What is an expert?

relax I'm an expert

Wikipedia states that an “expert”  is “someone widely recognized as a reliable source of technique or skill whose faculty for judging or deciding rightly, justly, or wisely is accorded authority and status by their peers or the public in a specific well-distinguished domain.”

It goes on to say an expert is….

…. more generally, a person with extensive knowledge or ability based on research, experience, or occupation and in a particular area of study. Experts are called in for advice on their respective subject, but they do not always agree on the particulars of a field of study. An expert can be, by virtue of credentialtrainingeducation,

professionpublication or experience, believed to have special knowledge of a subject beyond that of the average person, sufficient that others may officially (and legally) rely upon the individual’s opinion.

Historically, an expert was referred to as a sage (Sophos). The individual was usually a profound thinker distinguished for wisdom and sound judgment.

I’ve spoken at many conferences and seminars about the intranet industry and what works and what doesn’t work, based on my personal and professional experiences. Does this make me an expert? That’s not for me to judge; that’s for the audience to determine.

There are many “experts” who tout their services within the intranet/digital workplace industry, who basically expound their views of how things should be done, based on their previous dealings with a variety of companies, and the supposed lessons learnt along the way.

There are also many companies who bring together like minded people to discuss how things should be (usually for a large fee), and provide “keynote speakers” (I dislike that phrase) to share their views and experiences, and based on whatever success these individuals have had, they are then deemed to be the “experts”. The paying audience are usually looking for an answer to their problems, and see the expert as the panacea to providing it.

An alternative approach would be to use the large network of contacts we all have access to and discuss our common problems. We may work in different industries, but our intranet issues and challenges are largely the same, dependent where we are on our journeys.

In my view an expert is merely someone who has an opinion, backed up by the relevant knowledge and who has earned the respect of their peers to share it in a considered way. It maybe right or it maybe wrong, but we all have an opinion, so surely that makes us all experts?

The difference between having a knowledgeable opinion and being an expert is therefore negligible surely?


So next time you’re looking for some advice, guidance,  the answer to a problem, or just want to bounce some ideas around, discuss it with your network. Not only will they be happy to help you, they will also probably get something out of the discussion too. And then you can both become “experts”.


Information Age

It’s been a year since I’ve provided an update so this is well overdue. Work gets in the way of blogging, but note to self, must try harder. I’m still very much in the intranet business, just too busy to blog about it.

I’m a subscriber to the paper version (how quaint) of the magazine aimed at IT professionals “Information Age“. Most months I have a cursory glance at it and on rare occasions I may read an article if it interests me.

But I didn’t think I was the magazines primary demographic reader. I’m not technical, am not interested in the kilowattage of an IBM server stack or attending an Enterprise Architecture Summit in the Spring of 2011. But obviously there are people who are interested in these things and thank goodness they are, otherwise I wouldn’t have a job and Information Age wouldn’t have a readership.  But interestingly, Information Age’s editorial vision states “….magazine for all executives,regardless of job title involved in the application of technology.” So that’s me then?

IT departments are considered to be dour places where tecchies scour screens looking for bugs in darkened rooms. This may well be the case in some companies but this is usually a stereotypical view bandied around by some people who have seen “The IT Crowd”; like me. But this isn’t fair.

The technical people I know are intelligent professionals who know their stuff, live ordinary lives and merely choose to spend their work time doing technical things that are simply beyond me. And that’s the way it should be. I shouldn’t need to understand the intricacies of how networks work. They should just work. Network managers? You do your gig and I’ll do mine; without each other we’d be lost. Sorted.

But, and it’s a BIG but……very few companies these days have no IT presence, so it’s vital the people responsible for IT solutions are fully aware of why a business does what it does and more importantly how it goes about doing it. It’s also just as important that the business managers also understand how IT helps achieve the aims of the company.

Whilst this is the nirvana a company can aim toward, the reality is usually very different. As I said at the start of this piece, work gets in the way; and we normally get judged on whether we actually deliver our objectives. It’s normally unusual to be judged on how we’ve actually gone about doing so and stating “after spending three days, I learned how finance balance the books and we need to reduce IT spend” doesn’t garner brownie points at appraisal time. Well not in my experience anyway. Unless your appraisal system acknowledges your behaviour and you receive recognition (or otherwise) for how you go about achieving what you achieve, IT folks behaviour won’t change. We’ll just continue to blindly deliver what we think is right irrespective of what the business needs actually are.

