Government launches public sector app store

I came across this artcle on the BBC website today. For those who remember my involvement with the early design and business requirements for the Knowledge Hub, the Khub App store was one of the main features of the new platform. Regretably it got lost in the budget cuts (or was de-priotised?), and hence an opportunity lost.  As can be seen from the announcement, this could have been a net revenue stream for LGA as opposed to being perceived as adding to bottom line costs. See this earlier blog post.

To quote from the BBC article:

“It is hoped the service will allow organisations to purchase services on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, rather than be locked into lengthy contracts. They typically include services such as email, word processing, system hosting, enterprise resource planning and electronic records management.

The Cloudstore would help contribute to overall planned savings of £180m by 2015, the government said, although a spokesman admitted it was “difficult to anticipate total saving with the constant changes in technology”.

Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, said: “Simply stated, purchasing services from Cloudstore will be quicker, easier, cheaper and more transparent for the public sector and suppliers alike.This bold move has potential to showcase the UK as a global leader in online service delivery, providing the procurement culture in government evolves to take advantage.”

And the following could almost have been lifted word for word from my original business case:

“Cloudstore (read Khub Appstore) represents a revolution in how the public sector buys (procures) software and services,” Chief executive Suraj Kika said.  My additions in brackets.

However, whilst feeling (perhaps understandably?) frustrated that the App Store never got implemented for KHub, I am encouraged that UK Gov have seen the benefits of using an app store as a cost-effective way of procuring and delivering business software, at a time when more and more users are getting familiar with this way of accessing and using new functionality. As I mentioned in my original article, the benefits of this distribution model are:

  • Easy to use and trusted conduit of software.
  • Download model is widely understood by both consumers and developers of software.
  • ‘Mashup’ tools will make it easy for apps to be built and shared by anyone.
  • Provides centralised control and value-add including commercial, security, access controls, digital rights.
  • Stimulates ideas for compelling new business scenarios and service innovation.
And of course users have the advantage of discarding or updating their apps if they no longer serve their immediate business requirements.
So, presumably local councils seeking to make cost savings in the procurement and distribution of new business applications will make the most of this new Cloudstore. I think the business case is pretty compelling.
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Maximising the power of collective knowledge


This is a summary of one of the breakout session I ran at the Cisco Public Services Summit, Oslo 9-11 December 2011.  It describes the role of Communities of Practice in supporting more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing between organisations working in the public sector. It notes the key lessons learnt from a 6-year journey, starting from the launch of the UK local government CoP platform in 2006 and how this led to an ambitious attempt to create a new kind of platform for online collaboration and data sharing – the Knowledge Hub.  The slides are embedded at the foot of this post, and also available at Slideshare.

Project Purpose

The main purpose of the project was to break down some of the silo’d work practices both within councils and across the public sector. Local councils were delivering the same set of services, but were not learning from each other about good/best practice. This was also the first time that communities of practice had been used within the public sector environment as a process and methodology for encouraging knowledge sharing and personal development.

I’ve made clear in the slides the difference between “Communities of Practice” (CoPs) and “Social Networks”. Put simply, CoPs operate from a sense of shared values and objectives. Social Networks support a far more personalised agenda, or in other words, its “we” as opposed to “me”.

The following points correspond to the slide presentation, and as noted previously, represent the lessons learnt from a 6-year journey.

Communities of Practice – Lessons Learnt

1. Don’t expect everyone to join in.

Command and control structures are alive and well, particularly in public sector organisations.  Joining a CoP where status and rank mean nothing, and where the free-flow of knowledge is encouraged can be a bit of a culture shock for some people.  By all means encourage colleagues and managers to join, but accept that collaboration and knowledge sharing doesn’t come easy to some people. Concentrate efforts instead on building trust between those who want to be there and create a safe haven for knowledge.

