not be seen as the cause. Lack of adoption might be blamed on promotion or issues from lack of strict governance. Finding tools that fit a specific problem is only the first step – how the tools are used, and the extra time required is an important consideration.

For the Enterprise 2.0 Proposal, our group has been using Google Groups to coordinate tasks, meetings and information. We’ve also got a Google Doc going to build the actual report. Combining Google Groups and Docs provides one location for discussion, planning and comments, and a separate place to construct the report. Some of the features I’ve found most useful in Google Groups is the mailing list facility to contact all group members. The messages are also stored on the group, which is great for referencing the conversation later.

Image of the front page of our Google Groups page.

Image of the front page of our Google Groups page.

I can see some of this functionality being very useful for geographically separated businesses. The usual issue of control over the storage of the data applies, but for travel planning, recording meeting minutes or project groups, Google Groups might be just the thing to keep organised.

This post is a continuation from my previous post, looking at some of the issues in collaboratively constructing documents. There are a huge range of options available for collaboratively producing documents. From sharing a file via USB or file hosting website to online editing and annotation, each method is best suited to different purposes. The main considerations include:

  • Control:  Where is the document stored? What happen when services/people are not available?
  • Security: How easy is it to control who can access the document? What system is used for authentication?
  • Versioning: Are different versions stored and are they clearly organised?
  • Document Type: File/desktop app (eg. pdf, doc or odt)? Browser-based (eg. wiki, word processing)?
  • Formatting, Layout and Markup Language:
    1. Plain Text (“lowest common denominator”) – no formatting
    2. lightweight markup (WikiText, BBCode, Textile) – simple to compose, easy to read in plain text form
    3. WYSIWYG (MS Word, OpenOffice.org, LaTeX) – document preparation systems with full formatting support

In looking at these attributes it is clear that using a Wiki for a sensitive or critical document may not be the best choice. Similarly, sharing a MS Word document via USB drive will quickly cause chaos through incomplete or confused revisions. It is necessary to determine the above attributes before choosing a method of creating the document.

There are a huge range of options when it comes to online collaborative document editing. How do we choose something that matches the needs and knowledge of an organisation, a community group, or a university assignment group? He’s my first look at some comparisons:

Wiki

The most Web 2.0 way to appraoch document editing. Gains in ease of access and use, with losses in security, formatting and overall structure.

eg. Wikipedia, Confluence, PBWorks, WikiSpaces, WikiMatrix (comparisions)

  • are usually intended for on-screen display
  • may use a special ‘wiki’ markup rather than WYSIWYG or HTML
  • generally put emphasis on recording changes and authors
  • can have anything from no restrictions to strict, role-based authentication in company intranets
  • have a number of pages and incorporate internal linking as a core feature
  • are intended to be constantly evolving
  • allow pages to be created and removed with ease
  • do not impose structure, relying on links and searching for navigation
  • rely on guidelines and undoing actions

Some info from the Wiki Wikipedia article.

Single Document Editing

Applying Web 2.0 ideas and tools to a very common issue. Allows concurrent, direct editing, at the expense of formatting power, often requiring remote hosting or interaction with external companies.

eg. Google Docs, Zoho, Huddle,

  • are generally a single page
  • usually aim to produce a ‘final version’, when the document will be reviewed or made read-only
  • are intended to be edited simultaneously
  • tend to have a structure and format
  • promote drafting before editing the document
  • use WYSIWYG editors

Online Document Sharing

The least effective way to version and edit a document, but allows for the most formatting power, control over access and provides a huge array of features.

eg. Box.net, XDrive, Files Anywhere

  • usually using Word or plain text files (may include pdf, OpenDocument, .docx)
  • most difficult form of collaboration
  • each computer requires a browser and the software to read the file
  • are usually in a semi-complete form
  • allow for comments or notes
  • make more powerful formatting tools available
  • can be backed up or moved easily

I’ll do another post in the next few days talking about common issues with document management, and how the three methods above can help or hinder the process.

Sarah Killey has a blog post about an incident where someone submitted a photo she took to a local online newspaper. I thought I’d just comment on some aspects of this.

First of all, I’m glad to hear that she enjoys photography, and that she willingly shares her images in multiple places. That’s definitely a plus. It’s unfortunate that her picture was submitted by someone else without her knowledge or permission. It’s also not good that she was not credited.

