» Archive for August, 2009

The Content Management Interoperability Standard

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Editor’s note: The following article was published in conjunction with the release of the Basex report series, The Definitive Guide to Today’s Content Management Systems and Vendors.

For organizations with multi-vendor, multi-repository content management environments, the time and money that must be spent to integrate these systems with other enterprise tools, as well as to get disparate content management platforms to somehow talk to one another, is significant.  Until such integration occurs, a sizable amount of content is accessible only within its original platform.  This means that most organizations have not even come close to unlocking the full value of their content.

As companies move deeper into the knowledge economy, content management is no longer a platform that can evolve separately from other key application platforms in a company’s information infrastructure: it has to be fully integrated.

The future of the knowledge workers’ desktop lies in a fully-integrated Collaborative Business Environment, a workspace that supersedes the traditional desktop metaphor and provides the knowledge worker with access to all forms of information, resources (including people), tools, and applications that support his work.  A true Collaborative Business Environment will include systems that integrate multiple content repositories and provide seamless access to enterprise content.

Content management vendors recognized that a common standard was needed; one that would allow knowledge workers to access disparate repositories and, in 2006, EMC, IBM, and Microsoft began discussions towards that end.  The result was the Content Management Interoperability Standard, or CMIS.  The new standard is a jointly developed specification that uses Web Services to enable application interoperability with disparate content management repositories.   By the time CMIS was announced in September of 2008, the three partners had been joined by Alfresco, BEA (now Oracle), Open Text, and SAP.  At that time, the standard was turned over to OASIS (Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards) for advancement through its standards development process.

The goal for CMIS is to reduce the impact on IT stemming from maintaining multi-vendor, multi-repository content management platforms.  Companies typically incur high costs in order to create and maintain code that integrates different ECM systems within their organizations.  Software vendors have to create platform-specific applications that work with a specific CM platform.  The CMIS specification is designed to support integration between multiple vendors and repositories, making the added expense a thing of the past.

CMIS, which is development platform and language agnostic, is designed to support existing content repositories, meaning that organizations will be able to unlock content they already have built up, in some cases, over several decades.  It will decouple Web services and content from the repository itself, thereby allowing organizations to manage content independently.  It also supports the development of composite applications and mash-ups.

Currently, multiple vendors and platforms support CMIS including Acquia, Alfresco, Day Software, Drupal, Ektron, EMC, Fatwire, IBM, Joomla, Microsoft, Nuxeo, Open Text, Optaros, and Vignette (recently acquired by Open Text) among others.

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

In the Briefing Room: Contextware

Thursday, August 27th, 2009 by Cody Burke

One of the missing pieces of a puzzle the knowledge worker faces in the course of performing knowledge work is context. Without context, the knowledge worker is looking at isolated bits of information that are, more often than not, of limited value. Most content doesn’t stand on its own; there is always important related and supporting information that completes the picture. Beyond a single document, what else should one read and whom else should one query? Knowing what to read next or which experts to contact completes the puzzle and increases the value of the content exponentially.

Indeed, capturing the expertise of subject matter experts and linking to documents and processes so that others may benefit from their knowledge is not only important as a way to add valuable context to information, but also as a means of preserving knowledge. This is particularly timely as an aging workforce means that large numbers of baby boomers will be leaving the workforce and be replaced by younger, less experienced workers. The massive quantities of information that knowledge workers must contend with on a daily basis is another compelling argument for adding context to content. Without it, searching for information is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack.

Contextware is a company that is addressing these pressing issues by providing tools that enable companies to capture the steps and information for a process and present knowledge workers with the relevant and related materials that they need to proceed. Simply put, the software adds context to support an activity. The Contextware system allows users to set up relationships between content, tools, and people that dictate steps that should be taken to complete the process; there are hard rules underlying the hidden processes, and soft rules that authors can easily set. The focus is on keeping things simple: if users add too many rules in the authoring environment, a prompt will alert them that they may have created an overly complex process. Or if a process is created with only one or two rules, the system may suggest that perhaps it does not need to be created.

