Making Knowledge Work

October 28, 2012

LIKE 39 – Archiving the Web

Filed under: Archiving, Information Management, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 3:31 pm

In a professional landscape increasingly populated by vendor cheerleaders, one-trick product ponies and garrulous ‘gurus’, it’s refreshing to spend some time with LIKE professionals.

It was great to gather at our new home for dining and learning, the upstairs room of The Castle (just by Farringdon station), and explore the monumental task of creating a web archive.

The debate was timely – a recent Economist article drew attention to the danger of cultural amnesia as contemporary record, in the form of web content, disappears in cyberspace.

Dr Peter Webster is the British Library’s Engagement and Liaison Officer for the Web Archive.  LIKE’s new dinner venue has the great luxury of a projection screen, so Peter was able to show us slides of some of the sites his team are capturing for posterity.  These included the late Robin Cook’s website, and David Cameron’s 2005 election site.

He told us about the “lost web” – sites that become victim of the disorderly disappearance of organisations and campaigns, and the “orphaned web” – sites that have served their purpose, and are abandoned.  There was a nice example of a formerly lovingly-tended site dedicated to Charles Darwin’s house, not updated since 2006 because English Heritage had taken custody of the house and, in turn, its online representation.

Since 2004 the Web Archive team have fulfilled their brief, of archiving websites of cultural and scholarly importance from the UK domain, by capturing 11,000 sites (16 terrabytes worth).  They are collaborating with other libraries, archives and collectors to get the job done, but it’s still a daunting task.  Automated domain harvesting helps, and there are collections we can all agree future historians will be glad to have: the Credit Crunch, the Jubilee, the Olympics……..    However, at this stage, predicting the exponential growth of the archive, and how easy it will be to browse is challenging to say the least.

Some questions are very hard to answer: how do you decide what is published in the UK?  The URL doesn’t necessarily give you a clue.  How do you find the owners of content to verify copyright?   What are the full implications of the non-print Legal Deposit Regulations?

 As the discussion continued, I was very glad not to have Peter Webster’s job!  But I was delighted he’s doing it, and that he and other historians and archivists are on the case.  It would be horrendous if our collective neglect caused late 20th and early 21st Century culture to become a growing black historical hole.

I say collective neglect because Peter made it clear that the content our organisations are generating now will be of importance to historians in the future.  So his message, to all of us, was plan your digital archiving strategy.  And if you want to nominate a website for inclusion in the archive – do it.

October 9, 2011

LIKE 29 – Connecting Information with Innovation

There was an enthusiastic response to our announcement that LIKE 29 would focus on the findings of a recent report by the specialist professional services company TFPL:  so enthusiastic that the evening was quickly over-subscribed.  The only way to satisfy demand was to run the event twice.

On both evenings the very lively discussions were skilfully led by John Davies , Head of Consulting at TFPL and co-author of the report.

The title “Connecting Information with Innovation” was chosen because responses to the survey forming the basis of the report showed organisations are increasingly linking information services with corporate purpose.  And the purpose of the report was to take a fresh snapshot of the Info Pro landscape.  (Back in 2006 the TFPL team had worked with Hazel Hall to produce “Who’s Managing Information?”)

Of ten thousand questionnaires, two hundred and twenty were returned.   35% of respondents worked in the public sector, 48% in the private sector, and the rest in education and the third sector.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, most respondents classified themselves as senior managers.  But more interestingly only half worked in core info management service, while the other 50% said their services were dispersed across the organisation.

Most people reported little change from 2006 in Knowledge and Information (KIM) staffing levels.  But there was much evidence that organisations were reallocating responsibilities – for example with business information being moved into the remit of business intelligence. And there was   strong evidence that organisations were looking for increased value from their information services, with more accountability and pressure to contribute to the organisations’ strategic plan than there had been in 2006.

Many of the respondents could be classified as Librarians, Records Managers, Content Specialists, Information Services providers, Business Analysts…..  but such things as  information security, information governance, communications, competitive intelligence and digital preservation fell outside of their responsibilities.

John said there are approximately 30 million people in work in the UK.  And, based on work done in the US following Drucker, around 60-70% of us are classified as “knowledge workers”.  However, for every million knowledge workers, there are maybe one thousand with recognisable qualifications. And, it seemed, qualifications still matter to recruiting businesses.
So he wanted to know how LIKE people saw their profession – what distinctions they made, and who they thought were “KIM” professionals.