2. Community Facilitation is essential.

You need a community facilitator or moderator to provide cohesion and maintain direction for the CoP. Almost without exception, the most successful CoPs had a good and effective facilitator. Some of the roles and duties of a facilitator include:

  1. Supporting sociability, relationship and trust building
  2. Seeding and feeding discussion topics
  3. Maintaining and sustaining the community ‘rhythm’.
  4. Curating and signposting knowledge artefacts for capture and reuse
  5. Helping to connect community members
  6. Providing help with the CoP tools and facilities
  7. Ensuring the community space is kept “tidy” and navigable
  8. Reporting CoP activity – metrics, evaluations, newsletters
  9. Monitoring success criteria and impact.

3.  Establish your KPIs.

Be clear about what your CoP is trying to achieve. Remember this is a “community” so engage with the members to agree purpose and intended outcomes.  Once the purpose and outcomes are agreed you can identify the metrics that will measure progress. Try to use a combination of qualitative and quantitative data for the metrics you measure.

When monitoring the metrics, remember that each CoP will have a particular rhythm or cycle. Some will be light on discussion and strong on shared document building and vice versa. Others will be ‘one-shot’ supporting a single challenge.  Not all communities will be a hive of activity; some will support its participants at a low level of interaction over a long period, others for short bursts around face-to-face-meetings or events.

Key lesson: Don’t rely on metrics to claim your community is successful; use metrics and indicators to understand your community better. 

4. ROI can be measured.

You can guarantee that someone, sometime, somewhere is going to ask about return on investment. I’d much prefer to consider the “I” in ROI as meaning “Impact”, but we live in a world where – for some – value can only be measured in terms of cash saved.  Be prepared for this and consider how ROI can be quantified. In the example for local government CoPs we identified cash savings for online (virtual) conferences compared to physical (face to face) conferences and found that on average £8000 can be saved for each on-line conference.  Online conferences have now become a fairly regular feature, so the potential savings continue to accrue.

5. Hotseats generate heat!

Hotseats are where you invite a recognised expert or illuminory to spend some time answering questions from the community. The event should be promoted and advertised in advance to generate interest, and the person invited into the hotseat can seed the discussions by issuing a statement or question (possibly controversial) prior to the hotseat starting. Questions and answers are posted in the forum. The event can generate a lot of interest and discussions within the community usually continue long after the hotseat has finished.

6.  Use stories to promote the benefits

Don’t just rely on newsletters, statistics or case studies to promote the benefits of the CoP. Bring it alive through stories and anecdotes from the community members. Publish, promote and reward these stories. There is no better endorsement for the success of a CoP than from the CoP members themselves.

Knowledge Hub

The final part of the session was devoted to the thinking behind the development of a “next generation” community of practice platform – the “Knowledge Hub”.  What problems were we trying to fix with this new platform?  Briefly stated these were:

  • Over 80% of the CoPs had been set up as private spaces (gated access via the Facilitator as opposed to just being able to join).  In effect these were silo’d knowledge repositories. We wanted a system that would encourage more interaction between CoPs.
  • There was lack of permeability with external (outside the firewall) conversations. We wanted a system that could easily integrate with external web services.
  • We wanted to address the perennial issue of information overload, perhaps more accurately described as “filter failure”.  Using explicit data provided by the user in their on-line profile, e.g. where they work, their area of expertise, what groups they join, etc., filters could be established to improve the relevance of information received.
  • In a similar way to the way that Amazon works, we wanted to track user behaviour (their digital footprint) in order to “push” relevant information – e.g. conversations, events, and documents to the users.
  • We wanted active and guided navigation to help users find and access relevant knowledge.
  • We wanted to tap into the emerging market for mashups and apps; providing users with the tools to combine and link data to create value-added apps for improving council services.
  • We wanted to reduce development costs and open up the architecture to enable developers and entrepreneurs to create additional value. We would use open source software and adopt open standards (e.g. OAuth, OpenSocial, OpenGraph etc.).

However, as with all things public sector, the budget was radically scaled back early in 2011 and consequently not all of these features will be implemented. The cut-down version of the local government platform was launched 27 October 2011. (

But the dream lives on. With support from PFI Knowledge Solutions (Knowledge Hub developers) a roadmap of future enhancements for their innovative Intelligus platform may eventually deliver all of the original requirements. More on this later; a matter of “watch this space”!

