Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Invisible Information

Note: This is a Guest post from Information Management and Change advocate David Criado. David was senior knowledge leader in everis and Indra among other companies, and usually writes about innovation in organizations and information management from vorpalina.

My colleagues are tired of listening to me repeating how much I love AIIM's roadmap for Enterprise Content Management (ECM). Every time I try to think about the next market orientation or what needs my clients may have, I take a look at this great ECM poster. In the right-hand corner of the roadmap you can see one roundabout that distributes a little part of the business (needs Vs. solutions) which name is Enterprise Search. So this little roundabout is expanding in a great way and now the information professionals are looking for faster and more accurate information retrieval tools. As I commented in “Educating in document management (Spanish)” and “My mainstream ECM (Spanish)”. Capture and information storage are keys for a good information management system. They are two of the keys to which we have to add a third-one: distributed and safe access to content in our work environment. And for that we must establish our focus in recovering the information in an agile and smart way, creating a big enough lens concept to analyze and extract the value-knowledge of our company. Once we have done the difficult work of unifying the available information in the organization, the question is: How can we generate value from that information? The strategic answer is clear: through a corporative policy about knowledge management and the technological answer goes -among other- through a strong search engine that helps us recover every generated content (office documents, multimedia, web formats…)

After evangelizing the users in the create & share faith, it takes time for the professionals to guarantee that those same users can have an easy and clean access to information. This technical function is back-end work, since the processes and engineering are invisible to the users. It doesn't occur in the same way with the strategic function, which must be functional and organically agreed within the organization members, real experts in the business.

In this last point one recommendation: don't reinvent the wheel, there are hundreds of successful experiences with which one consultant can go along with one organization in the creation of a new knowledge model.

Lately I've been dedicating my time on exploring the market of search engines to actualize vision and share the sector future in front of some catastrophic voices in the web that manifest the death of SEO or even that of the "website era" in favor of applications. My friends at Yerbabuena know well the problems of web search engines and organize events related to the diffusion and reflexion about the importance of our famous “roundabout” Enterprise Search. They as me know that the behavior of the search engine is key at the time of going with one or another technology. Two years ago this blog made a comparison between Alfresco vs Nuxeo and also a comment more than 4 years ago in The accessibility and the RSC about a thoughtful concept from Andy Hagans in Enterprise Search stuff, SEO and the accessibility. As you can see, all professionals have in mind since a long time ago the importance of recovering information. However, it's now when the discourse of sharing has really picked up since years ago and the employees have been generating information in the information systems of the companies without a break, when the enormous amount of data saturates the organizations. In fact this obsession of recovering information has made the information professionals  very busy from thousands of years ago. During the years I've been trained and I've learned from the experiences of archivists and librarians that categorized and organized their information in a very strict way. Good, so, now we just have to do exactly the same in the digital way.

Very much in the line of recovering information, there is a work tendency related to the visualization of the information that was initiated by Robert McKim (1973) and his Visual Thinking and was continued by Rolf Faste (1980) through his famous Design Thinking. One easy explanation for that theory is the next-one: often it isn´t too important how much we generate but the simplicity we get at the time of recovering, interpreting and interacting with that information. That is and will be the true value of our company: the knowledge, the ways in which we make that the invisible information turns visible and give results. Companies like Xplane, leaded by David Gray, are dedicated to implement this kind of thought in the organizations. This way of understanding reality, based on the leadership of the visual things, on the agility derivated from the combination of different items, has a lot to be with what is cooking in the ovens of the actual semantics. Some days ago I had the opportunity of meeting Dr. Sinuhe Arroyo, a young Spanish leader who founded Playence starting from his own investigation and experience in the market of semantic searchers. Sinuhe is an international reference in semantics; he has collaborated in WSMO elaboration, ontology for describing aspects of the semantic web services, something like an attempt to normalize the information recovering favoring the exchange and the communication by ontologies. We both talked about the enormous potential of the ontologies and the visual interfaces of the combination of results that his product offered. He has been a UOC consultant and tutored a very good work about semantics from Ricardo García, which I could find through the web in a period of time of two days. Curiously the evolution of Playence as a company has been similar to Yerbabuena's. Both were born from the investigation work in Spanish universities and both explore the actual market of possibilities from Silicon Valley and Latin America. 

Because of my work, I'm bound on seeing very different casuistic inside the organizations, but there is a relationship in all of them: they all need a Google ;-) The most immediate reason of this need is found in what we commented before: simplicity, search power in a lot of sources (hard-worked back-end), and one only access to information. The Single-Window concept has been very exploded during last years in Spain, due to our possession of a very strict legal framework for electronic administration (The 
11/2007 Law) which requires an open access for citizens to data and paperwork that affects them or are of their interest. The Single-Window is also a lot related to the way in which we recover information and present it to the user. The idea is to simplify the access to facilitate democratic activity of citizens. This idea is curiously expanding and transcends since two years ago in the public administration sector to take part on the operative plans from the system directions of many private companies. The unique corporative search engine is outlined as the new panacea of companies and friends as Playence and others begin to get a place in the market. In electronic management and administration stuff, in Spain the companies are the ones who are learning from the public sector due to the high degree of development of these systems in projects such as the electronic ID (DNI-e), the modernization of the tax system or the automation of judicial processes, some projects in which I've participated in some moments of my previous life ;-) 
Architecture of a Web crawler.
Architecture of a Web crawler. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another last point to consider in the use of information is the way in which the human brain processes that information. Here I highlight two contrary ideas, customized in the figures of Nicholas Carr (Is Google making us stupid?) and Steven Johnson who advocates through the positive influence of the hypertext in our daily life. The discussion is perfectly explained by Sergio Parra in Divulgation 2.0: Advantages and disadvantages of science (Spanish) in internet in the magazine Mètode. Personally I'm reading every book and article from Johnson and Carr through the web or physically, and I can prove that they both have got a point because their arguments are valid. Without a doubt in the information recovery sector is left of this and other actual debates because it isn't just trying to make visible the invisible (and wasted) inside the organizations, but to really understand our way of learning and relate with the information.

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