Automation of the modern day ‘factory floor’

I have written an op-ed on how to overcome the series of systemic failures we’ve experienced over the past dozen years, and submitted to a major publication.

In that process I shared the piece with a few people in my network, including an old friend and mentor who was on the founding team of one of the most important technology companies in the past century — ever, actually. In that discussion, I found myself using the factory floor automation in the industrial revolution to describe what semantic (AI) technologies can do, and specifically Kyield. My friend suggested that the ‘systemic failure’ in the recent terrorism incident may be as much human as data, to which I replied:

Of course it’s a human problem — just as errors on the factory floor were (in the industrial revolution – so it is with knowledge workers in the information revolution), which is a big reason why so much of (the work) was automated and made transparent to others. Similarly now with robotics entering surgery — we don’t want incompetent workers hiding their mistakes — covering up, protecting turf, their buddies, legacies, or organizations when it can cost large numbers of lives (or the global economy).

This is not to say that we want to replace large numbers of workers with automation, but rather put them to work in a less devastating and more productive manner. We really don’t need dozens of highly paid terrorism experts deciding which visa to yank, when in fact much (more) complex issues are already fully automated elsewhere in our society. Rather they should be trained to operate the CKO module in Kyield for example so that they can more effectively manage their organizations for continual improvement relative to their mission.

I would add that we also cannot afford, nor should we, to allow large numbers of mistakes like a physician’s handwriting on prescriptions continue to kill people. Similarly, we should not continue to promote by our apathy, or allow lobbyists to manipulate the process, over now curable diseases such as misinterpretation of data or lack of interoperability that determine the fate of wars, economies, and large numbers of lives. Moreover, we certainly cannot afford activism into enterprise systems like we observed in the housing bubble and meltdown.  We can’t afford it (status quo) economically or morally. Fortunately, it is no longer necessary relating to enterprise networks, which determine to a large extent how modern organizations function– meaning our society.

Mark Montgomery
Founder & CEO – Kyield
Twitter: @kyield


Web 3.0 Leaders Look to the Year Ahead

Jenny Zaino at asked a group of us to provide predictions for 2010. An interesting mix and worth a close look, particularly for those seeking input from the front lines of Web innovation.

Preventing the next Fort Hood tragedy, by design

The recent tragedy at Fort Hood was only the latest in a series of crises that would likely have been prevented if the U.S. Government had adopted a logical holistic system design when I first began making the argument more than a decade ago. Since that time we’ve witnessed trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives lost; 9/11 and two wars, Katrina’s turf battles and incompatible communications, the mortgage bubble and global financial crisis, and now the Fort Hood massacre. The current trajectory of systems design and dysfunction isn’t sustainable.

“The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.” – Thomas Jefferson

While this particular tragedy is still under investigation, patterns are emerging that are very similar to previous crises, including 9/11. So let’s take a closer look at this event relative to what is currently possible with organizational design and state-of-the-art technology in order to better understand how to prevent the next crisis, for it will surely occur unless prevented by a logical holistic system design.

Crisis prevention by organizational design

It is true that some crises cannot be prevented, but it’s also true that most human caused crisis can be, particularly those that are systemic, including all cases cited here. In fact many tragedies are reported to have been prevented by intelligence agencies without our detailed knowledge, some of which would undoubtedly help inform our democracy if declassified, but we are still obviously missing preventable catastrophic events that we can ill afford to endure as a nation; economically or otherwise.

“In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exist.” – Eric Hoffer.

In each of the cases mentioned here, including Fort Hood, actionable evidence was available either on the Web or within the content of digital files residing on agency computer networks, but were not shared with the appropriate individuals or partners in the decision chain, usually due to careerism, turf protection, and justified fear of retribution.

It is difficult for leaders to understand that members in a hierarchical bureaucracy are often punished by micro social cultures for doing the right thing, such as sharing information or taking action to prevent tragedy. A good report from the field on 9/11 is Coleen Rowley’s Memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller in 2002.

Interests are not aligned: Denial does not a better system make

“The really valuable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not the State but the creative, sentient individual, the personality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime.…” – Albert Einstein

The reality is that interests of the individual and that of the organization are often not well aligned, so system designs need to include intentional realignment. However, in the case of the Fort Hood massacre, red flags were so prevalent that many of us are asking the logical question: How explicit must a threat be before the systems will require action?

