Monday, May 5, 2008

Information and Trust

In topics like business intelligence, we typically discuss “trust” from the perspective of the data being provided. Is there “one version of the truth” that creates trust in the results? Much of the focus is around structured data, meaning transactional data that is aggregated, consolidated, cleansed with context applied. This is the focus of the first two themes of the DIG conference around structured data and information. Now move to the third theme, collaboration and Enterprise 2.0, and you quickly have a different interpretation of trust…or do you?

I came upon this topic of trust in two ways this morning. The first was during my morning commute and listening to the local sports radio station. There was some back and forth about mainstream sports media bashing blogs as a form of real media. The argument was mostly centered on credentials associated with reporters versus someone with little education (their words not mine) writing a blog post. The focus was less on trust but more on the qualifications of the writer. I then read a blog post this morning by Bill Ives on the FastForward blog called “Are Us Bloggers to be Trusted” and it got me thinking. Bill makes some excellent points and the commentary from the readers make you consider the level of trust in what I refer to as an “unstructured” data set.

So that raises the question “Can content created with Enterprise 2.0 solutions, like wikis, blogs, prediction markets and social networks, be trusted?” From my perspective, I see this question being answered from two perspectives, internally and externally.

Let me start with the external perspective. What I mean by this is someone who is not a direct “employee” of a corporation but does have a relationship. An example would be a customer or a supplier of the corporation. Can that external party “trust” what they may be reading on something like a blog, where there may be considered less control then more formal communication vehicles? This question reminds me of an article in the NY Times about Wal-mart. If you read the article you will quickly realize that the Wal-mart purchasers have established trust with consumers. Product insights and predictions on topics like the future of Blu-ray versus HD DVD create a connection between the blogger and reader. Does it happen the first time a consumer reads a post from a purchaser? Doubtful, but do you ever trust something or someone upon first interaction?

So what about the internal perspective of trust? If we start to adopt the use of enterprise 2.0 to solve business issues, can we trust the “unstructured” information being provided? Remember how I started this post, with the discussion about the lack of trust in the structured data and information of a corporation. How quickly can an organization move past these challenges and trust “data and information” from an outlet like a blog, wiki or social network? Instinct says never, but if you look deeper into how enterprise 2.0 concepts can be applied to areas like business intelligence and corporate performance management, I would argue what’s the difference? When you have a hallway conversation with a colleague or a meeting to discuss quarterly results, do you “trust” the discussion? Do you trust what someone is saying to describe results and recommendations around business strategy decisions? The answer may be not always be yes, but if you don’t, the debate continues as you provide your point of view to the discussion. So why can we not quickly considered the “unstructured” data in a blog or wiki to be trustworthy and if it isn’t or at least not agreeable, continue to push the bounds on the discussion that needs to happen?

This is one aspect (and barrier) of how Enterprise 2.0 can start to provide greater value to the organization. If you look at what we are going to be discussing at DIG, it is all about helping make better decisions. To do this organizations need to move past the inherit barriers that they have towards these concepts and focus on enabling ways to build a high performing business.

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