The CEO’s vision is for us to be ‘the leaders in knowledge applied to xxxxx engineering’ was the opening statement at the off-site meeting of a world renowned engineering company who is the name in their industry sector. As the day progressed it became clear that even they were feeling the competitive pressures of cheaper manufacturers, commoditisation of engineering generally, and all the other recognisable issues of most businesses today.

If it isn’t ‘knowledge’ then the vision statement will include ‘services’, but in all cases the driver is to make better use of what they know in the competitive battle to differentiate their products, and the requirement is to ensure that they have in place the technology and systems for world class knowledge management. What was different at this meeting was I introduced the concept of Chefs or Cook Books to help define ‘how’ to get this to work through people rather than just focussing on the ‘what’ of content. What makes this possible? A mixture of the technologies of Web 2.0, and Service Oriented Architecture, SOA, used together.
The last year has seen the concept of Web 2.0 explode with WiKis, Blogs and whole new community based interactive technologies, and capabilities, redefining how people can interact. Just as users drove the way Web 1.0 redefined how content could be created, and shared, Web 2.0 is being driven in the same way by what people want, and the availability of common platforms, open standards, new ways of provisioning software etc. to base it on.
In short Web 2.0 is a new game changer, and SOA is the glue to connect these technologies to business processes and create the real innovation that SOA can deliver. Dig a little more deeply into Web 2.0 and you realise it also contains the elements to overcome what has become one of the biggest issues to Web 1.0; the curse of too much content! Web 2.0 handles this through Contacts; a friend of a friend, if you like, where mutual interests provide the link. May be not that new as we have had www.linkedin.com etc, for some years now, but it’s the increasing sophistication of how we can define ourselves, and most importantly how we can understand and ‘tag’ the content that relates to our interests.
A quick diversion onto ‘tagging’ for a moment as it’s important in the ‘Chef or Cook Book’ approach. A photo taken along the river Thames in London would include several landmarks such as Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the London Eye, etc, all of which are recognisable to the human mind, and can be used individually to ‘tag’ the photo. This is the basis for photo sharing in www.flickr.com and, is not only well proven to work technically, but also socially in the way people are happy to use it. A computer, or more particularly its data, cannot handle this kind of detailed multiple complex interpretation in its filing structure, the well known issue of ‘Semantics’. A cook book would be indexed by recipes whereas a chef can handle tagging the ingredients, or any other one of a multitude of topics. Chefs therefore have endless capabilities to interact and respond to situations through shared experiences whereas a Cook Book has a set of defined responses.
The business challenge of ‘knowledge’ or ‘service’ based excellence has concentrated on the content issue, and treats the enterprise, its knowledge and employees as a ‘walled garden’. The creation, and management, of knowledge is an internal issue that exists in parallel to the existing organisational and business process structure. Hardly surprising given the limitations of the technology we have been able to use. The last year has seen, usually through users own efforts the introduction of WiKi technology as the start of a people focussed way of sharing experiences in a more free flowing and human way, think of it as the Chefs starting to chat about their views on the recipes in the knowledge management Cook Book.
Time to define the differences between Chefs, Cook Books, and the Pie Factory; starting from the familiar of the industrialised and standardised production of ‘products’, in this case Pies, from the ‘factory’. Here the focus is all on making the product, maintaining quality, distribution, ‘push’ selling what you have made, and above all on keeping the cost down on something that is easy to compare to competitors versions. Products can be made and used anywhere today making competition global and increasingly tough hence the need to find and deliver added value.
The Cook Book is the way to add flexibility through reusing proven recipes that the factory can make, and this hopefully will start to provide some degree of variation that enables different markets to be addressed some at higher prices. Development of the knowledge in the Cook Book is essentially an internal capture of activities designed to improve adaptiveness and operating effectiveness without incurring origination costs each time.
But what of the Chef? That’s a truly differentiated experience created for unique value. For the engineering company the goal is to get your chefs into your potential, and actual, customers’ kitchens to show them how to create their own recipes that will include your ingredients and store them in their cook books. This would be far too costly in a physical manner, and with experienced top chefs in a short supply a resource issue too, but with the use of Web 2.0 technology as a game changer? That’s when the discussions got really interesting, and something very different started to emerge about how to fulfil the CEO’s vision in a new way.
More in the next blog on how to think of the linkage of Web 2.0 with SOA to make this possible.