I’ll be happy to answer any questions about the Community of Practice project mentioned above, or the Intelligus platform that may realise the original vision for the Knowledge Hub.


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The Business Of Collaboration

Some Background

The last few years can be described as the age of social business and collaboration. The demands and expectations of today’s knowledge workers have been shaped by the plethora of social networks and social media tools. Communicating and sharing information has never been easier.  Staying connected with news and status updates from friends, family, or at work is real-time and no longer constrained to an office PC.  This has coincided with the business realisation that a greater degree of interaction with customers, whether consumers or businesses, makes for a higher degree of customer retention.

Ironically, in many cases, workplace policy and technology constraints have meant that staff resorts to using the technology they have brought with them in their pockets or handbags in order to remain connected with their networks.  The ubiquity of mobile devices and ease of use of many web services means that almost anyone can originate or contribute to digital content, and information is increasingly consumed on the move. Recent analysis from Nielson shows that we spend 110 billion minutes on social networks and blog sites per month, or 22 per cent of all time is spent on-line. And the expectation now is that the tools that people use at work should be as easy and fun to use as the ones they use in their personal life.

But is this tsunami of data and information making us all better informed? How do we overcome information overload and ensure the relevance and utility of the information we consume? Can we provide environments that tap into the collective intelligence of groups or knowledge domains that match our specific needs?

And so the scene was set for the “Business of Collaboration” event hosted by PFI Knowledge Solutions (PFIKS) on 8th November 2011. PFIKS are one of the leading vendors of  “Enterprise Social Software” systems with their open sources, open standards Intelligus platform.

What is Enterprise Social Software?

Enterprise Social Software (ESS) is the next generation of platforms that are built to manage high volumes of collaborative engagement and conversations among distributed teams, project groups or communities of practice. They build on the conceptual ideas of popular social networking platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn, but with a host of enterprise-ready features to make them secure, private, collaborative and business integration-friendly.

As many organisations have discovered, implementing a technology solution by itself rarely results in more effective collaboration and knowledge sharing.  Sustainable implementation of ESS requires:

1. Understanding of how and why successful knowledge-sharing communities and networks perform.

2. A system that implicitly acknowledges the constraints (time, process) and motivations (reciprocity, reward) that individuals experience within such networks.

3. A blended approach where technology seamlessly supports the behavioural characteristics that will encourage users to self-organize, collaborate and co-create.

But what about the investment in ICT systems that organisations have made over the past decade?

The good news is that it’s not a matter of ripping out legacy systems, but extending what you have, adding new capabilities and integrating new applications and services.

Delegates at the event included representatives from private and public sectors, large organisations and SME’s, all with a common purpose: to get a better understanding of this “social business ecosystem” and how the blend of technology, people and processes can be effectively combined to support more fluid knowledge flows, drive collaboration initiatives and open up opportunities for innovation.

One of the delegates, David Wilcox, Social Reporter working with the Big Lottery Fund posted this excellent blog about the event.

All of the slide presentations from the event are available from the Intelligus website, including my own. However, I wanted to elaborate on some of the points I made in my  presentation. Hopefully you can follow these points with reference to the embedded slide presentation below, or from Slideshare.

The Presentation

Slides 1-4

What is the question that connects the images?

Collaboration pre-supposes that we have someone to collaborate with – in this example the person on the other side of the seesaw. The seesaw will only work with the collaboration of the people involved, in this instance, the child at each end of the seesaw.

Knowledge sharing makes no assumptions about collaboration; it’s possible to share knowledge with people we don’t know, e.g. by posting something to an on-line forum, or writing a blog about something we have seen or read or experienced. We may not know who is going to read our missive, or what value they may place on it. The posting might lead to some form of collaboration with the readers/consumers, but that is not necessarily the primary purpose for knowledge sharing.

Most of us are happy to collaborate and share ideas with the people we know (i.e. the definition of “collaboration”).

Slides 5-7

But what about the huge untapped resources and expertise that we don’t know about? We may get to hear about people in this “unknown world” via recommendations or word of mouth, but how do we connect and engage with them? How can we know what we don’t know? How do we find the answers to our questions in this “unknown world”?

