David Skyrme Associates


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No. 10: May 1997


When Push comes to Pull - Channelling the Information Deluge
The Ken has Awakened - The Monet View of Knowledge Management
Internet Commerce - Trends and Realities
A Tale of two Trade Nets - Britain Deserves Better
European Telework Week - and other Telework developments
A Reader Replies on Information Management vs. Knowledge Management
Publications and News of Events


Welcome to the May issue of I3 UPDATE, a free briefing analysing developments in the networked knowledge economy.

At the bottom of this edition you will find important information about joining the email distribution list. We hope you enjoy this UPDATE, and welcome comments, contributions and feedback through email at david@skyrme.com.

David J. Skyrme
Managing Editor

When Push comes to Pull:
Channelling the Information Deluge

David J. Skyrme

A common finding in the client work we do is the prevalence of the 'information paradox' - managers getting too much information, yet still wanting more. The paradox is explained, of course, by the fact that they want less irrelevant information and more relevant.

A new Web technology that is attracting attention (Wall Street Journal and Business Week have both featured it) is 'Push' technology. Products and services such as Pointcast, Backweb, Freeloader (from Individual Inc.), Headliner (from Lanacom after 1st June) and Marimba, push channels of information, selected according to your preferences into your computer. Instead of pulling content from the World Wide Web, this content (typically news, trade press, weather etc.) is 'pushed' into your PC, where it is activated either by a Web browser or a screen saver. For example, I use Pointcast, which happily downloads pages in background mode while I am on the Internet, and which after a period of idle time on my computer, sequences through pages of news and give ticker tape style stock price information.

"This could be the biggest shift in information technology since, well, the Web itself" says WSJ. Certainly it is attractive to traditional media content providers and advertisers. It is a form of 'narrowcasting' that distributes focussed content to millions of users (the technology can push out higher volumes of information than pull methods). It is attractive to users, giving them selected information without them having to actively pull information from the Web. Some of the downsides are already apparent. Pushing content onto company intranets and systems that are continually connected to the Internet consumes significant bandwidth - some estimate that 10 per cent of Internet traffic is now this push traffic. And this is bandwidth that might not be used - content is pushed whether people read it all or not. Other concerns are to do with 'garbage collection', (who cleans up your disk space?) and privacy (the technology can find out what you have read or not).

But does push technology solve the information paradox problem, or other problems we have identified in our work on knowledge management? The answer is only partially. Many people have a psychological need not to miss out on information. However, the volume of good quality information is such that nobody can track it all. Like alerting services, such as Reuters or MAID, push technology has its place. In our opinion, though, individuals and organizations would do well to reexamine their overall information strategy and handling, for example answering a few key questions:

  • How do we prioritise the information that we really need to track regularly?
  • Which are the best sources of content and which are the most appropriate media?
  • Once I have received them, how are they then sorted for subsequent retrieval?
  • Is there a convenient source where this information is maintained and accessible?

By carefully thinking through such questions, as a user you may well decide on one or more of the following as being more effective:

  1. Read the paper edition of the FT or WSJ on your way to work
  2. Subscribe to a daily or weekly email newsletter that really focuses on your information needs (the current 'push' channels are fairly broad based conventional media).
  3. Install better information management software on your own computer (e.g. AltaVista My Computer Personal eXtension that indexes documents and email) Update (Aug 1999) - this is now AltaVista Discovery
  4. Rely more on 'pull' strategies, where you grab 'just-in-time' information from a reliable source
  5. Leave information gathering and alerting to a specialist 'knowledge centre'!

Those who follow developments in knowledge management will appreciate the benefits of an organizational strategy that develops a proper framework for information gathering and management. Often a common thesaurus and framework is applied so that external information is integrated into the organization's language and systems.

Whatever your organizational strategy, there is a lot to be said for doing an information analysis on your own personal information needs and information handling. A recent survey suggested that 90 per cent of people have difficulty finding information that they know is somewhere at hand (lost on the C: drive?). You will often be surprised at how much information that "you can't afford to miss" is channelling your way as part of a deluge that you can in fact do without.

David Skyrme Associates advises on the tools and techniques of information resources management (IRM) - see Management Insight No. 8 for an overview of this approach.

