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The Future of the Future:
Are you ready for the coming knowledge cloud?

This article appears in the issue April 2010 [Volume 19, Issue 4]


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We have previously discussed the tremendous potential that arises when more than one billion minds are interconnected. The first wave of that transformation has come to fruition, enabling the interaction of knowledge entrepreneurs from all over the world via one-to-one and one-to-many communication channels such as voice, video, voicemail, e-mail, SMS, live chat and the like.

However, despite the significant impact on our way of life, we continue to practice the tribal method of knowledge transfer. Whether intentional or not, the sharing of critical knowledge occurs mostly in secret among selected individuals, with limited dissemination outside the tribe. Although claiming to be modern and agile, many of today’s organizations still cling to the old ways, with decision-making firmly entrenched at the top.

That is all likely to change with the second wave, already underway. New tools are emerging that will greatly enhance decision-making by allowing us to move beyond simple message passing to more context-rich modes of knowledge transfer. Consider the tens of thousands of smartphone apps that have appeared virtually overnight. The innovative blending of satellite imagery with other forms of data is one example. Many of those apps are available for free or at very low cost.

While KM tools have been around for some time, life cycle cost has often been a barrier to large-scale implementation. Total cost of ownership of enterprise software is a familiar battleground for CIOs and their fellow C-Suite occupants. Heated discussions arise in large part over the added costs of middleware, servers, redundant storage, an army of administrators and technical personnel, security, license management, version control, etc. As a result, many would-be enterprises of the future simply give up and revert to their overflowing e-mail boxes and attachments.

Enter the cloud, which spreads computing resources across a swath wide enough to achieve major increases in efficiency and utilization. With access to IT resources increasing and costs decreasing, a perfect storm for transformation on a massive scale is forming. Throw in the effects of Metcalf’s law, which states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users, and you’ve got the makings of a truly global, almost cosmic brain trust.

Tom Koulopoulos writes in a recent Delphi Group white paper entitled In the Cloud, “What we lack is not brains but the ability to connect ideas.” The coming knowledge cloud will not only support connecting ideas, but also connecting the vast inventory of global resources needed to put those ideas into practice.

Think of those other several billion minds waiting in the wings. Given the way the knowledge cloud is evolving, a budding knowledge entrepreneur in a developing country will not even need to own a computer. Internet access through a browser in a wireless device or public café will suffice. Resources for processing, applications, storage and the like will be out there, either free or almost free.

Of course, increased access to everything at lower cost opens the floodgates for more information overload and endless piles of junk. Personally, we can’t wait for the tidal wave of “knowledge spam” to start hitting the streets.

On top of all that, we have the ever-watchful eye of government to keep in mind. Each nation tries in varying degrees to set up barriers inhibiting the free flow of knowledge. For example, there are countries in which the use of Oracle is explicitly banned. How such restrictions are enforced in a cloud environment will be interesting to watch. And if you think intellectual property protection is difficult now, just wait.

Many different versions of clouds are popping up, ranging from free and open to pay-as-you-go and private clouds. Part of the future we are creating involves finding ways to effectively move knowledge not only from person to person and from mentor to “peeps,” but from knowledge cloud to knowledge cloud.

What’s still needed are standards and protocols for knowledge exchange, including verification and validation, which are all part of the greater attribute of “quality.” Language standards such as XML, WSDL and UDDI, and the communication protocols of SOAP, are a start. But we still have a long road ahead.

We can also look forward to the cloud’s ability to help move the world’s storehouse of tacit knowledge into the explicit realm. Conversations, whether they are written or spoken, and even non-verbal expressions captured on video, are being digitized, tagged and stored, hence becoming instantly searchable and retrievable.

Remember a previous Future of the Future article with the subtitle No More Secrets? (See kmworld.com/Articles/Column/Future-of-the-Future/The-Future-of-the-Future-Building-the-Enterprise-of-the-Future-means-no-more-secrets-36004.aspx.) Like it or not, it’s becoming more true every day. Just take note of the many politicians and celebrities brought down by leaked text messages, digital photos, cell phone calls, etc. It works the other way too. One simple how-to video can turn anyone into a folk hero virtually overnight.

Enterprise software vendors need not despair. By moving to the cloud, you will have more customers than ever—given your product has value. Too many enterprise software applications are taking up server space, wasting away underutilized. By moving to the cloud, you enter into a more open source-like business model. Here you receive instant feedback, customers help create and immediately take advantage of upgrades, and your marketing strategy morphs into the brave, new, one-click world of all things viral.

In summary, the cloud is here to stay. We in the KM community have an unprecedented opportunity to accelerate capturing, sharing and applying knowledge on a scale we could only have imagined a decade ago.

Let’s do it right. By putting our minds to work on researching and developing the right protocols and practices, we can use this incredible resource to respond to the many complex challenges and opportunities we are facing. After all, who wants a dumb cloud populated with a lot of useless junk?  


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