If nothing else, this is where the power of social networks comes to the fore. We have the tools and technology to be able to “crowd-source” our questions. Social media tools such as Twitter or Quora make it easy to post queries to a largely anonymous network of people in the hope that someone will have the answer or the appropriate knowledge and experience we are seeking. By engaging and connecting with the people that respond we can grow our personal network, often referred to as our “Social Graph”.

Better still if the system or network we have joined can suggest contacts for us, based on what it knows about us, either explicitly (our digital identity and personal profile), or implicitly (our digital footprint, i.e. our ‘likes’, the people we have connected with and the on-line places we have visited).

Slides 8 – 10 

Social networks have proliferated over the past 4 or 5 years. Some have been more successful than others. Remember that even a blog can be a form of social network, and we now have over 200 billion of these (yes, more than the population of the planet!)

New users can be intimidated by large/mature social networks which have lots of users and content, and where engagement and conversations protocols have been established.

Slides 12-13

But are we beginning to see the onset of “social network fatigue”? Each new social network adds to the internet background noise. Search engines have never really delivered on the promise of relevant information, and many of us resort to serendipitous discovery of key information and conversations – it’s a bit ad hoc, where knowledge discovery is more by accident than design.

Slide 14

So, the signal to noise ratio is pretty poor at the moment and the ever-increasing volume of information hitting the Internet is likely to make it even worse.

Slides 15-16

It’s a strange paradox that now we have the capability of easily creating new websites and blogs without the need for any programing skills, what we really want now is one place to view and interact with all of this information. A recent (September 2011) audit of LinkedIn illustrates the problem:

  • 26 Alumni groups
  • 32 Corporate groups
  • 20 Conference groups
  • 132 Networking groups
  • 16 Nonprofit groups
  • 196 Professional groups

A total of 422 groups. How do you know which group(s) to join to be sure of getting the best answer to your questions? Maybe ‘all of them’ is the answer!

(Information sourced from blogs by Nick Milton and Ian Wooler)

Slide 18

If we want relevant information to come to us, we have to

  1. tell the system something about ourselves (our digital identity and profile),
  2. enable access to the sources of information that might be useful and
  3. spend some time identifying and validating the sources we like and trust. We can’t leave everything to technology – what you get out is proportional to what you put in!

This is clearly where the likes of Facebook (groups, Timeline) and Google+ (Circles, Sparks) are heading, but neither has yet achieved a ‘simple’ way of doing it.

Slides 19-21

Most of us will be more concerned with what the information is and whether we can trust it rather than where it is. So, do we have to worry about the “where” if we can develop some form of interoperability between systems and networks? RSS/Atom feeds and tagging are only part of the answer. We need a system that can extract meaning from the data (e.g. entity extraction) that will enable ontologies to be created and terms to be categorised for faceted search and discovery.

Slides 22-24

Entity abstraction, aggregation and categorisation.  If our profile is up to date, the Enterprise Social Software system should be able to locate, aggregate and categorise the information that we would find relevant and useful by matching terms against our profile data (who we are, where we work, what we’re interested in, etc.). Precision can be further improved by monitoring our ‘digital footprint’, i.e. the knowledge/information assets that we have ‘liked’, recommended or downloaded.  If we layer on top of this the aggregated behaviour patterns of all the users, we can leverage the opportunities provided by “collective intelligence” to identify “good’ content.

Products/vendors such as Amazon do this all of the time, using explicit data (the user bought an item) and implicit (users who bought this items also looked at these items). Tracking of a user’s progress through a website is not rocket science and is a fundamental part of any web analytics software. Inject a bit of entity extraction and you start to establish the foundations of a system that can begin to ‘intelligently’ connect information with people and people with people.

