Support: the wild west of documentation

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Earlier this year, I was listening in on the Twitter stream for #writethedocs—a conference for technical writers—when one of the  speakers mentioned turning documentation from passive to dynamic.

 


Gregory Koberger is a developer and founder of ReadMe, a documentation tool for developers. It’s intended to fill the need that developer communities have for up-to-date API documentation, but I could see a fit for DevOps in the enterprise, so I went digging some more, by way of hitting up Gregory with some questions.

 

Developers are notorious for hating on documentation. Can you explain why that is?

The biggest reason is probably that it feels like busy-work. If you think they hate writing documentation, though… it doesn’t compare to how much they hate how bad other people’s documentation is.

Programmer’s live in a very logical world. An out of place colon can bring a whole program crashing down. The API is written in a logical programming language, and it’s consumed by a logical programming language. Yet we’re forced to serialize knowledge about it in English, which is incredibly ambiguous. Lots of logic and meaning is lost or mutilated when transferring knowledge of how something works via written language.

What are the mistakes you see people making with documentation?

The biggest mistake is just dumping people into paragraphs of text, with no warning. We know so much about the user and about the API or code library, we should be able to remove everything that’s not relevant to the user. New users should get a nice high-level onboarding flow, while more experienced users probably want information on error messages or reference guides.

Taking the time to read through your documentation as though you’re a user is another big thing people don’t do. Do your best to forget all knowledge you have. Does your documentation have working examples? Does it mention if the API key should be passed as a header or a query string? Do you mention any weird edge cases? Make sure you don’t leave out details that are obvious to you but wouldn’t be to other people.

What makes documentation great, and do you have any examples to point to?

Great documentation realizes you need more than just paragraphs of text. You need to provide a cohesive experience, and that requires everyone to be on board. Documentation should be seen as the frontend for the API or code library, not relegated to an afterthought.
For example, this means that well-designed SDKs count as “documentation”. After all, they can be self-documenting. Should the API key (which I mentioned in the previous answer) be sent as a header or a query param? Should it be sent each time? Doesn’t matter! You just do “Whatever.setKey(“abc”)”, and it takes care of it for you. Sure, you still need documentation – but you can reduce the complexity of the documentation.
A good support section is also really important. For something like PHP, it’s the only reason the language exists (because someone will have had the issue already and posted an answer). Support can be the wild-west of your documentation site. Documentation should be cohesive and fit together and be structured well; support (with a good search) is your way of having unorganized questions and answers that don’t fit the main narrative.

How does ReadMe work to solve those well-known roadblocks to documentation?

One of the biggest things we do is let people deploy documentation from semantic metadata. That sounds more complicated than it is – basically, it just means that we let people sync Swagger (and other similar specs) from GitHub. This let’s us divide up the work. Humans can still write paragraphs of text, but ReadMe can do things like generating code samples and letting users test out the API inline.

Of course, we’re just getting started! Our goal is to “redefine” how people look at documentation. Look at Slack, for example – it’s a “chat app”, but it’s quickly becoming a full-fledged platform that brings everything together into one cohesive workflow. That’s what we want to do with documentation. Documentation is the center of the API ecosystem; it’s the glue that brings it all together.

What kind of outcomes can a business expect when they put time and effort into well-maintained API documentation?

Look at Stripe vs Braintree. Similar products, similar pricing, similar everything. Stripe won out, because they had a huge focus on documentation.

Your API is your best bizdev hire, and documentation is the entire user experience. Partnerships aren’t made by people in suits anymore; they’re made by developers who share information and functionality via APIs.

How do you see the way we approach documentation evolving?

I’m biased, but I think we’re going to see documentation becoming much more interactive. Look at, say, O’Reilly books. They’re static, and everyone gets the same book. We’ve really just digitalized the way documentation was done in an analog medium. Most documentation is written using Jekyll or Sphinx, and is deployed statically. We know so much about both the user and the API! We should be able to give everyone a custom-tailored experience that takes into account their skill level, programming language, time using the site, activity on the site, and more.
Are there opportunities for ReadMe to be used beyond documenting APIs? What’s on the horizon for ReadMe?
 
While we definitely love APIs, there’s a ton of great uses of ReadMe. A good portion of our users use it for internal documentation. (StatusPage just wrote about how they use ReadMe, here.) Another big use-case is open source code libraries.
I’m incredibly excited about the future. Making the documentation the central hub for your developer experience is our main goal. That means we want everything from support to dashboards to API statuses to have a home in ReadMe. We’re looking to become a true “developer hub”, that sits right in the middle of your entire ecosystem in a simple, beautiful way.
About Gregory Koberger:
 
Gregory Koberger is a designer and developer living in San Francisco. He founded ReadMe, which makes it simple to create beautiful documentation.

How do you solve a problem like enterprise search?

Google Classic: Please Allow 30 Days for your Search Results (Original artist unknown) #Google

The final KMLF meeting of 2014 was a panel discussion about enterprise search. Brett Matson, Managing Director of enterprise search provider Funnelback, revealed some interesting insights that I wanted to capture in this interview. Brett used to work in the search industry as an engineer for the CSIRO, before starting Funnelback in 2006, so he knows a bunch about search and how people use it.

1. Where Google has succeeded, the enterprise still struggles. According to APQC research, only 53% of firms rate their enterprise search as effective or very effective. What do you think is happening with the rest?

The 53% in the APQC research relates to federated search, which is the idea of having a search engine query third-party search engines and combine the results. This is generally ineffective because it’s difficult to rank heterogeneous results against a common baseline, and you also can’t use tools such as faceted navigation.

However, there is a general dissatisfaction with enterprise search technology and it’s these kinds of statistics that have led Funnelback to adopt a new approach. We believe the top three causes of dissatisfaction are:

  • Lack of Ongoing Investment in Enterprise Search
    Organisations too often consider enterprise search to be a fixed-duration project, rather than an ongoing investment. Users change, needs change, and information changes. Search engines can cope with this to an extent, but the can’t offer the same effectiveness as a human assessing business needs. Organisations need training and guidance on where the quick wins are in ongoing investment in optimising enterprise search. Google only succeeds on the global Web because it has thousands of people doing this constantly.
  • Re-inventing the Wheel
    Enterprise search budgets are often consumed in developing complex search interfaces and applications from scratch, instead of focusing on configuring off-the-shelf solutions to fit business needs. An enterprise search product should have pre-assembled, best-practice templates for a range of different search requirements (e.g. eCommerce search vs. events search vs. courses search) to allow implementation effort to focus on the business aspects of the solution.
  • Only Solving Part of the Problem
    Most enterprise search products attempt to rank information with respect to its relevance to a text query, but ignore other significant factors that detract from search effectiveness.

