Archive for e2.0

The Future of Writing at Work

Posted in Telecommute, Web2.0 Productivity, work with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2011 by Lance Strzok

As more and more people are writing and professing their opinions across more and more platforms of information sharing, one thing remains true across all of them – Content it King. Yep, what you say, its validity, conciseness and tone are all part of good content that will keep people coming back. In a world where people value every second of their time, if you can not provide that content consistently, then you can make it look pretty all you want, and tweak formats all day, but that won’t bring them back to read you again.

I suspect the future of writing in the office place will shift from Word and Open Office to open platforms where the words that you write are what is most important, and computers and editors will apply style, images and links to related content to enrich the content as a workflow process following its initial creation.

This makes the transportation and transformation of the words from one product into another so much easier, and style can be changed quickly and easily for past and future content. It is also easier to use and re-use it again in other products.

Think about it, how many times does the Word file you spend half an hour tweaking just so it looks right end up in several places and different platforms looking completely different? My own experience in this has lead me to writing in blogs, because it is just so easy to do. The files are small, transportable, accessible, open with a simple browser (no special or expensive software) and have some of them have built in spell checking as I write – not as a separate function. I can write from my desktop, laptop, phone, or TV and the content can be styled in any way I or someone else pleases. Not to mention that people can index it and discover it, as well as comment on it and share it with others quickly and easily. It also fits with my hope of where things will go in the future with regard to IT and work. Simple really, all I should need is an internet connection and a browser. Which is also why my recent work has been focused on browser wars and how they are doing against one another.

So to wrap things up, spend that extra half hour working on the content, collaborating with colleagues, checking your sources, and making your inner author voice shine through, and give a blog a chance – you might just come to like it for the same reasons I do.

-Lance.

Why Podcast?

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , on March 10, 2011 by Lance Strzok

So the question of “why podcast?” has come up, and I thought I would share some of the reasoning behind the decision to give the podcast medium a run.

A little background
I recall hearing that the average commute time in DC was over a half an hour. I commute about an hour and fifteen minutes a day, each way. So I usually check NPR news headlines, and about a half hour of 103.5 to catch the main stories, weather, traffic etc…

So how do I use/engage my brain for the rest of the commute? I turned to podcasts. And in doing so, I found many good sources of relevant information and news I could use to maintain situational awareness with regard to issues I am involved with at work. I am aware of the latest developments in the areas I am most concerned with, and I hear varying viewpoints on those issues from several sources over the course of a few days. I have subscribed to individual podcasts, and I use a podcast streaming service called Stitcher for some of the broader interest areas and what others in my field are sharing and talking about.

Thoughts
As I started to think more about it, I realized that if I were to compare the costs of my minutes – the minutes in the commute were pretty cheap. Cost here being the cost of what do I give up to listen to a podcast on my way to work vs what is the cost of the time I would spend reading all of that information while at work. Or put another way, what can I not do while I am locating and reading these articles or bits of information?

It dawned on me that most people are interested in the information that our communications committees are putting out across several formats and publications that include a newsletter, emails, banners, signs, internal web page, etc… But, when I thought about it, what I wanted was one source, and I wanted to move that source to less expensive minutes, otherwise – I was not likely to digest all of those different resources, and I am missing out on useful information.

Motivation
So there is was. I wanted to know those things, but they were spread out, and using expensive work minutes instead of cheap commuting minutes. (Commuter minutes, gym minutes, elevator minutes, lunch minutes etc…)

That is the motivation for consolidating those bits of information into a podcast and allowing the workforce to access the information from home, download the mp3 files to a smartphone, or mp3 player, and listen to the issues that might otherwise go unknown.

If you are interested in the mechanics of how I am creating the podcast, the previous blog entry to this covers that pretty well, and I may add another when I get to the point where I am interviewing instead of just reading the news.

Question for you – where are your cheapest minutes? I don’t think my list is big enough, and I would like to know when you listen or might listen to a podcast.

If you have any comments, or questions – please leave them below in the comments, I will respond to them and thanks for reading.