Red flags were hidden from those who need to know

In the case of Fort Hood, as was the case with 9/11, the U.S. Government apparently again experienced a data firewall between agency cultures, supported in previous cases by fear-induced interpretation of regulations and defensive micro cultures within agencies. The Washington Post reported that an FBI-led task force was monitoring emails of the suspect Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan, some of which were shared with a Washington field office, but were not shared with the military, to include apparently Hasan’s supervisors who clearly were in the camp of ‘need to know’. A properly designed architecture as described in our recent hypothetical use case scenario for the DHS would have automatically alerted those in the decision chain who were pre-determined to ‘need to know’ when certain phrases are present, including the base commander and security officer in this case who may have prevented the tragedy in a manner that did not compromise the subject’s rights to privacy or freedom of religion.

“The status quo is the only solution that cannot be vetoed.” – Clark Kerr

One such semantic phrase for example that should probably be immediately shared with base commanders and counter terrorist experts would be: “communicating with known terrorists”. No one in the chain of command, including criminal investigators, should be empowered to prevent that information from reaching those in a position to prevent tragedy, whether a national security threat or localized. Indeed, logic suggests that local surveillance might be necessary in order to define the threat, if any.

Crisis Prevention by Technical Design

Among the many academic disciplines influencing modern enterprise architecture are organizational management, computer science (CS), and predictive theory, which manifests in the modern work place environment as network design, computer languages, and mathematical algorithms. The potential effectiveness of these disciplines depends primarily on three dynamically interrelated factors:

1. Availability and quality of the data

“A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”– James Madison

The problem reflected in the decades-old phrase GIGO (garbage-in garbage-out) used in computer science influenced the holistic semantic design of Kyield more than any other factor. Rather than attacking the root of the problem at the source and investing in prevention, CS in general and consumer search in particular have teetered at the edge of chaos by combining clever algorithms and massive computing power to convert unstructured data (GI) to relevance (GO). While search and conversion of unstructured data has improved substantially in the past decade, it cannot compare to a logically designed QIQO (quality-in quality-out) system. Evolving to a QIQO environment from GIGO in organizational computing requires a holistic solution that is focused on prevention, improving work quality, and enhanced innovation.

It became apparent during several years of extensive applied R&D shortly after the commercialization of the Internet and WWW that embedding intelligence in files would result in far more functionality and efficiency, particularly within enterprise networks.

Without availability of high quality data that provides essential transparency while protecting privacy, the potential of enterprise computing is severely hampered, and in some cases has already become more of the problem than the solution. Once essential data is collected containing carefully tailored embedded intelligence, the task of preventing crises can be semi-automated.

2. Through data barriers

“It doesn’t work to leap a twenty-foot chasm in two ten-foot jumps.” – American proverb

Unlike other industries in previous technical revolutions, the U.S. has generally embraced a laissez-faire approach to technical standards, resulting in proprietary standards that are leveraged for market share. Unfortunately, the result in technology has been much like that in finance, although largely invisible with costs of inoperability transferred to customers. Unfettered innovation can have tragic consequences. In the network era, inoperable systems have increasingly contributed to some of our greatest challenges; including failure in crisis prevention, cost and inefficiencies in healthcare, and reduced innovation and productivity in the workplace. So in our case, even though voluntary standards are less than ideal, we’ve embraced the W3C standards for public transactions.

3. Data constructs and analytics

“Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions.” — Edward R. Morrow

Once the essential data is collected, many of our current great challenges in organizations become within reach:

  • Red flagging can be automated while protecting jobs and privacy.

  • Realignment of interests between the individual and organization.

  • Accountability and meritocracy is far more achievable.

  • Original work by individuals and teams can be protected.

  • Information overflow can finally be managed well.

  • Creativity and innovation can be enhanced.

  • Predictive and ‘what if?’ modeling /algorithms are much easier.

  • Formerly essential unknowns about the org become known.

  • The organization can become more adaptive to change.

  • Cultural management and continuous learning is manifest.

  • Rich visual metrics of formerly unknown patterns become routine.