A holistic enterprise search solution should include:
Bird’s-eye view metrics of all content, showing where it’s stored (e.g. web vs. enterprise vs. social media), how much exists in each repository, how old it is, missing metadata, poor quality titles, duplication, accessibility metrics, and the link graph. This provides information managers with a means to prioritise organisational investment in managing information, and thereby enhancing search effectiveness.
Intelligent guidance on how to make content more visible/findable. Search engines generally attempt to hide the internals of their ranking systems and this makes it difficult for customers to learn how to make content more findable. An enterprise search engine should use its internal ranking knowledge to show content authors why pages rank the way they do and provide guidance on how to increase each page’s findability.
The ability to surface and promote content based on user context with simple rules such as “User is in Department A”, “User is located in New Zealand”, “User is in the finance industry”, “User works for LexisNexis”. These rules can then be overlaid to form more sophisticated rules, without the need to create rules for every distinct possibility. Funnelback goes even further by allowing these rules to be applied to anonymous users by looking up their IP address in an internal database and inferring information based on the organisation that owns the IP address.

2. Do you think an enterprise taxonomy is important?

We don’t often come across organisations that have enterprise taxonomies. If done well, they can provide benefit to many aspects of knowledge management, including making better use of technologies such as text analytics. However, it’s a significant investment that can fail to pay off if implemented ineffectively. The two main problems are:

The taxonomy is not aligned with how the organisation uses information. This can be a result of the taxonomy classifications not reflecting the way people attempt to find information. It can also be due to an onerous system for classifying content.
Information systems, such as enterprise search tools, being unable to leverage the taxonomy effectively.

Instead, we recommend organisations invest in a behavioural taxonomy. This includes assessing:

What are people commonly searching for? (i.e. the top search queries)
What information is being accessed? (i.e. which search results are being clicked?)
Which searches produce no search results?
Which searches cause people to click through to the second page of search results?
What feedback are people providing in response to a search query (i.e. using a feedback form on the search results page)

It’s this kind of information that informs smart decisions around:

What information needs to be created that doesn’t currently exist?
What search promotions (i.e. best bets) would save people time?
What hard-coded search auto-suggests would make people more productive by preventing them from needing to see a search results page?
What synonyms would help people find what they’re looking for?

Following the Pareto principle, if you can ensure that 20% of searches work effectively then 80% of the information needs are addressed. This small amount of effort pays large dividends.

3. After I’d read Weinberger’s book, I was convinced tagging and faceted search in the enterprise was in our future. So, I was surprised to hear you say at our KMLF meeting that most Funnelback users don’t tag documents. Why is that?

I suspect it’s a cultural issue rather than a technology one. The ability to tag content in enterprise search is powerful because it’s not limited to a single data store; users can tag content whether it’s in an EDRMS, file share, social media channel, intranet, or third-party website. Funnelback provided a means to do this, but users didn’t see any immediate value in tagging content, so chose not to.

In hindsight, we would have benefited from complementing the technology with a cultural program of educating users on the benefits of tagging and sharing, and optionally gamifying the experience to reward and incentivise.

On the other hand, in the last 10 years, faceted search has evolved from a technology used almost exclusively on eCommerce sites, to an out-of-the-box feature in every Funnelback deployment, including intranets, databases, and enterprise search. It’s popular because it’s intuitive and provides immediate value.

4. What are the first important steps for any large organisation embarking on a new search strategy?

The first question every organisation should ask is:

Who are the stakeholders affecting the success of our organisation and what information do they need to maximise our success?

At a more practical level, this includes questions like:

What are the personas in our organisation? (i.e. the archetypes that represent the different roles)
What information do they need in order to maximise productivity and make better decisions?
What are our customer personas?
What information do they need in order to maximise engagement and have a positive customer experience?

Without asking these questions, organisations sometimes assume that searching everything with a single query (access controls permitting) is the answer. Sometimes it is the answer, but it can be a more complicated and costly exercise than necessary. For example, do users want to use an enterprise search tool to search their own email, or would they prefer to use the search on their mail client?

5. When an organisation proceeds with implementing an enterprise search solution, what sort of management and maintenance resources, if any, should the organisation be prepared to commit?

At a minimum, search analytics should be checked monthly with the following questions in mind:
What information is needed that doesn’t currently exist?
What search promotions (i.e. best bets) would save people time?
What hard-coded auto-suggests would make people more productive by preventing them from needing to see a search results page?
What synonyms would help people find what they’re looking for?

We also recommend having an expert conduct an annual or bi-annual health check to assess all aspects of the search system, including crawl scope, ranking quality, search filters, etc., as well as ensuring the system is aligned with changing business needs.

 

— Thanks for your time, Brett!

 

Brett Matson has contributed to a scientific paper on document-level security and developed Funnelback’s Contextual Navigation system.

 


205 year old organisation meets the future head-on

Coming up this week in Melbourne is the Innovating IT Service conference. The final interview in this series is with Cameron Gough, General Manager of Australia Post’s Digital Delivery Centre. Cameron will be appearing on the discussion panel and delivering one of the opening keynotes on Wednesday. He’s been with AusPost since 2012 and brings extensive experience with agile and lean methodologies to an organisation under pressure to find new ways of providing value.

 

1. As the General Manager of the Digital Delivery Centre for Australia Post, can you describe what your typical day looks like and the kinds of projects you’re involved in?

Someone recently told me that they saw my role simply as food, water and alignment.  I was at first a little offended but when I thought it through, it kind of made sense.  Most of my time is about ensuring our teams in the DDC are set up to be successful.  This means ensuring funding is in place, a healthy backlog of work exists, we have the right staff and our operating model is working smoothly.  I guess this is the food and water part.  We are heavily focused on enabling our teams to become more and more autonomous over time.  But this can be dangerous if multiple teams are misaligned in their overall purpose. So the alignment bit is about driving our strategic direction in digital and sharing this with teams to ensure we are all aligned and working to a common purpose.

On the question of projects – we’re steadily moving away from the traditional project model where we have a start, middle and an end and deliver a defined piece of scope.  The market and our customers are simply moving too fast for this model – especially in digital. Over the past couple of years we’ve been shifting to a model where we identify opportunities and allocate delivery capacity (and funding) to chase those opportunities.  The teams work in an iterative manner, deploying as often as they can, learning through customer feedback and research and adjusting course based on this.  I haven’t checked our recent mix but late last year around 75% of our work was done using some form of this model.

