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Knowledge Management, Abe Vigoda & Smarmy Marketers

     In my recent Social Knowledge Management Federator Open RFP, I recommended introducing a new ITSM process called “Knowledge Generation & Delivery”.

     Vendor offerings in Knowledge Management generally follow Knowledge Centered Support guidance. KCS is a very effective framework, but the scope is limited to Service Desk knowledge capture, publishing & delivery. I see great value in implementing KCS in a Service Desk environment – especially in organizations with large, complex infrastructures – and that captured knowledge has potential to be useful in other ITSM processes as well. Its limited scope does, however, limit its usefulness outside what it was designed for.

     ITIL guidance on Knowledge Management amounts to little more than “This is the process responsible for building and maintaining a Service Knowledge Management System.” Aside from the scant guidance ITIL offers for the practice of Knowledge Management, the SKMS falls well short of what we are capable of – well short of what it could or should offer. Even for those with both the resources to invest in building an SKMS and the level of control over their information matrix required to make it possible, they would still end up with what is essentially an Asset Management system on steroids.

     Managing information is just one aspect of Knowledge Management – the other, far more crucial aspect, is delivering it.

     The approach taken by the vast majority of so-called Knowledge Management solutions is one of a fairly simple enterprise search engine. Type in the terms you’re looking for, and it will return to you a list of information resources – much like using Google to search the internet. While Google’s search engine is a great tool for searching for hits in the vast sea of information sources that is the internet, the thirty-year-old approach to delivering the results simply does not qualify as Knowledge Management in my book.
     Knowledge Generation & Delivery is exactly what it says. We need to move away from delivering information sources for our knowledge workers to sift through for information. We need to start expanding that matrix to include much more dynamic, fuzzy & unstructured information, find innovative ways to generate knowledge through combining all those information sources and actively deliver that knowledge to discerning knowledge workers when & where they need it.

     Consider the internet…
     Keyword searching, with the purpose of returning individual sources, is a great tool for finding individual items or sets of items – such an organization’s public website, the nearest coffee shop or nude pictures of Abe Vigoda (I don’t know if there are any nude pictures of Abe Vigoda on the internet… I’d be shocked if there aren’t but I’m scared to find proof).
     What about, on the other hand, trying to decide what computer to buy? Fairly recently I ordered a Lenovo IdeaCentre Q180. I first searched for viable options that met my basic requirements, creating a short list. Then I combed through scores of user reviews on my short list, attempting to keep track of the salient points on each computer – while at the same time, taking differing views of the same products into consideration in weighting opinions. If opinions differed, I had to make a value judgment based on limited information about the review writers. I also needed to take note of those reviewers whose machines were configured differently to what I was planning. All of this juggling took me no less than four hours to make a decision I was comfortable with. While IT hopefully has more stringent guidelines regarding document structure and it will not take a knowledge worker quite as long, these are the types of hoops we are forcing them to jump through.
     Imagine, instead, I browsed to an information correlation portal. I start my search by checking boxes and dropping down nested list elements in a simple form to input my basic requirements and filter my information sources – for example, I’m feeling cynical that day so I don’t want to include any reviews from manufacturer’s websites. The portal then runs off to all the various information sources and returns to me a dynamic dashboard that has combined & correlated all that information for me. Through that dashboard interface, I can further filter and refine the results based on overall scores, average prices, specific complaints, available upgrades, etc. When I narrow that down to the model I want the portal presents me with options of where I can buy the model I want, configured exactly how I want it.
     I could have saved three hours and fifty minutes with such a knowledge delivery strategy.

     Stay with me… We’re halfway there…

     While George Orwell’s 1984 is perhaps my worst nightmare, I’m hardly a Lone Gunman. A government that can’t even figure out how to implement effective package tracking is certainly incapable of the vast conspiracies it is often accused of.