In practice the knowledge worker logs in and receives permission-based access to processes. Drop down menus are used to select initial areas of interest, these are then drilled down into, with relevant content, tools, and people shown for each. For items shown, a number indicates how many assets (content, tools, or people) are available for that topic, and a link is provided. Metadata that determines what is presented to the user is stored on a database with a central taxonomy of topics, with rules determined by the hard and soft rules that were set up in the authoring environment.

The system captures not just the established relationship between content, such as the order in which a business process must be conducted, but also the unique knowledge of subject matter experts. Experts in a topic develop their own methods for completing tasks, often in ways that are not covered in the official rule book, and enabling access to this accumulated knowledge is invaluable. The context that is added to content through the use of what amounts to lightweight process management can effectively guide a knowledge worker through the haystack of information, and allow him to find the information needle he is looking for.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

One Click Too Many

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009 by The Editors

Information Overload – It Isn’t Just Too Much E-mail

Thursday, August 20th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

One might assume that pinpointing the sources of Information Overload is relatively black and white, i.e. it’s just too much e-mail. In reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

The problem of Information Overload is multifaceted and impacts each and every organization whether top executives and managers are aware of it or not.  In addition to e-mail, Information Overload stems from the proliferation of content, growing use of social networking tools, unnecessary interruptions in the workplace, failed searches, new technologies that compete for the worker’s attention, and improved and ubiquitous connectivity (making workers available anytime regardless of their location).  Information Overload is harmful to employees in a variety of ways as it lowers comprehension and concentration levels and adversely impacts work-life balance.  Since almost no one is immune from the effects of this problem, when one looks at it from an organizational point-of-view, hundreds of thousands of hours are lost at a typical organization, representing as much as 25% of the work day.

So what else besides e-mail overload is at issue here?  Here’s a quick rundown.

- Content
We have created billions of pictures, documents, videos, podcasts, blog posts, and tweets, yet if these remain unmanaged it will be impossible for anyone to make sense out of any of this content because we have no mechanism to separate the important from the mundane.  Going forward, we face a monumental paradox.  On the one hand, we have to ensure that what is important is somehow preserved.  If we don’t preserve it, we are doing a disservice to generations to come; they won’t be able to learn from our mistakes as well as from the great breakthroughs and discoveries that have occurred.  On the other hand, we are creating so much information that may or may not be important, that we routinely keep everything.  If we continue along this path, which we will most certainly do, there is no question that we will require far superior filtering tools to manage that information.

- Social Networking
For better or worse, millions of people use a variety of social networking tools to inform their friends – and the world at large – about their activities, thoughts, and observations, ranging down to the mundane and the absurd.  Not only are people busily engaged in creating such content but each individual’s output may ultimately be received by dozens if not thousands of friends, acquaintances, or curious bystanders.  Just do the math.

- Interruptions
We’ve covered this topic many times (http://www.basexblog.com/?s=unnecessary+interruptions) but our prime target is unnecessary interruptions and the recovery time (the time it takes the worker to get back to where he was) each interruption causes, typically 10-20 times the duration of the interruption itself.  It only takes a few such interruptions for a knowledge worker to lose an hour of his day.

- Searches
50% of all searches fail and we know about the failure.  What isn’t generally recognized is something that comes out of our research, namely that 50% of the searches you think succeeded failed, but the person doing the search didn’t realize it.  As a result, that person uses information that is perhaps out of date or incorrect or just not the right data.  This has a cascading effect that further propagates the incorrect information.

- New technologies
We crave shiny new technology toys, those devices that beep and flash for our attention, as well as shiny new software.  Each noise they emit takes us away from other work and propels us further down Distraction Road.  It’s a wonder we get any work done at all.  Even tools that have become part of the knowledge workers’ standard toolkit can be misused.  Examples here include e-mail (overuse of the reply-to-all function, gratuitous thank you notes, etc.) and instant messaging (sending an instant message to someone to see if he has received an e-mail).

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

More Notes from the Information Overload Awareness Day Inaugural Event

Thursday, August 20th, 2009 by David Goldes

Last week’s Information Overload Awareness Day Inaugural Event was a great success going by the overwhelming feedback we received from speakers and attendees.