The issues I have with her post is with the remarks about “stolen Intellectual Property” and that she says adding “(C) Sarah Killey” to the photos would have stopped this from happening. I also disagree with the “once it’s out there, it’s no longer yours” idea. While it is true that adding a watermark would make it easier to stop people passing off your images as their own, it also detracts from the picture. There are two ideas here that are tangled, and they should be considered separately:

  1. One issue is of copyright. Sarah does indeed have full control over how her photo is used. She can react however she likes to what has happened – ignore it, inform the website that the photo is hers, even go after the other person for using her photo. I hope she approaches it sensibly. But nothing has been “stolen” from her. She has not lost anything. Saying that she has had Intellectual Property stolen is misleading, as it infers that she is now missing something. Her copyright has been infringed, sure, but there is no theft here. This is not a semantic argument, it is a genuine issue.
  2. The more important issue here is one of reputation. Sarah is upset that someone else used her work to promote themselves. And that comes through in the post.There could have been many motives behind sharing her photos: displaying her work, asking for comments, contributing to a pool of information, to suggest just a few. In this way, the benefits of sharing the photos most likely quite outweighs the benefits of keeping them to herself. She should have no regrets about sharing her work. Instead, it will be the person who tried to pass off your work as their own that will suffer.

As another post on Techdirt notes:

A person, organization, band or company’s reputation is an important “scarce” good — and once damaged, it’s quite difficult (though not impossible) to rebuild the shattered goodwill. When talking about what would happen in a world without copyright, for example, people often say “but in a world without copyright, couldn’t someone just copy your own creation and pretend they were their own.” The answer is yes, but they do so at the risk to their own reputation. If the news comes out that the person/organization/band/whatever was taking others’ works and not giving credit where it was due, that would harm their reputation.

On a different note, I’m not sure where or what the “Creative Commons vs Intellectual Property debate” is. Creative Commons provides ready-made licences that allow creators and authors to loosen selected copyright (and other) restrictions on some of their works. The licences work within copyright and other Intellectual Property laws, not against them.

This issue could probably be quite easily resolved by contacting the website hosting the photo, and letting them know that the credit is incorrect. It is in Sarah’s interest to keep the photo there, as it may improve her reputation in the area of photography or others’ view of how open and willing to share she is.I is also a part of the current news, and helps to illustrate the events. In future, she might also want to just let people know that she’s happy to share her photos, as long as she gets credit. And credit is really what this is all about. Reputation. Let’s try to avoid tangling issues of reputation and copyright.

A common scenario in anything from music to open source,  libraries to large corporations, is trying to implement a new feature, tool or attitude, only to have it waste away in the face of a lack of interest or low usage. Sometimes it just wasn’t meant to be. Often it’s an issue of promotion.

Promotion can be a dirty subject. It brings to mind pop-up ads, newspaper pages full of ‘savings!’ or ‘limited time only!’. Marketing is a very polar industry – if you’re in it, you push for greater exposure, if you’re the target, you want less. But without it, a key part of success in any project is missing. In the age of a thousand possible directions for attention, ‘build it and they will come’ has never been less true.

Obscurity is enemy number 1. To big and small music artists alike,

Obscurity is a bigger fear than piracy

For open source software, obscurity can hit multiple times. If a user tries out an app, and finds that it’s not polished or up to scratch, they’re probably going to stop using it, and never look back. Even if that app later develops into an amazing piece of software.

Someone who tried your app three years ago and found it wanting may not realise that the version she can download today is far improved. Unless she goes out of her way to look, how likely is she to find out?

Even open source applications targeted to enterprise use may get caught out by obscurity:

[It is claimed that] most business-class open source apps have qualified consultants who can provide enterprise-level support. Cool. But how obvious will that be to the casual observer?

Obscurity is not always bad. In fact, an entire area runs on obscurity: security. Securing something is, at it’s core, making the method of getting access or likelihood of unauthorised access so low or obscure that it would take too much time and effort to carry out. Nothing is 100% secure.

So, when developing a cool new feature for a website, or pouring a whole lot of effort into social media, or adding or changing the services you provide, it is essential to know how the change or addition will be publicised. Even if it’s ‘only a trial’, it needs to have good uptake, or the results are worthless.

It is a challenge, and not all projects can easily promote themselves, but it is essential. After all, I could have the best application, restaurant or  services in the world. If no one knows about it, then it’s not going anywhere.

The idea of libraries moving away from being simply storehouses of knowledge, and becoming more dynamic, collaborative and allowing greater customer interaction is not new… Library 2.0 was discussed in the the LibraryJournal in 2006. While the ideas involved in Enterprise/Library 2.0 may not be new, there is one aspect which is constantly updated, and is rarely, if ever, kept up to date: technology. There are so many tools available (and foundations to build new tools); yet many libraries retain interfaces that are outdated, and do not incorporate (or worse,  hide) collaborative elements. This is an issue that requires institutions to be more nimble and adaptable, which is quite a challenge to many of the universities and city councils that run libraries.

