AI driven expertise & profiling: hype, hope or déjà vu?

May was a busy month. Apart from helping establish then launch a real estate and mortgage business (Bees Homes) I was in Lisboa for Social Now and London for KM Legal UK.

I attended both in the expectation of learning more about the onrush of Artificial Intelligence and its implications for the Knowledge Management profession.

Specifically, I wanted to see how the encouragingly styled Talent and Knowledge Matching / Profiling systems might tackle the challenges of knowledge loss when people depart, of onboarding when people arrive and identifying / ranking expertise that might otherwise be opaque when pulling together teams.

It’s not a new topic: back in the late 90’s I was Business & Strategy Advisor to Sopheon PLC when we acquired Organik (a technology for identifying expertise) and built systems for US Insurers looking to establish the best teams for clients based upon expertise. We never cracked it even though we knew what the issues were (usually motivation)!

Seeking answers at SocialNow Lisboa while Keynote speaker Ellen Trude watches.

Armed with a list of ‘use cases’ I’d worked on with Martin White I set off in search of answers to these questions from both vendors and KM practitioners?

  • Onboarding: A new employee with many years of highly relevant experience joins the firm. How long will it be before their experience is ranked at the same level as their predecessors?
  • Legal: Is the profiling process compatible with the provisions of the General Data Protection Regulation? The thoughts of the Information Commissioner on this are worth a look. Profiling & Automated Decision Making
  • Functionality: Do they offer the ability to present a list of people ranked by expertise?
  • Language: In multinational companies where it is especially difficult to know all the experts, how does the vendor coppe with the fact that documents, meetings and social media traffic will be in local languages?
  • Chinese Walls: How does the application cope with expertise gained on projects that are secure, a common issue in law, finance and R&D where walls need to be erected to prevent commercial information being divulged>
  • Testing: What User Testing is undertaken with a client before signing a contract to verify that the profiling system works?

So, what did I discover? Thierry de Bailllon in his closing Keynote put it very succinctly but with a caveat:

Embrace or die? 88% of technologies already include AI.

Self reinforcing bias?

it’s not Enterprise Social Networks (ESN)!

This Twitter exchange between Ana Neves and Luis Suarez prompted by a question I posed of the Workplace (Facebook at Work) team following their presentation is revealing:

May 12 there’s been a few questions about expertise location 2017 I don’t remember that being the case in previous years #SocialNow

May 12 Well, I think people are starting to understand how critical it is to know who is who within the org beyond just content, right?

Replying to totally! It surprises me it took so long. It’s amazing the role #ESN can have in unveiling that expertise #SocialNow

On the surface the case for ESN is compelling. Yet the majority of vendors at SocialNow focus on information exchange and conversation rather than the capturing and cataloguing of it. One,@mangoappsinc, had a neat tool (they won the “coolest app” prize) with the ability to upgrade comments from threaded discussions and posts to create ranked knowledge resources from the mass of information and conversation.

So, ESN can show who has answered what question, conduct searches across conversations and in many cases act as a project management tool, the new Facebook at Work (Workplace) now allows the creation of documents for example.

Provided the application is linked to HR systems it is possible to retrieve profiles and see what expertise an individual might have. As one vendor (@OrangeTrail showcasing Facebook at Work)) who uses bots to generate responses put it:

‘Questions’ is the key to find experts as people don’t keep profiles updated.

I concur and they are great facilitation platforms though with advanced features that will suffice for many. Yet I left Lisboa though feeling organisations will need to rely on assisted search for some time if they want to take a deep dive into expertise

know what you don’t know

Peer Assist “Problems” for discussion

So onto London and KM Legal UK. An interesting Day One ended with a psuedo Peer Assist in which AI was raised a lot.

One observation (facilitation tip): the session failed to commit the ‘owner’ of the problem to action so as a result the feedback loop to plenary became a series of “we said this.”

Again, as in previous years I felt the focus was on operational tools and techniques which means that KIM Professionals in Legal are more at risk from the onrush of technology.

It reminded me of the issue Librarians faced with the arrival of end user search in the mid 90’s which finished their monopoly of being the people who found stuff in organisations.

Day Two took a deeper dive into technology and its potential impact.

AI in Legal today

This slide sets out where AI is making a difference in Legal.

I tweeted having heard Cliff Fluet’s excellent presentation:

Paralegals beware. AI is coming. Adapt or die?

