Here is some interesting research from IBM on the effects of a set of enterprise 2.0 tools. Activities, Bluemail, & CoScripter: Sharing and Reusing Work in the Enterprise by Tara Matthews & John Tang of the IBM Almaden Research Center. Thanks to Tomoaki Swada for pointing out this work to me. I was especially interested in Activities, as have I have written on it before in Looking Closely at Lotus Connection and, under an older name - Activity Explorer: New Collaborative Tool from IBM, and an even earlier precursor, Unified Activity Management.
The theme that has run through the different iterations of Activities is enabling “users to organize work around their purposeful activities. Activities is a web-based application that uses the construct of an “activity” to aggregate the people, resources, and tools involved in achieving a particular goal.” As stated nicely for Activity Explorer, the goal is to “reorganize collaboration to reflect the work being done rather than the technologies that support the work.” This was our goal when we implemented knowledge management at Cigna Insurance in 1993-94 but tools today are much more able to do this. In the Cigna case we aligned various work support and knowledge sharing tools around three processes: underwriting, claims and the management of third party sales channels.
In the recent IBM Activities version, each work activity has a list of members and contains entries, optionally organized into sections. “Within an Activity, users can add various types of entries: basic text posts, to-dos, and threads of comments. Any entry can have attachments, links, and tags. Activities has been widely deployed in IBM for over two years and used by 32,000 workers in multiple countries.”
The researchers discovered two major use cases: facilitating the management of sets of identical work units through templates and creating tutorials to teach others how to perform work units. The most common use case was the management of identical work activities through a template that formalized the structure and process for a single unit. Since work units were frequently persistent structures to which groups of users referred often, they were willing to spend more time organizing and tagging the information. “Tags were a primary tool used for finding content and creating custom, filtered views of content. Transferring process knowledge to others was a major advantage users cited for this unit of work pattern. Participants appreciated that Activities not only showed the final outcome to new members, but also the process of doing the activity by saving to-dos, intermediate drafts, and comments…”
I think this is great. It is a Web 2.0 version of some of the work we attempted with QuickPlace and other Lotus tools in 1999-2000 at Ryder. In the Ryder project, the knowledge management system aligned with the workflow as it was explicitly designed to do this. It contained a Lotus Notes-based knowledge base for best practice sales proposals and other related documents, a team workspace for sales teams (Lotus QuickPlace), and Ryder’s first implementation of the then relatively new IM capability (Lotus SameTime). The taxonomy supported searches into the knowledge base but also into the team workspaces so you could find the proposal you needed and the team that created it. You saw the complete process used to generate content in the archived team workplace.
The idea was that QuickPlace templates would be set up for projects and then new teams could reuse them. So you can see my déjà vu over Activities. People were receptive to this idea even before Web 2.0 and the Ryder knowledge management system was featured in a number of articles and named to the CIO 100 for 2002 as “a KM center that links sales and marketing with operations and supply chain management.” I think that QuickPlace was an early prototype for the current enterprise 2.0 collaboration tools.
The template approach in Activities naturally leads to their second most common use case – tutorials. The researchers wrote that “tutorials created as templates provided an advantage over static guides or paper checklists: they could be used to create an independent Activity and tailored to the needs of the user carrying it out.” I also like the fact that template authors used other enterprise 2.0 tools to publicize their tutorials. They posted links to them on wikis, blogs, and other resources that were indexed for search across the enterprise.
Activities templates provide a record of doing an activity that can be both educational for others and a useful starting point for real work. Activities templates also achieve the enterprise 2.0 promise of creating sharable content in the process of doing work. In other words, knowledge management is populated with content as a byproduct of using enterprise 2.0 tools. This content is both more useful and requires little, if any, extra work to document at the end of a project. Activities enable some of the early vision of work process aligned knowledge management but go beyond it to provide a complete and reusable work support system that takes advantage of the advances within enterprise 2.0.