Archive for the ‘integration’ Category

 In the early part of the 20th Century Arthur C Clarke said

  Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  

 Business technologies seem to be advancing faster than we can grasp.  To the unsophisticated user like me, they are a bit like black magic, particularly when something goes wrong. The rate change and the system interdependencies are both very disruptive.  Still, they really do offer enormous potential to change the way we work in many positive ways.  It’s almost as good as waving a magic wand to transport you to where the action is, when you can  

  • Can access information from a cloud,
  • Are only 4 steps removed from anyone in the world now we have social computing, 
  • And can be as productive on the move as in the office

 Really getting the most from these technologies is going to mean some changes to the way we work, both as individuals and organisations.  Security is obviously a big consideration when we are so connected and we have digitised our identity.  Organisational structures will probably need changing to make best use of easy access and mobility. Decision making, learning, conversations, all key aspects of knowledge work, take on challenging new dimensions, when we rarely meet the people we work with and there is so much information available to work with.  It’s been said that drawing information from the internet is like trying to get a glass of water from Niagara Falls!  

So it’s worth thinking through how best to translate this overwhelming tide of opportunities into more productive knowledge work.   Yesterday morning,  at Unysis UK HQ,  I had the privilege of chairing a breakfast meeting designed to explore these issues (Twitter #HKMWorks). It was very thought provoking, because of three excellent speakers. 

 First up was Rob Chapman, Managing Director of Unysis UK.  In his years in the industry he’s seen lost of major shifts in technology.  The advent of the PC, Client-Server architectures, Open Source were certainly all major trends, which changed the way we worked.  But each had their own time – there was breathing space before the next one.  Today it is very different. Multiple trends are happening at the same time – trends that are influencing the way IT systems are designed and delivered.  Unisys has published its view on the convergence of 6 major trends that are reshaping the delivery of IT services to organizations.  You can read more about their predictions by downloading the briefing sheet from here .  Cyber security is the really scary issue.  Individuals are obviously concerned about identity theft, but organisations are facing attacks from sophisticated organised crime cartels, that target new financial opportunities the instant they are released.  The CIO has to become the Chief Information Security Officer too.

 It certainly made me reflect on how the risks and rewards of something that is simply an enabler, depend heavily on human intent and behaviour.  

 Next we heard from Dr Christine van Winkelen, from the Henley KM Forum.  She talked about how knowledge can be put to work more effectively by improving decision making process and joining up learning initiatives. Amongst other things improvement is very dependent on personal reflection (see an earlier entry on this blog).   One of the key messages was the importance of individuals knowing where they fit in terms of what they can do to put their knowledge to work.   They can only do this when they understand the business purpose. Then they see how they can contribute positively. Then they can align intent with behaviour.   To get that purposeful message across really requires “more communication than you can ever imagine”.  This is obviously where technology in the form of social media, can play a helpful role internally. It was good to hear that Rob finds his weekly blog is a great way to keep people in touch with senior team thinking and engage them in meaningful conversations about what matters to the business.   Christine’s slides are available here, and many of the detailed maturity models and coaching frameworks are also available on the same page.    

 The third speaker was Jim Downie. He has the delightful title of Knowledge Networker in Unisys Chief Technology Office.  Jim brought us back to the practicalities of life in organisations now.  His focus was the value of integrating the range of emerging technologies into the firm’s business processes in ways that helps individual’s do their jobs more easily. This really accelerates and enhances collaborative activity, and allows people to keep in touch wherever and whenever they need to.   Unysis are using social media as a one of a whole suite of tools for getting knowledge moving more effectively.   Starting with serendipitous conversations through instant messenger, request for help, status reviews and twitter to using Sharepoint for communities’ conversations and giving access to the latest learning about good practice from the experience of working with clients.   One thing that came across loud and clear from Jim’s session was that purposeful business activity was where Unysis started; people not technology were considered to be the key to success; simple and social were essential for engagement with the opportunities that so many disruptive technologies offer.  Jim’s slides are also available here

We had an interesting discussion with the audience around the keys to adoption of social media inside organisations. Was it age related or driven by the momentum of a trend that was too powerful to ignore?  The conclusion was that it there has to be


a powerful “what’s in it for me” factor for everyone, because that overrides the risks and disadvantages of not having face to face contact. That could be better career, improved reputation, greater recognition or simply fun and informal social involvement.  Probably it is not a monetary incentive, because that often drives the opposite behaviour.


 a “what’s in it for the business” factor.  If you are thinking of increasing the opportunities for conversation (which uses time and energy) it’s important that people have a sense of which conversations are worth having. They get that if they can relate their interactions to something that makes it easier for the organisation to achieve some beneficial purpose.  Then people work within a relevant set of boundaries.

When you can both sides get what they need, and you align the interests,  you get a win-win equation which keeps compounding.  It starts a virtuous circle of learning and change.  People get interest in being involved in sharing through social media, the experience and involvement lead to positive results, which further encourage interest and involvement.    