Slides 25-26

‘Liking’, ‘+1’ or ‘tweeting’ not only enables sharing of information, it can be fed into ‘trending engines’ that will aggregate and categorise the crowd-sourced data to show hot topics and trends. Again, the technology is well established, but little use is made of it in many Enterprise 2.0 systems. How nice it would be if, for example, your job entailed commissioning adult social care services and you could see the trending conversations on adult social care on your Enterprise 2.0 dashboard. This feature is built into the Intelligus platform using a combination of the open source application Carrot2 and the proprietary PFIKS matching engine.

Slide 27

All of the prior discussion refers to an environment (social media, social networks) that are already in place, and for technologies, systems and applications that are currently being delivered in Intelligus and some of the other leading Enterprise Social Software systems. But what of the future? Where is all of this taking us?

Slides 29-32

I will conclude with a few words about the growing importance of ‘Apps’. With apologies to those who don’t know who Peter Kaye is and his oft-repeated reference to Garlic Bread being the future! Maybe do a quick search on YouTube and all will be revealed!

Slide 33

As usual, Dilbert is pretty much attuned to what is happening in the business world. I would argue that most organisations haven’t yet grasped the full impact of the App market, and may view this as being the exclusive domain of the on-line gamers. In fact, (IMHO) it is shaping up to be one of the most disruptive technologies to appear since the start of the social media wave.

Slide 34

The trends reinforce the view that apps are becoming ubiquitous in how we work and play. Note that all of these apps are developed for mobile devices.

Slides 35-40

As I have noted on the slide, the key attributes of an Enterprise App Store are:

  • Empowers the user for self-service
  • Easy to use conduit of software, services and data
  • Model widely understood by developers and consumers of software
  • Recognition that one size doesn’t fit all (e.g. the lobotomised corporate PC)
  • Life-cycles for apps potentially short: discarded when no longer useful/relevant
  • Enterprise App Stores will provide a trusted source of business-ready apps that can be delivered to a rapidly changing work environment.
  • The end device is less important than the application. The mantra is now “develop for mobile, but consider the PC”, and not the other way around.
Slides 41-46

Finally, and in summary, the key ‘take-aways’ from this presentation:

  1. More people suffering “Social Network Fatigue” – desire for one place to do business,
  2. Enterprise Social Software (ESS) solutions must integrate with legacy systems and business processes.
  3. ESS must add value – more fluid knowledge flows, decision support etc.
  4. Mashups and Enterprise App Stores will become increasingly important for business agility
  5. Develop for mobile, think PC, not other way around!

Of course these are just my opinions. I’m happy to receive critical comment and corrections to any incorrect assumptions or poorly constructed arguments I may have made!


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Entry for Management Innovation eXchange M-Prize

The Management Innovation Exchange(MIX) is “an open innovation project aimed at reinventing management for the 21st century. The premise: while “modern” management is one of humankind’s most important inventions, it is now a mature technology that must be reinvented for a new age.”

One of the MIX initiatives is the Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation. There are two types of entries: an instructive case study (a Story) or an experimental design (a Hack).  The goals is to show how Web 2.0 values (including transparency, collaboration, meritocracy, openness, community and self-determination) can help overcome the design limits of Management 1.0—and help to create Management 2.0.

I have submitted a case study (story) about the Knowledge Hub, a project I initiated over 2 years ago but only now being rolled out for UK Local Government. The concept was part of a 3-year Knowledge Management Strategy I was commissioned to deliver for the Improvement and Development Agency – an organisation that  has since been integrated into the Local Government Group. The underlying idea was to provide a central ‘Hub’ that would collect and aggregate data and information from many sources (including blog and Twitter feeds) and use semantic technology to link and categorise the content. The system would then match and push relevant content to users according their interest graph and their social graph.

Although the project was spec’d over 2 years ago, I’ve noticed that many of the features being rolled out in Google+ are very similar to features being delivered in the Knowledge Hub, e.g. Circles (social graph) and Sparks (interest graph).  It’s just a pity I didn’t have their resources available to me when I started this project!

I hope you will take a a moment to look at the article and let me know what you think. You can comment on it and/or rate it. Your views would be appreciated.

NB: For anyone interested in the technology, the Knowledge Hub is an open system, using open standards and open source software.  It is hosted on the PFIKS Intelligus platform.

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