I have a reputation for challenging existing behaviour, which includes my own. I also have a reputation for trying to simplify things. I’ve lost count of the amount of responses I’ve received from IT folks to a suggestion that I didn’t consider to be particularly radical, and which will ultimately benefit the business, which were along the lines of surprise, denial or just plainly ignored seemingly because they’re “off the wall”, like the most recent example which includes implementing a common approach to delivering internet (yes, not “intranet”. I now have additional  responsibilities for the BBC’s corporate internet and they offer similar opportunities to rationalise our approach even further) development solutions which will reduce overall spend on both design activities and ongoing daily support. My stakeholder stated that she was very supportive of such an approach but also said  “we’re different to the rest of the business, so have different needs.” Errr, no you aren’t and no you don’t.

Some people seem to enjoy hanging onto outdated systems to meet localised needs, with little thought to pan company requirements, encumbered by bureaucratic processes that simply don’t meet the needs of the user and therefore hinder the business’ objectives. This is an outdated view. A very outdated view.

All companies should ensure at least one of each of their employees’ objectives, and against which they should all be measured, should include innovation, which will improve a business’ success rate. The innovative ideas don’t necessarily need to be big or particularly ground breaking (though if they are then great) but they should demonstrate how things will be “better” as a result of delivering them, and they should clearly demonstrate how they contribute to a business’ success.  And managers should have an additional objective to make sure their people meet this objective. This doesn’t mean it needs to be an onerous bureaucratic process, but it should encourage employees to think differently. The best ideas come from opportunities that break the established model.

People should be acknowledged for innovation, taking measured risks, challenging the status quo and implementing change (no matter how small). If they choose not to, then they should should be mandated to contribute or encouraged to go and work elsewhere. Maybe for themselves, and then they would understand how important change is.


Is it ever as it seems?

Albert Einstein with tongue out

Albert Einstein

How are reputations made and then kept?

In simple terms, reputations are usually earned over a significant time period, based on the delivery of promises and the constant re-inforcement and maintenance of said promises. The promises could be services, goods, facilities or all manner of things.

Reputations help brands become trusted; no matter what your personal view is, McDonalds and Coca~Cola have world renowned brands based on their reputation for delivering consistency. No matter where you consume a Big Mac or a glass of Coke in the world, it’s the same. You know what you’re going to get before you get it. There may be some regional variations to accommodate local tastes but the quality is always there.

Reputations exist in the intranet world too. I could give you ten examples of companies who excel at specific aspects of intranet delivery. Their reputations precede them in these aspects and when I want to find out more about how to improve the things that my organisation is focussing on, I approach an organisation who’s reputation goes before them.

But how are reputations gained in the first place within the intranet business? Some are earned through winning some award or other, whilst others seem to be merely smokescreens for the reality. Word of mouth has a lot to do with it, and if the tale is told often enough it will become fact.

I know of an organisation who has a reputation for being the leaders in one particular aspect of the intranet industry, but the reality is far different. The reputation was earned by two major factors;

1. identify emerging technology and introduce it because you can, with little regard to how it would be managed, supported, paid for or how it fits into any strategic approach. Play with the gadgets and by sheer will of the crowd they become an essential part of the business.

2. continually perpetuate the fallacy that because the organisation is “creative” then it’s ok to continue to do things independently of any other part of the business; just because you can. Then tell everyone and anyone who will listen, about this wonderful new gizmo that’s been around for ages on the internet and how great your organisation is by bringing it in house because it’s “just what the business needs.” This view is usually driven by personal interest.

Bingo! Reputation is formed. Other companies constantly pat you on the back and tell you how good you are and how lucky the organisation is to have such a forward thinking Intranet manager.

Then of course, you clear off to another company or go freelance and jet around the world esposing your innovative and maverick ways to the highest bidder and leave someone else to try and unpick the mess that has evolved around you. The poor soul who’s left has to then integrate, or rationalise, many disparate systems that don’t work together or talk to each other. Whilst also having to negotiate with the business to remove little used toys, that have now become the lifeblood of one small bunch of users, who would rather fight you on the beaches than give up their right to using something “you gave us in the first place.”

The same individual also has to produce numerous business cases to gain budget (because business users won’t stump up the cash) to pay third party suppliers for licences and ongoing support, which in the long term far outweighs any initial preconceived business benefits. Inevitably the more budget that’s used for exisiting technical solutions means less available for any new stuff.

But that’s ok. Because your reputation goes before you.

And for those who still work for the company, you can take reflected glory in the reputation that you’re part of a forward thinking organisation. It takes years before reputations are tarnished or lost; no matter the reality.