The work we do is surprisingly varied and quite exciting.  Around 50% of our desktop and mobile traffic relates to parcel tracking so we are always looking to improve that experience. An example is our recent roll out of MyPost Deliveries – a free service that provides more convenient parcel delivery options through parcel lockers and Post Office pickup.  This is just the start with many planned enhancements coming in the next few months.  Beyond that, we are continuing to invest in our digital mailbox, travel related products, a cool postcards mobile app, our developer centre, a parcel lodgement capability for merchants, new consumer and business portals and much more.

2. Australia Post’s traditional business model has been significantly disrupted by technology and the online economy. What are some of the unexpected opportunities that have come from that, and how are you changing the way people manage mail and interact with other Australia Post services?

Digital disruption has had a profound impact on our core letters business which has been in decline since 2008.  However digital has also been a key driver of growth in other parts of our business – especially our parcels business which has grown well off the back of a booming online economy.

I think one of the profound shifts we will start to see is a move to delivering to people rather than addresses.  This means building services and capability to deliver to the place and time that is most convenient to customers.  Smartphones and other technology leaps have started to open up many opportunities in this area.

It is hard to predict all the ways that digital will help our future business and customers and in many ways we don’t want to lock ourselves into a few narrow bets.  We are therefore taking a platform path where we expose capability through APIs and then free teams up to reimagine the experiences we can offer.  This is extending now to third parties and customers who can explore our available APIs through our Developer Centre (developers.auspost.com.au).

We’re also exploring some interesting opportunities where digital can enhance the physical experience.  For example, a more integrated in-store experience through use of iBeacons and using smartphones to streamline access to Parcel Lockers.

3. You are known as an advocate for the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe). How does that differ from the Agile methods some of us may already be familiar with?

To me, Agile methods work well at a team level.  They provide a great way for a business to iteratively evolve a solution and arrive at an outcome that is a better match to customer needs than more traditional methods.  I think the mistake many of us made was to then believe we could simply scale the team model to work at a broader organisational level. The better path was to get back to the underlying principles of Lean and Agile – principles of flow, small batch sizes, iterative evolution of solutions, delivery cadence, multi-functional teams, etc – and then see how these could be applied at an organisational level. SAFe does a really good job of describing a cohesive model that aims to do just that. Using an industry framework has provided us with a common model, language and consistent base to work off.

Most large organisations are complex and achieving organisational agility spans well beyond delivery teams. There is often a desire for some level of structure and process around any new way of working before it is accepted.  Simply saying you are going to “scale agile” won’t get far as it doesn’t satisfy this need and can be a high risk approach. The structure and discipline that SAFe outlines is a powerful way to communicate a different way of working that covers how work is organised, funded and governed. It actually provides direct line of sight from portfolio planning through to the features teams are working on that will be delivered to customers. Having said that, we couldn’t say we follow SAFe to the letter. For us it is more a reference model that we have used to guide us but we are really carving our own path.

4. Gartner calls for enterprises to embrace a Bimodal approach to IT services. This combination of slow and fast development, (also called 2-speed IT), can be a challenge for large organisations. How is Australia Post managing it?

I haven’t delved into this deeply but am familiar with the idea.  I guess the starting point is to work out whether your organisation is pursuing 2 speed IT as a strategy, or whether it is a stage you go through as you change to a more nimble IT organisation.  I’m keen on the latter approach.  It is easier to speed up things in Digital relative to other parts of the IT organisation. We have invested in “cloudifying” our digital applications, automating integration and deployment capability, and building a highly adaptive and flexible delivery model.  This is paying significant dividends now in terms of delivery speed, flexibility and customer outcomes.  Moving beyond digital, our recent enterprise investments in new data centres, networks, cloud, automation and orchestration capabilities, are now supporting significant improvements in other areas as well.  We have also been working successfully to a model called “Differentiated Delivery” that provides a way to bring digital and backend teams together to deliver software in an iterative manner with all the benefits that provides.

5. Andrew Walduck, your CIO, has talked a lot about digital disruption and how this is fundamentally changing Australia Post’s business and the relationship it has with its customers.  How does the Digital Delivery Centre fit into this picture and the longer-term vision for the organisation?

Digital disruption is continuing to drive rapid changes in customer behaviour and Australia Post’s challenge is to evolve our 205 year old organisation to meet the needs of today whilst ensuring it drives sustainable growth in new products and services.  Improving the way the organisation creates and executes new ideas, whether that is from our front-line customer facing staff or our staff based in headquarters, is an important area of focus.

This results in improvements in how we serve and enable our customers and communities. One area is through our customer connect platform which is a suite of API’s and a support community that enables our customers and third parties to explore and innovate around new products, services and customer experiences. Our digital teams have been at the heart of these changes and continue to work hard to bring these and many other solutions to life.

6. If you could say one thing to prepare IT managers and CIOs for the changing paradigm, what would that be?

Disruption is happening at an ever increasing pace and it is no longer enough for organisations to respond by simply reorganising around the next set of profitable products and services.  Successful organisations will be those where innovation and adaptation are an inherent part of their culture and way of working.  IT needs to be part of this.  So if there was one thing I’d leave with IT managers and CIOs, it would be this: “build a culture and environment where the creative capacity of your staff and organisation can be set free”.

 

Cameron, thanks so much for taking the time!


Can IT rise from the ashes of a bad reputation?

I’m delighted, this week, to bring you an interview with Gene Kim. Gene will be presenting one of the opening keynotes at the Innovating IT Service conference, and a workshop. He has been a founder, CTO, and author. Gene loves finding and fixing bottlenecks which impede and frustrate the entire organization, enabling management from each tribe to achieve the greater organizational goals.

1. Your keynote for the upcoming conference asserts that everyone needs DevOps. How do you explain what DevOps is to an IT manager working in a traditional enterprise IT environment?


My definition of DevOps is the following: it is the set of cultural norms and technical practices that enable organizations to have a fast flow of work from Development through Test and deployment, while preserving world-class reliability, availability, and security.

These norms and practices are what enable organizations to do hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of deployments per day. This used to be associated with “unicorn” organizations such as Amazon, Netflix, Google, and so forth. But increasingly, large, complex organizations such as Nordstrom, Macy’s, GE, Raytheon, and even the US Department of Homeland Security are adopting these practices and replicating the unicorn-like outcomes.