Maggie Jackson, one of the first journalists to interview Basex on the topic of information overload, writes for the Boston Globe on the topic of work-life balance, and last year came out with a book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.

Jackson discussed the erosion of attention to work, attention to information, even attention to eating and leisure activities.  If we continue to squander how we use attention, we may descend into an era where emptiness rather than fulfillment rules, where one never goes sufficiently in depth in any one area because a virtual clock is ticking guaranteeing that something will intrude three minutes hence.

Christina Randle, CEO of the Effective Edge, discussed the problem of information-induced stress.  Work days are marathons, not sprints, and information overload “zaps” our energy, causing us to complete less in the course of a day.  Thanks to information overload we are in a fog and some of the decisions we make reflect that.  We are constantly performing a juggling act that always results in a few dropped balls.  To solve this, we need to look at our own behavior and be willing to make changes.

Ed Stern from OSHA (the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, U.S. Department of Labor) talked about Information Overload in government – and his pioneering work deploying expert systems to help people (individuals as well as government employees) sort through mountains of information including government regulations.  What Ed has been doing at OSHA may very well be one of the great – and unheralded – fights against Information Overload in government.

Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good, spoke about the virtues of an empty inbox and the three “D’s”: Delete, Defer, and avoiD.  Computer literacy, according to Hurst is not sufficient.  Knowledge workers need to develop a far greater fluency and literacy in the use of e-mail, file management, managing images, and managing tasks.  E-mail overload, according to Hurst, is caused by “the lack of to-do management.”  Tools such as gootodo.com go a long way in reducing e-mail overload.  Hurst is an advocate of the empty or zero inbox.  While I believe this sounds great in concept, the time involved in filing and managing the inbox versus using an e-mail client with good search tools may just not be worth the effort.

Ken Sickles, Solutions Strategy Director at Dow Jones, brought his background as a knowledge worker from a large, information-intensive organization into the discussion.  One slide, “Information Overload & Me,” was telling.  For Ken and Dow Jones, the effects of Information Overload are myriad, including difficulty in making correct decisions due to a lack of accurate and timely information, a lack of expertise, difficulty in networking with colleagues, and an impact on forward thinking.  In other words, the impact of Information Overload goes to the very core of business performance.

Seth Earley, an expert on taxonomies and CEO of Earley & Associates, talked about, well, taxonomies as well as search disambiguation and faceted search.  As he pointed out, mere search is not enough.  Information needs context and that is the role of the taxonomy.
Paul Silverman, CEO of Integra Workshops talked about Zen and Information Overload.  Talking at the end of the event, he brought a Zen-like calm to the room focusing on how to create a life that helps evolve the mind and body.  His prescription: do one thing at a time and do it until it’s done.

Mike Song, author of the Hamster Revolution, talked about the relationship between meetings and Information Overload.  He pointed out that even the process of setting up a meeting wastes significant time and that most meetings fail to have clear objectives and agendas.  Addressing this issues will reduce the amount of time millions of knowledge workers waste each day in meetings that seem to come out of a Dilbert cartoon (my words, not Mike’s).

That’s all for now – I hope I haven’t overloaded you.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Oracle WebCenter 11g

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Cody Burke

The recent trend towards updating portal platforms with a variety of social features and mashup capabilities is indicative of the growing recognition that this sort of functionality has significant potential business value.  Social software and collaboration tools, which have become increasingly popular in the consumer space, facilitate the kind of tacit and ad hoc interactions that can drive productivity and increase knowledge sharing.  This shift is occurring in lockstep with the move towards the Collaborative Business Environment (CBE).

Today’s companies use a variety of tools and platforms to support knowledge sharing and collaboration. This has proven wholly unsatisfactory because knowledge workers frequently can’t find the information they are looking for and find themselves perpetually reinventing the wheel, resulting in a loss of efficiency and effectiveness.  Help, however, is on the way.  As companies move more and more towards the model of the Collaborative Business Environment, a term Basex uses to describe an all encompassing workspace that will supersede the traditional desktop metaphor in a period three to five years out, the lines between different types of software and tools will begin to blur and eventually disappear.