And I questioned:

How wide is scope of AI? More than Doc Analysis / Creation. Opportunity to broaden knowledge base

As yet no one had focused on expertise and profiling so when one presenter cited the case where a newly arrived CEO asked the Head of HR / Talent Management to let him have profiles / competencies of the staff using their system it got my attention.

I asked whether the results the HR head gave the CEO inferred a level of expertise. It didn’t which got thinking that if the data set is incomplete and the issue of self reinforcing bias is not addressed then over reliance on one source for identifying ‘experts’ is dangerous. Imagine your career prospects if for whatever reason your name wasn’t on the ‘expert’ list given to the CEO?

and finally

So where do I see the state of expertise and profiling systems? Patchy!

Yes there are certainly companies who ‘get it’ but can they do it?

I am indebted here to Martin White who in an excellent report “People and expertise seeking – an overview” summarises the predicament thus:

The most important lesson learned is the need for an expertise location strategy that is linked into HR processes, knowledge management, training, job appraisals and social media development. Finding people with expertise is not a ‘search problem’.  Good search tools can certainly help but without attention being paid to profile quality (even if other types of content are being searched) and a commitment by employees to share their knowledge expertise discovery will not be as successful as anticipated or required.

My takeaways:

  • KIM professionals need a clear strategy (working in partnership with other stakeholders such as HR and IT) and be clear on the questions being solved by any system;
  • They need to be clear what they are getting, what’s missing and how it mitigates the potential for self reinforcing bias when they enter discussions with vendors around automating expertise seeking and profiling;
  • They need to recognise the importance of their role in facilitating the adoption of such systems and accept this is just a part of a portfolio of approaches of identifying, capturing and retaining expertise;
  • They need to be clear what critical knowledge actually is in their organisation and who is likely to have it in order to assess the veracity of the results of any pilot;
  • It doesn’t matter what solution you adopt, if your environment is not conducive to the sharing of expertise and people don’t see the value in it then save the money; and
  • In any event you cannot capture everything people know; we learn and share through stories (failures rather than successes) and those often remain hidden.

In a world of High Value Work the case for informed and empowered Knowledge Workers is becoming stronger

Whether Lisboa, London or Tehran the pace of change is gathering apace with increased pressure for improved performance, greater efficiency and reduced risk.

Over the last couple of months I have been working in all three of the above capitals. It has been a priviledge and an eye opener: Iran is eagerly awaiting ratification of the Geneva deal and Tehran is awash with foreign companies looking to position themselves post sanctions; in Lisboa they are feeling the effects of a ‘drawn’ election and in unchartered territory over the formation of a new government and whether to continue with a programme of austerity and; in London there is considerable angst about the impact of cheap Chinese steel on an already depressed commodity market and on local communities.

In each of these capitals the role and standing of the ‘Knowledge Worker‘ is different:

  • In Lisboa, many young innovative Knowledge Workers have felt the full force of the austerity programme and fled the country rather than face an uncertain future while the cadre of secure middle managers hang onto their jobs.
  • In London, consolidation (especially in the legal sector) is growing and the push to outsource a core part of the UK Government’s drive to reduce the role of the state. Further afield UK Manufacturing continues to be battered by cheaper cost centre imports with inevitable plant closures.
  • In Tehran, as they face an openiing up of their market place and an influx of of overseas competition, local knowledge is becoming much in demand and creating a sense of eager anticipation in a workforce that has traditionally sought overseas postings as a way of enhancing their knowledge and careers.

What are the implications? 

The role of the informed knowledge worker is going to become more critical and they will need to move up the value chain in order to do so!

If you have not already done so I’d encourage you to look at a recent blog post by Andrew Curry of the Futures Company. The Futures Company has been collaborating with the Association of Finnish Work for more than eighteen months on the idea of “High Value Work”. They define this as work that is productive (it creates new value); that is durable (it creates value over time); and work that is inclusive (it spreads value beyond the business — or the C-suite. This combination, based on the emerging post-crisis literature, also creates work that is meaningful, for employees and customers. They identify four routes to acheiving it:

These are service innovation, based on a full understanding of the customer and their needs; value in authenticity, based on on a full understanding of cultural context; resource innovation, based on a full understanding of material flows; and rich knowledge, based on a full understanding of the technical knowledge held inside the organisation and a method to capture and codify it.