Many of us, especially in the service management community, believed very deeply that you couldn’t be agile and reliable at the same time. And yet what we found in our benchmarking of over 14,000 organizations, is that not only is this possible, the only way that you can have high reliability is to be doing smaller deployments, far more frequently.

Here’s what we found in the benchmarking (citation: http://www.slideshare.net/realgenekim/2014-state-of-devops-findings-velocity-conference):

 

* Agility metrics

* 30x more frequent code deployments

* 8,000x faster code deployment lead time

* Reliability metrics

* 2x the change success rate

* 12x faster MTTR

* Organizational performance metrics

* 2x more likely to exceed productivity, market share, and profitability goals

* 50% higher market capitalization growth over three years

DevOps transforms how we work, whether we are in Development, Test, Operations, or even Information Security.

I’ve been studying high-performing technology organizations since 1999, and there is no doubt in my mind that DevOps is something genuinely transformative.

 

2. In The Phoenix Project, Bill Palmer and John Pesche are representative of the ongoing struggle between rapid deployment and security management. What kind of work do organisations need to do to make that partnership work?


This is a great question, Aprill. There are two chronic struggles that we tried to portray in The Phoenix Project: the first was the constant battle between Development and IT Operations, where Development would always want to go faster, but would often cause chaos and destruction downstream. The natural reaction, of course, is that Bill (the VP of IT Operations) wants to slow down the rate of change. Now you have Development and IT Operations at odds with each other.

The other chronic struggle is between the entire organization and Information Security, as embodied by John (the Chief Information Security Officer). John believes, often rightly so, that everybody is more worried about their own work, and never properly integrates security requirements or testing into daily work. Unfortunately, the outcome is that John is always viewed as being in the way, trying to slow everybody down, creating meaningless bureaucracies that sucked the will to live out of everybody in their path.

We all laugh at these situations, but I think for many of us, these situations are all too real and all too commonplace.

The reason why I’m so excited about DevOps is that it allows everybody to achieve goals and outcomes that we didn’t think possible—even five years ago.

3. Speaking of John Pesche, what thoughts did you have to explain his reappearing clean-shaven and helpful after going so far off the rails?

Haha! I’ve actually gotten some e-mails from people who scold me for putting Information Security in such an unflattering light. A friend of mine actually even wrote, “How dare you humiliate our profession. Whether you like it or not, Gene, you are still in information security practitioner.”

In actuality, John is my favorite character. A friend of mine, Jez Humble, said the real “phoenix” in The Phoenix Project is John. He transforms, seemingly overnight, from a shrill, hysterical, bottom-up controls person, to a person who seems to be willing to take risks that the rest of the organization is too scared to make.

For example, John proposes to outsource all of their cafeteria point-of-sale systems, so that there will be no cardholder data for them to protect. He actually reduces the number of security controls, because he realizes that there are downstream manual controls that can achieve the control objectives.

Frankly, I love the fact that John has such a dramatic visual transformation, as well.

 

4. You talk about the need for various IT teams within an enterprise to come together and build “super-tribes” to maximise throughput. To quote Seth Godin, “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea… A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” What is it about our workplaces that can make these two ingredients so hard to find, and is that a problem limited to IT?

Especially in IT Operations, we tend to have a very functional orientation—departments and silos to concentrate our specialties. For example, we may have a database team, a storage team, a networking team, a server team. And whenever we want to do significant work, like a code deployment, we may have to do 50 different handoffs. Functional orientation is typically done to “optimize for cost.”

The opposite is what we call “market orientation,” that allows us to “optimized for speed.” These organizations tend to be flat and composed of multiple, cross-functional disciplines (e.g., marketing, engineering, etc.), which often leads to potential redundancies but allows us to respond quickly to customer needs. This is how many DevOps organizations operate. In extreme examples, each service team is simultaneously responsible for feature delivery and service support.

You can see the DevOps bias towards “market orientation” in these pithy quotes from two friends of mine:

“The root of most DevOps problems comes from silos: siloed groups, siloed thinking, siloed culture, siloed tools.” — Damon Edwards

“DevOps means caring about your job enough to not pass the buck, wanting to learn all the parts as a whole, and not just your little world. Developers need to understand the infrastructure, Operations people need to understand code, people need to actually work with each other and not just occupy space next to each other.” — John Vincent

 

5. When I talk to devs and ITIL comes up, they roll their eyes and speak of the bureaucratic bottleneck of change management. Is there a good place for ITIL in these conversations or is it time to move on?

Ha! For over a decade, I’ve been a fan of ITIL (IT Infrastructure Library). It describes extremely well the underpinning processes we all need to deliver reliable service. But we all know people who will take ITIL very literally, and put in all sorts of bureaucracies that burdened everybody, just like John the CISO.

Although many people view DevOps as backlash to ITIL or ITSM (IT Service Management), I take a different view. ITIL and ITSM still are best codifications of the business processes that underpin IT Operations, and they actually describe many of the capabilities needed into order for IT Operations to support a DevOps-style work stream.

Agile and continuous integration and release are the outputs of Development, which are the inputs into IT Operations. In order to accommodate the faster release cadence associated with DevOps, many areas of the ITIL processes require automation, specifically around the change, configuration, and release processes.

The goal of DevOps is not just to increase the rate of change, but to successfully deploy features into production without causing chaos and disrupting other services, while quickly detecting and correcting incidents when they occur. This brings in the ITIL disciplines of service design and incident and problem management.

Think of DevOps as the service managers dream: releases are almost completely automated, there is rigorous automated testing that gives us confidence that errors will be caught long before it gets into production, and when errors do occur, we can detect and correct for them quickly.

Moreover, our configuration management database (CMDB) is created for every application and service automatically, and it is always up-to-date, and Development and Operations are working together to fix known errors and pay down technical debt.

My advice: Let’s not get hung up on literal definitions. Let’s figure out how to get fast flow and painless and successful releases.

 

6. How do you recommend organisations transitioning into a DevOps environment keep their support teams up to date on deploys?

All too often in software development projects, Development will use up all the time in the schedule on feature development. This leaves insufficient time to adequately address IT Operations issues. Shortcuts are then taken in defining, creating, testing—everything that the code relies upon, which includes the databases, operating systems, network, virtualization….

This is certainly one of the primary causes for perpetual tension and suboptimal outcomes between Development and IT Operations. The consequences of this are well known: inadequately defined and specified environments, no repeatable procedures to deploy them, incompatibilities between deployed code and the environment, and so forth.