Solutions that will serve as a Collaborative Business Environment will come from “traditional” IT software vendors as well as new upstarts.  One platform worth looking into comes from Oracle.

Oracle WebCenter Suite 11g is the latest release of the company’s enterprise portal platform. It adds social features that begin to move the product to be more in line with current trends towards social and ad hoc communities and collaboration.  Using Oracle WebCenter Spaces, users can set up formal or ad hoc work spaces and communities for team members and projects; these can be assembled on the fly and function as team portals.  Oracle WebCenter Services enables tagging, linking, rating, recent activity feeds, RSS, and networks of personal connections to be integrated into existing business applications.  Applications themselves can be manipulated and customized into mashups via Oracle Composer, a browser-based tool.  A catalogue of applications and content is also available through Oracle Business Directory, a library of enterprise applications, processes, content, and business intelligence that can be utilized to create custom dashboards.  WebCenter has the potential to serve as the foundation for a Collaborative Business Environment, supporting a single work environment and social tools that can reduce friction in knowledge sharing.

In addition to Oracle WebCenter, Oracle recently introduced Oracle Beehive, which provides a collaboration platform with team workspaces, instant messenger and presence awareness support, blogs, and wiki capabilities.  The combination of Oracle WebCenter and Beehive will provide companies with a solid foundation for a platform that integrates traditional portal functionality with social software and collaboration tools, thus bringing knowledge workers into an integrated environment that supports knowledge sharing and collaboration, and ultimately, helps them find what they are looking for.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.  He can be reached at cburke@basex.com

Notes from the Information Overload Awareness Day Inaugural Event

Thursday, August 13th, 2009 by David Goldes

Yesterday’s Information Overload Awareness Day conference no doubt pushed attendees above and beyond the bounds of overload.  As a public service here, I’ll review highlights.  If you missed the event, we plan to make some of the sessions available shortly via MP3.

Keynotes
The first keynote address, by Jonathan Spira, chief analyst here at Basex, presented an overview of the problem, including costs, problem areas, and a few things we can do about the problem right now.

A few key points:

  • The cost of Information Overload to the U.S. economy is $900 billion annually, as of 2008.
  • For an individual company, 10-20% of the cost of Information Overload should be recoverable in the first year after an organization addresses the problem in a comprehensive manner.
  • A mere 12% of the knowledge worker’s day is spent in thought or reflection.
  • We spend 15% of the day searching for things and 20% in meetings.
  • Think before clicking reply-to-all, or even sending a reply of “Great. Thanks.” acknowledging someone’s e-mail.  Although these are small, individual actions, they add up.

The second keynote was presented by Nathan Zeldes, president of the Information Overload Research Group and Intel’s former Information Overload czar.  Nathan discussed the problem from the point of view of the large organization (Intel has almost 80,000 employees).  Intel’s own research indicated that its knowledge workers are losing approximately eight hours per week due to Information Overload, a fact that led Nathan to devise and apply a number of solutions starting in 1995.

Key points:

  • It’s important to get buy-in from senior management (he provided some tips).
  • Information Overload is a subject everyone complains about but few actually undertake solutions.
  • The impact can’t be ignored: reduced mental capacity, no time to think about things, direct loss of productive time, breakdown of organizational processes, and a diminished quality of life.
  • While most activity is around personal solutions, “what the world needs are organization-wide solutions.”
  • Start with a pilot program and choose your group carefully.

Bit Literacy
Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good, spoke about the virtues of an empty inbox and the three “D’s”: Delete, Defer, and avoiD.  Computer literacy, according to Hurst is not sufficient.  Knowledge workers need to develop a far greater fluency and literacy in the use of e-mail, file management, managing images, and managing tasks.  E-mail overload, according to Hurst, is caused by “the lack of to-do management.”  Tools such as gootodo.com go a long way in reducing e-mail overload.

