» Archive for April, 2008

Finding the Needle in the Corporate Haystack: Dow Jones and Generate join forces

Friday, April 25th, 2008 by Cody Burke

Searching for information is a time consuming task, one that often results in disappointment and overwhelming quantities of information.  A search may result in the correct answer, however, wading through and separating the relevant from the irrelevant is no small task for the knowledge worker.  Ultimately this is the consequence of searches returning correct results, but not necessarily correct answers.

With an eye towards resolving this problem, Dow Jones announced last week that it had acquired Generate, a business intelligence company, and would be forming a new Business and Relationship Intelligence unit within the Enterprise Media Group.  The Generate platform works by crawling millions of Web sites and extracting data on four million companies and over six million executives.  This, when combined with so-called trigger events, such as mergers, executive changes, venture funding, and partnerships, provides precise reports that allow companies to detect changes in the competitive landscape, identify prospects, and nourish their own networks.  Extraction is complemented by relationship mapping technology, showing the best possible path to approach an executive, anticipate shifts in the market, and make the most out of personal and corporate connections.  While busy executives may not think to update their Xing or LinkedIn profile for weeks after a change, if at all, a system utilizing Generate technology would pick up on a change almost instantaneously and ensure that those who need to be aware of the change are.

The savings in time and headaches for the knowledge worker – and by extension in productivity for the enterprise – from such a system should not be underestimated.  The pairing of Dow Jones and Generate is indicative of the massive importance of better searching technology to the knowledge worker.  The potential gains in the fight against Information Overload are no less exciting – as searching technology improves, those overwhelming piles of results will shrink, and the information we were looking for all along will float to the top.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Earth Day for the Knowledge Worker

Friday, April 18th, 2008 by David Goldes

Next week on April 22, we observe Earth Day.  Earth Day marks the birth of the modern environmental movement and was the brainchild of United States Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who managed to cross political and economic divisions that lead to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air, Clean Water Act.

Today, “going green” is a concept that more and more knowledge workers are embracing in their everyday lives.  Here are a few suggestions that will help conserve the Earth’s natural resources.

1.)    Unplug chargers, such as those for mobile phones or smartphones, when not in use.  Chargers still consume energy when plugged in, even if not charging a device.
2.)    Go paperless.  Print less and sign up for paperless billing from vendors and credit card companies.  Think about how much extra paper we generate needlessly.  When you do print, use double-sided printing to save paper and print only those pages that are necessary.
3.)    Telecommute whenever possible, saving gas and other natural resources.
4.)    Recycle older computers and donate unused mobile phones to charities.  Recycled mobile phones can be used as an emergency lifeline for senior citizens, the disabled, and victims of domestic violence.
5.)    Minimize use of goods packaged for “convenience.”  The manufacture of bottles used for water, for example, require vast quantities of petroleum and its distribution is also fuel consumptive, resulting in unnecessary greenhouse gas and sulfur dioxide emissions.  Airlines are learning this and cutting back on smaller planes which are more convenient but less fuel efficient.
6.)    Turn unnecessary lights off, especially in rooms that are unoccupied.
7.)    Turn off computers and monitors at day’s end.
8.)    Make sure you have appropriate recycling bins in the office for paper that you do use.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

«Hi, I’m a Knowledge Worker…» Revisited

Friday, April 18th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

A version of my column “Hi, I’m a Knowledge Worker…” appeared as the cover story of the February 2008 KMWorld under the title Knowledge Worker: Do You Relate?.  This piece discussed the struggle in understanding what knowledge workers actually do.  Understanding this is crucial, given that knowledge workers today comprise a plurality of the workforce in the U.S.

That generated a lot of interesting e-mail from readers but two in particular were worthy of note and I am including excerpts below.

Cindy Smith holds the title “knowledge engineer” at RSMI, a professional services firm.  She works in the IT customer support area and has held the same title at three different companies and two different technology solutions over the past 12 years.

“Since my business card title says Knowledge Engineer, I usually have to explain,” she wrote “There are a couple levels of depth I use.
- It’s kind of like tech writing.
- I manage and promote a knowledge base for a corporate help desk to verify that knowledge is being consistently added, found, used, and updated.”

She notes: “I’ve tried both with my parents and all they can get out of it is I do ‘something with computers.’”

Susan Sommer is director of corporate communications at Tatitlek, an Alaska Native Village Corporation.

She wrote: “Yes, I do think of myself as a knowledge worker, though I haven’t used that particular term to describe to others what I do.  Meeting other information professionals (also a term I hadn’t used until then) at an SLA meeting last year completely opened my eyes to the field as a legitimate discipline on its own, independent of job title or type of organization for which one works.  Since then I’ve been voraciously reading everything I can on KM, ECM, etc.”