High value businesses combine these; for example, mastery of resource innovation often creates new technical capabilities that lead to new forms of rich knowledge.

Finland is a great example of a country that is highly technological, expensive with a great education system. That it commissioned the work is unsurprising and the findings underpin the growing realisation across many organisations that people matter, are transient in nature and that processes need to be in place to recognise that.

The future role of the Knowledge Worker?

Much of my recent work has been about helping organisations to recognise that if Knowledge Management is to have value above its traditional tactical operational bias there has to be a way of measuring the output (the Intellectual Property ‘IP’ or Knowledge Assets) that is created as a result of the activity.  And generating Knowledge Assets is reliant on empowered and stimulated people. As Andrew’s findings suggest ‘Increasingly business research is finding that people drive value.’

Last Friday I hosted a Peer Assist with a group of senior HR thought leaders on People Stimulation an idea being promulgated by Dr Abdelaziz Mustafa of the Islamic Development Bank Group. A very experienced HR Director and core member of the Association of Development Agencies HR Forum he argues the need of a work enviornment that recognises and stimulates:

  • Human Imagination
  • Individual Discretionary Behavior
  • Deeply Embedded Interests
  • Self-Knowledge, Self-Accountability and Self-Development
  • The One Person Difference
  • T.E.A.M Culture
  • Happiness at Work

While to many this may seem axiomatic it is indicative of the shifting thinking around the way organisations manage and nurture today’s and tomorrow’s Knowledge Workers.

And finally

On Monday I was at Chiswick for the first meeting of the reconstituted BSI KM Standards Committee established to provide inter alia the UK’s input into the global ISO debate on the need for standards for Knowledge Management. While hugely encouraging that KM is now being more formally recognised it was instructive to see how slowly the wheel of change turns.

Finally if I needed validation of the value of embedding effective Knowledge Management techniques I got it last night in an exchange with a Chinese mentee. In discussion over the knowledge capture interviews I’d helped him to conduct for the charity I am involved with. He said:

‘It is interesting how much good ‘after taste’ after the previous interview techniques and knowlege managemnet toolsconducted a few interviews for my research using the time line map, very effective tool!’

I have asked him to write a guest blog to reflect on some of the knowledge capture techniques we used. Watch this space!

‘…there’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge’: learning lessons from winning teams

So says Paul Azinger, the last US Captain to win the Ryder Cup, in the aftermath of the 2014 event and the accompanying soul searching. He implicitly acknowledges the importance of building on what ‘you’ know as an institution if you are to be successful.  This is what he said:

A big difference between us and them is that Europe always has a succession plan. McGinley was surrounded by past captains and future captains, and they all reap the benefits. We’re lone rangers as far as captains go. Nobody knows what we’ve done in the past. There’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge.

 

why Team Europe’s victory is relevant to business

Why is the outcome of a biennial golf match of interest to lawyers and others who work in highly rewarded and individualistic roles? Because the players are all ‘Rock Stars’ in their own right who come together sporadically to play (and win) against their peer group.

What stands out about the European approach? Meticulous planning, attention to detail, clarity over roles before, during and after each Ryder Cup match and a willingness to acknowledge that no one player is bigger than the team.  Business is no different relying on a collaborative team approach and a set of shared values.

In October 2012 Apple CEO Tim Cook reshuffled his team, this is how it was reported in a Bloomberg Business Week interview:

“The key in the change that you’re referencing is my deep belief that collaboration in essential for innovation – and I didn’t just start believing that. I’ve always believed that,” said Cook. “It’s always been a core belief at Apple. Steve very deeply believed in this.”

Cook said that he wanted to ensure that Apple takes its already “enormous” level of collaboration even higher. “There are many things. But the one thing we do, which I think no one else does, is integrate hardware, software, and services in such a way that most consumers begin to not differentiate anymore.”

“You have to be an A-plus at collaboration,” Cook continued. “And so the changes that we made get us to a whole new level of collaboration.”