Twitter Use for Business

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , on February 10, 2011 by Lance Strzok

I looked at a few government agencies that are using the Twitter service looking for use cases that I might recommend using in our organization, and with a specific purpose.

Here is the list of activities I observed on their Twitter pages:

– Post links to photos related to employees and their activities at work and in the community
– Links to articles that involve their employees or business activities
– Announcements
– Links to charity events
– Links to Podcasts and Videos
– Weather/Emergency alerts (Open/closed/late arrival/early departure/Telework etc…)
– Visitors
– Safety notices
– Travel Advisories
– Uniform Changes
– Contests
– Updates on projects or activities of the business
– Links to reference or other resources
– Job announcements
– Seeking skills or equipment announcements
– Events that influence Employees or Business Partners or Customers
– Links to business mentions in the news or other media

Of the items on the list above, I am recommending the following for my organization:

– Job announcements
– Weather/Emergency announcements
– Travel Alerts
– Events that influence Employees or Business Partners or Customers
– Links to our activities in the local community

Getting Started

– No associated costs
– Can start immediately
– Link to the Twitter feed from the Organizational Homepage on the Internet
– Start with an initial post that links to an article that describes the intended use of the feed and how employees, customers, and partners might want to follow it.

As for who should have the ability to update the posts to the business feed, I would recommend 3 people fill that role, and that requests for posts be sent to those individuals through existing chains of command pertaining to the individual submitting the request with specific words in the email subject line that identify it as a post so that it can be viewed and acted upon immediately by one of the posters (ex… Twitter Feed update request). Candidates for those three people would likely be people that already handle business announcements.

If you have other ideas, please add them to the comments below, and I’ll try to add them to the content in this article in the near future.

We can do better.

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2010 by Lance Strzok

No matter who you put in the DNI office, they have to be willing to address the changes that have to take place within agencies and analysts. The DNI has to be empowered to directly impact the budget of the agencies that he is trying to get to work together. Otherwise you can fire all the people you put in that seat and it won’t make a bit of difference. The public has to demand more from our leadership, and from our intelligence agencies.

To say I am disappointed would be an understatement. I am frankly disturbed with the current demonstrated lack of desire (not ability) for government agencies to truly collaborate on articles and issues regarding our national interests.

Family, friends, and fellow taxpayers deserve better from the Intelligence Community (IC) and government agencies that are sworn to guide and protect our great nation. Taxpayers pay taxes every year with the idea that the money they give to the government will be spent on programs that have well defined requirements, have little waste, and are realistic in scope and timeliness.

Watching the news we see glimpses of failures to recognize key information that was available across the various government agencies or agency databases that may have allowed a given atrocity to have been avoided. This followed by finger pointing and general denial of responsibility when something happens. I see databases at individual agencies that are created using government funds and then treated like they somehow belong to that agency. Rather then storing that information centrally where it can be searched, mashed, and relationships can be formed, they sit on servers within disparate agencies with the hope that access to those data can be logged and metrics can be made on how useful that database or information is so that a business case for its continued use can be justified. This of course inherently reduces its usefulness and timeliness and the ability for computer systems (that don’t sleep) to find relationships in mountains of data. Do agencies own their databases? Or did taxpayer dollars pay for them with the idea that they would be shared and used by all in an effort to protect our nation?

So put those mountains of data, (databases) in a central location where computers can apply artificial intelligence and pattern recognition on all of that data simultaneously and alert analysts to relationships that are found or that may exist with flags that denote a need for a given analyst to be granted access in order to find out the details of that relationship.

By moving the data into a shared environment, we can allow computers to find relationships and share those relationships and relevancy with the analysts that are interested in that information. We won’t have to rely on humans to detect it, and share it. You see, the sharing part of this is where I believe we are coming up short.

So why is it that sharing is so difficult within these communities? Well there are several reasons.

Policies – that state which organizations can share what with others, and also define the protection of databases and information.

History – of keeping secrets in the case of of the intelligence community. A long history of doing our best to keep secrets and protect databases of information under terms like “national security”, or “need to know”. These ideas served us well, but are they actually working? I would argue that they are not as effective as we may imagine, and that we may want to start to outpace our adversaries rather then spend so much time and effort trying to protect every bit of information so zealously. That is an entire debate that deserves another post all together.