In this pattern, we will make environments early in the Development process, and enforce a policy that the code and environment be tested together. When Development is using an Agile process, we can do something very simple and elegant.

According to Agile, we’re supposed to have working, shippable code at the end of each sprint interval (typically every two weeks). We will modify the Agile sprint policy so that instead of having at the end of each sprint just shippable viable code, you also have to have the environment that it deploys into—at the earliest sprint, so we’re talking sprint 0 and sprint 1.

Instead of having IT Operations responsible for creating the specifications of the production environment, they will build an automated environment creation process. This mechanism will create the production environment, but also the environments for Dev and QA.

By making environments (and the tools that create them) available early, perhaps even before the software project begins, developers and QA can run and test their code in consistent and stable environments, with controlled variance from the production environment.

Furthermore, by keeping variance between the different stages (e.g, Development, QA, Integration Test, Production) as small as possible, we will find and fix interoperability issues between the code and environment long before production deployment.

 

Thank you, Gene!


IT: The cultural revolution is here

The Innovating IT Service conference is coming to Melbourne soon. Dinsha Palkhiwala will be presenting a workshop and delivering a presentation. Dinsha works directly with CIOs and ICT leaders to enhance their careers and capabilities.

 

1. You’ve described yourself as a mentor and coach. What does your typical work day involve?

My mentoring and coaching is based on the philosophy of “Developing tomorrow’s leaders using yesterday’s champions working on today’s problems”. It is what I call active coaching and mentoring, whereby the mentee assimilates experience to enhance their capabilities. Hence, when I am engaged in these assignments, typically it will involve working through specific issues, facilitating thinking of options, creating self-awareness of risk and appropriateness of the options and encouraging the mentee to make the decision.

As my business name “Competency Catalyst” suggests, I see my role in the whole process as the catalyst and the mentee to be the prime ingredient. This approach allows the mentee to develop self-confidence and provides sustainable growth of individual and organisational capabilities.

2. You’ve been working in ICT for over 35 years. A lot has changed in that time. In 2015, you’re expecting to see new roles and functions emerge in IT. What do you think some of those will be, and what skills do you think ICT professionals should be aiming to develop?

2015 will see the emergence of new roles, functions and IT organisational structures that go beyond the traditional definitions. A number of researchers have indicated that in the next 3–5 years a number of traditional roles & functions will not exist, and a number of roles & functions, which we have not even thought of yet, will evolve. Internal IT focus will move from “service delivery” to “service brokering and orchestration”

In a world where customers will be more IT savvy and empowered, IT functions will have to make some real difference. Sourcing will be a multi-stakeholder activity and someone will have to take on the role of “conducting the orchestra”. As a result, some likely roles / functions that we can expect are Service Integrator, Service Outcome Assurance and Service Broker.

All IT functions and roles will have to incorporate a healthy balance between:

  • AGILITY – Business outcome: Market Leader/Risk Taker/High Growth

  • EFFICIENCY – Business outcome: Market Follower/Risk Averse/Mature

In everything IT does, it will have to think in line with the new paradigm, and will therefore need to:

  • identify and develop new competencies in IT staff; and

  • adjust and adopt new IT organisation structures.

In the evolving world of SaaS, IaaS, cloud sourcing, and BYOD, the very definitions and boundaries of infrastructure, application etc. will be redefined. In this situation the most unnerving scenario will have some senior members of IT management finding their roles, competencies and functions becoming irrelevant. One wonders in these situations how these “decision makers” will react. The ones that see this as an opportunity to reinvent will emerge with enhanced career opportunities. The ones who cannot see beyond their own turf will soon find the world has moved on, and they will be “decommissioned” along with the legacy systems to which they are so emotionally attached.

3. No doubt you’ve worked across the generational spectrum. What differences, if any, have you observed in the way Boomers, Generation X, and Millennials approach service management?

The best way to describe this evolution will be to use some of the concepts presented in one of the papers published by Gartner in 2010 titled, Critical Success Factor Choices and Road Maps to 2013.

This paper described IT profiles evolving through following four stages:

The Grinder

  • Primary role to manage existing service operations & delivery

  • With the focus on IT cost containment, service predictability and reliability, and continual service and unit cost improvement using governance as a means of self-protection

The Butler

  • Primary role to oversee shared technology operations & manage vendor integration using right-sized governance to manage business risk

  • With the focus on service over cost with evolving anticipation of business needs

The Team Player

  • Primary role to lead business in exploring and exploiting information services & technology for competitive advantage with the intent to maximise shared value and attain high business alignment

  • With the focus on business process, while remaining solution driven demonstrating IT value over time, not just cost

The Entrepreneur

  • Primary role to advise business units on exploring information services & technology innovation while taking “cradle to grave” responsibility for the service portfolio relevant to business

  • With the focus on managing business risk arising out of information & technology decisions relating to service portfolio.

In the time I have been in the industry, I have seen different colleagues and professionals in each of the above mindsets, and so I would be hesitant to associate a particular mindset to a particular generation. What I have experienced, even in my career is that increasing acceptance of IT and IT professionals to move from Grinder to Butler to Team player to Entrepreneur. The main difference I am seeing as the generation evolves is the shift from Grinder being the dominant profile to the Entrepreneur profile. To some extent this is driven by the change in the IT professional capability from technology dominant to business dominant. As the new generation arrives on the scene, we are seeing more of IT-savvy business managers compared to business-savvy IT managers. I predict that in next 5 to 10 years commoditisation of IT will have IT mainly lead by IT-savvy business managers.

4. The Baby Boomers are leaving the workforce at a rapid rate now, and taking their knowledge with them. What recommendations can you make for organisations that might be facing this challenge?

The ICT industry is presently at a crossroads. On the one hand, the influx of new entrants is declining; on the other hand there has been very little focus on conserving and harnessing the experience, already within the industry, which we are losing, through the exit of many experienced senior professionals leaving their full time roles from within the industry. The combined impact of the ageing workforce and the perceived apparent failure of many employers to upgrade, both breadth and depth of the workplace competencies could well mean that Australia risks being unable to sustain key ICT-based economic capabilities in the future (Building Australian ICT skills, report May 2006).

As such, the participation of mature age workers, (Grey Army), can be used to play a key role in tipping the balance between the number of future retirees, (this should include the so called transition to retirement element), and the number of workers available to support them. In fact, an extra 3% of retention would result in a $33 billion boost to GDP, (Increasing Participation among older workers, report by Deloitte Access Economics, 2012).