Crisis Review

To his credit Secretary Gates has called for a system-wide review of the Fort Hood tragedy, which will coincide with reviews by the Army, White House, and Congress.

However, it would be irresponsible not to emphasize that the underlying stresses that likely contributed to this tragedy are directly related to failure in preventing previous crises. The result of previous failures to adopt logically functional systems is that our macro-fiscal situation in the U.S. is now so degraded that future prevention requires a much greater effort than would have been the case a decade ago.

Preventing systemic crises and related security (economic and warfare) are the foremost reasons for our government agencies to exist, and was the primary motivation for creating Kyield, even if the holistic design provides many other side benefits. The system problem has now been solved by design; but it has yet to be adopted.

“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times.” – Thomas Jefferson

Mark Montgomery

Drucker on long term values

“Whether a business should be run for short-term results or with a focus on the long term is likewise a question of values. Financial analysts believe that businesses can be run for both simultaneously.

Successful businesspeople know better. To be sure, every company has to produce short-term results. But in any conflict between short-term results and long-term growth, each company will determine its own priority.

This is not primarily a disagreement about economics. It is fundamentally a value conflict regarding the function of a business and the responsibility of management.” — Peter Drucker, HBR 1/2005

HBR debate… pleasing Wall Street

Ed Catmull posted an article in the Harvard debate: Pleasing Wall Street is a Poor Excuse for Bad Decisions.

My comment on Ed’s article is as follows:

It’s been clear to us for 15 years that misalignment between compensation incentives and the long-term needs of organizations, investors, communities, and individuals were increasingly competing for the prize of chief cause in systemic crises.

Let’s not forget the impact of stock options — both negative and positive, and the interconnected relationship with markets — from regional housing markets to Wall Street brokers to the formation of bubbles.

What we’ve found in our long-term effort, which trust me was far more difficult in my small private lab than the challenges discussed here and by my peers, is that to deal effectively with the highly complex issue of alignment of interests in large organizations, several other issues must be dealt with simultaneously, creating an exceptionally high bar for resolution in the digital work place environment that is infamous for incremental improvement at best. A few of the key issues I found in our research:

1) A holistic systems approach was essential, without which it may require dozens if not hundreds of years in an incremental model– my best guess is never.

2) Privacy / IP protection and transparency must be tailored by mandate in the vast majority of organizations; even those not required by regulation to do so.

3) The system must be interoperable so that it can be integrated with partners, to include in many cases public and private, R&D partners; without which new adoption is probably impossible anyway.

4) The system must be adaptable to quickly changing forces in the global economy, with the ability to tailor down to the individual.

5) A substantial menu of compensation models (psychological and financial) is required for tailoring to specific needs (for example the model described by Charles) — one size or model that normally dominate debates on motivation and compensation is based on either conflicts or ignorance– having nothing to do with the variety of cultures out there. Wall Street is a tiny minority culturally, despite the global impact.

6) Alignment of incentives is but one very important consideration in overcoming a host of interconnected issues facing large organizations today, all of which influence the other, requiring embedded intelligence on the individual worker, original work, communications, project teams, business groups, and organizations, among others.

Unfortunately, despite humbling interest in next generation intelligence systems, particularly in the past year, when we approach industry leaders we have been faced with a similar response to that by Vint Cerf when he and his partner presented their DARPA project to the then CEO of AT&T: “It’s impossible, and even if it were not….”, which is almost like saying survivability is impossible — from what I’ve observed in looking at our ever growing series of man caused crises — it may not be possible not to adopt far more intelligent systems design. Fortunately it is quite doable and far more strategic to the interests of many than they apparently understand.

After many conversations with decision makers in the private and public sector, I can confidently share that each needs to look at a mirror when it comes to adoption policies of long-term R&D in their own organizations, for that is the problem, assuming of course we want others to take the often brutal long-term approach to overcoming the most difficult problems, particularly in a manner free from conflicts that can actually lead to solutions. Thanks again for the contributions.

Mark Montgomery
Founder & CEO
Santa Fe, NM

HBR- U.S. innovation continued

This is my post in a continuing debate on U.S. competitiveness and innovation found here at the Harvard blog.