The Ken has Awakened:
The Monet View of Knowledge Management

David J. Skyrme

It was my privilege to attend the official launch of Debra Mae Amidon's book "Innovation Strategy for the Knowledge Economy: The Ken Awakening, on 25th April at Giverney in France. It was a beautiful Normandy Spring day. We spent the morning visiting Monet's garden, including the famous lily pond, that gave him inspiration in his painting. The reason why this location was chosen is very clear once you read the book. Just as Giverney inspired Claude Monet, it inspired Debra to draw together years of knowledge and experience of organizational innovation and knowledge processes into a very readable book, with many insights and practical examples. Just as you have to stand back from an impressionist painting to really understand it, so too in modern management is it important to step back to see the wood from the trees. In her preface Debra explains:

"In his final years Claude Monet advanced well beyond the boundaries of what anyone would have thought possible. His gardens at Giverney are breathtaking and his masterpieces now featured in L'Orangerie are a spectacle of courage. They represent the same kind of bold vision we must establish to capitalize on the unleashed opportunities present in an interdependent global economy."

In the book's foreword by Leif Edvinsson, Vice President of Intellectual Capital and Director of Skandia Futures Centers, says:

"The power of innovation is one of the most fundamentals resources for both organization and societal wealth.....Through her book, Ms Amidon offers insightful and practical hands-on suggestions of how to move ahead with a powerful process for your knowledge innovation."

The book is published by Butterworth Heinemann and available now.

Internet Commerce - Trends and Realities

David J. Skyrme

The following is a summarized extract from our information refinery (*) where we track trends in the development of the knowledge economy and of business use of the Internet.

Topic - Electronic Commerce - Overview

Snapshots (Surveys)

  • 40-60% of large companies have Intranets (Gartner/IDC)
  • 50 per cent of large UK companies have Web sites (up from 35% mid 1996)
  • 32 per cent of these expect to add transaction services within 12 months (Durlacher)
  • Under 20 per cent of Web sites by UK financial companies are "useful" (MoonDream)
  • Internet advertising revenues $343million in 1996, quadrupling annually (Jupiter)
  • 1 in 10 Internet users have shopped online (UK - NOP)
  • 50 per cent of online shoppers not happy (US - ARG)
  • Internet threatens 90-135 million by 2000 (Philips Tarifica)
  • Web user estimates: 40-60 million (various sources)

(Note - a useful monthly newsletter summarizing Internet surveys is produced by NUA at http://www.nua.ie/)

Established Trends

  • Growth of business web sites and web site users and usage
  • Growth of graphics, professional design
  • Broadening demographic profile of Web users - more female, more age groups
  • Use of database driven sites e.g. for product selection
  • Information publishing
  • Increased use of registration forms to enter commercial sites
  • Increasing integration with EDI

Tentative Trends/Potential Discontinuities

  • Early evidence of slowing of Web growth, user dissatisfaction
  • Broadband services vs. the web for electronic commerce
  • Browser specific sites (fragmentation of the Web)
  • Secure transactions to international standards (SET)
  • Micro-payment mechanisms


  • Growing user base - and familiarity
  • Increasing awareness e.g. use of http:// URLs in conventional media
  • Wider choice and availability online
  • Easier-to-use and easier-to-transact sites (e.g. books, airline travel)
  • Better Directories and Search Tools


  • Poor Web sites - high picture to useful content ratio
  • Lack of organized information/ product selection aids
  • No comprehensive well structured business directory
  • Lack of secure small payments
  • Taxation and custom's issues for transborder shipments

Opportunities (to be exploited)

  • Relationship building, using email and Web response mechanisms
  • Customer newsletters via email
  • Step by step product selection (e.g. see http://www.xerox.com/products.html and its use of Saqqara http://www.saqqara.com)
  • Online customer support and delivery information (e.g. FedEx)
  • Extranets - allowing selected access into corporate Intranets (online ordering)
  • Electronic market stalls - effective links of buyers to sellers (structured AND substantive directories, malls)


Internet commerce is becoming more acceptable daily, However, many companies are trying to take their existing idioms over into the new media, and failing miserably (see next article). Server failures (or simply bad programming) make it difficult to find useful information on some major brand sites, yet alone make a transaction. 'Malls' are generally indifferent and do not meet the general user needs. In the short term, Internet commerce is likely to evolve around a) Well defined communities and b) High profile specialized sites that are effectively electronic markets for a specific (narrow) range of goods. Few major companies have evolved beyond stage 2 (the Web as corporate information publishing) of our 5-stage Internet business model to become really useful buying sites, or are taking advantage of other Internet mechanisms e.g. list servers. Exceptions are found in music, hi-tech, travel and books. e.g. Dell sells PCs worth over $1 million a day over the Internet. Longer term, there are likely to be a new set of broad-band channels and mechanisms that might ultimately displace the Web as we know it.