The industry needs to focus on preserving the experience of existing senior professionals for the overall benefit of the ICT industry, and as a result in supporting the broader community and the Australian national interest.

Even though Baby Boomers are often no longer permanently employed, this rich resource pool of “Grey Army” (ICT community senior members), still wish to share their years of valuable real life experiences. However they find themselves frustrated and disillusioned by the fact that there does not seem to be any coordinated effort to harvest their experiences, and to enable them to be visible to CIOs.

The irony is that while most of the CIOs and their direct reports are very clear on the importance of technology refresh, and hence invest a great deal of energy and time in creating an annual plan, very rarely do you find them mentioning “competency refresh”, in their annual strategy. Nor have they allocated any investment resources for it in the annual budget.

It appears that traditionally any competency deficiencies are addressed in an adhoc and uncoordinated manner, often by employing, contracting, or engaging consultants. This is not a sustainable solution. From various industry reports one can clearly conclude that when it comes to developing and nurturing internal competencies and capabilities, the traditional approaches do not seem to be delivering the most optimum outcome for the CIO, the organisation, or the stakeholders and shareholders.

I have been championing a “competency augmentation” approach as a sustainable way of increasing organisational competencies, through active coaching / mentoring by the existing Grey Army ICT resources to grow the intrinsic value of an organisation’s human resources. This approach is designed to help the ICT community, to identify the competency gaps, and at same time provide access to senior resources with the desired competencies, to bridge the gap.  Active coaching / mentoring means the coaching and mentoring is done through delivery of real tangible outcomes, that have organisational benefit and value, through partnership between the coach / mentor and the recipient of the coaching / mentoring. This approach encourages retired “senior members” of the ICT community to contribute their extensive experience.

5. For an organisation wanting to adopt a new framework, such as DevOps, Agile or Lean, what are the key areas people tend to overlook?

Any adoption of the new framework should be done with clear understanding of the strategic intent and business focused outcome. The idea is to be inclusive and avoid the temptation of throwing the baby out with bath water. There is a common misunderstanding that to successfully implement DevOps/Agile/Lean frameworks organisations have to go away from basic IT governance and service management good practices. This thinking is very dangerous as it assumes that one approach is replacing the other approach.

One has to remember, that IT has a dual role to “serve & secure”. Traditionally, IT has been more focused on the “secure” aspect – governance, control etc. As a result, even when focusing on the serve aspect, IT has appeared to be overly bureaucratic, sluggish and risk averse at the cost of being responsive and accommodating to business needs.

While adoption of new techniques like DevOps etc. allows IT to enhance the focus on the “serve” aspect, any effective transformation can only occur if the “secure” role is not totally ignored. Remember this transformation is not about taking the so called “cowboy” attitude of shoot first and aiming later, but maintaining a healthy balance between both perspectives. Be assured that business will not forgive IT if they drop the ball on “secure”. No one in their right mind will accept an automobile manufacturer that said “I will give you all the wonderful features you want very quickly, but by the way, some of them might fail while you are driving. But we can fix that once you have crashed”.

In reality any organisation adopting DevOps/Agile/Lean frameworks needs to ensure coexistence and integration with the existing IT service management eco-system. Every organisation operates within its’ own IT service management eco-system; it is important to understand the culture and context of this and adopt the frameworks to ensure these are appropriate and relevant.  A blind adherence to the exclusion of other good practices will only aggravate “fragmentation” within IT and result in a confrontational outcome. This is not advantageous for delivering quality IT Services.

6. What part should knowledge management play in these transformations? What really happens?

We have many times heard that “knowledge is power”, but it has to be right kind of knowledge. Traditionally, IT seems to be focusing on the knowledge about technology, infrastructure and assets, but with the changing role of IT, from service delivery to service integrator and service broker, the key artefacts of the knowledge are changing. Service catalogue, service profile, service category plans, contract database, vendor profiles, and market intelligence and trends are becoming more important artefacts than traditional technology architectures, product details and even the good old CMDB. The issue is that these knowledge artefact transcend the traditional boundaries of IT silos and go even beyond IT—into procurement, strategic sourcing, finance, legal, shared services and even business. Many times it is very difficult to find a single owner and single source of truth, so establishing this knowledge base is difficult.   When you add the complexity of many different stakeholders, each wanting different perspectives of the same knowledge, it can lead to a “too hard basket” situation and knowledge becomes fragmented and inconsistent.

On the flip-side, service providers and vendors are very good at reusing this type of information because it can make a huge difference to their competitive position. Hence when the organisations have to deal with service providers who are well-armed with these knowledge elements, lack of this knowledge within organisation can shift the balance of power to the service providers. This may lead to organisations ending up on the back foot in contract negotiations.

7. One assumes that your mentoring and coaching clients have sought you out because they want to improve the way their IT organisations run. What characteristics do you think these CIOs have that set them apart from those that haven’t?

Let us accept at the outset that this approach to enhancing organisational competency is not traditional, and to many IT professionals it is quite challenging to their mindset. Hence the CIO, or her / his direct reports, wanting to take the organisation down this path needs to be prepared to innovate in areas of capability management and be prepared to take some risk. They also need to be seriously committed to the belief that people are our best and most valuable resources.

As I said before, this approach is about “developing tomorrow’s leaders using yesterday’s champions working on today’s problems”. Inherently the approach focuses on identifying and developing transferrable capabilities while acknowledging the capabilities which are redundant. It also challenges the established organisation functional grouping. Hence for this to work, the CIO and her / his DRs need to have a strong belief in their capability, but at the same time they themselves need to be prepared to face the truth about their own limitation and see this as opportunity to reinvent their own careers. In summary, the CIO & their DRs, who are really the leaders and not just the managers, are most likely to see the benefit of this approach and be comfortable enough to take it up.

For this approach to succeed the CIO has to have a “capability refresh strategy” as part of their overall strategy and should be ready to lead from front. This has to be a top-down initiative. This is not something that will work overnight; it requires persistence and commitment to the objectives. Many times, when speaking about this approach to the CIO and their DRs their response is typically, “good idea, but I do not have time I have to get things done now, so I am better off getting a consultant or contractor from outside and get this done”. Unfortunately the lack of vision and planning gets them in this situation again and again, as they are reactive.

Thank you, Dinsha!


Dear ITIL, it doesn’t have to be complicated

ZDguideDisclaimer: Most of my readers will know that I’m affiliated with Zendesk. Zendesk do pay me for content and consulting on ITSM and knowledge management stuff. This book review I’m about to do, which covers mapping Zendesk functionality to ITIL processes, has not been commissioned by Zendesk, nor endorsed by them. It is my objective opinion as an independent consultant.