Visionary Vendor Panel

The Visionary Vendor panel, a Basex tradition for almost a decade, was comprised of executives from companies with industry-leading products or services that focus on the problem of Information Overload.  The choice for inclusion was easy: we had already selected five companies to receive the 2009 Basex Excellence Awards for their work in combatting Information Overload and they were the obvious choices for the panel as well.  The Basey winners and Visionary Vendor panelists were:

  • ClearContext: For tools that control the inbox, aggregate project information, and reduce information overload;
  • Microsoft: For Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Outlook 2010 and for inbox features that help reduce Information Overload;
  • Nordic River: For TextFlow and its ability reduce Information Overload through a collaborative authoring environment;
  • Xerox. For multiple contributions in search and categorization as well as a continued emphasis on Information Overload; and
  • Xobni: For tools that improve inbox management and reduce information and relationship overload.

Before we completely overload you, we’ll pause here and continue next week.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

An Overloaded Room on Information Overload Awareness Day

Thursday, August 13th, 2009 by Jonathan Spira

Yesterday, August 12, was Information Overload Awareness Day. If you are reading this column, you probably knew that already and you might have even been one of the 350+ people who registered for the Information Overload Awareness Day Inaugural Event.

When we first announced Information Overload Awareness Day a few months ago, we envisioned that 50 or so people would gather online and talk about different aspects of addressing Information Overload.  But once we started preparing for the event, the response we received from all quarters was overwhelmingly positive and the Inaugural Event took on a life of its own.

Our sponsors invited guests, we received numerous enquiries from members of the press, and an outstanding roster of speakers agreed to participate.  Still, nothing prepared me for the irony that greeted some of our attendees when the virtual doors opened at 11 a.m. EDT.  It was a type of overload I hadn’t yet considered: too many attendees.

Through what turned out to be human error, the virtual conference space had not been set up for unlimited attendees.  When we hit a certain number (I’m not sure exactly what that was), those trying to join in got the message :”Too many participants.  The number of meeting participants has exceeded the limit.”

That was immediately followed by an avalanche of e-mail to our meeting organizer and it should have been a simple, two-minute fix – unless your dedicated technical support person is being rushed to the hospital (he’s feeling much better, we are told).  It took about 12 minutes to get this sorted but soon enough, several hundred people were in the room and we were cooking.

First off, I’d like to thank the 300+ knowledge workers around the world (over 30 countries were represented) for attending.  Many were with us for the entire event, which was five hours in length.  Our speakers were, in order of appearance, Nathan Zeldes, president of the Information Overload Research Group, Maggie Jackson, author of “Distracted,” Christina Randle, CEO of the Effective Edge, Ed Stern from OSHA, Mark Hurst, founder of Creative Good, Ken Sickles from Dow Jones, Seth Earley, CEO at Earley & Associates, Paul Silverman, CEO of Integra Workshops, and Michael Song, author of “The Hamster Revolution.”

We took this opportunity to single out five organizations for their significant contributions to the fight against Information Overload, bestowing upon them the Basex Excellence Award, or Basey.  We invited an executive from each company to sit on our Visionary Vendor panel, which preceded the awards ceremony.

The 2009 Basey awards went to ClearContext: For tools that control the inbox, aggregate project information, and reduce information overload; Microsoft: For Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Outlook 2010 and for inbox features that help reduce Information Overload; Nordic River: For TextFlow and its ability reduce Information Overload through a collaborative authoring environment; Xerox: For multiple contributions in search and categorization as well as a continued emphasis on mitigating Information Overload; and Xobni: For tools that improve inbox management and reduce information and relationship overload.

Finally, I would like to thank our corporate and association sponsors for their support.  Microsoft was the event’s Platinum Sponsor.  Gold sponsors included Bluenog, Cincom, CubeGuard, Dow Jones, IBM, Information Overload Research Group, Nordic River, SAS and Siemens. Silver sponsors included Creative Good, Feintuch Communications, HyperOffice, Permessa, Xerox and VirtualPBX.

We plan on making the event archive available for Web access so, in case you missed it, stay tuned.

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

ClearContext, Microsoft, Nordic River, Xerox, and Xobni win Basex Excellence Awards for Information Overload Innovations

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by David Goldes

Five companies who have developed products or services that address the problem of Information Overload – ClearContext, Microsoft, Nordic River, Xerox and Xobni — have won Basex Excellence Awards.

