Knowledge is Power

If I have a pervading theme to my messaging around effective communications, it’s that it’s all about knowledge and the transfer of it from one mind to another appropriate mind with the minimum of fuss. HP clearly agree.

I may be last to the party in terms of commenting on the HP acquisition of Autonomy, but it gave me a chance to catch some of the comment from industry pundits as well as professionals in the communications space. Opinion seems to range from “brave” to “foolhardy”, but not everyone has been negative. Including me. Dennis Howlett’s excellent article on ZDNet offers a good insight into the positives.

What HP have done is recognise the changing world – albeit rather dramatically and with all the appearance of having woken up one morning and finally decided to put their collective glasses on, taken a look outside and gone “Wow, where did that come from?”. The rapid jettisoning of consumer products, including ones brand new to market, surprised everyone and smacks of knee-jerking on a corporate scale.

But a positive move is still a positive move.

HP are a leader in datacentre technology, with healthy products and healthy profits. But in consumer, they’ve been a me-too player for some time. The mobile device market is already well served by Apple, Samsung and HTC as well as a bunch of other value-add players. With Microsoft struggling to keep a toe-hold, there’s little room for HP. And there has been little money in the manufacture of traditional PCs for many years. So getting out of these markets, though a major step, surely is a sane one.

Which leads me then to what HP have bought to fill the gap. Out with me-too devices, and in with control of knowledge. Yes, control of knowledge is what Autonomy is all about – pulling out information from disparate electronic sources and combining it to form a “a conceptual and contextual understanding” (according to the press release). Knowledge is power, and HP plans to hold the knowledge – or at least to allow its customers to do so.

So, I’m a communications consultant. My world revolves around helping people to communicate as effectively as possible, which most definitely is about tools and technology but it all exists to ease the relationship between people and information. Communications tools available today – for instance what people call Unified Communications, and what people call Social Media, to name just two dreadfully abused buzzwords – really focus on the transmission of information between people, making it easier and faster for people to connect to people. Social media tries, and in my view largely fails in today’s solutions, to identify information which a person may be interested in but generally speaking the world has been heading towards information overload for many years. The bottleneck remains the humans in the system, and the main point of assessment of the relevance of information remains with those humans.

The race is surely finally on to help move that assessment point up into the network, into a machine, to at least lighten the load if not remove the need for thought completely (God forbid).

There’s nothing new in this search, in fact. The concept of a knowledgebase has been around for years, but the emphasis has remained on a person searching for information within the system rather than on the system determining what information is relevant itself.

It might seem dangerous to leave this decision-making to a computer – after all, what if it misses something? True, missing vital information in some jobs leads to loss of life and in industry to losing money (even worse!). And missing vital information is something we humans do on a daily basis already. We’re great at it. Because there’s just too much information around, and assessing relevance takes so long. We think we’re really clued up, because we can peruse the world news on our smartphones and see the latest stock prices; because we can send updates about our part of the organisation to everyone else in the blink of an eye; because everything we do is written down in an email (somewhere). But really, we’re not.

The trick, and it’s really a pretty tall order, is to assess some of this mountain manually and some of it automatically. Without missing anything.

But I am, after all, a communications consultant not an IT industry pundit. The reality of communications today is that it revolves primarily around email, IM, the phone, a bit of video for the exotic, and lots and lots of largely web-based information systems. If HP can provide a means to collect and understand information, they then need to find a way to get that to the people who need it. They need a delivery mechanism. If needs to be embedded in enterprise communications systems – another tool to merge into the UC/social media landscape. And this is where HP falls down. They are not Cisco, with a huge installed enterprise UC base, IBM with a compelling social media playform, nor Google with a huge number of SaaS customers. They’re not even a bit player.

Without the delivery mechanism, the opportunities can never be fully exploited. Hopefully, HP will not try to build a UC/social media offering – whilst the world is awaiting the perfect product (Google, IBM and Cisco have not done it yet and some might say they seem to be making quite a struggle of it), it’s hard to see HP turning their hand to such a thing. So hopefully (please, HP) they will decide to partner with someone who really can make the delivery work.

Data automatically collected, interpreted, assessed and distributed to the people who need it. Now there’s a goal worth working towards.

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About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

One Response to Knowledge is Power

  1. Pingback: IP Expo 2011 Roundup « Mike Barnes' Blog

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