Watson Analytics

Watson logoI recently had an introductory presentation to IBM’s Watson Analytical Engine and was mightily impressed by what I saw.

IBM Watson is a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data. Unstructured data could typically include  news articles, research reports, social media posts and enterprise system data.

You can set up a freemium account on Watson and get immediate access to the full range of features. As with most freemium  services, there are some limits, these come in the form of file size restrictions and data storage. You can only upload flat files that are no more than 100,000 rows and 50 columns and there is data storage limit is 500 MB. If you want more than this you have to consider the Personal or Professional editions.

Watson 2To get started you will need to set up an IBM id (e.g. your email) and agree to the Ts & Cs. Nothing ominous here, and you can opt out of any IBM emails. Once you’re email is validated, sign-in to your newly created account


Once your account has been validated, sign-in and you’ll see the main Watson interface:

Watson 3



To get started I recommend watching the video.

There is a temptation to dive straight in and work your way through the various tools and features. However, not everything is intuitive, and it’s well worth spending some time looking at the various tutorials and help files.  I recommend:

I had a few problems when uploading some of my own “test” datasets, which as I mentioned earlier are limited to 100,000 rows and 50 columns and 500Mb for the free account. If you just want to have a play with the various features, it’s probably better to use one of the tried and tested datasets available from the Watson Analytic Community

A word of warning – you can get totally immersed in the Watson environment, and I’ve probably lost a day or two somewhere in trying out the technology. However, if your job involves data and decision making, I recommend giving it a go.

Remember too, this is a decision support tool and does not a decision-making tool. You still have to engage your brain when looking at the visualisations, and you do have to have some understanding of your data. And don’t go away thinking that the “Predictions” facility is going to give you the winning numbers for this week’s lottery – but by all means try!

Posted in Data | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Connecting Knowledge Communities

Knowledge Communities

The forthcoming NetIKX event “Connecting Knowledge Communities“, scheduled for Wednesday 23rd September, is shaping up to be one of those ‘must attend’ events for anyone who is confused (or bemused) at the plethora of different groups and communities dedicated to the support of knowledge and information professionals.

To quote an abstract from the event promotion:

If you want to consider how membership organisations work and gather ideas and tips for your personal networking, this will be a good meeting to attend. You may also get information (and possibly knowledge) about the organisations that are concerned with knowledge and information!

It does appear to be something of a paradox that on the one hand knowledge professionals eulogise and promote the benefits of knowledge sharing, and on the other hand fragment into multiple organisational domains that – for a variety of reasons – operate more or less independently and with little opportunities for inter-organisation collaboration.  We tend to overcome some of these problems by joining multiple membership organisations in the hope that our personal knowledge integration will act as the ‘sum of the parts’. However, we can’t hope to join them all, and we’ve probably found that each organisation has a particular (and possibly unique) focus.

Currently appearing (in no particular order) are:

See  NetIKX75 – Connecting Knowledge Communities (PDF File) for further details of which organisations are appearing.

So, here then is an event which brings some of the organisations in the “knowledge” landscape together, in one place and at one time. An opportunity to learn about the different KM/IM communities, what they do and what they offer. Perhaps also an opportunity for reflection on our own professional development and the direction we want to travel.  Not least, it will be an opportunity to meet new people, to grow our personal networks, and to become better informed about the different professional communities and what they offer.

Can you really afford to miss this event? If not, register your attendance on the NetIKX website – soon, there is a limit dictated by the room size. I’ll be there!

Posted in collaboration, Information Management, Knowledge Management | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

12 Principles Of Knowledge Management


I recently came across a paper by respected author, consultant and keynote speaker  Verna Allee on the 12 principles of Knowledge Management. Reading the paper, two thoughts occurred to me:

  1. The principles appear to be so simple and obvious
  2. Why didn’t I think of them!

I asked myself whether these statements meet the strict definition of ‘principles’, which is:

a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.

and firmly believe they do.

