Category: Knowledge Management

A nebulous and somewhat nefarious term but no one’s come up with a better one yet.

Mozilla Ubiquity: Stop jumping around between web apps to get a task done

My friend and former colleague, Tom Pierce, stuck this on my Delicious page: Mozilla Ubiquity. The screencast really got my wheels turning. The idea is that with as many open services available today as there are we should be able to avoid the jumping around from site-to-site we do to complete what ought to be a simple task. The example they use is composing an email with a map to a restaurant and a list of restaurant reviews. Today you have to create the email then go to Google maps, find the restaurant, and then cut-and-paste a link to that map into your email. Then, if you want reviews, you have to do the same thing. Ubiquity gives you a single interface for pulling information from various sources all using friendly, text-based commands. In this example you never have to leave your web mail–as you compose the email you execute Ubiquity commands that fetch the data you need. Watch the video and you’ll get it.

After you’ve done that and your head is sufficiently spinning, think about the implications this could have in the Enterprise. Just within ECM alone you could do some really cool stuff (knowledge bases, document libraries, team collaboration, intranets) but I would also think there could be decent applications in the BI (Business Intelligence) world as well.

Open Source ECM: My topic for tomorrow’s AIIM DFW Meeting

I’ll be speaking at the AIIM DFW meeting tomorrow at the University of Dallas. My topic is ECM and Open Source Software: A New Force in ECM Solutions. Here’s the abstract:

Open source software is finally getting the recognition it deserves from analysts like Forrester and Gartner as a disruptive force in IT. Over the years, open source has “climbed up the stack” from operating systems to databases and now to business applications where it has established a firm foothold in the content management space.What should enterprises know about open source content management? Is it really just for Web Content Management (WCM) or does it meet the needs of broader Enterprise Content Management (ECM) deployments? Arelarge enterprises doing big, meaningful content management projects with open source or is its appeal limited to subsets of the market? What about Enterprise 2.0 initiatives? Can you assemble an Enterprise 2.0 solution from open source components? How does it compare with something like Sharepoint?

If you are in the Dallas area and are interested in the topic you should swing by. And, as always, please say hello and mention the blog. I look forward to meeting you.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008
11:30a – 1:30p, Registration at 11:20a

University of Dallas
Haggar University Center – Haggar Dining Room
1845 East Northgate Drive
Irving, Texas 75062-4736
Parking – Lot A and B
Campus Map Link – Bldg 4

AIIM DFW luncheons are $30 at the door if you have not pre-registered. The pre-registration deadline for this event is now closed.

Open Source CMS Alfresco Releases 3.0 Preview

Alfresco has just announced the availability of the Alfresco Labs 3.0 Preview. If you’ve been regularly updating from HEAD there may not be a whole lot of stuff that’s new to you but if you haven’t, it might be a good time to see what the team in Maidenhead has been up to.

The first thing you’ll notice is that Alfresco has changed the name of their freely-available Community edition to “Labs”. Alfresco has always insisted that this edition is a developer build that really isn’t suitable for production use. The name change is an attempt to further drive that point home.

Surf’s Up

Alfresco Surf is essentially Alfresco’s name for the web script framework plus some pre-built components with a framework for defining and assembling pages. The web script framework (and therefore, Surf-based sites) can now be run separately from the Alfresco repository process. This has actually been possible since 2.9 Community but now Alfresco is starting to do something with it (See “Share the Love”). In fact, some of my Optaros teammates have been working hard for Alfresco (as a client) to develop some of the content-centric components that are part of Surf and one of the new clients, Share. So Surf is essentially a web application development framework built on REST, JavaScript, FreeMarker, and YUI that you could use to build your own web apps without ever touching an Alfresco repository if you really wanted to. Assuming you do want to pull content from the repository, Surf let’s you make remote calls from within Web Script controllers back to the Alfresco repository, or via AJAX using YUI components from the browser.

Share the Love

Alfresco is using Surf to build its new web client offerings. One such offering is called Share. If you’ve been following Alfresco’s progress you’ll probably recognize it by its code name, Slingshot. Share is a collaborative workspace that allows you to spawn “sites” that include things like a Document Library, Blog, Discussion Forum, Wiki, Team Calendar, and Activity Feeds. Activity Feeds are sort of like a Facebook News Feed, but instead of tracking who poked whom you are being alerted when someone updates a document, makes a new blog post, etc.. The Share client will be the core for Alfresco’s frontal assault on Microsoft Sharepoint.

