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Realities of the New Work Environment April 15, 2013

Posted by stewsutton in business analytics, business intelligence, Cloud, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Communications, Community, Data Portability, Economics, Information Policy, Information Technology, Knowledge Management, Software.
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Trends such as globalization, economic change, externalization, and consumerization are creating  new realities in the modern information workplace.  Here are four workplace realities that are already having an effect on the way we get things done.

1. Greater Interdependence – Employees collaborate many more individuals in their day-to-day work than they did just a decade ago (typically ten or more). As a result, nearly one-half of an employee’s impact on business unit profitability comes from network performance—the ability to help others perform and be helped by others. In contrast, in 2002, nearly 80% of an employee’s impact came from individual task performance. Although network performance is vital, only 20% of employees are effective at it. The way IT supports enterprise collaboration must change as IT adopts techniques to understand and support the needs of teams and individuals.

2. Frequent Organizational Change – Clearly organizations have never stood still.  However, a majority of employees feel that the rate of change is accelerating. Since 2010, the average employee has experienced major changes including:  reorganizations, strategy revisions, or new leadership, at a cycle of roughly every seven months. This state of near continuous change shortens business partner time horizons and puts a premium on responsive IT planning and budgeting. It also undermines efforts to encapsulate business process in enterprise systems and increases the value of integration.

3. Greater Knowledge Intensity – Ah, the Knowledge Management stuff…  An increasing percentage of employees (over 80%) are conducting knowledge work that requires analysis and judgment. Knowledge work is becoming ubiquitous because of transaction automation and the emergence of “big data,” In addition, business volatility means that even when transactions remain manual, there are plenty of exceptions that require analysis and judgment to resolve. Information technology investments are already changing to reflect this trend, with more money being spent on analytics and collaboration and less on process automation.

4. More Technology Choice – It is commonly reported that a serious majority (nearly two-thirds) of employees use personal devices for work purposes.  This is huge!   However, this transition to device consumerization is only the starting point. After BYOD comes BYOI, BYON, and BYOA; bring your own information, networks, and applications. Almost one-half of all employees already use external, unofficial information sources for work purposes,  about a quarter of employees source their own collaboration and networking tools, and a fifth of employees use their own analytic tools. Although BYO has risks, it cannot be stopped. Managed correctly, it can provide faster access to new capabilities and a better fit with individual employee workflows.

The 21st Century Cyber-Economy June 1, 2012

Posted by stewsutton in Economics, Information Policy, Information Technology, Knowledge Management, Politics, Security.
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Disclaimer:  This post is composed based on a review of publicly available information and a reflective commentary on events widely reported within the press.  No “inside” information or perspective has colored or enhanced the commentary presented here, and these opinions are solely and completely associated with the author.

As a technologist with an interest in preserving knowledge and improving the way we work with information, I am distracted by the subject of cyber warfare.  Its all over the news and hard to ignore if you have access to the Internet, TV, or national newspapers.  According to a report in the New York Times, President Obama accelerated a plan to cripple Iran’s uranium enrichment program by hacking into the program’s home base, Natanz. Although the program began in 2006, the Times reports that Obama pushed increasingly aggressive attacks, even in his early days in office.

The New York Times writer David E. Sanger claims that the U.S. developed a worm with Israel called Stuxnet.  This is a very sophisticated virus – so advanced that Symantec and other security experts could not figure out who made it. The Stuxnet worm crippled 20% of the Iranian centrifuges at Natanz.  Analysts and critics are still debating whether Stuxnet seriously impeded Iran’s nuclear ambitions or just slowed them down a bit.  However, nobody is denying the serious implications this tactic has for modern warfare.

This TED Talk video from March 2011 describes how when first discovered in 2010, the Stuxnet computer worm posed a baffling puzzle. Beyond its sophistication at the time, there loomed a more troubling mystery: its purpose. Ralph Langner,  a German control system security consultant. and his team helped crack the code that revealed this digital warhead’s final target. In a fascinating look inside cyber-forensics, he explains how — and makes a bold (and, it turns out, correct) guess at its shocking origins.