I’ve reproduced the principles below, with due accreditation to Verna Allee. I think these should be imprinted in the minds of anyone aspiring to be a competent and successful knowledge manager:

  1. Knowledge is messy. Because knowledge is connected to everything else, you can’t isolate the knowledge aspect of anything neatly. In the knowledge universe, you can’t pay attention to just one factor.
  2. Knowledge is self-organizing. The self that knowledge organizes around is organizational or group identity and purpose.
  3. Knowledge seeks community. Knowledge wants to happen, just as life wants to happen. Both want to happen as community. Nothing illustrates this principle more than the Internet.
  4. Knowledge travels via language. Without a language to describe our experience, we can’t communicate what we know. Expanding organizational knowledge means that we must develop the languages we use to describe our work experience.
  5. The more you try to pin knowledge down, the more it slips away. It’s tempting to try to tie up knowledge as codified knowledge-documents, patents, libraries, databases, and so forth. But too much rigidity and formality regarding knowledge lead to the stultification of creativity.
  6. Looser is probably better. Highly adaptable systems look sloppy. The survival rate of diverse, decentralized systems is higher. That means we can waste resources and energy trying to control knowledge too tightly.
  7. There is no one solution. Knowledge is always changing. For the moment, the best approach to managing it is one that keeps things moving along while keeping options open.
  8. Knowledge doesn’t grow forever. Eventually, some knowledge is lost or dies, just as things in nature. Unlearning and letting go of old ways of thinking, even retiring whole blocks of knowledge, contribute to the vitality and evolution of knowledge.
  9. No one is in charge. Knowledge is a social process. That means no one person can take responsibility for collective knowledge.
  10. You can’t impose rules and systems. If knowledge is truly self-organizing, the most important way to advance it is to remove the barriers to self-organization. In a supportive environment, knowledge will take care of itself.
  11. There is no silver bullet. There is no single leverage point or best practice to advance knowledge. It must be supported at multiple levels and in a variety of ways.
  12. How you define knowledge determines how you manage it. The “knowledge question” can present itself many ways. For example, concern about the ownership of knowledge leads to acquiring codified knowledge that is protected by copyrights and patents.

Reading through these principles I’m reminded of a famous quote by Mahatma Ghandi:

Truth is by nature self-evident. As soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.

Amen to that.

Posted in Knowledge Management | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Content Curation Needs Humans After All!

Man and MachineAs I ponder my forthcoming session on the topic of “Content Curation” at the CILIP Conference in Liverpool this Friday 3rd July, I’m aware that the slides I was asked to prepare and submit to the organisers last month are already out of date. Unsurprising I guess given the rapidly changing business environment that underpins this discipline.  My notes did include mention of the emergent growth of fully automated content curation tools and platforms, and the inherent problems (as I see them) in thinking that technology alone will help us to make sense of the relentless streams of raw, unfiltered, context-free, data and information that pervades our senses during our working days.

I was therefore both surprised and encouraged by the recent announcements, coming hot off the heels from the likes of Facebook, Apple, Twitter, Google and Yahoo! that humans are in fact better than machines for sense-making and finding relevance. Facebook has announced a return to what Chris Cox, its chief product officer, calls “the qualitative”. This is an acknowledgement that real artificial intelligence needs humans at both ends of the input-output spectrum.

Facebook has hired several hundred people to rate the content that appears on its users’ news feeds. The music services offered by Apple and Google now offer their customers playlists assembled by human beings. Apple is also hiring a team of editors to work on the Apple News app unveiled during the company’s recent WWDC event, before the app’s launch as part of its iOS 9 software later in the year.

Twitter announced details of “Project Lightening”, which will provide collections of tweets curated from key events and trending discussions. They are recruiting a new team of editors who will use data tools to comb through events and recognise emerging trends, and pluck the best content for republishing from the ocean of updates flowing across Twitter’s servers.

So what does all of this tell us? I think it’s the dawning realisation that algorithmic systems (including AI) are not sufficiently advanced (and will they ever be?) to be able to understand the realities of modern life, its politics, its rapidly changing cliques, boundaries, rules and religions. The basic qualities of thought and reflection still elude the logic gates of even the smartest computers.