A couple of weeks ago Crystal Taggart released a short guidebook to the Amazon Kindle store. This isn’t the first guidebook she’s released; there’s also a Quick Start Guide to using Axure 7 for rapid prototyping and 10 Secrets for Launching a Software Startup. Crystal describes herself as a technologist and entrepreneur who specialises in creating and implementing solutions that solve business problems. Her most recent book, a Zendesk Quickstart Guide is a step-by-step guide to mapping ITIL processes quickly and easily.

It’s no secret I’ve always liked Zendesk for how it looks, but I’m also a strong believer in their philosophy of “beautifully simple”. We have a tendency in IT operations to over-think things and sign off on expensive lifecycle solutions with All The Things where we’re likely to end up using only a fraction of the available capabilities. Crystal’s book describes an implementation of Zendesk that covers Incident, Problem, Change and Release to the requirements of her client. “The goal was to write a book that would take the reader 1 hour what took me 3 days (and 17 years of experience!) to do.” That’s a bit different from the months it can take to rollout a more complex solution.

She starts out by defining each of those processes and acknowledges that the set up she recommends made sense for this case, and that your mileage may vary depending on your own needs and circumstances.

Crystal maps ITIL terminology to the Zendesk ticket type terminology in the following way:

  • Incident = incident
  • Request for service = task
  • Request for information = question
  • Request for change (or enhancement request) = task
  • Change control = task
  • Problem (or defect) = problem

Tasks are used in place of incident tickets to allow for SLAs to be set up for different categories—a known issue vs an enhancement request, for example.

The book then goes through the step-by-step details on setting up groups that take ticket assignments and custom fields on tickets that feed macros, triggers, automations, and reporting for problem management. Crystal offers definitions for the different priorities of urgent, high, normal and low and designs automations accordingly.

After a brief explanation of how the Zendesk Help Centre can be used as an IT knowledge base, you can learn how to integrate Zapier to have change control notifications created to automatically populate a knowledge base article. This is a really clever, but kind of painful and complicated way of achieving something that should be able to happen natively. It’s the one significant bugbear I have with Zendesk—that knowledge creation is not a part of the native agent workflow, beyond searching for existing articles. The classic Zendesk forums, pre the launch of New Zendesk and the Help Centre, did have the functionality where you could create an article from a ticket with a single click, so I am confident that ability will return some day soon.

The book also provides a plan comparison, but do your own analysis there, because I’m not sure the details are completely accurate.

For not much more than $9, this is a great guidebook for any Zendesk administrator aspiring to meet some level of ITIL adherence in their organisation, or for any ITIL-aware organisation that is considering Zendesk. It’s a beautifully simple explanation (I only wish I’d written it), but it’s not the only way to approach it, so keep in mind that your workflows may change as your processes and organisation matures.

 


Pink14: was it worth it?

Pink14

I’ve heard more than once that the Pink Elephant conference was something to behold. And if I was only to go once in my lifetime, I wanted it to be this year with Canadian astronaut, Commander Hadfield, as the keynote. So, I ponied up with the outrageous fees that IT conferences can command and I’ve been asked, “was it worth it?”

As a fee-paying delegate, (rather than being there on a speaker ticket), my plan of attack was much different. With so many tracks and no lunch breaks, one really does need to have a plan of attack. I couldn’t just stroll around and visit what took my fancy at the time. I had my book and my highlighter and I had the four days mapped out. It came a little unstuck on day 3, but let’s not talk about that.

I can’t rattle off a few gems without first giving a nod to the Pinkers—the Pink Elephant consultants and staff. The annual conference at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino is just a feat of organisation. And it’s not just about the event. Each of those Pink consultants that I saw deliver presentations are outstanding speakers; Jack Probst, George Spalding, Troy du Moulin, to name just a few. They know their stuff and are true professionals.

Given my personal requirement to maximise ROI for a Pink ticket, I kicked off with a conference optimiser— Sunday afternoon tracks of pre-conference breakout sessions–to see the perennial Pink motivator Kirk Weisler. Everyone can use a good kick in the morale and Kirk’s message was a good reminder for me, as a self-employed consultant, to check in with my goals. Do the activities I do at work connect me to those goals? What about you?

A bit of fizzy rah-rah is a good way to start, but the meat is in the eleventy-billion sessions that Pink makes you choose from. (At least you can download all the session presentations for later consumption.) The Best Practices for Implementing an ITSM Tool was a lively panel discussion with speakers from Citrix GoToAssist, EasyVista, and Navvia. I was interested to hear the recommended practice with tool migration is to leave everything archived in a data warehouse and only bring across open tickets and other live data. But, as my good friend, Craig Wilkey from Attivio, pointed out—what about all that organisational learning now holed up in a bunker? Good point, sir! Perhaps the most interesting thing was the wave of discussion over social media that was provoked by David Mainville’s comment, “there IS no out of the box”. The old configuration vs customisation question.

There were industry activities involving think tanks and Axelos announcements—here’s a good rundown from Macanta—and and some well-deserving winners of awards. Oh, Attivio? Yeah, they won innovation of the year for their unified information access platform—that’s heartening for anyone who cares about knowledge management.

And what about the guy I’d come all this way to see? He did not disappoint. Talk about inspiring. Commander Chris Hadfield has been booked for the keynote well in advance, while he was still on the International Space Station. He shared his photography and experiences of living in space and learning from failure. The most significant message for us as IT people is, plan to fail. Because if you plan to fail, you’ll know exactly how to respond if it does. The whole room was mesmerised and when he finished singing Space Oddity at the conclusion of his talk, we all erupted with applause.

IMG_2424

So, was it worth it? Yes. Especially for the in-person connections that were made after having interacted with so many of these smart people online for a year or two.

Will you go next year?

Similar bat time, same bat channel, superheroes.

 

 

Other Pink14 blog posts here:

Rebecca Beach writing for the ITSM Review

Jon Reynolds (Cloud Sherpas)

Ian Aitchison (LANDESK)

Earl Begley from the University of Kentucky, writing for the ITSM Review

Chuck Darst for HP

James Finister (Tata Consultancy Services)

 


The book that changed my mind

everythingismisc

I’ve talked about my preference for ordered taxonomies before. In another article, I even claimed that folksonomies weren’t scalable. Everything is Miscellaneous: The power of the new digital disorder, by David Weinberger may have just changed my mind. Published in 2007, the book isn’t new, but I came across it on a list of recommended reads for knowledge management.