David Skyrme Associates monitors trends in 36 top-level Internet related topics (over 200 specific topics in all). Information and analyses can be supplied in multiple formats through various subscription schemes. Please send email to info@skyrme.com for further details or visit our Analysis Services Web Page.

* The 'information refinery' is a method developed by Trend Monitor International.

A Tale of two Trade Nets:
Britain Deserves Better

David J. Skyrme "Britain deserves better" was the slogan of the UK Labour Party as it put itself before the electorate on 1st May. They won, and Britain waits expectantly. On the Internet, two rival export trade sites have gone on air in the last month. They are:

Both are electronic shopping places for British products. The user can select a product category and find a list of suitable suppliers. The theory is good. The practice leave a lot to be desired. The TradeUK site is relatively attractive and as well as product information has links to trade associations, government departments and general UK information, such as events and travel. To select a product a user fills in a simple search form with product type and optional location and industry. Unfortunately there is no guidance as to categories, and the initial output is a list of company names with no qualifying details. It also didn't help when several times I received the message "The Autonomy Search engine has failed and is probably not running at this time."

British Exports Interactive allows the user to search on more fields including company size and does list categories. The main page is over 18Kbytes long and is sometimes slow to download. Products are coded by standard industry classification, but it does mean checking lots of boxes to include or exclude sub-categories, a process that must be repeated if you do a follow-on search.

Both are good indications of what needs to be improved to make the Internet really helpful for electronic commerce. The product categories need to be more helpful and guidance more explicit - simply relying on a powerful search engine is probably not sufficient. In our opinion, since both have been constructed from hard-copy directories, much of the trappings of that media have been carried across inappropriately. Even good old yellow pages (http://www.yell.co.uk) seems better for product searching.

We expect that key sites devoted to one specific product range are the way that Internet commerce will develop. Books are a good example. In the US Amazon.com has a virtual book store more extensive than most real ones. I personally prefer the UK's Internet bookshop (http://www.bookshop.co.uk). It has over 2 million titles listed (it calls itself "the largest online bookshop in the world") and also offer the facilities of a virtual librarian "Jenny". She will email you if a new title in your area of interest gets added to the database.
Update (Aug 1999) - The Internet bookshop was taken over by W.H. Smith

Britain does deserve better, and it is more sites like the Internet bookshop, rather than these export trade sites, that will deliver the goods.

European Telework Week:
Other Telework developments

The third European Telework Week 1997 runs from 3-10 November under the theme:

"For a competitive, sustainable Europe"

It aims to raise awareness of the benefits of teleworking and provide a platform for a constructive debate on working and living in the Information Society. The week is characterised by key international events, awards, and special activities. Awards are expected in categories such as:

  • Best contribution to European Competitiveness
  • Most original telework scheme
  • Best contribution to Sustainability
  • Best technological contribution to the advancement of Telework.

One of the special activities planned is 'Getting Connected', which is aimed at getting more people actively using online methods, such as online discussions, videoconferences, use of Internet based radio. These activities will also broaden the appeal of ETW internationally.

For additional information on ETW97: ETW97 Web pages - http://www.eto.org.uk/etw97/
ETW97 co-ordination office - E-mail: Martech_2@Compuserve.com

Other forthcoming telework events

  • European Telework: Open Workshop for European Projects and Initiatives: 4 - 5 June 97 - Brussels, Belgium
  • Telecon Europe '97: 16 - 18 June 97 - Helsinki, Finland
  • Berlin International Conference on Teleworking: 23 June 97 (http://www.online-work.com)
  • Second International Workshop on Telework: 2 - 5 Sept 97 - Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • TELECOM Interactive '97: 8 - 14 Sept 97 - Geneva, Switzerland
  • 4th European Assembly on Telework: 24 - 26 Sept 97 - Stockholm, Sweden
  • (http://www.nutek.se)

See http://www.eto.org.uk for more information on ETW97, these events and other developments in the telework/information society arena.

A Reader Replies:
A Rounded View of Knowledge Management

Robert Taylor

I have detected the two schools of thought in KM that I think you do too -
(1) the "softies": those who believe that knowledge is only knowledge so long as it's tacit and in heads, and
(2) the "hardies": those who don't know what those people are talking about - they can't understand something they can't see - and only understand management as being applicable to something explicit.