Though I started this post with a concern that maybe my month-old slides were out of date, on reflection they’re not. Maybe they don’t include incisive commentary about the latest updates from Apple, Facebook etc., but my session does focus significantly on the human elements of content curation, and the need for us to develop the disciplines, skills and competencies to be able to make sense of the world we live in.

Content Curation is done by people— information professionals, editors, writers, me, and perhaps you. It is NOT performed by tools, algorithms, robots or software.  When we curate content we can use these things to help us through the process of content curation, but we can’t rely on these things fully.

It’s a difficult job, but one which is in increasing demand by businesses the world over – as evidence from the likes of Apple and Facebook are demonstrating.


Posted in Curation, Information Management, Knowledge Management | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Knowledge Management – Measuring Return on Investment


A common and recurrent theme that I keep coming across is how to measure the value of knowledge management, e.g. the return on investment (ROI) of implementing a knowledge management strategy. This may cross over into having a social media strategy where the goal is to support knowledge sharing, so I’ll use these terms – KM Strategy and social media strategy interchangeably in this particular context.

I don’t doubt the importance of being able to measure results and it’s the job of managers to ensure they get value out of any investment in training, technology, organisational development or whatever.  However, these things are notoriously difficult to measure – for example – how do you put a price on a conversation? This led to me thinking about turning all of this on its head and considering how we should measure the cost of NOT having a knowledge management or social media strategy, or NOT making any change.

Using this approach we can at least examine the current status quo and determine whether business processes, capacity, staff knowledge etc. are fit for purpose.  So, rather than spending time and effort creating a business case for a KM or SM strategy, ask managers to justify why things should stay as they are.

Some pertinent questions for managers might be:

  1. Are your staff currently motivated and inspired?
  2.  Do your staff have all the relevant information to do their jobs effectively?
  3. Do your staff have the right tools for the work they are being asked to do?
  4. Do your staff understand their place in the wider organisation and their input and output dependencies for the business processes they contribute to?
  5. Do your staff have adequate opportunities to share knowledge and information with other parts of the organisation? Are they encouraged to do so?
  6. Are you confident that you can react to rapidly changing demands on your staff?
  7. Do you have sufficient knowledge and information to consider the impact of external events on you and your staff and to plan accordingly?
  8. Do you know what your customers are saying about you (within and external to your organisation)?
  9. Do current policies and guidelines support or hinder you and your staff in their work?
  10. Does your manager fully understand what you and your staff do?

There are probably other questions that could be asked, but the key point is that any question which triggers a negative response is potentially a catalyst for change.  This also means it could become a performance indicator if change is agreed, i.e. using qualitative or quantitative techniques.

So, we have the beginnings of a measurable approach to change; we know where we are now and we should know what the desired outcomes are. The difference is what we need to measure.

Of course, the problem remains that not all changes can be measured in strictly cash value terms, which is what many people consider to be the true meaning of ROI. I go back to the point I made earlier – how do you measure the value of a conversation or some information shared?  The answer is, you don’t, and the sooner that everyone recognises this the better. Measuring impact can be just as important as measuring value.  The impact might be things like improved customer satisfaction (measured using surveys), or less time to complete a task, or improved staff morale (measured using surveys). Any of these can – and potentially will – have an effect in terms of cash value to the organisation, but I firmly believe that converting impact to cash value is an exercise in futility, since more often than not, the formulae and algorithms have too many variables.

So, in terms of ‘ROI’, think ‘Return on Impact’ rather than Return on Investment when considering Knowledge management strategies, and develop the strategy from the starting point of getting staff to justify the present  status quo.  After all, change is part of life, and as Darwin once said:

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

(Originally published by Stephen Dale, June 2010)

Posted in Knowledge Management | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Murdermap Mashup

Murdermap Mashup

Spotted originally by my colleague Conrad Taylor, a geospatial application that plots more than 400 homicide cases reported by court reports and the Old Bailey’s archives. Something for the ‘gruesome violence’ mashup category maybe. You can even do deep dive query’s according to the type of murder weapon used, e.g. ligature, knife, gun, etc.