Culture – where the people that know information seem to have more value and bring more value to an organization. Knowledge is power, and your pay is based on what you know and what you bring to the table. Rather then what you know and how you share it in ways that others can benefit from it. This continues to be a problem, fueled with a pay for performance system that (if done incorrectly) could lead to ever tighter lips when it comes to sharing.

In short, we will have to address the policies, historical vs current sharing ideology, and the culture of perceived value in knowledge sharing vs knowledge hording and the value that either idea brings to an organization.

Once we have the culture of appropriate sharing, shared situational awareness on items of interest within a community of interest, and technology supporting the sharing the awareness across unified data stores then we may see a more realistic environment for stopping future attempts at causing the US harm.

Another area ripe for improvement is where do we write about the things we know and understand?

Currently, each agency has its own process for vetting and releasing reports or products that get some sort of seal of approval (which just means it completed a vetting process that can be as shallow as one person deep). They also each have a production group, or division of folks that move these products through a process, then publish them to some server (again, may or may not be seachable or indexed). By the time the information has gone through the process, the information may be a little old, or been overcome by events. This group and process is intended to bring a sense of authority to the documents, and once the document or information has the command seal added, it is available to the rest of the consumers to apply to their problem set. These reports are now something that can be referenced and in some cases, only these documents can be used or referenced for making decisions with regard to acquisition. This is another area where we need to take a good look at policy and see if there is room for a joint product, not just agency products that can get a seal of approval.

The idea that the smartest people on any given topic exist in one building is just not realistic. acquisition communities should be able to find joint products that reflect what communities of interest have to say about the topic at hand. They should not have to be bound to one agencies opinion, but able to use the opinion of the members across the community that work that issue. Simply put, if I offered you a report by one agency that has 4 people that looked it over and contributed to it, and one that an entire community worked on collaboratively to create, which one would you choose?

So the question always comes up on the vetting process for these collaborative documents. What rigor is there? What process? How can the consumer know that a given product has any more or fewer errors then a product created by a single agency and put through their process? Put another way, how can we know that a product that had 15 contributors from across the community and was read by many more as it was being created is any more accurate for making decisions then one that is created by 4 people at a single agency that goes through that agencies process?

Bottom line, we need to demand that our Intelligence Community act more like a community than a group of competing agencies, and empower those that are trying to change the culture of collaboration and analysis from agency specific to that of one IC supporting decision makers. Not 16 agencies trying to tell their own version of the story. Huge change has to take place, and it won’t happen unless the public is demanding it. Otherwise, no matter who you put in the DNI’s chair, it won’t matter because the agencies can just wait him or her out and go on with business as usual. So empower the DNI to directly impact budgets, and force documentation of actual collaboration and proven steps of change with embedded liaisons. Make intelligence production occur in a collaborative space that is open to all of the people that work that issue and have the appropriate credentials to work with that information at the lowest level possible. Take production down to the analysts level, and have it created and published in an open, accessible, collaborative forum. Build communities of interest, foster and reward superior contributions and products that have the touch of many hands and minds.

These are real, and achievable steps that we can take to move us toward a more focused and efficient Intelligence apparatus.

Constructive comments always appreciated.

A plan to motivate – Directing components within an enterprise.

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , , on May 17, 2010 by Lance Strzok

Some perceived problems up front.

One leading agency wants to lead or direct changes across the other agencies, but has limited number of ways to motivate those agencies to change. The largest motivator may be financial incentives / or withholding, that can be offered to those commands that can prove alignment and conformance.

Most agencies are motivated by internal problems and solutions, and don’t understand the need for the certain changes that will align the entire enterprise for success. Lack of understanding and financial constraints drive decisions to local needs. There is no education or representation of the greater enterprise needs at the local command level.

Individuals within a command that have ideas that are not conformal with the commands point of view may be reluctant to press to hard for these enterprise level alignment changes for fear of reprisal in any form.