The Stuxnet cyber attack represents a new formally established method of warfare.  And more recently, the equally insidious Flame virus is capturing the attention of cyber-watchers. There is still speculation on who originated this specific virus.  But the frequency of cyber-actions appears to be on the uptick.

The following references are links to press sites where the ownership and origin of Stuxnet and other viruses within this emerging Cyberwar are being declared.

  1. Slashgear
  2. Washington Post
  3. PC Mag
  4. Ars Technica
  5. Reddit
  6. Telegraph
  7. Extreme Tech
  8. New York Times
  9. Tech Crunch
  10. Yahoo News

With all of this making big news today June 1, 2012, we have some interesting counter-dialog that emerged in a publication on May 31, 2012 from Adam P. Liff, a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University.  The title of the article that was published in the Journal of Strategic Studies is: Cyberwar: A New ‘Absolute Weapon’? The Proliferation of Cyberwarfare Capabilities and Interstate War.  Within the article the central objective is to explore the implications of the proliferation of cyberwarfare capabilities for the character and frequency of interstate war.  The contrarian view expanded on within the paper is that cyberwarfare capabilities may actually decrease the likelihood of war.

In one hypothesis, computer network attacks (CNA) represent a low-cost yet potentially devastating asymmetric weapon.  The hypothesis is that asymmetric warfare will increase the frequency of war by increasing the probability of war between weak and strong states that would otherwise not fight due to the disparity between conventional military strength.

A second hypothesis put forward by Liff is that the plausible deniability and difficulty in attributing cyberatacks could lead potential attackers to be less fearful of retaliation, and thereby use CNA where they would not dare attack with conventional weapons.  As it took a while for the disclosure of the Stuxnet virus to be attributed, it is also likely that the time required to attribute an attack will accelerate.  Its all a matter of computer algorithms, processing power, and effective application of cyber-forensics.  Those with the bigger computers, better algorithms, and smarter scientists have a decided edge in conducting an effective investigation of the cyber war scene of the crime.

Another hypothesis put forward by Liff is that the difficulty of defending against cyberattacks will render states exceedingly vulnerable to surprise attacks.  And since state will not be able to afford to attack first, the offensive advantage of CNA may increase the frequency of preemptive war.  At the present time however it seems that for a few more years, the cyberwarfare domain will concede an advantage to actors that have considerably more resources; thereby offering an offensive advantage to those actors.

A summary conclusion offered by Liff is that in some situations CNA as an asymmetric weapon may actually decrease the frequency of war by offering relatively weak states an effective deterrent against belligerent adversaries.  While this opinion is interesting, it seems unlikely since the ability for weak states to guard their secrets may directly affect the confidence in another states success of a preemptive cyberattack.

So with all of this “lead-up”, we can consider the implications of this “cyber stuff” and how it affects our day-to-day information economy and the way we work.  To provide further foundation to this discussion, we need to acknowledge the current information ecosystem that is increasingly prevalent within our modern economy and the relationship of several major components within that ecosystem.  First let us simply describe the information ecosystem:

  1. Wireless access points
  2. Persistent network connections
  3. Data and applications in the cloud

To provide a more visual example of these three elements of our modern information ecosystem in action consider the person using an iPhone/iPad (access point) over a WiFi in a coffee shop (persistent network connection) and updating their Facebook or Twitter account with new information (data and applications in the cloud).  These actions and examples go far beyond the simple consumer visualization here, and are increasingly the “mix” for business applications.  We are rapidly moving from desktop computers to laptops to tablets and for the majority of information transactions in the future, the mobility will extend into wearable computing devices like fancy eyeglasses (Google Glasses).  This increased mobility is irreversible and the supporting technology that supports and speeds this mobility will win in the marketplace and it will further establish fully mobile computing as the way we transact with information.  The difficulty however is that the increased mobility introduces an expanded reliance on networks and big data/app centers where all the digital stuff we work with is stored and served up.