The current trajectory leads eventually to a much larger global crisis than we are still currently experiencing. The total liabilities will catch total net worth (should have been asset value) in the U.S. at some point in the future — a junction that jumped forward a decade or more in the past 18 months– this means the U.S. will be in a crisis until the balance sheet provides at least a small measure of solvency given future liabilities. We’ve been playing a game of chicken for far too long between socio-economic ideologies, neither of which frankly are credible from an economic perspective.

Shall we discuss (advertising) editorial influence on mass media? Economic diversity? The real cost of social elitism? Root causes of bubble economics — pension funds and endowments chasing 30% returns with 20% of the world’s investment capital rather than historic levels in the single digits? How many economists understand what that does to markets? If we want to discuss protectionism elsewhere, can we avoid discussing the cost of ancient guilds? Were you as shocked as I when the ACM announced university ratings and only one U.S. school made it in the top 10– Russia and China with 2 each, no doubt achieved at a fraction of the cost? Anyone game for predicting the future cost of system-wide moral hazard that has been realized? Unbroken monopolies? Predation? Cultural management?

The worst case scenario is that entrepreneurs stop innovating– many of the best have already taken that route, some by choice, most by markets– I deal with them daily. The reaction has been to institutionalize the entrepreneurial function in an attempt to make MBA grads VCs and entrepreneurs out of scientists; and we wonder why our economy is challenged?

In order to do this topic justice and deal with the root causes– everything else is noise, we’ve got to look at what creates the trade imbalance– part of which is certainly outsourcing, but more importantly are the barriers to innovation in the U.S. — as is often the case the most valuable data is not visible. I do agree with those who suggest that outsourcing contains a high probability of losing key IP, but then frankly that threat dominates the lives of innovators everywhere now, or should, certainly to include the U.S. where the cost of defending IP has not been viable for small shops or individuals for many years– unaffordable justice is as comparatively destructive to the economy as unaffordable health care or failed education; perhaps more so. Outsourcing is necessary in a global economy, and does have many benefits, not least of which is a higher probability of peace, but inability to protect original work and take to market is already having catastrophic consequences. Where would the U.S. be today without the tech giants of the previous generations?

The innovation conversation needs to begin with the very frank understanding that the U.S. dominated tech innovation and venturing for decades — from seed to maturity — but in the past decade it has quickly become hyper-competitive globally. We’ll need to disperse with dogma and comfortable assumptions such as ‘data collected has sufficient embedded intelligence to make wise decisions’, particularly within the time frame required to make those decisions, even assuming that those making the decisions are sufficiently unconflicted and able. It is with some irony that we realize while drowning in a sea of data that none of us are necessarily even in the loop on some of the more important trends occurring, which is why first hand experience is so important. All venture capital data for example is voluntary — the sector is hidden by confidentiality for good reason, but the secrecy also does great harm in spreading ignorance –politicians and the social elite combine with the guy on mainstreet who think wrongly that some brilliant scientist at a university will partner with an entrepreneur to correct decades of very bad behavior.

In the late 90s when we were operating a global learning network for thought leaders, the most eager to learn about venturing and economics were not from the U.S. at all — even when we pleaded for regional professors to engage, but rather almost everywhere else– Mongolia to Thailand to South Africa to Brazil. In the U.S. and much of Europe everything we and others did in our incubators was perceived as a threat to entrenched interests. Most of the world lacking those same type of entrenched interests saw only opportunity.

A decade later the FRB was quite comfortable with its assumptions regarding systemic risk in financial institutions, yet even after it had become obvious that their strategy (and many others) was clearly wrongheaded (after Ben B became Chair), a public liaison informed me that he “wasn’t allowed to elevate information on systems designed to prevent systemic crises”. In other words, it was the policy of the FRB apparently to remain ignorant of knowledge systems outside of their (academic) silo. Similar situations are found in most crises I have studied, to include in venturing where we’ve been holding up a red flag for a dozen years. The audit rule that led to Enron.. the Asian contagion.. the dotcom bubble.. institutionalization of venture capital.. the housing bubble.. I missed the SEC rule allowing IBs to leverage up to 50 to 1 on mortgage securities– I was too busy designing systems to prevent crises…

One credible sign of a failing system is one that defends against improvement — in the U.S. there is no effective manner to sell new innovation to the governments, including systems that would make the government smarter and more functional– I’ve been trying for a dozen years, during which time I turned down offers from other governments foolishly.