Speaking of, Share implements the SharePoint protocol. What does that really mean? It means that if one of the things you liked about Microsoft SharePoint was how you could work with a SharePoint Shared Workspace from within Microsoft Office applications, you no longer have to settle for an all-Microsoft stack on the back-end. You can use an Alfresco server instead. That means your users can have the functionality they like when collaborating on Office apps, while the IT department gets to keep their options open from operating system to database to application server and doesn’t have to worry about scalability concerns inherent in SharePoint. Unlike prior Alfresco add-ons for Microsoft Office integration, this approach requires no additional installations on the client because Office already has the hooks for talking to SharePoint, and Alfresco Share implements the SharePoint protocol.

Jon Newton, Alfresco CTO, said in his blog post on the release, that we should expect another Labs update in September with an Enterprise release to follow some time in October.

Call it what you want, just not “KM”

My friend and former colleague Tom Pierce has recently started blogging on Enterprise 2.0 over at One of his recent posts talks about whether or not social computing is the end of Knowledge Management (KM), that somewhat nefarious term for extracting, organizing, and sharing the knowledge from the heads of employees that ultimately forms a competitive advantage. He makes the point that KM concepts are still valid, it is just the technology that is changing. I agree that the technology is changing, and I agree there is still a need for KM, but I do think the way we approach KM now is shifting.

To me, Enterprise 2.0 is the new and preferred way to implement KM. The problem with past KM approaches was that it was too structured, too top-down. Heavy-handed, overly-rigid, formal approaches to anything rarely succeed. They usually end in rebellion, or, at best, apathy. Sharing knowledge because you are passionate about it and because you want to do it is a lot more fun, rewarding, and meaningful than doing it because it is a bullet point on your yearly review.

Formal KM initiatives I saw succeed Back in the Day did so because there were a small number of people within an organization who were paid to shepherd the information as their full-time job. This might have been a corporate librarian or an SME tasked to manage and grow a community of practice, for example. What we now know and what we now have the capability to leverage practically is the power of the network fueled by ubiquitous connectivity, massive storage capacity, and ever-increasing processor speeds that can index the whole mess. Knowledge management at that kind of scale can’t and won’t wait for you to figure out what your taxonomy needs to be. And you don’t need to figure it out–The taxonomy will just be.

It’s not all about the technology. Yes, the tools are better. But Enterprise 2.0 does better at KM not just based on the technology alone. It’s because Enterprise 2.0 is the anti-KM. It’s bottom-up. It has little or no structure. It’s about forming loose and accidental connections with others. If there are potential barriers to KM success this time around, I think it is that, for some types of organizations, this organic, bottom-up approach is antithetical to their current corporate culture. If they can’t change that–and it is so difficult to do–I think they’ll lose competitive advantage and become unable to compete effectively over time. For some, they’ll realize this too late, like maybe the day after all of the Baby Boomers decide to retire and move to southern Florida.

Drupal-Alfresco Integration and Alfresco’s Move to the Front-End

Via Dries Buytaert, Rob Purdie is announcing the relaunch of Amnesty International‘s site. The new site was built using Drupal and Alfresco.

It is interesting to see how many people have commented on both posts who are craving more information about Drupal and Alfresco integration and it is no wonder. As I mentioned last year in this post, Optaros sees the two offerings as highly complementary–they aren’t (yet) competitors.

We do a lot of implementations in both Drupal and Alfresco. We think PHP plus Alfresco, or in this case, Drupal plus Alfresco is a great combination. Why? Using PHP and Alfresco together is the best-of-both-worlds: You get the speed of development that PHP brings plus the strength of an
open, enterprise repository on the back-end. In Drupal’s case, specifically, add to that the
availability of thousands of pre-built modules as well as a true site (presentation) framework which is something Alfresco currently lacks (more on that in a second). The interface between the two is best facilitated by Alfresco’s REST-based web script framework which is itself based on lightweight coding tools (JavaScript and FreeMarker).

If you’ve been following this blog and the Alfresco Community Conferences, you know that Alfresco is making a move to the front-end. Clearly, Alfresco sees the lack of a Drupal-like front-end as a short-coming, and they are working hard to address this in their coming releases. Here are examples of what’s coming down the pike that may ultimately position Alfresco more directly against Drupal in the future:

  • Web scripts are being split out from the repository process. In the Community head it is now possible to run web scripts in a process separate from that of the core Alfresco repository process. And web scripts running in that standalone process can remotely invoke web scripts running in the Alfresco repository, even if the two are running on separate physical hosts. This will likely form the foundation of Alfresco’s dynamic web site approach: Web scripts running outside of the context of Alfresco, in a plain old servlet container, say, can take advantage of the web script framework, even if they never make a single call to Alfresco.
  • Alfresco is building a WYSIWYG, browser-based site builder tool. The Alfresco Dynamic Website (ADW) will allow you to assemble web sites and web pages by selecting modules (built with web scripts) from a module library and arranging them on the page.
  • Alfresco is moving their web clients from JSF to web script-based web sites. The new Alfresco client will be based on web scripts with the eventual goal being to build it and manage it as if it were any other normal, dynamic web site. The client will be a reference site which you can use to build your own dynamic sites.
  • Alfresco is trying to generate developer excitement around web scripts. Alfresco’s push in the developer community to get people excited about web scripts is no coincidence. If they can get the community to help develop a compelling library of web script-based modules, and if they can create a productive front-end development framework that can plug in those modules, Alfresco will be much more attractive to clients who benefit from a front-end presentation framework and pre-built components than it is today.
  • Alfresco is marketing heavily around community and Enterprise 2.0. As you may have seen at the Community Conference and other Meet-ups, Alfresco is driving towards more community, social networking, and general “Enterprise 2.0” features and functionality. This is usually mentioned in the context of being a Sharepoint Killer but it could also mean a blurring of the differences between Drupal and Alfresco as well.