Here’s how commentator Kristine Kern (@kristinekern) of the Table Group saw this move:

Let’s be clear: Ousting a rock star from your team — or asking them to change their ways — is not always something you can do. But it’s something you should consider. “Like most things, it’s not black and white,” Kern concludes. “Organizational health requires rock stars do both stellar and healthy work. Which shouldn’t be a problem: Most true rock stars rise to a challenge. Just don’t be afraid to demand it.”

why shared values matter

Some time ago I was the Business & Strategy Advisor to an Anglo-Dutch company in the professional services / software business. It was around the dotcom boom period when investors were falling over themselves to back the next hot opportunity. Company valuations were bizarre: at one point on revenues of $20m we had a market cap that was 40 times bigger. Our AIM share price went from £1.25 to £16+. It was easy to be profligate, we weren’t and I take personal pride in having taken the lead on travel budgets and integrating the acquisitions we made.

As we grew (acquiring first a US firm, then a German one) and shifted our centre of operations (and development) from Europe to the USA the Executive Management team all recognized the importance of having a set of values and a structure that could transcend global operations while recognizing cultural nuances peculiar to the location of each office.

What might go down well as a motivational incentive in Denver would need tweaking to be embraced in Maastricht let alone in Guildford. We needed a framing device that everyone in the business could buy into and in the management’s case the cojones to ‘get with the programme’. So we organised a cross company group of all levels to work through what they wanted out of the business – how they wanted to be treated as employees and in most cases, shareholders.

To this day I can remember the constituent parts:

  • a clear vision understood by all
  • a meritocracy that rewarded success and took action on poor performance
  • inspiring and visible leadership
  • a place that was fun to work where you could pick up the phone to anyone.

We had 6 locations and office sizes ranged from 12-50.  We had a central sales/CRM system everyone used and we had quarterly conference calls with the management team where people could ask what they wanted. Board meetings rotated around the various offices, one was virtual the next in situ. When tough decisions were required we were clear about why they were being taken and communicated that.

Of course technology and process played a role, the corporate intranet was a good information source. We conducted Peer Assists, After Action Reviews; we fed our learnings back into the development process and we used what we learned to reengineer the business around the Stage-Gate New Product Development Process.

The going got tough, people got let go, yet Sopheon survived and today has an award winning software, Accolade, with embedded Knowledge deployed in the innovation and new product departments across hundreds of organisations globally.

so what

Whether business or sport, people respond to good leaders who provide guidance and clarity, hold people to account for poor performance and recognize/reward exceptional performance. They are also good at making the right decision and leading teams through implementation by inspiration, perspiration and collaboration. I’m sure those will feature prominently when Captain McGinley releases the inevitable ‘Building a winning Ryder Cup Team’, book.

Good decisions are informed by good knowledge: of clients, of markets and of resources. Knowledge Management when performed well becomes ingrained behaviour and Knowledge Sharing is a core element.

and finally

I am indebted to Euan Semple (who talks and writes common sense) for my summary. Taken from his excellent tome ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do‘ Euan argues that in today’s interconnected world it is increasingly important to be seen to add value and to be seen to be knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge. He goes further:

In the old days ‘knowledge is power’ used to mean holding on to it and only giving it out judiciously to certain people. In an Internet world there is no point in having knowledge if people don’t know you have it, and if you are not prepared to share it. Web tools enable more knowledge to flow more readily around your organisation. Taking part in this process is going to be more obviously a part of being more productive than ever before. Being able and willing to share your knowledge will become a key business skill.

Collaboration is the mechanism by which Knowledge is often shared. It is something Apple and the US Ryder Cup designate (a forecast from me – Azinger to be the US Captain in 2016) recognise as being a core ingredient for a successful venture. So should you!

Tips for working on international assignments (part I)

Thanks Frank (Gardner)

It was he who encouraged me to blog about my experiences and I have always wanted to be able to share some of the techniques I’ve come to adopt when undertaking international assignments. The offer by Sandra Ward and Val Skelton, Co-Editors of Business Information Review, to write an article for the forthcoming edition was too good to miss and so today I submitted that piece.

Here are just a few snippets from my submission (the pictures won’t be appearing):

Abstract

In today’s global village the ability to work cross border and cross culture is increasingly important. This article looks at the lifecycle of an assignment from winning and negotiating to working and collaborating concluding with reporting and getting paid. It examines what it takes to run successful international assignments while identifying a number of potential pitfalls to be avoided and issues to be considered.