I spent much of the past decade founding and operating an early stage tech VC while working on designing more functional knowledge systems. Among those I found before my peers, but unfortunately didn’t profit from (we’ll save alignment of interests and incentives for another day, despite the importance), were Google and Skype. Unlike most firms sprouting up in the past decade (VC radically changed when institutionalized in the 90s), we were not geographically strategic. What we discovered was that the Internet had changed the game in ways far beyond what most were considering in the U.S. Not only were collaborators disbursed worldwide with around the clock functionality, but the technologies and even business plans were very quickly becoming of higher quality in other countries. The smart kids and adults were learning at a much faster pace. I myself am a product of sorts of self-learning using the Internet, quickly catching up and passing the majority of post docs in my fields of interests.

During the past decade many other countries have proven more likely to support locally produced innovation than the U.S., particularly at the critical early stages with real dollars from real customers, during a time when the U.S. flooded VCs with capital and freeism as the primary adoption model (“sling spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks”) — extremely destructive to functional markets. Market after market in the U.S. embraced what I will call blind globalization, losing local support and bias as our culture became mobile, cities began to all look similar, and the soul of many communities were gutted. Franchises and global giants dominated, which requires much different skills of managers than independent businesses– not creativity or innovation — a very poor environment for creating business leaders or entrepreneurs.

What’s worse, I noticed a sharp decline in the level of competency in the venture firms, entrepreneurs, and senior managers in global companies– in VC we experienced a generation who had never built a real business, yet those were precisely the individuals institutions felt the most comfortable placing money with — for those willing to shell out $3k you too could learn that PE was no longer about competency, but rather relationships. We have thousands of people in venturing who are incompetent now. As IPO markets sprouted up around the world and capital poured into regional venture firms, real entrepreneurs became some of the world’s best VCs in other countries.

Innovation is a very complex topic that is less influenced by R&D dollars than lobbyists would have us believe. We’ve identified well over a dozen essential elements for markets to be successful in venturing, involving macro global issues (including markets), micro local issues, internally in the venture, and of course the interconnected relationships. Even though I refer to the elements as essential, exceptions occur missing one or two, and they are not the same in each case, particularly recently in emerging markets. No market in the U.S. still has all of the essential ingredients due to both local and global macro issues. The probability of the next Intel emerging from the U.S. is substantially less in my view than in several other countries, and the list is growing rapidly.

Imagine if you will a tech titan that experienced change within a decade from market dominance, manageable debt, and large reserves, to a market with dozens of competitors, many of which now have healthier balance sheets, equally competent workers, newer infrastructure, and much healthier markets. That scenario more closely resembles in my view what the U.S. is faced with today, and no where is it more challenging than for emerging innovation that is still the underlying engine of our economy; particularly of the type the economy desperately needs. We need revolutionary improvement in our systems, complete with much smarter learning systems, far more effective incentives, realignment of interests, and cultural management that places a priority on self-preservation rather than self-destruction.

Radical perhaps to some, but may well be too timid given the challenge.

Mark Montgomery
Founder & CEO – Kyield
Twitter: @kyield

Alternatives to the CKO, continued….

This post is a continuing discussion (Chief Knowledge Officer, or CKO) in response to Franz Dill’s post on his blogThe Eponymous Pickle.

There is so much history surrounding this issue (CKO) that I would write a book series about it if I had time. After years of running a management consulting firm, which we then converted to a knowledge systems lab and incubator, I found myself working increasingly as a citizen volunteer attempting to convince the U.S. Government to adopt advanced knowledge systems. The conversation began in the mid-1990s and then reached decision levels when so many of the world’s leading thinkers and analysts joined our online learning network from ’97 to 2000. Among dozens of other topics, we offered a high quality global news filter on KM, complete with intel briefs, and companion discussion list. With each major crisis since that time we’ve been able to confirm that with a state of the art semantic system in place those crises could have been avoided, and most probably would have been. The result is that if the U.S. had invested tens of millions a decade ago, we may have saved trillions of dollars by now, and thousands of lives.

