Example of Semantic Structure for an IT Operating Model

This is the 3rd and final part of a 3-part post.  (See Part 1 here and Part 2 here.)  This short series represents the culmination of 5+ years of work for my business partner, Roy Youngman, and me.

A Quick Recap

In Part 1, I discussed the frustration Roy and I felt with the state of management consulting, where the artifacts we’d leave behind (PowerPoint slides, Word documents, etc.) rarely became part of our client’s organizational fabric.  Also, the middle managers and the ‘troops’ who had to bring to life the strategies and operating models we were developing often did not get exposure to the work until relatively late in the day.  Because they had not been part of the work, they were slow to understand and embrace it.

I explained that we quickly recognized that the technologies and sensibilities of Web 2.0 and social media promised a better way to help our clients – a way that would engage broader and deeper participation by client staff at all levels, and would leave behind a ‘living, breathing’ IT strategy and/or IT operating model, captured as a set of wiki pages.  These pages were developed collaboratively with our clients, so the act of development and deployment essentially became concurrent – defining the IT operating model was part of deploying it, and vice versa.  We determined that a Semantic Wiki would be an ideal technology to support our consulting work – and more importantly, to provide a platform we could leave behind with our clients to empower their organizational collaboration and ongoing refinement and use of the IT strategy and operating model.

In Part 2, I went on to provide historical context for the wikis first introduction in 1995, and enumerated its strengths and weakness that were limiting IT organizations ability to collaborate effectively using traditional wikis. I went on to explain the concepts behind the Semantic Wiki and how these provided an ideal platform for enabling complex organizations such as IT, where multiple, different value propositions have to be supported.

Balancing Order and Chaos

IT organizations are surprisingly complex, supporting two fundamentally different value propositions:

  • Core capabilities comprising the critical processes, assets and structures that help run the day-to-day business
  • Edge capabilities where innovation, growth and change are cultivated

These distinct value propositions have Operating Model implications, requiring distinct forms of semantic wiki-enablement, as highlighted in Table 1 below.

Value Proposition

Example Capabilities

Needed Wiki Characteristics

Wiki Governance Model

Core
  • Operations
  • Service Management
  • Enterprise Solutions
  • Coherent integrated structure
  • Stable space
  • High integrity
  • Globally governed
  • Workflow controlled
  • Process Owner as key control point
Edge
  • Enterprise Architecture
  • Product Management
  • Departmental Solutions
  • Project & Team Spaces
  • Business Relationship Management
  • Idea Generation
  • Consistent modular structure
  • Agile
  • Support divergent discussion & brainstorming
  • Content can migrate to Globally governed
  • Domain governed
  • Workflow optional
  • Domain Owner as key control point

Table 1 – Types of Wiki Space

Globally Governed Space for ‘Core’ Capabilities

Core capabilities such as data center operations, service management and enterprise solutions (e.g., ERP systems) depend upon processes that are standardized, tightly controlled and centrally planned.  Management systems for these types of capability must focus on integrated, reliable, efficient processes and compliance to norms.

A wiki that supports core capabilities must be highly ordered and globally governed.  For example, each process should have a ‘Process Owner,’ with clearly defined accountabilities for maintaining and continuously improving their processes.  They need defined workflow mechanisms, for example, to control the promotion of a material change to a process page from ‘draft’ to ‘pending approval’ to ‘approved’ to ‘operational.’

Domain Governed Space for ‘Edge’ Capabilities

Edge capabilities, on the other hand, depend upon structures that are loosely knit, with agile processes that can rapidly adjust to entrepreneurial initiatives and fast-shifting technologies.   Management systems and organizational culture must foster new product success and the experimentation needed to get there.  Whereas core capabilities epitomize highly ordered environments, the edge represents the place where chaos and order meet and creativity blossoms.

A wiki that facilitates edge capabilities works best with limited structure and control, where, to paraphrase China’s Chairman Mao Zedong, “one thousand flowers bloom”.  Here the underlying semantic model will be centered on problem areas and the process of ideation, with Business Relationship Managers, Product Managers and Architects as the natural choice for the wiki’s points of control.

Today’s wiki platforms are helpful here, but we expect them to evolve to better support techniques such as brainstorming, innovation jams, mind mapping, and provide integration with tools for simulation and modeling, prediction markets, sentiment analysis and ‘light weight’ collaborative project management.

One Space – Two Wiki Models

IT organizational needs can be comfortably addressed in a single Semantic Wiki, with each value proposition having its own underlying semantic model and associated governance structure.   Having both ‘core’ and ‘edge’ capabilities supported in the same wiki space affords important benefits.  For example, everything is discoverable and linkable across the models.  These characteristics are all but impossible to achieve in a traditional document-centric collaboration approach.

If the primary goal of the core is to ‘prevent bad change’, a tightly structured semantic wiki with a robust governance model is a powerful way to support this goal and the organizations that must deliver against it.  If the primary goal of the edge is to ‘create good change’, a loosely governed semantic wiki with ‘sandboxes’ to generate and test ideas is a great way to support this goal.  Today’s leading wiki platforms, with their semantic extensions offer a single, integrated solution that can help drive IT organizational clarity and improve performance.

An Empowered, Continuously Improving IT Organization

Roy and I have found that encapsulating IT strategies and operating models in a semantic wiki has tremendous benefits that are simply not available in the more traditional approach some call, “death by PowerPoint!”  For example:

  • A far broader group (and ultimately, the entire IT organization and their clients and partners) can be engaged in the process of strategy and IT operating model development and deployment.
  • All the artifacts of strategy and IT operating models (strategy on a a page, key themes, business outcomes, major programs, metrics, processes, and so on) are immediately available to the organization and its stakeholders – this enables continuous improvement and evolution.
  • Significant productivity increases result from having these artifacts available as shared wiki pages.  While the term “knowledge management” (KM) has fallen out of favor, the goals of KM continue to be highly relevant, and the end result of building a semantic wiki for the IT organization creates a very robust and powerful KM platform.
  • A semantic wiki dramatically decreases email traffic and, more importantly, decreases the time taken to find information and increases the confidence that the information found is the ‘single source of truth’
  • Adoption and organizational change management issues can be largely addressed by ensuring that use of the wiki is “in the natural flow of work.”  I will did further into this important concept in a future post!
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