I’m not saying that when the 3.0 release of Alfresco comes out it is going to be on par with Drupal. But I do think it is interesting to watch what’s happening as Drupal and PHP solutions look for more robust back-ends while Alfresco moves toward better front-end site development and module frameworks.

Sharing is its own reward?

Offering rewards (recognition or even monetary incentives) for knowledge sharing is a pretty common practice. David Gurteen wonders if that is a good idea. He uses Wikipedia of a good example where sharing is its own reward.

My philosophy is that I expect people in my organization to contribute to the knowledge base. There’s a bare minimum level of effort there that is really considered part of their job.

As David points out, some folks are more passionate about topic areas than others. Those people tend to contribute at a higher level and quality than those who begrudgingly contribute because they “have to”. A performance review is a good time to recognize those who are exceeding expectations there. Public recognition for a particularly valliant effort is also obviously good. This seems like Management 101 to me.

One-time cash rewards for knowledge contributions–even with a “quality rating” built in–doesn’t enforce the right behavior in the right way, in my opinion.

Robertson’s call to arms: Let’s get practical

I’ve been thinking about James Robertson’s post. In it, James says that instead of undertaking enterprise-wide, strategic Knowledge Management initiatives (my grouping for his list of example “enterprise projects) organizations should be focused on smaller, more tactical point solutions that deliver real improvements to productivity.

He’s not advocating that every business unit just “do their own thing”.

This is not to say that the bigger picture is forgotten, quite the opposite. While individual activities are always focused on immediate needs, consideration is given to longer-term objectives. This influences the selection of the projects, the technology used, and the points of integration into other systems.

While I agree with James’ overall sentiment, I’m not quite clear on what he thinks is the best way for the business units to leverage economies of scale around best practices and infrastructure.

For example, several of our clients use a “shared services” or “center-of-excellence” approach. In this model, a centralized supporting infrastructure is put in place (includes physical infrastructure as well as human resources) that business units can leverage.

The trick is making sure that:

– The IT organization is not a bottleneck. The whole goal is to empower others to use the infrastructure.

– The process of selecting and implementing the infrastructure doesn’t turn into a multi-year project that delivers no value until the very end. By that time, the business units will have already done their own thing, often without regard to the shared economies of scale or “the big picture”.

It seems that this model lends itself to empowering business units without too much overhead yet still provides enough direction and coordination to avoid a big mess down the road.

Thoughts on final days of KM World and Intranets 2005

I spent the entire second day at KM World in the Content Management track (except for a quick jump over to “Intranets” to see my colleague present on Document Management Usability at Southwest Airlines).

My three favorite sessions of the day were:

Tony Byrne, “Making Sense of the CMS Vendor Landscape”. I’ve followed Tony’s blog for a while but hadn’t heard him speak until Wednesday. His session was very informative and insightful. My favorite part was the advice he was giving to people evaluating solutions. The key advice was “try it before you buy it rather than relying solely on a demo” and “the implementation team is more important than the product”. As an ECM services provider, I was particularly fond of the last point! ; )

Seth Gottlieb, “A Guide to Open Source CMS”. Seth is another blogger in my blogroll. We originally met through CM Pros. As I told Seth, his presentation did a great job covering the key players in the Open Source CMS space and comparing and contrasting the types of solutions they solve (rather than simply checking off items in a feature matrix or trying to cover a broad set of tools).

Afterwards we had a good conversation about Alfresco. I hadn’t realized they were running in a “closed community” model. I downloaded Alfresco before the trip and had every intention of playing with it on the plane but I got sucked in to a book. Hopefully I can get to it soon.

Lisa Welchman, “Lessons Learned from CM Implementations”. What I liked most about Lisa’s presentation was that she had great speaking style and an obvious passion for the subject. The content was a little too WCM-centric, but she did cite several key lessons learned which I agreed with (and, coincidentally, echoed in my session Thursday morning).

Thursday was a short day for me. I did my talk in the morning (Thanks to all who attended!), had a quick bite, and then headed for the airport.