KM started as a sincere early science that combined the research in learning organizations with information technology, which became far more complex for everyone with the commercialization of the web. Unfortunately, KM became a trendy buzz phrase and consulting practice before the majority offering services could even define it. Global self- accredited organizations sprouted up and many universities began offering PhD programs in KM before it had matured into a professional practice. In fact, of the many doctoral theses I reviewed on related topics in the1990s, a work in progress by Michael Sutton then at McGill University was among the most interesting, for it looked at the university programs themselves, which required deep consideration of the science and practice. I recall a pleasant meeting with Dr. Sutton and his wife when they visited Sedona, AZ during this time. Dr. Sutton is now assistant professor at Westminster in SLC — his completed thesis is available here (5+ MB pdf – a must for serious students and practitioners) .

Early on I found that the members of the Special Librarian’s Association (SLA) were among the most skilled at the functions organizations actually needed as the web grew exponentially; particularly those specializing as digital librarians. It may not be surprising then that Dr. France Bouthillier was Michael Sutton’s Dissertation Advisor. Dr. Bouthillier is a professor in Library Science and Information Studies at McGill University, which is one of the stronger programs worldwide. Academic KM programs have improved substantially in the past few years, although significant overlap still exists in KM, Organizational Management, Library Science, and CS, among others. It became obvious to me in our small pioneering lab that not only did we need better educational programs, skills, and tools, but more importantly we needed much improved system design.

When I joined the U.S. Gov CIO WG on KM, I quickly discovered an enormous difference in competency and culture within the agencies, some of which were predominantely focused on turf protection, careerism, and agency power rather than their true mission; as was clearly evidenced in the Katrina experience. I also discovered that some of the CIOs were focused on hardware, with very little if any understanding of the many other areas affecting organizational management, learning, productivity, and innovation; so it was foolhardy in many cases for the CKO to report to a CIO, which was the case for the entire U.S. Gov effort.

I then learned that any multi-agency effort — where the real need existed, must be placed on the WH agenda for any actual movement. After Katrina revealed blatant flaws in the system, I wrote a business case and submitted to agency heads, members of Congress, and many other leaders. We finally succeeded in achieving a mention for a generic KM system in the Katrina report, making the WH agenda for the first time, but nothing happened. Meanwhile, most other leading countries have adopted some variation of a national knowledge system, with the EU now leading the world in related investment. Australia recruited me a decade ago to discuss designing and managing their national system; an impressive $200+ million effort that was more advanced in many ways than the U.S. now — particularly in human systems, cross agency, and community-wide efforts. Australia has a smaller population, but is similarly dispersed and happened to sail through this global recession better than most — as did Canada — even given the more commodity based economies this connection is probably not a coincidence, based on my understanding.

So we continued to advance our own applied research, which includes a module that performs the functions of a CKO in the digital work environment we deemed necessary in what has been frankly a very chaotic working environment (a virtual CKO of sorts, although it does require a human to operate, set policy and security issues, and approve business unit modules.). Rob Neilson is one of our advisors — he was grandfathered in and approved by the DoD because he joined when he was consulting — now KM advisor to the Army. Rob was a pioneer in the CKO role where he held the position at NDU — although a decade old now and not nearly as deep as we have gone with functionality in the design since — his paper on the role of the CKO is still popular.

To say that it was challenging to overcome the design challenges in knowledge systems is a vast understatement; technical standards, meritocracy, alignment of interests, behavior, propogation throughout the organization, security issues, IP, rating systems, metrics, and more; each of which had serious challenges, and all interconnected both in terms of technical and organizational architecture. Did I mention culture?

We are focused on the corporate market now, where interest has been strong, particularly since the financial crisis provided ample motivation for smarter systems, but I am hoping that the Gov and Edu markets will finally embrace the state of the art and focus on their true mission rather than constructing barriers to improvement. There has been an effort to create a CKO for the U.S. Government, similar to the new CIO and CTO roles. I’ve been told by senior U.S. staffers that the CIO doesn’t have budget authority, which is the point where most of the turf problems are created — decisions on standards, silos are created, etc. I am not certain how effective a person with a title can be if they have no budget authority, if architecture is very poorly designed, and the tools are primitive relative to need. My position has been that far more can be accomplished by enterprise design.