So while we had the “big 3” automakers back in the 60’s and 70’s, we now have the “big 3” digital service providers of the 21st century in the form of Amazon, Apple, and Google.  You have got your iPhone, iPad, Kindle, or Android device accessing an increasing portfolio of content and applications from the “big 3” digital service providers (think Kindle Books, Apple iTunes Music, and Google Drive for your documents, and other digital data).

So while the cyber threat is spoken about in relationship to national infrastructure and associated information assets, the threat to basic day-to-day personal information systems is also a reality.  Now it would not be a national security incident for people to lose access to their music on iTunes, or their picture albums on Flickr, or their collection of novels from the Kindle store, it is the increasing ubiquity within which we traverse this collective set of services that can be forecasted as a more complete reliance on similar arrangements for everything we do within the modern information economy.  Digital wallets in our mobile phones, online banking from wherever we are, controlling access to systems within our homes, and even the education system with increasing emphasis toward online learning and instruction.  It is a pretty safe bet that the information ecosystem will be pervasive and all information will need to successfully traverse this ecosystem.

Our daily lives (both business and personal) will become increasingly dependent on the reliability and performance of this information ecosystem.  It is a relatively simple inference to conclude that the information ecosystem will be under constant attack in the “cyber domain” and that will affect a more complex relationship between government-based protection of our “cyber border” in a manner not that far removed from how we protect our physical border.  Will this have a profound and lasting effect on the way we interact with our information?  Certainly it will.  There will be less anonymity within information transactions (since strong tie-ins with verifiable identity are foundational to improved security.  So you will be leaving digital “breadcrumbs” of digital transactions wherever you go within the cyber domain.  How much of this digital history will need to be publicly accessible, and how much will remain private will be the subject of much dialog and innovation, and services, and likely government policy.  It is going to be, no, it already is a brave new world and the digital cyberwar will just be another aspect to the 21st century way of life.

System Dynamics December 16, 2010

Posted by stewsutton in Information Policy, Information Technology, Knowledge Management.

So the field of System Dynamics is about 50 years old*. And while it has been around at least as long as I have been wandering the earth, I only recently connected to the power and potential of this discipline and how it can offer an important way to critically evaluate complex systems. Started around 1961, the field developed initially from the work of Jay W. Forrester. His seminal book Industrial Dynamics (Forrester 1961) is still a significant statement of philosophy and methodology in the field. Within ten years of its publication, the span of applications grew significantly.

So what is system dynamics and how can you define its approach?

  • Defining problems dynamically, in terms of graphs over time.
  • Striving for an endogenous, behavioral view of the significant dynamics of a system, a focus inward on the characteristics of a system that themselves generate or exacerbate the perceived problem.
  • Thinking of all concepts in the real system as continuous quantities interconnected in loops of information feedback and circular causality.
  • Identifying independent stocks or accumulations (levels) in the system and their inflows and outflows (rates).
  • Formulating a behavioral model capable of reproducing, by itself, the dynamic problem of concern. The model is usually a computer simulation model expressed in nonlinear equations, but is occasionally left unquantified as a diagram capturing the stock-and-flow/causal feedback structure of the system.
  • Deriving understandings and applicable policy insights from the resulting model.
  • Implementing changes resulting from model-based understandings and insights.

Mathematically, the basic structure of a formal system dynamics computer simulation model is a system of coupled, nonlinear, first-order differential (or integral) equations.  Simulation of such systems is easily accomplished by partitioning simulated time into discrete intervals and stepping the system through time one interval  at a time.  Each state variable is computed from its previous value and its net rate of change.

The simulation tools for System Dynamics have evolved considerably and today there are several different simulation tools that can be acquired to perform research and analysis based on system dynamics methods.