I detect that you might fall into the former category (I think that's what you're saying - but don't let me misrepresent you) - let me return to this in a second. I also agree that many in the latter category fall into the trap of "knowledge &equal; information" and so are happy to go on doing information management and call in "knowledge management". They lose out on KM altogether because they can't see it! I hope I make my position on the relationship between these two terms clear below.

I strongly urge that we try to treat the whole problem, not just the explicit or just the tacit side of it, and that we try to help the two sides see each other's point of view. I believe that KM must be about both (a) supporting the dynamics of tacit knowledge and (b) managing explicit knowledge ((and I don't mean information - although information management is, indeed, close to this and a vital activity in itself)). So I'm neither a softy nor a hardy (!) but a proponent of the whole KM process.

I am sorry that you try to demonise expert systems. The fact is that this technology delivered some very good results and is now firmly part of mainstream practice (which is mainly to the good but has also stunted its further development, in my view -- but that's another issue!). In my experience it is the same people who are trying to run ES/KBS down now as tried to hype it a dozen years ago. I resisted the hype then so I feel justified in standing against the revisionism now! Our experience with knowledge-based systems has given us a dozen years of working on problems to do with knowledge and has taught us a great deal about it -- this is to the great good of KM as a movement and not to be shunned. I agree that it doesn't answer all our needs -- most of us who were involved in it never claimed that it would, though: the hype came from the pundits.

In my view there exist in every organisation some aspects or fragments of knowledge that are manageable, to some extent, in an explicit manner, and that many of the AI-based approaches are relevant in these instances. Every organisation runs its processes and makes its decisions based on knowledge models that, I agree, are usually mental, but that might, to some extent and with great benefit, be made explicit. My team has worked in knowledge acquisition and modelling in areas such as fraud detection, debt write-off, credit risk assessment and so on. The models that are produced are indeed capable of being executed as computer programmes or written on paper: They are, indeed, therefore, to that extent, subject to information management techniques.

However, in their form, their usage and their very nature they are quite unlike the records, documents and datastructures that classical information management is primarily concerned with. They are dynamic, they are generalised and they are explanatory: unlike classical information items: they are knowledge-level models consisting of concepts, relations, facts, rules and control. Such models are part of an organisation's knowledge capital. So that is where I see the closeness to, but also the distinction from information management.

What I am claiming is that these (hard) approaches belong in the heart of the practice of knowledge management -- along with the soft approaches --- they do not constitute the whole story, but, without them, a purely soft approach, focusing only on the management of tacit knowledge is, itself, only a partial answer.

A knowledge-basd system, for instance, as a "hard" KM initiative, depends on surrounding "soft" processes of usage, learning, review and update to continually improve and maintain the performance of its knowledge-base. This is only one micro-example of how the two sides, hard and soft, work together.

Incidentally, many KBS have falled down precisely because they have been implemented without the supporting"soft" processes.

Explicit knowledge models will and do form an important part of any organisation's knowledge capital, just as much as a knowledge-supporting culture and processes will and do.

I urge you to give a fairer hearing to the "harder" side - I don't think you need to fight it: both sides are in this together. Please join me in drawing the two sides closer together to combat the misunderstandings in the wider world that we have both detected.

Best wishes,

Robert Taylor

Email: 100606.3047@CompuServe.COM)

See also A Reader Replies on KM 'Softies' and 'Hardies'

Recent Publications and News of Events

  • Intellectual Capital: The New Wealth of Organizations, Thomas A. Stewart, Doubleday (April 1997)

  • The New Organizational Wealth: Managing and Measuring Intangible Assets, Karl Erik Sveiby, Berrett Koehler (May 1997)

  • Knowledge Management Tools, ed. Rudy L Ruggles III, Butterworth-Heinemann (1997)

  • Seminar on Knowledge Management and the European Union: 12 - 14 May 1997, Utrecht, The Netherlands. CIBIT

  • International Congress on Knowledge Management, 2-5 June 1997, London. ICBI, Tel: +44 171 915 5103 (No email address given!)

  • Global Knowledge 97: Knowledge for Development in the Information Age, 22-25 June 1997, Toronto (World Bank and Government of Toronto). email:GlobalKnowledge@worldbank.org

© Copyright, 1997. David Skyrme Associates Limited and Authors - All rights reserved.

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I3 UPDATE is a publication of David Skyrme Associates Limited - providers of market studies, consultancy and strategic advice in knowledge management, knowledge networking and collaborative technologies.

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