A well designed architecture not only encourages departments to ‘talk’ to each other, but provides the opportunity and functionality within system parameters (regulations), improves on economic efficiencies/sustainability, improves innovation, and enhances security substantially. When properly designed such a system can actually manage the learning yield curve of an organization with ‘valves’ for quality and quantity, and provide rich metrics to visualize the process and results in the entire organization. That’s what is possible today. It seems to me that the recent evidence is abundantly clear justifying such a system, as we have been saying now to all who would listen for over a dozen years.
A very important topic that deserves a brighter light with a deeper explanation and historical background.

Mark Montgomery
Founder & CEO – Kyield
Twitter: @kyield

Alternatives to the CKO

My response to Dave Snowden’s blog post on alternatives to the CKO:

Thought provoking and refreshing; rarely have found fresh thinking on this topic– we could have benefited greatly from your view over the past few years David as we struggled through our design work, which forced us to deal with these issues.

I came to some similar conclusions after years of R&D and thousands of discussions with organizations at the top, bottom, and in-between– might be of interest. We found that in most orgs the philosophy, process, and functions (intent of KM) need to be distributed, but each situation was different — at times radically different for pragmatic and necessary reasons (legal, security) — frankly causing the software architect some grief (me) until we over came the adaptability issue in an affordable manner (a recurring theme here and elsewhere).

Given that an enterprise or organization exists for a mission (albeit questionable at times), is a legal and economic entity, with management sometimes held accountable for policy and decisions, centralization of the CKO role is necessary. But like David suggests — we made a mistake even calling the module a CKO module — revealing the buzzword definition problem in KM circles — some took it the wrong way — did more damage than good in many cases. However, we were able to automate sufficient tasks that the centralized role is very much a part time position on the computing side, need not be conducted by a titled person (we know of a few dozen CKOs), and in many cases shouldn’t be– in some orgs that are so blessed to have capable leadership– I like the CEO taking that role as much as he/she is able. Again the need for adaptability, particularly in the digital work environment which is historically rigid– was a key.

The system design should include some centralization functions (in digital world or real– security, policy, legal, meritocracy), but also have a similar function enabling large business units, project team leaders, and last but certainly not least the individual, where most of the future value lives in modern organizations. From a KM perspective, dealing with how the org and individual personalization interact was among the most interesting of our design process.

I am agnostic on the revolving CKO issue, except that agree that whatever label one puts on it– everyone should be exposed to the learning organization philosophy — in order to convert that philosophy to reality however, we had to employ a deep systems approach to organizational design.

The primary challenges not only had to overcome the organizational challenges, but also the many — in some cases more difficult– in computing.

–allowing adaptability without needing to reprogram– essential for differentiality and affordability

–providing the ability to align interests between the individual/project/unit/ and org

–prevent empire building and all that comes with it — easier said than done

I worked on our system design for many years.. after two leading online learning networks. One key was interoperability between units and orgs, which required either a fairly predatory approach with entrenched vendors — very expensive integration, or adoption of ‘universal’ standards.

In the end I embraced the W3C standards for the semantic web– followed for years and they moved in the direction we needed to go, eventually providing most of the functionality we needed. Several start-ups embraced early and finally Oracle offered a major product, making it more doable — slowly but almost surely, adoption is occurring. Google just embraced a video standard for example.


An interesting related article by Jenny Zaino discusses two important benefits of a good semantic design– meritocracy, and crisis prevention.

Realize you are speaking organization and not only computational here, but given the intrusion of the beast into virtually every organization, unlike many in KM, I found these issues necessary to address in computing.

Thanks for the discussion – MM

Alternatives to the CKO continued…..

Understanding the Semantic Enterprise

I released a new white paper: Understanding the Semantic Enterprise (PDF)

The meaning of the word semantics in broader society involves
such a variety of contextual intent that it can obscure or
misrepresent the underlying science and technology, which can
then damage the integrity of the term and slow the adoption
process of essential innovation. This is particularly problematic
when overly promoted by evangelists to highly informed
knowledge workers and their organizations. 1 2 3

“The meaning of the word “semantics” in broader society involves such a variety of contextual intent that it can obscure or misrepresent the underlying science and technology, which can then damage the integrity of the term and slow the adoption process of essential innovation. This is particularly true when overly promoted to highly informed knowledge workers and their organizations.”

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