Baggage trolley at El Fashar Airport DarfurI am lucky; I’ve worked across five continents and experienced many different cultures over the last 40 years. I’ve been shot at in Ireland, detained in Sudan, been part of an aid convoy in the Philippines after Typhoon Ondoy, slept in a tin shack in Darfur, shared a room with a desert rat while watching oil fields burning in Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Desert Storm and landed in Barbados after the island’s only hurricane.

When I reflect on a few snippets from a lifetime of conducting international assignments it’s perhaps unsurprising that my daughter frequently asks the question at the top of this piece.

Winning the business

We’ve all had ‘we’d like to invite you to tender for’ requests from organizations we’ve never met. As you become more visible and published so these increase. As a rule unless you can trace a direct link to someone you know or somewhere you’ve been then you are being used as padding for a tender process. Be warned. It takes a considerable effort to respond to tender requests especially when there are procurement specialists intermediating….

Negotiating the ‘deal’

….An African friend of mine signed up for a consulting engagement with one of Africa’s major organizations. It looked great and met all of the criteria outlined above. Payment was triggered by receipt and acceptance of a set of reports and recommendations. Now 9 months later he is still waiting for formal approval for his reports. His mistake? He had no milestone payment and no upfront mobilization fee. Next time he might insist on a payment for delivery with balance on acceptance.

Travelling and staying

… Before I decide on whether to go or not to a country I check out what and whom I know who might help – I conduct my own ‘Peer Assist’ – and visit the members’ library at Chatham House.

…Accommodation can make or break an assignment! A client will often give you an allowance or have preferential rates. Expensive doesn’t always mean good; proximity to your client is vital as is the ability to work in your room. For Darfur Victoria Ward and I had to undergo UN security training. It taught me a number of things I use today when asking for a room:

  • Above tree line and below floor 7
  • Preferably not facing the street
  • Proximity to fire stairs.

Working & communicating

The Culture Map which notes that human speech varies depending on whether there is a “high” or “low” level of assumed shared cultural context. This affects vocabularies: the English use more words whereas North Europeans (and Americans) tend to be more forthright.

Why is this relevant? If you don’t adapt your style and (in my case) speak slower, write more succinctly and with less jargon, there is huge potential for miscommunication….

Importance of set up

If the way we speak, write and hold ourselves is important so are the technological underpinnings. Consider this: in many organizations the jump drive (memory stick) is banned. There is a limit on email size (try sending a video to a client), browser activity is monitored and restricted and guest access behind their firewall requires countless sign off and takes days!….

Listening ears and noticing eyes

How you are received on arrival is usually a good indicator of how important your visit is…

…I also find it pays to listen more than talk especially in the early parts of an assignment, as someone once said ‘you have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion’…

Friendly ‘fire’

Assuming you are by now super observant and minding your P’s & Q’s, the next big challenge facing you is how to work with your immediate stakeholder group. You need to establish separate sounding boards not just your project sponsor…

Handling left field moments

Even the best of us can inadvertently put a metaphorical foot wrong. Our actions are magnified when we are dealing in a different environment and out of our comfort zones….

…Perhaps my most surreal experience occurred in Sudan when I was invited to visit a major company for a discussion only to find on arrival there were 200 people assembled to hear my presentation on ‘Knowledge Management in the Energy Industry’. After recovering from the shock I conducted a 45-minute Q&A session prompted by an opening, ‘What keeps you awake at night?’

Reporting and getting paid

I’ve had mainly positive experiences dealing with international clients and getting paid. Typically the more ‘developed’ the country the worse organizations (especially governments) are at making payment if you are an SME.

However I’ve found people will try and find a way to pay you if they feel you’ve done a good job. Your challenge is to manage that perception!…..

Ten tips

If I were advising someone about to undertake their first international assignment what would I tell them?

  • No credit cards in SudanClarity is key, ambiguity is the enemy of progress: be clear about the terms, what they are going to get, when and in what format and what help and assistance you need from them in order to deliver it.
  • Prepare for the unexpected: plan for disasters and have a backup (if you are on medication take that in your briefcase); save your work to the cloud (securely of course). Adopt my 50/50/50 rule and always have that amount of £, € and $ in your wallet.
  • Keep detailed field notes and conduct regular After Action Reviews or Pause & Reflect sessions as a team: It’s vital to be able to reflect on what you’ve heard and to have the ability to play that back in regular progress reports.

I will share the rest of the article and the remaining seven tips over the coming months.