“What I learned at SLA, in fact, raised my level of awareness about my profession to an entirely new plane.  Once I started thinking of myself as an information professional instead of ‘just’ a writer (creative and technical), webmaster, project manager, and editor – all titles I’ve held in recent years – I realized how much value I add to my company and how much further I could go beyond what I was already doing.  And when an opportunity came along for me to accept a position in another organization, I had the confidence to call myself an info pro and to ask for what I’m worth.”

As for me, I have to go do something with computers now.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Don’t Hit Reply-to-All (and we really mean it!)

Friday, April 11th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Regular readers know of our attempt to get knowledge workers to use discretion when replying to e-mail with multiple recipients.  There is no question that knowledge workers themselves contribute to the problem of information overload and that e-mail overuse is a prime contributor to the problem.

For years, I’ve asked knowledge workers to observe the following rule: I will not overburden colleagues with unnecessary e-mail, especially one word replies such as “Thanks!” or “Great!”, and will use “reply to all” only when absolutely necessary.

We know that information overload costs companies billions and that information overload itself is a result of workers grappling with the growing tide of e-mail, instant messages, phone calls, wikis, Weblogs, and, more recently, social computing tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Radar.

Despite my heightened awareness of what the abuse of reply-to-all can occasion, I never considered the worst case scenario.  Today, I found it in a comment posted to an article quoting me and my advice on this topic by Toni Bowers at TechRepublic.

A knowledge worker employed in a fairly large call center reported that someone sent an all-hands e-mail (to 2000+ people) to see if someone would work her shift for one day in the coming week.  The questionable wisdom of this notwithstanding, the real problem began when colleagues began to “reply to all,” at first saying they couldn’t work the shift.  This was followed by other “reply to all” e-mail, admonishing various senders “please don’t send to everyone next time” and “yeah and don’t reply all.”

Things got a bit worse after a while, and the conversation degraded: “well, you reply all too so you’re no better” and “you’re all stupid, we’re trying to work here” are representative of the banter.

This eventually overloaded the e-mail server and the IT department had to shut it down.

Please click carefully out there.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

Silicon Valley Fights Back Against the (Information) Monster It Created

Friday, April 4th, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

Turn the monitor off and back away slowly from the computer.  The chances are good that what you were about to do would contribute to the growing problem of information overload.

Last week, at a panel discussion hosted by the Churchill Club entitled “Silicon Valley Fights Back Against the (Information) Monster It Created,” everyone from students to VCs to developers creating solutions to combat the scourge came together to learn more about a common enemy: information overload.

Based on the turnout and the comments and questions from the audience, it is clear that we have a problem.  Even the contrarian on the panel, John Poisson of Tiny Pictures, who tried to build a case for an increase in interruptions (something his company’s software does very well), admitted that, when he was in Vermont and his two mobile devices were out of range, he suffered withdrawal symptoms.

I’ve said this before and I’ll repeat it here: we have created a generation of workers that require instant gratification in whatever they are doing.  (For the record, I assign blame directly to Fedex, a company that redefined instant gratification in the context of overnight delivery starting in 1973).  We send e-mails and then call someone two minutes later to ascertain whether the message was received; we mindlessly stream out “important” content to hundreds of people who have their own urgent and important matters to attend to.

But Fedex should not shoulder that blame alone; we have created a monster in the very tools, such as mobile phones, PDAs, e-mail, text messaging, and social networking, that were to make us more efficient and effective.

Some people make the case that younger users, those in Generation Y, are more adept at multitasking and information overload is, as a result, more natural.  Let me repeat what I said on the panel and many times before: there is no such thing as multitasking.  We switch between tasks but human beings are simply not capable of or wired for multitasking.

Indeed, this is why the cost of interruptions is so high; the most surprising finding from our research (see the Basex report The Cost of Not Paying Attention ) is that it isn’t the cost of the actual interruption but rather the cost of the recovery time, which can be ten to 20 times that of the interruption itself, that adds up – if indeed one gets back to where one was at all.  Our findings were consistent across all age groups – there was no exemption for Gen Y.

Following the Churchill Club event, one of the most insightful comments came from Patrick Riley, a PhD candidate at the School of Information, U.C. Berkeley.  He wrote the following explanation: “my generation needs constant reinforcement from our friends and colleagues about how awesome we are and how we are doing such a great job at whatever it is we are doing.”  Perhaps I need to add Mr. Rogers, who told an entire generation of children that they were “special,” to the rogues’ gallery along with Fedex.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.