     Corporations, on the other hand…

     Owners of iPhones, iPads and Android devices may have noticed that the Gmail interface in the built-in email functionality is a bit different than other email providers. Gmail went out of their way to change the default “Delete” action to “Archive” the emails, instead. You can still delete your emails, if you wish, but they made it easier to not delete them. When you “Archive” an email, it doesn’t move it anywhere – it simply removes the “Inbox” flag on the email, so when you are in your inbox, you don’t see it. This may seem counterintuitive to some, especially those who are constantly juggling, deleting, moving and archiving emails at work because they have tiny mailboxes on servers that will lock them out if they go over their storage limits. It makes perfect sense for Google, however…
     The smaller the mailbox, the cheaper the overhead. We want to cut costs of running the business. Right?? Well, that’s true, but it’s a small price to pay for Google. Your ever expanding inbox is their business – it’s one of their greatest assets.
     Above all, Google is a marketing company. The more information Google can collect, store and understand – the better Google gets at correlation of information to generate knowledge – the more accurate their predictive analysis is… the better they will be at delivering you advertisements that you are actually interested in and will take advantage of. In turn, the more traffic and revenue their ads generate, the more they can charge for their ads.
     Google gives away unlimited email storage for free, because they WANT you to store more. You are one of over 190 million nodes of one of the largest wetware database clusters in the world. What emails you get, which ones sit unopened in your inbox as you open other (newer) ones, which ones you “Archive” without reading, which ones you reply to, forward, follow their embedded links, mark as important… Life altering events, banking statements, receipts, website registrations… the potential is limitless. Gmail knows a lot about you – probably more than most of your friends.
     I feel I should say here that Google has one of the most responsible privacy policies I know of, and an exemplary track record of keeping information anonymous – that is another of their greatest assets. You only tell secrets to your best friend if you trust her to keep them.

I tweeted something a few weeks back that I think sums up my view on Knowledge Generation & Delivery pretty succinctly:
Why doesn’t my Knowledge solution build a profile of me based on my apps, searches, inbox, job, etc & deliver TO me like Google ads? #ITSM

     An excellent February 16th article in The New York Times explored ways in which the retail giant Target employed “Guest Marketing Analytics”.
     In 2002, Target had a problem. People saw Target as a store to buy a limited number of products – such as cleaning supplies – but customers were not buying much of the myriad of other products they offered. Target wanted to be a one-stop shopping department store.
     Long-standing research showed that changing people’s ingrained buying habits was a difficult task, but there are major events in life – life altering events – that can blow that door of opportunity wide open. When someone graduates college, gets married, gets divorced or has a child, for example, they become free agents – prime targets for influencing a shift in their buying habits. This was not revolutionary news… When a woman gives birth, she is inundated with advertisements to buy baby-related products – not just because she is now a consumer of products she did not need before, but because if a department store can get her shopping there for her baby needs, she will be more likely to shop there for other things, and stay with that retailer for the long haul.
     Target wanted to take advantage of this gateway drug. The trick, however, was to beat the other retailers to the punch.
     Target focused predictive analytics on their vast amounts of data to look for cues that a woman may be pregnant. They looked at buying trends for women they knew were pregnant (because they had signed up for the baby registry at Target) in an attempt to pinpoint pregnancy cues as early as possible. They found, for example, that right about the beginning of the second trimester, many women started buying larger quantities of unscented lotion. Pregnant women also tended to buy calcium, magnesium and zinc supplements in their first 20 weeks of pregnancy. When they started buying larger quantities of unscented soap, cotton balls, hand sanitizers and washcloths it was in indicator that the due date was getting pretty close.
     The analytics team developed a system that allowed them to predict, by tracking purchase patterns of about 25 different products, not only whether a woman was pregnant, but her approximate due date.
     It worked like a charm.

     I despise manipulation. I have never signed up for any kind of “Customer Reward Card” program at any retailer. I value transparency in business dealings more than I can genuinely express.
     I do, however, think IT has a LOT to learn from the smarmy tactics of marketers when it comes to Knowledge Generation & Delivery – we just don’t need to hide what we’re doing.

March 26, 2012, 02:17:07 pm

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