According to the website, the ‘murdermap’ project is dedicated to covering every single case of murder and manslaughter in London from crime to conviction. It aims to create the first ever comprehensive picture of homicide in the modern city by building a database stretching from the era of Jack the Ripper in the late 19th Century to the present day and beyond.

Information is obtained from the police, media coverage, court records and original reporting – and by making the map freely available the site’s owners hope to reveal the stories behind the crime figures.

I’m not quite sure of the utility of this data, other than to criminology researchers, though I guess it might be useful for the housing market, e.g. “am I moving to/living in an area where I’m more likely to be shot or stabbed?” Come to think of it, I’ll check that out!

“Maybe it shows there is a fate worse than death – being mashed up afterwards.” CT


Posted in Data | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

The Seven Principles of Knowledge Management

Tree of knowledgeWhat would we do without serendipity? I was looking through some of my archived blog posts just now and (re)stumbled across this from Dave Snowden. It’s from a blog he produced in 2008, but as relevant today as it was then. Worth (re)sharing I thought.

  • Knowledge can only be volunteered it cannot be conscripted. You can’t make someone share their knowledge, because you can never measure if they have. You can measure information transfer or process compliance, but you can’t determine if a senior partner has truly passed on all their experience or knowledge of a case.
  • We only know what we know when we need to know it. Human knowledge is deeply contextual and requires stimulus for recall. Unlike computers we do not have a list-all function. Small verbal or nonverbal clues can provide those ah-ha moments when a memory or series of memories are suddenly recalled, in context to enable us to act. When we sleep on things we are engaged in a complex organic form of knowledge recall and creation; in contrast a computer would need to be rebooted.
  • In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is literally no time or a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice its impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts.
  • Everything is fragmented. We evolved to handle unstructured fragmented fine granularity information objects, not highly structured documents. People will spend hours on the internet, or in casual conversation without any incentive or pressure. However creating and using structured documents requires considerably more effort and time. Our brains evolved to handle fragmented patterns not information.
  • Tolerated failure imprints learning better than success. When my young son burnt his finger on a match he learnt more about the dangers of fire than any amount of parental instruction cold provide. All human cultures have developed forms that allow stories of failure to spread without attribution of blame. Avoidance of failure has greater evolutionary advantage than imitation of success. It follows that attempting to impose best practice systems is flying in the face of over a hundred thousand years of evolution that says it is a bad thing.
  • The way we know things is not the way we report we know things. There is an increasing body of research data which indicates that in the practice of knowledge people use heuristics, past pattern matching and extrapolation to make decisions, coupled with complex blending of ideas and experiences that takes place in nanoseconds. Asked to describe how they made a decision after the event they will tend to provide a more structured process oriented approach which does not match reality. This has major consequences for knowledge management practice.
  • We always know more than we can say, and we will always say more than we can write down. This is probably the most important. The process of taking things from our heads, to our mouths (speaking it) to our hands (writing it down) involves loss of content and context. It is always less than it could have been as it is increasingly codified.

As a corollary to the last point, I recall a conversation with a fellow knowledge professional some years ago, where she asked me what my favourite KM tool or process was.  I responded: “We’re doing it…now”.

“What?” she answered.


At the end of the day you can’t beat face to face conversations as learning opportunities. Make the most of them when they occur!

Posted in Knowledge Management | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Content Matters – But People Matter More!

people and technololgyI was recently asked to participate in a KM roundtable event that APQC are organising on the subject of Content Management Systems (CMS).  They wanted to gather some perspectives from KM professionals and thought leaders (their wording, not mine) active on Social Media to answer a few questions on the best way for creating and gathering internal enterprise content, organising and maintaining that content and making it easily accessible to employees and other stakeholders.

The questions and my response as follows:-

1. Our best practices research says great content management systems have content developed around stakeholder needs.  Why is this not always the case, and what can companies do to make sure it happens?