It was clear from the comments people made that we’re not doing a great job of explaining to each other what we do, or feeling particularly comfortable with the KIM umbrella term:

“Business Intelligence is all about coding”. “Business development people get my goad”. “Archivists, Records Managers and Librarians have a similar mindset, but KMs come at it from a very different angle”.  “Knowledge Managers don’t need a qualification but librarians do”. 

Some people were bemused (and amused) by the increasing pressure to ‘professionalise’: “ If someone sees themselves as a KIM professional, they pretty well are”.  “In  Government there’s a move for civil servants to be part of a profession – IT Professional, Lawyer, Statistician etc – so that’s led people like Immigration Officers  to say ‘well I use information a lot, so I’m a KIM professional’”. 

John told us recruitment specialists are having a hard time keeping up with the demands of employers.  Job specifications are getting broader, deeper, more demanding.  The old distinctions between the junior and more senior roles were being blurred as everyone is expected to demonstrate business acumen, project management ability and IT knowledge.

Five attributes that were key to recruitment, came out in the survey.  He described them as:  Visionary, perseverance, logical, pragmatic, collaborative.  He wanted to know what we thought of these, and which of them we’d prioritise.

Several people said they’d never heard two definitions of ‘Knowledge Management’ that were the same.  Others confirmed that the same went for ‘Information Management’.  So how would it be possible to attain definitive descriptions, or prioritise attributes?
One Consultant had stopped putting job titles on her CV entirely.  She found they confused her clients and didn’t add value – her skills and experience were more important.

Someone said most Information Managers are just Librarians by another name.  And a professional from the British Library said “I work in the biggest library in the country – not a single post at the British Library is called Librarian.  Titles are meaningless!  I’m a Reference Specialist – what does that mean?  Even within the reference team there are different interpretations of what a Reference Specialist does and is.”

This was one of the areas of consensus on both evenings.  Lots of people felt it was pointless to define terms when each organisation had its own definitions.  Every organisation has its own jargon – “So you read the job description and interpret – then you repeat their language when you fill in your application for a job.”

Someone said “we’re good at collaborating among ourselves, but maybe not so good at doing it within our wider businesses”.  And it was suggested that some Librarians see themselves as Librarians first, then employees of their specific business.

But of the five key attributes Collaboration, Vision and Pragmatism were seen as the most important.  So we proved to be pretty good at prioritising!

John told us that since 2006 training on the job had fallen by the wayside.  In-house training is increasingly in demand, while external courses are being cut.  LIKErs confirmed that they were being directed to develop or use in-house resources for training.  Some are making use of online courses.  And, of course, transferred knowledge inside the organisation is an important element of Knowledge Management, so there’s a case for looking inside for skill development.

On both evenings the discussion about training and development inevitably led back to the issue of professional qualification and its importance – both to the professional and the employer.  Although “Some people are professionals in the field without having professional qualifications”, it was agreed that these individuals usually have years of experience to support their ‘claim’.  For others, especially those just starting out, it was seen as essential to have a professional qualification “so you have credibility and can demonstrate that you know what you’re doing.” “It’s a badge of honour, showing you can do the job” Some people also saw professional qualifications as a means of gaining a broader understanding of their specialism than can be gained in an isolated role “it gives you a structured core skills base”.  But there was a rider to the importance placed on qualifications: “courses really do need to link up with reality”.    And qualifications alone wouldn’t cut it in modern business: “inside the organisation it’s your success stories and the reputation you’ve built up.”  “It all comes down to demonstrating you have the skills to do the job”. 

During our discussions we briefly revisited a question that comes up pretty regularly at LIKE meetings (and elsewhere) – the value of professional bodies.  It’s always an interesting debate.  The specialised roles (such as Law Librarian) need to have their own knowledge networks.  It makes sense doesn’t it?  But what doesn’t make sense to many KIM professionals is to have professional bodies that are out of tune with their members’ requirements and experiences.

John Davies was very complimentary about LIKE – he said it was invigorating and refreshing,   a model for how professional bodies could develop “rather than the ossified, committee-ridden groups I’ve been so familiar with over the years”.

If LIKE is any kind of model, that’s brilliant.  Our primary focus, though, is on providing LIKErs with what they tell us they want – open, inclusive discussions about issues relevant to them.

We seem to have done that with LIKE 29, and LIKE 30 should fit the bill too!  Gary Colet from Warwick Business School will be getting us thinking about how to make transferred knowledge stick.




