I recently posted on the question of whether we really understand business intelligence (BI) http://www.capgemini.com/ctoblog/2009/08/have_we_really_understood_what.php and quite quickly got into a lively debate. Everybody seemed in agreement that traditional BI really meant internal intelligence on how well the enterprise was performing against the targets it had set itself. But the challenge was how to gain external intelligence about current opportunities in order to make quality decisions that would optimise the options and boost performance.
That’s not so easy if you really break it down into practical steps. After all, we don’t know what we don’t know, so have no way of knowing how complete a picture we are using to form our decisions. Think of it this way: you’re hungry (event), and see what looks like a good restaurant (opportunity). Then you study the menu (knowledge), and subsequently decide to eat there (decision). The food is okay, but the evening is not great as you are lonely, so the experience is poor (optimisation).

ow add into the equation Twitter, which is up to a staggering number of users now. Our friends are offering continual insights to their activities so now we have the benefit of ‘knowing’ more about the whole experience. We could ask for feedback on the restaurant, or others near by, even see that we have a friend nearby with whom we could share the meal. We could describe ourselves as being ‘in the know’ – a unique English phrase used to describe someone who always seems to have connections and experiences to be able to do better than most people.
Is this the secret of Twitter’s success? That it enables us to feel that we are ‘in the know’? And can this be replicated across an enterprise through social tools? That’s what lies behind the title of this post: From Knowledge to Knowing.
I am not sure when I first heard this phrase, but having researched the topic of BI at length, I’m sure it’s a fundamental supporting concept. Actually, I discovered as I delved into this deeper that this is a topic that has been aired in a number of different ways: ranging from the ‘spiritual issues’ to the science. But the real turning point for me is in an interesting book that came out this summer called ‘Knowing Knowledge’ by George Siemens. There is a good summarising review to be found here.
If I put all of this together I think I am beginning to understand the power of adding ‘social networking’ and other associated tools/technologies to an enterprise, at least for a certain proportion of roles. Not just knowledge workers, but those whose job contains significant numbers of variables. As many of these roles are more frontline, with younger people, than managerial positions which are to some extent more abstracted from the ‘churn’ of activities, you can see where and how instant messaging, Twitter and social networks are creeping into the enterprise.
Maybe it’s time to stop assuming from a more managerial standpoint that these are distracting ‘toys’, but to do some serious investigation into what and how they are being used beneficially. The barrier? It’s the fear of managers finding that they are not ‘in the know’ and that their staff knows more about the circumstances than they do. Overcome this and with an open mind what might you find?
Think of the potential power of each individual if they’re acting as a real time ‘sensor’ of circumstances. If this can be harnessed through reference by the individual to past experiences of their enterprise through knowledge management, this can be combined and focused upon to use joint expertise to optimise the opportunity and enhance the quality of the decision. Its not quite ‘crowd sourcing’ because it should be a careful selection of a sub-section of the crowd who is relevant and contextual to the situation. Now by most of the definitions I can find that is ‘intelligence’!
As a footnote, just consider that in most enterprises I hear the tale that the smokers are the best informed group. Why? Because they form a social network across the enterprise that meets regularly in their little external circles to exchange information.