TECH TALK: Emerging Enterprises and Emergent Networks: SME Clusters

Think about some of the best movies you have seen. These are movies one can keep watching again and again. Every part of the movie, every scene captivates. The parts connect together and feed into each other. But there is one more quality which is there in such movies – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Even though the individual components may be good, the complete movie creates a magical effect which goes beyond a single scene. This “emergence” effect is what is so enchanting and what differentiates the good from the great.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are somewhat similar. Individually, they know little, but the collective intelligence levels are very high. That is why, in part, why SMEs also tend to cluster together in the physical world. It gives a mechanism for much easier sharing of information, even though they are competing together. In the physical world, SMEs are limited by geography in aggregating together. This is where the Internet can play an enabling role in building SME Clusters.

Typically, SMEs belong to some associations – either by industry, or by region. These groups are bound together by some common interest, some common affiliation. As individuals, we are all part of many such clusters. We share some things in common with other members. But in most cases, the clusters are limited to the times when people physically meet together (say, once a month) or there is some broadcast communication (like a newsletter). The bonds are still quite loose. Yet, clusters have huge value because they are aggregations of like-minded people, companies.

This is where Community Weblogs can help glue the community together. Each of these “subnets” should have its own blog. Membership to the cluster would give the privilege of reading and writing to the blog. Thus, the difference between these blogs versus the other types of blogs is that in this case, the responsibility of the blog becomes that of the community. It is a bit like a co-operative society, a bulletin board with a shared context. But since this is happening via the Web, there are no limitations to membership or frequency of contributions. RSS feeds can ensure that information flows easily back and forth to the individuals within the SMEs (hopefully, each of them equipped with a connected computer).

These “Cluster Blogs” will have a network-effect: as they get popular, they will attract more – Reed’s Law of group-forming networks at work. These blogs have to be managed – by the community themselves. An example already exists on the Internet in the form of Slashdot (a community weblog of, for and by techies). These Cluster Blogs have to be self-organising – pushing good ideas and people to the top, and relegating others to the bottom. This will ensure that within these clusters, the “knowledgeable” and passionate SMEs who understand their business and are eloquent will bubble up to the top in the eyes of their peer community (and perhaps the outside world). For the others, the Cluster Blogs will offer knowledge. They can either be passive consumers, or become active and contribute back, in which case they too stand a chance of getting peer recognition. This is like the notion of karma points used by Slashdot to reward members who contribute and whose postings are valued highly by the members.

TECH TALK: Emerging Enterprises and Emergent Networks: Knowledge Weblogs (Part 2)

John Robb of Userland provides a perspective on Knowledge Weblogs (K-Logs, as he terms them):

K-Logs enable employees to post written editorial, points of view, links, documents, important e-mails, and pictures to a corporate Intranet where the posted content can be searched, browsed, and archived. They enable easy sharing of knowledge. K-Logs organize this posted information over time and by individual. K-Logs are easy-to-use and provide users immediate personal benefit. K-Logs run in the browser. They also provide a simple way to distribute information currently stored on the desktop (document folders, e-mail, and bookmark lists) with contextual information necessary for complete understanding of its use.

What are the benefits of K-Logs?

  • Answers. K-Logs make it easy for people to find answers to problems they need to solve. A simple search of K-Log archives will quickly find an answer if available.
  • Experts. Because K-Logs organize knowledge and information by individual, it is easy to find people with the expertise you need. They can be found via search, cross linking from other K-Loggers, or community tools.
  • Organized archive. K-Logs provide a permanent archive of all posted knowledge. Employees may come and go, but their knowledge remains.

    What is the economic benefit of K-Logs?

  • Shorter time to find. Faster, more accurate responses to customer inquiries, etc.
  • More accurate decision making. Use of experts, revealed by K-Logs, will improve the quality of corporate decision making. Improved knowledge transfer will expose wasteful projects and inaccurate assumptions. It will also unlock hidden knowledge resources within the company.
  • Faster training for new employees. New employees can quickly find the information, context, and insight they need to become productive quickly. A new team member can synch up quickly with an ongoing project by reading the team’s K-Logs.

From the perspective of the small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Knowledge Weblogs are a very inexpensive and easy way to tap into the aggregate knowledge of the entire team, without the need for expensive software. By providing a PC on every desktop and encouraging employees to read and write, enterprises can build up a knowledge base across the company. Employees need to be able on an ongoing basis what they are doing and thinking. These writing streams can be subscribed to by others in the company who may be working on the same project or are in the same department. In addition, employees can also subscribe to RSS newsfeeds from various external news sites and weblogs.

What has changed in recent times is the ease of writing on the web, along with subscriptions – the ability to pick up feeds from people and websites in which one is interested. RSS feeds can also be created from what an employee writes, which others can subscribe to. This combination creates the platform for the two-way web.

Within SMEs, knowledge is normally clustered with the owner-manager or with the few senior managers. What Knowledge Weblogs do is to enable the two-way flow of knowledge – from top to bottom and vice-versa, and from the outside to the inside. This potential to capture and distribute knowledge is a very powerful reason to ensure that every employee has a PC on their desktop. Says Robb, “The PC is, and will continue to be, a device that augments an individual’s mind. It provides mental leverage. It makes people more productive. The PC also self selects users. People who have a voracious appetite for extending and enhancing their minds use PCs.” This is the kind of thinking, taken together with weblogs, which can help build knowledge-rich SMEs.