The Feedback Loop is the Key

Conceptually, the feedback concept is at the heart of the system dynamics approach.  Diagrams of loops of information feedback and circular causality are tools for conceptualizing the structure of a complex system and for communicating model-based insights.  Intuitively, a feedback loop exists when information resulting from some action travels through a system and eventually returns in some form to its point of origin, potentially influencing future action.  If the tendency in the loop is to reinforce the initial action, the loop is called a positive or reinforcing feedback loop;  if the tendency is to oppose the initial action, the loop is called a negative or balancing feedback loop.  The sign of the loop is called its polarity. Balancing loops can be variously characterized as goal-seeking, equilibrating, or stabilizing processes.  They can sometimes generate oscillations, as when a pendulum seeking its equilibrium goal gathers momentum and overshoots it.  Reinforcing loops are sources of growth or accelerating collapse;  they are disequilibrating and destabilizing.  Combined, reinforcing and balancing circular causal feedback processes can generate all manner of dynamic patterns.

For understanding, system dynamics practitioners strive for an endogenous point of view.  The effort is to uncover the sources of system behavior that exist within the structure of the system itself.

System structure

These ideas are captured in Forrester’s (1969) organizing framework for system structure:

  • Closed boundary
    • Feedback loops
      • Levels
      • Rates
        • Goal
        • Observed condition
        • Discrepancy
        • Desired action

The closed boundary signals the endogenous point of view.  The word closed here does not refer to open and closed systems in the general system sense, but rather refers to the effort to view a system as causally closed.  The modeler’s goal is to assemble a formal structure that can, by itself, without exogenous explanations, reproduce the essential characteristics of a dynamic problem.

The causally closed system boundary at the head of this organizing framework identifies the endogenous point of view as the feedback view pressed to an extreme.  Feedback thinking can be seen as a consequence of the effort to capture dynamics within a closed causal boundary.  Without causal loops, all variables must trace the sources of their variation ultimately outside a system.  Assuming instead that the causes of all significant behavior in the system are contained within some closed causal boundary forces causal influences to feed back upon themselves, forming causal loops.  Feedback loops enable the endogenous point of view and give it structure.

* References taken from “What is System Dynamics” authored at: http://www.systemdynamics.org/what_is_system_dynamics.html

Additional References

Ford, A. 2009. Modeling the Environment. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Forrester, J.W. 1961.  Industrial Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.  Reprinted by Pegasus
Communications, Waltham, MA.
Forrester, J.W. 1969.  Urban Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.  Reprinted by Pegasus Communications,
Waltham, MA.
Maani, K. E. and R. Y. Cavana. 2007.  Systems Thinking, System Dynamics: Understanding Change and Complexity.
Aukland: Printice Hall.
Morecroft, J. D. W. 2007.  Strategic Modeling and Business Dynamics: a Feedback Systems Approach. Chichester:
Morecroft, J. D. W. and J. D. Sterman, Eds. 1994. Modeling for Learning Organizations. System Dynamics Series.
Cambridge, MA:  Pegasus Communications.
Richardson, G.P.  1991/1999.  Feedback Thought in Social Science and Systems Theory. Philadelphia: University of
Pennsylvania Press; reprinted by Pegasus Communications, Waltham, MA.
Richardson, G.P., Ed. 1996.  Modelling for Management:  Simulation in Support of Systems Thinking.  International
Library of Management.  Aldershot, UK:  Dartmouth Publishing Company.
Richardson, G.P. and D. F. Andersen. 2010. Systems Thinking, Mapping, and Modeling for Group Decision and
Negotiation, Handbook for Group Decision and Negotiation, C Eden and DN Kilgour, eds.  Dordrecht:
Springer, 2010, pp. 313-324.
Richardson, G.P. and A.L. Pugh III. 1981. Introduction to System Dynamics Modeling with DYNAMO. Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press.  Reprinted by Pegasus Communications, Waltham, MA.
Roberts, E.B. 1978, ed.  Managerial Applications of System Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.  Reprinted
by Pegasus Communications, Waltham, MA.
Senge, P.M.  The Fifth Discipline:  The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York:
Sterman, J.D. 2000.  Business Dynamics: Systems Thinking and Modeling for a Complex World.  Boston: Irwin
System Dynamics Review. 1985-present.  Chichester, U.K.:  Wiley-Blackwell, Ltd.
Vennix, J. A. M. 1996. Group Model Building: Facilitating Team Learning Using System Dynamics. Chichester:
Wolstenholme, E.F. 1990.  System Enquiry:  a System Dynamics Approach.  Chichester, U.K.:  John Wiley & Sons,