The “Baseys” were presented today at the Information Overload Awareness Day Inaugural Event, being held on the Web. This year’s awards recognized companies with industry-leading products or services that focus on the problem of Information Overload.

“These companies and offerings exemplify the types of products breaking new ground in the fight against Information Overload,” said Jonathan B. Spira, Basex’ CEO and Chief Analyst, at the awards ceremony. Executives from each company participated in the conference’s Visionary Vendor panel prior to receiving the awards.

The Basey winners were honored for a broad range of innovation:

  • ClearContext: For tools that control the inbox, aggregate project information, and reduce Information Overload;
  • Microsoft: For Microsoft Exchange Server 2010 and Outlook 2010 and for inbox features that help reduce Information Overload;
  • Nordic River: For TextFlow and its ability reduce Information Overload through a collaborative authoring environment;
  • Xerox: For multiple contributions in search and categorization as well as a continued emphasis on Information Overload; and
  • Xobni: For tools that improve inbox management and reduce information and relationship overload.

In addition, a special Basey was presented to Nathan Zeldes, president of the Information Overload Research Group and Intel’s former Information Overload czar, to honor the significant fundamental contributions he has made to research in Information Overload.

David M. Goldes is President and Senior Analyst at Basex.

In the briefing room: Yakabod’s Yakabox

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009 by Cody Burke

When one strips away all the marketing hype, technical terminology, and buzzwords from knowledge sharing and collaboration products, the real measure of a tool is simple: does it help get work done?  The future of the knowledge workers’ workspace is the Collaborative Business Environment (CBE) but, until our vision is addressed and realized by vendors in this space, it is incumbent upon companies to find tools that support the CBE’s basic principles, namely to provide a single work environment for knowledge workers, reduce friction in knowledge sharing, and embed community into the workspace.

It is easy to lose sight of the fundamental question an organization should be asking when deploying a knowledge sharing and collaboration tool, that is: “how will this tool help my company get work done?”  This often happens because products and tools are segmented into arbitrary and confusing market segments (just look at the variation in TLAs in the content management market, you have CM, ECM, WCM, DM, among others).

A breath of fresh air in this space is Yakabod; the company offers a product, the Yakabox, that promises to be an end-to-end platform that gets work done.  This offering is a hardware appliance incorporating enterprise search, content management, collaboration, and social networking functionality.  A hosted version is also available.  Yakabod’s value proposition is to keep things simple by placing those four applications in one place, aiding in knowledge sharing, collaboration, and the ability to find what one is looking for.

The user interface is very clean and straightforward, and features an activity feed-like stream of items that are relevant to the user, as well as user profiles and favorites that are content-based, such as documents, teams, blogs, or any other item in the system.  What is presented in the activity feed can be fine tuned via a “Matter Meter”, which can be adjusted to show items of varying degrees of importance.  A busy knowledge worker, for example, could set the meter to only show items of high priority.  Yakabod’s enterprise search works in a similar way: the system learns a user’s preferences and adjusts search results accordingly based on relevance to the user.  The results are drawn from structured and unstructured data sources, including online repositories, wikis, social tools, and existing legacy systems.

To make deployment easier, the Yakabox integrates with existing sources such as Microsoft SharePoint and Office, shared drives, and electronic repositories.

Security is a strong point for the Yakabox.  The company has its roots in providing collaboration and knowledge sharing tools to the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the Yakabox meets Department of Defense PL3 security standards.

One promising aspect about Yakabod’s philosophy as a company is the recognition that knowledge sharing and collaboration applications such as enterprise search, content management, collaboration, and social networking are interconnected and interdependent.  Put simply, when these normally disparate elements are combined, the sum is greater than the parts.  The Yakabox may be in some respects closer to the Collaborative Business Environment than many other offerings currently on the market: it provides a single, overarching environment for knowledge workers, reduces friction in knowledge sharing through tight integration, and embeds collaboration tools into all areas of knowledge work via social networking functionality.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.


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