Idea on what to do.

Have at least one individual at each agency that is an embedded member from the directing agency. These members belong to the directing agency, but sit in a local command or agency.
Since they don’t belong to the local command, they can deliver the news from the directing agency without fear of retribution or getting fired.
Their performance appraisals are based on achieved changes that are documented and returned to the directing command each month.
This person is motivated to engage the local command to make the changes and advise the local command of efforts they can make in order to receive funds.
The local command is motivated to listen to the directing agencies representative because that representative recommends the funds to be sent to the agency based on the local commands efforts to align and with the directing agency.

I see this as win, win, win – because the directing agency gets influence at local commands, the local commands have someone to listen to and get direction from, while the local command representation has top cover and can deliver the news without fear of retribution.

The local reps need to be fairly senior and have personable and good communication skills.

Have any comments or thoughts on how this could be better? Do you think it could work?

As always, thanks for reading.
Your comments and constructive criticism are welcome.

Think Topically – Work Topically

Posted in Web2.0 Productivity with tags , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by Lance Strzok

Some very important values and ideas have been simmering for a number of years in the collaborative spaces across the government. The idea of “Thinking Topically – Not Organizationally” is one of the longest standing and has more meaning the longer I work in these collaborative tools. The discussion and approach below is being presented in an effort to avoid the “1000 silos of collaboration” which is slowly beginning to erode the base of a more true and genuine collaborative infrastructure that already exists, and simply needs to be more fully understood and utilized.

This article focuses on implementing a “topic” centric approach that enables better communication and collaboration across the various domains, and between the 16 agencies in our enterprise.

There are three major pieces to understand.

1. People as “Sensors on a network”. On any given topic, there are those that work it directly, and those that work it indirectly. How we find and organize the people that work that issue is described in another article, but as those groups form networks, it helps to think of them as sensors on a network, and links among the networks. All the people involved in these networks are spread across various agencies, academia, and the contracting world.

Three starting ideas

These networks have the technology to organize, and share information on topics that are important to them. By linking and enabling them to work together on issues of common concern up front, we have the potential to provide well rounded thoroughly vetted reports to our customers that highlight differences and agreements on content contained in the reporting. We also could reduce considerable overlap, time and money wasted on individual agency production that creates multiple products on any given topic and leaves it to the customer to find and identify among several reports the information they are looking for and the agreement and disagreement between the various articles. The unfortunate part is that often, the customers don’t have the time or resources to read and interpret the information provided to them. I would also argue that is what we should be doing on the front end. (Taxpayers should read this as “waste and duplication”).

2. A workflow that allows for the reduction in time consumed by each sensor on the network independently discovering, aggregating, sharing, documenting and producing on that information. In this process, each sensor puts their finds on the topic into a bin with all the others, and software within the bin recognizes duplication and removes the additional document, but adds a one up number and username to the suggested file which could be used in helping to determine value to the other team members. Additional software could be run against the data in the storage area looking for relationships, or add some natural language processing (NLP) techniques as well as a way to divide up the articles between members for review, or allow reviewers to rate and comment on the content as well as suggest whether it goes into the trash or needs to be used to update an assessment or start a new one.

3. Work topically by way of Community Of Interest pages. A shining attribute of one of our tools is the concept of a workspace. However, A-space is not available to the entire 16 agency enterprise. But the idea and functionality of a workspace can exist using tools already available at each agency and on all three domains (ICES services). It may not be as elegant, but at this point in our development as fellow collaborating agencies, the concept of a workspace can be achieved using a wiki page, a document management system, social bookmarking, a common publishing environment, a twitter like tool, and other supporting tools already available across the enterprise.

Having now identified the major pieces of the discussion, how is this supposed to work?

Why is this important? (Who has the time and responsibility to do this?) Do the customers have the time or responsibility to discover, read, disambiguate, and deliver best info to their decision makers? Is that their job?

What can we save for us, and our customers?

What can we do right now?

I have discussed this several times in the course I give, but I am looking to improve the model and the approach. All comments or idea would be appreciated. Thanks.