I’m not convinced that many content management implementations make the effort to identify all of the potential stakeholders, or perhaps even understand what a “stakeholder” is. A content management solution must take into account the needs and motivations of the major stakeholders, which will include developers, content contributors, business owners, content administrators and production staff.

Some of the reasons why stakeholder needs are not met – or even ignored:

  1. The development-operational divide: IT/Developers don’t fully understand the business, and will opt for a technical solution that they do understand. This usually means some sort of compromise by operations staff, business users and other stakeholders
  1. Security: access blocked to some external services and websites.
  1. Support costs: need for standard applications and devices (not necessarily the best available).
  1. Accelerating rate of change: organisations are finding it increasingly difficult to keep up with a rapidly changing marketplace. New technologies and new content sources take time to be fully integrated into enterprise production systems.

I regret to say the answer may be too radical for some, but it comes down to having a clear strategy for managing rapid change. This will include using Cloud products and services, e.g. SaaS, PaaS or outsourcing some content production processes. Since it ultimately comes down to cost, any such strategy must be accompanied by rapid decommissioning of legacy production processes and technology.

2. What are the keys to having content that different generations of employees can use and understand?

As a first step, recognising that the organisation has employees with different needs, and not just age demographic. But focusing here on the need for more effective knowledge sharing:-

The organisation should strive to ensure that:-

  • Knowledge management efforts are aligned with the organisation’s strategic objectives.
  • Knowledge management activities (learning and sharing) are integrated into every individuals’ daily work activities.
  • More time is available for employee personal development (PKM)  and less on formal (e.g. classroom) training.
  • The use of and growth of personal networks is encouraged – both inside and outside of the organisation. This includes social media.

3. A lot of content management systems are filled with content that is no longer relevant or useful. What processes have you seen or used that ensure CMS isn’t cluttered with material of questionable value?

Any organisation that values the quality of its information assets (and the people who manage them) should have an information governance policy, with compliance owned and monitored by a senior executive or board member (e.g. CIO).

The policy should set out the organisation’s information standards and how compliance with these standards will be measured and reviewed. The policy would typically include:

  • The identification of information assets and the classification into those of importance that merit special attention and those that do not.
  • The quality and quantity of information for effective operation ensuring that, at every level, the information provided is necessary, sufficient, timely, reliable and accurate.
  • The proper use of information in accordance with relevant legal, regulatory, operational and ethical standards, and the roles and responsibilities for the creation, safekeeping, access, change and destruction of information.
  • The competence, suitability and training of people to safeguard and enhance information assets.
  • The protection of information from theft, loss, unauthorised access, abuse and misuse, including information which is the property of others.
  • The harnessing of information assets and their proper use for the benefit of the organisation, including legally protecting, licensing, re-using, combining, re-presenting, publishing and destroying.
  • The strategy for information systems (manual and digital) with particular reference to the costs, benefits and risks arising.

I think this response goes beyond what was asked in the question, but the key point I wanted to get across is that of the importance of information governance. In my experience, few organisations realise the value of their information assets, or recognise the importance of the IM/KM profession in managing these assets. The consequences of losing information, information gaps or using wrong information can range from reputational risk to costly litigation. To be absolutely clear – it’s a management and not a technical or process problem.


1. Harold Jarche was also invited to respond to the same APQC questions. His blog post comes at this from a slightly different angle from mine, but still very relevant. In particular I fully endorse his last sentence:

While good content management cannot be done without technology, it’s not about the technology. It’s 90% people.

2. Martin White and Paul Corney have also responded to the APQC Questions at Intranet Focus

Posted in Knowledge Management, Social Business | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

30 ways to fail on Twitter

Twitter Logo FailCulled and curated from a few of my archived blog posts, a few tips on Twitter protocol that might enhance your social media credibility and encourage real people (not Bots) to follow you.

However, to conform with the (slightly misleading) title of this blog post, which you’ve probably guessed was crafted to attract attention, just do the opposite of the items in this list!