Even if the technology is up-to-date and enticing, a more pressing issue is what the technology should allow. It is a cruel irony that many of the people that could most use the help of libraries – high school and university students, scientists and researchers and professional staff – are often the people with the least amount of time to spare to interact with the library.

For example, a few university libraries offer online chat – University of Queensland and Queensland University of Technology offer synchronous chat on their websites. I do not know how often these services are utilised, but it would seem that very few people would have the inclination to use these services. It can also be difficult to access services offered on corporate websites.

Some deeper analysis is required:

  1. Which services make sense to offer? Will these services be utilised by time-poor clients?
  2. How should these services be promoted? What existing services should they be associated with?
  3. Are there ways to incorporate or improve other services? (It is usually better to go to where the people already are, than build something new and wait for them to come.)

Some things to think about…

On Thursday, 3 September four staff from the QUT Library presented during the Enterprise 2.0 lecture. The topic was how and where the Library was using Web 2.0 tools and techniques to better engage and aid the QUT community (students and staff).

I was pleasantly surprised that not only is there quite a bit being done to move the site forward, but the tools also seem to be applied somewhat in the spirit of collaboration and sharing. There was evidence of a “broadcast” mentality for things like Twitter and Study Guides, but for a corporate website that is to be expected, and may be the best apporach. In other areas, real-time chat is incorporated into the website, ‘ePrints’ integrates QUT academic articles into Google Scholar search, a number of staff members have blogs and the majority of new or recent additions take advantage of the foundations of Web 2.0.

Our task from here is to investigate the current website and services, and create a report detailing future directions and changes that could be made to further integrate Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 ideals. The staff attitude is open but practical, which is a great way to approach this investigation.

The most interesting, and perhaps most difficult part about increasing  collaboration, network effects and data value is that the best way of doing this, by relaxing restrictions and/or going where people already are inevitably decreases QUT’s control over the interactions, services, software and hardware. Hopefully we can strike a balance.

It seems there are two key changes required for successful adoption of Enterprise 2.0 within a company. The first is using the right tools for the job, and having staff knowledgeable and trained in how to use those tools effectively. Training is nothing new to companies, and can be incorporated into professional development or taken up by human resources as a subproject. The second, and usually more interesting and difficult change is the atmosphere and attitudes.

Companies of any decent size tend to be run very much in a top-down way. Enterprise 2.0 involves giving some control back to employees – a bottom-up model. This does not mean that the entire business should shift to user-generated content and management. As Mike LaFleur points out in his response to Dennis Howlett’s post about Enterprise 2.0 being simply a label:

Enteprise 2.0 is much more than merely enabling community; it has the potential to solve myriad business issues and provide an solid return on investment. [...] Enterprise 2.0 is not merely allowing for user-contributed content; it is also enforcement of corporate governance on this content. Where Web 2.0 is bottom-up, Enterprise 2.0 is bottom-up AND top-down.

While Dennis Howlett’s post does seem to concentrate on the aspects of Enterprise 2.0 that are already mainstream, there is still a long way to go in the concept and attitudes. In this area, giving up even a little control does not come easily to middle management. The executive level may see aspects of Enterprise 2.0 as ways to share the load of policy formation or take advantage of new technologies that employees would use no matter what. Non-managerial staff might see Enterprise 2.0 as just an extension of personal activities, applied to business processes and problems. Managers unfortunately tend to see just a loss of control, as more powerful technologies allow things that in the past did not need to be considered, or were restricted.

I’ve read quite a few detailed discussions about the wonderful things that Enterprise 2.0 can allow. Sometimes, it gets a bit hard to take in all the abstract concepts. So let’s try to break it down:

  • Enterprise 2.0 is not a ‘thing’. It might be best described as using new and existing tools to more effectively allow information to be communicated and gathered. This can be internally, externally, or allowing a level of free flow between the two.
  • There are many tools, such as wikis, blogs and portals, that can be used in an ‘Enterprise 2.0′ way, or a more traditional way. It depends on the engagement of the staff. A wiki full of word documents is no different from a folder on a document server. The differences show and the platform comes into its own when wiki pages are used instead, allowing efficient drafting and stream-lined access.
  • It is quite easy to over-do Enterprise 2.0, or to end up with negative effects. It is not straight-forward to take up. Due to this, it may be that for some areas and businesses, the risks outweigh the benefits. Critical business processes require workflows, require some control to be exerted. It is possible to transition, and end up with a more efficient, yet effective model. It is a delicate balancing act.

There is no one way that will work for everything. Successful use of Enterprise 2.0 seems to require a more down-to-earth approach that ignores the abstract ideals of Web 2.0, and instead looks at how improved tools and changed attitudes to work can result in getting more done with greater knowledge. Isn’t that just a good way to run a business?