There are lots more questions we could have discussed

  • How technology is changing the relationship between the enterprise and the individual.
  • How mobile technologies are changing the way we work.
  • How we need to think differently about security as a consequence of technology developments.
  • How new approaches are needed to integrate information, knowledge and connections between people.
  • How learning is the basis for the organic evolution of organisations in dynamic environments.
  • How mindsets need to change to make individual and collective reflection part of how we work in knowledge-based environments.   


And there aren’t any easy answers to any of them.  Rob seemed to be suggesting that answers will emerge as people work with the technology trends.  The other message of the morning was that to realise technology’s productive potential takes a lot of deep and careful thinking about how to handle the darker side of the magic, alongside an ability to focus its magical properties on a worthwhile business purpose. This comes through thinking how to align individual human interests with mutual rewards from participating in a meaningful enterprise.        

 Time was against, and having consumed some excellent coffee and pastries everyone disappeared off to deliver some productive work in the office, or on the move.  I left thinking that it is an exciting time and we have many changes to look forward to, so the ability to adapt and learn is an even more important skill than it has ever been.

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Just recently, I’ve had quite a lot of experience caring for elderly parents. It’s caused me to reflect a lot on the challenge of joined up approaches to problem solving in organisations.

Imagine the scenario. From the family’s perspective, a sick relative is a whole person. They don’t turn into a bag of disconnected bits, just because one part isn’t functioning well. When you care for a whole person, it’s natural to consider how basic needs like eating, drinking, personal safety interact with their medical conditions. Yet, the structure of the support systems actively discourages that sort of joined up thinking. The divisions in the system lead to fragmented judgements that put the patient at risk. Each specialism focuses on a different aspect of the patient needs. Doctors and nurses respond to immediate medical problems, social workers support social care needs, occupational therapists provide mobility aids and equipment for easier living, assisted technology experts provide alarms and fancy gadgetry. Then there are the physiotherapists, podiatrists, pharmacists, and paramedics, moving and handling specialists, mobile oxygen suppliers, meals on wheels and individual carers who are under pressure to care for a whole range of complex conditions that beset the elderly, with only limited knowledge. Lots of care available, but all of them have different aims and objectives, different targets to meet, and different policies to comply with. Most of them seem to have only a superficial connection with one other, and little agreement about what is possible. If you compound that problem by allowing your relative to fall ill away from their home community, then you are in deep trouble! No-one knows who to speak to and procedures prohibit the delivery of service in other locations. So joining up the various procedures and rules between different councils and spending areas becomes nigh on impossible. For example, the rules say care can’t be provided until the nurses and social services have assessed the needs in the patient’s home, but the patient is unsafe to go home until care is in place!

Of course, each of them has the interests of the patient at heart. Yet they system as a whole has more holes that a piece of Swiss cheese!

When the holes line up catastrophes can happen

What has this to do with knowledge work you might ask. Everything, I would argue. Similar scenarios arise in a business context too. If I replace the word patient with client or customer, the words health with well-being or satisfaction, and health services with value chain, we have the same complex problems involving hand over from one area of expertise to another.

It’s not much of a stretch to think of the customer as a whole person and the international business as the organisation dedicated to their well being. The same problems of joining up interests and intent relative to incentives and procedures apply to commercial activity as well as public sector service. Knowledge work is simply people, processes and technology working together to deliver end results. Processes and technology only work well if people apply them appropriately and in concert with one another to solve the real problem, rather than satisfy the narrow targets or singular objectives in their own little niche. The key is in the judgement of the individuals and how effectively people work together and communicate across a complex system that has to adapt to changes in context.

A visualisation of Crossan Lane and Whites 1999 perspective on organisational learning

Holes exist due to poor communication. More holes arise because contradictory targets and conflicting policies constrain flexibility and responsiveness. Further holes occur where processes are incompatible. Human error is unavoidable however tightly one specifies procedures. Perhaps tighter specifications even encourage mistakes, because they detract from the fact that people may care about a meaningful outcome Any of these problems happening in isolation may not be life threatening, but as Professor James Reason argues, when the holes are aligned the consequences for the patient or the customer can be significant, even life threatening. Risk is compounded and catastrophes happen. This is the basis of his analysis of Professor Reason’s many major catastrophes like the Columbia Space disaster, Chernobyl and other major disasters. Recent bank failures may also be in the same league.

The biggest problem seems to be the lack of incentive to focus on the big picture outcome that matters. Professor Reason’s recent book places more emphasis on the Human Contribution, the behaviour of heroes who are able to adapt to context because they are mindful of the consequences of their actions not only for their singular targets and objectives, but also for the more interconnected results of collective action. Processes and procedures can be useful guides, technology can solve many problems but ultimately it is human care and judgement that makes use of knowledge in a way that is truly beneficial for the end user. Surely that sense of being connected to the larger implications of one’s actions and the care for the consequences is what we have to get back into organisational life for knowledge to really work effectively and for organisations in their role as knowledge integrators, to create real value?

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