Weinberger, co-author of the international bestseller The Cluetrain Manifesto,  has an easy-to-read conversational style. In Everything is Miscellaneous, he lays out humankind’s fixation for heirarchy across history. “[O]ur knowledge of the world has assumed the shape of a tree because that knowledge has been shackled to the physical.”

From Aristotle to Apple and Amazon, the way we work with information and knowledge has changed. Apple freed our music libraries so we could order our music how we wanted. Amazon clusters books in as many ways as we can so that we may discover what we want as well as find what we know we want. In Amazon’s world we can make our own top 10 lists—tagging and categorising books in the multiple ways that make sense to us as individuals. Collaborative filtering then displays other books that Amazon thinks we might like.

That’s when I opened my eyes.

I’ve espoused careful categorisation because I believed it meant for easier browsing. But with a digital knowledge base, who browses in order anymore? Not me. I have a carefully ordered list of bookmarks in my web browser, but I don’t look down that list, I rely on auto-completion and Google, and that is no-doubt common and quicker. I took a long, hard look at my own behaviour and realised I’ve been holding onto a hard-copy way of looking at the world.

Weinberger argues that it’s the metadata that holds the value in the way we can make new connections, new knowledge. In the miscellaneous world, everything is metadata. So, in our knowledge bases, how do we decide what metadata to collect; how do we decide the ways in which the user can create their own information display based on that metadata. Many of our knowledge base tools constrain us to categories, forcing us to decide how the reader should experience what we want them to know. But what if our knowledge bases were more like Amazon? “People that read this article also read this one”, or “this article is in the top 10 list for others in the marketing team”, etc.

This book seems to be about offering new ways of working with digital information, but it’s so much more than that. It highlights our reflexive grasp on hierarchy in the real world, too. Just as Apple democratised music playlists, Zappos’ Tony Hsieh is taking structure out of the organisation. Is that just the beginning of what could become miscellany in the corporate world? It makes sense that cross-functional roles could get more done in an organisation, because they don’t have to present their ideas up through the hierarchy of one silo and then have it be passed down the next. We reflexively grasp order though, because we don’t want to think too hard and come up with new ways. Hierarchy, steps, pre-defined order—it’s all automatic pilot—but it’s also conforming to someone else’s idea of how things should go.

A miscellaneous world may seem chaotic but it’s filled with boundless opportunities.


Jelly, a new visual Q&A app for mobile

FastCompany reported this week that Twitter co-founder Biz Stone has launched a new visual Q&A app, called Jelly.

They describe it as a visual search for answers to a question you might have, but you can’t actually search. You have to take a photo (or choose one from Google images) and ask your question. And wait. You have to wait for someone in your network to respond to your question. You cannot search existing questions or answers for something close to what you need to know, at all. And that’s what I was expecting after watching the product video.

So let’s drop the word “search” from this conversation and look at social Q&A. Social Q&A isn’t a new idea. It’s what Quora does, but Quora is text-heavy and unfriendly to use. We already use Facebook and Instagram for asking our friends and networks questions, often providing an accompanying contextual image, so what does Jelly offer that’s different? It sure is pretty.

I downloaded the app for you, so I could try it out. But not without scrolling through dozens of jelly related games to find it.

Jelly shows us a card with a question obscuring the top half of the image. You tap the image for the question to disappear and see the whole image. The overlay also displays the social connections that exist between the question and people in your own Facebook or Twitter networks, along with an option to answer the question or forward it to someone you know who will be able to provide an answer. That person doesn’t have to have the app, by the way, they can respond via the web.

Jelly screenshot 2

 

At the bottom of the screen you can see how many answers are there and tap them to scroll through each reply.

Naturally, there are some game mechanics included to encourage your ongoing participation—your answers can be nominated as “good” by anyone who reads them, and you can accrue thank you cards from the person whose question you’ve answered.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much IT Skeptic, but I’m…well, skeptical. I don’t think it’s providing a whole lot of value that you can’t already get from Facebook or Instagram. I like the design though, and I love the ease of adding contextual images to questions, so I can only hope Jelly shakes things up enough for enterprise social apps to take those values on board for their own tools.


It takes a village

If you only knew what you already know is the tagline for recently launched Klever, short for Knowledge Lever. When I first heard noises about Klever, I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it might be some sort of tool-agnostic middleware for the enterprise. When they opened for early adopters I still wasn’t sure, so I paid the joining fee out of sheer curiosity. I’ve since poked around and had several conversations with the founders and have an understanding of their mission and plans. Allow me to explain for you, because being in a beta phase, the site and messaging is still being iterated on.

Klever’s goal is to offer Knowledge Centred Support and general KM resources and practices to all organisations large or small; public, private, or non-profit. Not everyone can afford an expensive consultant, but everyone deserves the capability of accessing their own organisational learnings. It’s a launch pad for knowledge managers, whether aspirant or under sufferance, and for consultants who’d like to share their experiences and learn from others.

But, what IS it?, I can hear you say. And that’s the quandary. Klever has been bootstrapped by a group of KCS consultants and trainers, and they’ve pitched at a local startup event or two in the US. I know from second-hand experience that pitching a B2B product is hard enough, but pitching an idea when knowledge is the product? That’s some esoteric meta stuff that’s extremely difficult to distil and communicate in a compelling way.

It takes a village to raise an idea when knowledge is the product, because no single person knows everything. And that’s the benefit of this particular community. Essentially, Klever is an online community of practice for knowledge managers and KCS practitioners. The community portal offers a repository of resources, access to live webinar and discussion events, and a place to ask questions of the experienced and the experimenters. The portal is built on Bloomfire, described as a knowledge sharing platform. I can already see it has some powerful functionality, but being used to traditional forum formats, the architecture is doing my head in a bit. But again, this is something that Klever are tweaking in response to comments from early adopters.

Founder, Phil Verghis, explained the real value is in the free assessment. Without signing over your inbox or your money, you can answer 14 required questions (and four optional ones) on behalf of your organisation, and immediately receive a knowledge management journey plan mapped out according to your responses. It’s the culmination of many years of collective experience with implementing successful knowledge management programs, which would normally cost thousands if you had a consultant in to do it. Journey plan in hand, you can then turn to the community to help you navigate it.

The assessment and journey plan will always be free, without registration, but Klever are working on a pricing model for access to the community and named advisors. There’s a week left in the early adopter’s $100 pricing, so if better knowledge management is on your to-do list, I’d get on it, because, so far, it seems like a bargain.


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