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Sandy Kemsley

Enterprise 2.0: Sam Weber

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This entry cross-posted to my new blog location.

Last day at the conference -- half-day, really -- and the first breakout session is with Sam Weber of KnowNow, discussing "RSS: Bridging the Gap Between the People and the Information that Drive Business". I've been looking at ways to bring RSS into the enterprise for quite a while, mostly by nagging the BPM vendors to include it in their products.

Weber starts by saying that they are now completely an RSS company (actually, they also support ATOM), and previously did system-to-system integration using techniques such as REST: essentially, lightweight SOA. It makes perfect sense to me that moving to a focus on RSS is a logical progression from that. They make an RSS reader and a desktop alert tool, and their server is available as a hosted or on-site solution.

In a case study, he discusses a company of 30,000+ employees that has operations in the US and India, with 30 intranets, portals and knowledge bases, and thousands of internal blogs. Their challenge was internal communications across their employee base, and by using RSS for information distribution they were able to deliver consistent communications in a timely manner, without the information being lost in the employee's email boxes. In other words, as I'm starting to see, RSS is becoming a sort of high priority email replacement, and to avoid clogging up internal email systems with broadcast emails.

He restated his main points from his 6-minute Launch Pad presentation yesterday: email is overused, with over 50% being junk; static portals are useful to less than 20% of users since they require too much action on the part of the user to find the information that they required; search has only about a 50% success rate and also relies on the user to have the skills required to find what they want. In fact, an IDC study showed that the average employee spends 9-10 hours per weeks searching for information, and is only successful half the time (it sounds like a lot more people need a tool like Google Desktop Search, or X1, which I use all the time), and that a 1000-person company wastes $48k per week on the inability to find information.

The solution, according to Weber, is RSS in the enterprise, or what they call live information management. To do this:

  1. Access and monitor information sources, rather than replicating data for the purposes of syndication; this includes monitoring information sources that don't have RSS feeds.
  2. Automate relevancy, by leveraging this "newly freed content" to allow the system to try to determine what is relevant to a particular user and push them that information.
  3. I blinked, and missed step 3. :)  I think that it was more about pushing the information, that is, transform and deliver the data.
  4. Capture user behaviour so as to refine the relevancy algorithms.

With all of this, there needs to be some core system capabilities such as aggregation (to avoid unnecessary duplication), filtering to meet relevancy requirements, data transformation to allow access to sources that don't have RSS feeds, security, alerts and notifications, and content-based routing of the feeds to those who need them. After that, the information needs to be delivered to the end users, which is done via RSS.

Weber sees the following minimum requirements for a live information management system: monitor all sources inside and outside the enterprise; match content to users based on relevancy; leverage the network effect; deliver information to users as available; provide enterprise security and management; and enable end-user personalization and control. This seems to be a bit redundant with the last two slides, but is a good summary.

His next case study is Wells Fargo, which uses Teradata for collecting information in six major data warehouses; their challenges were around synchronizing metadata and ensuring that data and schema errors were corrected quickly. They're now using KnowNow (in a customized solution) to monitor parts of the ETL process related to a risk dataset, and push notifications of any problems to the appropriate people via RSS.

Next, he discussed another banking case study (unnamed) where the central organization was sending out more than 80 internal newsletters and alerts each week to all employees; when this bogged down their systems, they moved it to SharePoint, where people actually found that it took more time to find things than in their old Lotus Notes email system. Now, they're moving to an RSS model for distribution, and find themselves saving $750k per year.

He finished up with options for the enterprise to adopting RSS:

  • Wait, and just use RSS in the systems that offer it today; the big vendors will likely take 2-5 years to bring in RSS formatting.
  • Continue to (over)use email as the main collaboration tool, and bet on portals and search technologies.
  • Implement an enterprise syndication solution, which leverages the information that you have now and allows information to be selectively pushed to people, or allow them to select their own subscriptions.

I have no idea how well KnowNow's product works, but the concepts that Weber discussed really hit home for me and many of my clients. There's a Forrester white paper about Enterprise RSS available on the KnowNow site if you want to learn more.

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