  • Don’t auto-reply to follows with a link to your free (but crap) ebook.
  • Don’t provide an obscure description of who you are and what you do.
  • Don’t have a completely blank bio.
  • Don’t refer to yourself as an “expert”.  That’s for others to judge.
  • Don’t have a profile photo or an image that only makes sense to you and your imaginary friends.
  • Always add a link to a great resource you’ve cited.
  • Show you care by customising your background.
  • Don’t have big gaps (e.g. days) between posts.
  • Don’t follow over 1000 people in a 2-hour period.
  • Don’t write about the cat/hamster/holiday over and over again.
  • Don’t swear and expect business people to take you seriously.
  • Don’t over-abbreviate.
  • Don’t tell people on the public timeline that someone else is on vacation.
  • Don’t reply on the public timeline when you meant to DM (or when it should be a DM…).
  • Don’t retweet EVERYTHING!
  • Don’t follow everyone and everything – even those with zero tweets.
  • Don’t auto DM spam.
  • Don’t be stupid (this one is a bit of a challenge for politicians, elected councillors and footballers!)
  • Don’t assume that Twitter is a marketing plan.
  • Don’t get into an argument with an idiot – they will always win!
  • Don’t take credit for tweets that did not originate from you.
  • Don’t report on every piece of news you can get your hands on.
  • Don’t tweet about your need for coffee in the mornings.
  • Don’t tweet emotional rants!
  • Don’t worry about your follower count. The content of your tweets is far more important.
  • Don’t pay for followers (most of them will be bots anyway) – quality trumps quantity.
  • Don’t let spammers into your feed.
  • Use hashtags (and if possible, ones that are already in use) to categorise information.
  • Don’t overuse hashtags (e.g. several in one post).
  • Don’t post a picture of yourself holding a knife, gun or other weapon.

You can probably think of more – if so let me know at @stephendale and I’ll post an updated list.

Posted in Social Enterprise, Social Media, Twitter | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Wider Horizons For Information Audit

HorizonIt’s a paradox of our time that the more information that organisations create or consume, the less they understand it. Specifically, most organisations don’t know what information they’ve got, where it came from, where it is stored, who owns it, how good it is (in terms of accuracy and relevance), and perhaps most importantly, what value it may have, if any. More often than not it’s only when there has been an unauthorised leakage of information, or when wrong information has been published that “management” sit up and take notice. In today’s litigious society, such mistakes can be expensive (just ask the BBC, in relation to the Jimmy Savile saga, or Rotherham Borough Council as a result of the child grooming scandal).

It is perhaps timely, therefore, to revisit some well established information management practices that address this particular facet of information governance, namely the Information Audit.

Pause here for a definition of which there are a number:

From a business point of view, an Information Audit might be the…..

“Analysis and evaluation of an organization’s information system (manual and/or computerised) to detect and rectify blockages, duplication, and leakage of information. The objectives of the audit are to improve accuracy, relevance, security and timeliness of the recorded information.”

(Source: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/information-audit.html#ixzz3GVqKkkAu)

Another definition for Information Audit, established by the Aslib IRM Network in London, has won acceptance by information professionals, information scientists and the academic community, and states that:

“The Information Audit is a systematic examination of information use, resources and flows, with a verification by reference to both people and existing documents, in order to establish the extent to which they are contributing to an organisation’s objectives”.

As part of its mission to encourage learning and sharing of good/best practice amongst knowledge and information professionals, NetIKX is running a seminar on 4th November on the topic “Wider Horizons For Information Audit”.

Sue Henczel, an internationally renowned expert on Information Audit, with support from Graham Robertson (Bracken Associates), will present and lead discussions on the evolution of the information audit process, the various ways that it is now being used within organisations and how this evolution of information audit aligns with the changes that are occurring within both the information profession and the broader business information management environment. A number of case studies will describe how the IA process has recently been used in Australia.

The intended learning outcomes of this NetIKX seminar are:

  • Recognising the current evolution of the information audit;
  • Accepting information audit as an enterprise information management tool; and
  • Understanding the alignment between the evolution of the information audit process and the information management profession.

More details and a booking form are available from the NetIKX website. The event is free to NetIKX members.

Posted in Information Management | Tagged , | 1 Comment