February 6, 2011

Getting to Grips with Information Governance -LIKE 21

Filed under: Information Management, Knowledge Networking — Tags: — virginiahenry @ 3:17 pm

There’s plenty of discussion about Corporate Governance, but Information Governance isn’t a topic you come across so often. Gartner’s been talking about it for a while, but as “Information” has so many meanings to different people and organisations, discussions around defining governance frameworks for it are relatively rare.

Fortunately, LIKE loves to tackle such subjects.  We invariably take a very practical approach – asking “what is it?”, “why should we care about it?”, “how important is it to the future of my business?”……   Sometimes, when we’ve stripped away the impenetrable business, or academic, terminology that shrouds the subject – you’ll hear comments such as “Oh, that’s what it’s called!  Been doing it for ages….”   And then we have to remind each other – “common sense” for one person is new learning for another (and the “common sense” we’re alluding to almost certainly started as new learning for the cognoscenti).

Hanna Kazerani is a woman of uncommon sense, and she was an excellent practical guide to the topic of Information Governance.

Her varied career has focused on information – whether as a journalist or parliamentary speech writer, or as a consultant with Andersen, TFPL or The Content Group.

When with Andersen, she spent a year in Silicon Valley running a sandbox for big multi-nationals, exploring the ways information technology could help their businesses.  She realised that, although these organisations were buying lots of applications, they weren’t very clear on how to use them or connect them with each other.  Their business information had no business intelligence applied.

At TFPL she set up a content management practice and started to audit information for clients such as the Inland Revenue. Invariably she found her clients’ information affairs were in a mess.  The Revenue had millions of internet and intranet pages – and much of the content was out of date and unhelpful.

Since then she’s been on a mission to inform her clients on how to cost-effectively store information and how to manage it.

Recently she ploughed her way through a utility company’s unstructured store of 45 million documents (around 20 terabytes).  Of those 45 million documents 32 million were duplicates. Her recommendations saved them more than £1million in storage costs.

Hanna set the LIKE group a challenge – to work on two scenarios in small groups and come up with some answers:

Scenario 1 was “You’re an information manager in a company with around 2,000 employees.  Your task is to rationalise the disparate information policies (where they exist) and draw together a framework.  What are the top 8 elements, or chapter headings, of your draft framework?

Scenario 2 focused on an organisational implementation of SharePoint: “You’re an information Manager preparing for your first meeting with your IT colleagues about SharePoint – what issues will you raise?  How will you ensure a successful long-term relationship with your IT colleagues?

After ten or fifteen minutes of intense debate, LIKE’s members had come up with lots of practical answers to Hanna’s questions.

The teams working on the draft information governance framework had identified these priorities:

  • Conduct a knowledge and information audit
  • Investigate current data policies
  • Analyse current information lifecycles, and get an understanding of the landscape of information ownership
  • Consider issues such as data security
  • Define what information means within the organisation
  • Look at current taxonomies and classification
  • Identify the thought leaders in the organisation, and get a clear picture of responsibilities at board and leadership level
  • Implement training – so that everyone is clear about their role in information governanc

Those who were focused on the SharePoint scenario had plenty of suggestions for issues to discuss with their IT colleagues and strategies for ensuring good relations.  These included:

  • Identifying the full range of responsibilities and sharing them fairly between the Information and the IT teams
  • Explaining business requirements clearly, and making sure you understand IT’s perspective
  • Ensuring regular communication and cross-discipline collaboration
  • Agreeing an approach that satisfies both parties
  • Discuss things over a pint!

There was general agreement that information governance was the responsibility of everyone in an organisation – not simply the domain of the IT department.  Vendors love to call their applications “solutions” (just as they like to name the unfathomable verbiage that accompanies their software “help files”), but most KIM professionals and honest CIOs know that the application is only an element of the solution.

Knowledge Managers are accustomed to repeating the mantra “people, process and technology together” when explaining the impact a new implementation will have on a business.  Actually, Knowledge Managers do a wide range of things to help organisations thrive, and although the terms KM, Knowledge Management, or KIM, Knowledge and Information Management are well known, what KM and KIM professionals actually do isn’t common knowledge.

At the end of this month LIKE will be hacking through the undergrowth of jargon and misconception to throw some light on what Knowledge Management really is about.  I’d invite you along, but we’re already fully booked……  You’ll have to revisit this blog to hear how it went 🙂

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