Who – What – Where – When – Why of KM September 30, 2009

Posted by stewsutton in Information Policy, Knowledge Management.
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Call it the W5 if you like… The key attributes of a digital asset strategy. I like to simplify things and this is my attempt to provide a simple framework for all of the key elements associated with digital information management. Let’s do a simple “unpack” of the top-level terms and let’s further assume that the digital assets are really enterprise knowledge assets.

  • Who – knowledge author, knowledge custodian, knowledge consumers
  • What – knowledge content, knowledge context, knowledge authority
  • Where – knowledge location, knowledge access procedures, knowledge update process
  • When – knowledge date of origin, knowledge date of filing, knowledge date of modification
  • Why – knowledge reason for being, knowledge benefit, knowledge value

So let W5 guide your KM digital asset planning.

Can Social Media be Managed? September 28, 2009

Posted by stewsutton in Collaboration, Communications, Information Policy, Knowledge Management, Stewardship.

Imagine that you have a culture where markings of authority is essential to knowledge pedigree and that pedigree knowledge can only be delivered as part of a carefully orchestrated multi-level consensus campaign.  Does not sound like a very good fit for social media technology.  However, it may indeed be a good home, with some tuning of the technology.

When you get your social media collection out of the box and lay out the parts you notice a “blog” (like WordPress), a “wiki” (like MediaWiki), a “tagspace” (like del.icio.us), a “web cms” (Joomla, Drupal, etc.), a “media repository” (like Dspace), a “discussion system” (like phpBB), a “social profile system” (like facebook), a “microblog” (like twitter), and maybe a few other parts.  All of these components are ready to use in a highly collaborative Web 2.0 environment.

How does that square with a culture that needs to see a completed artifact before it can be “reviewed”.  A culture that by process of review has a give and take between concepts and key points, thereby refining the artifact.  A culture where the “author” is not a group, but a recognized authority and others are providing peer review editorial on the artifact. A culture where the step-by-step uplift of the artifact through levels of management establishes the actual pedigree of that artifact.  A culture where upon establishing sufficient management endorsement (pedigree) the artifact can now serve as a key position.

Now that we have that key position, we can construct a campaign of consensus around the position that the artifact represents.  That consensus builds as a this position is delivered to multiple levels of the customer organization.  A consensus that respects and considers that clarifying the position requires unique communications at each level of the customer organization.

Is such an environment a place to plug-in social media as an out-of-the-box solution?  In a word – No!

Social media in this environment requires conforming of the social media components to the perscriptive business process of peer-review, pedigree forming and consensus forming.  At a simple brush, that requires that some of the general purpose aspects of the out-of-the-box social media stack need to be tuned a bit.  Where is the “version-lock” feature in the wiki?  Where is the private channel page collection within the blog and wiki space?  Where are the explicit “workflow” features that can be process-wise associated to artifact forming, review, and endorsement?  It’s not there in our out-of-the-box experience.  So do we “modify” what’s there, look for an alternative, or wait?  If you have the talented staff in place, then a modify is probably a good alternative.  Waiting works if you don’t have cash and the need is not urgent, and looking for an alternative?  We are always on the lookout for the new new thing!

Monitoring Corporate Identity September 17, 2009

Posted by stewsutton in Collaboration, Communications, Community, Identity, Information Policy, Security.
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Where is your corporate identity these days?

  1. corporate twitter profile
  2. corporate google profile
  3. corporate wordpress profile
  4. corporate facebook profile
  5. corporate linkedin profile
  6. corporate yammer profile

and the list goes on and on…

Are you securing these identity locations?  Who is in charge of that process?  What is the corporate policy for managing and policing these external identity spaces?

Something to think about…