From noise to situational intelligence


Sumary : many users say that the problem that enterprise social platforms is the risk of infobesity and informational noise. Reality is more complex. As for infobesity, these platformes only collect information and have few impact on the fact people and systems generate more. The problem is more about how to distribute this information. Then comes things like activity streams and micro-blogging tools that raise another question : what’s necessary and what’s superfluous. In fact there’s a new context organizations and people are not very comfortable with. In a complex business world, it’s essentiel to feel signals to act and adapt permanently to external events that impact one. Feeling does not mean deep reading and understanding. Employees will have to learn to optimize their situational intelligence by making the most of the surrounding noise without being submerged by it.

On the one hand we see enterprises thinking about a more efficient way than email to organize information flows, exchanges, collaboration and information sharing. On the other hand the alternate solution also bring their own questions and fears.

As I recently said, after a large french company decided to ban internal emails :” that won’t decrease the amount of information that will only move to other places”. As a matter of fact it’s more about changing how one manage and deal with information flows than changing tools.

As a matter of fact, social software platforms will be more and more like “catch all”. As they improve in terms of functionalities, they will soon be able to catch anything any information produced, whatever its form or the software that produced it. Some think it may lead to infobesity but that’s not my opinion. Any information that need to be generated will be generated, the social platform only being the receiver, the container. We can even think that such platforms will help to prevent content replication across different systems.

The problem is not about information catching but information redistribution. From the user side, it means wondering what needs to be pushed to him and what should only be made available for whom searches it (improved by suggestion mechanisms to address the grey zone between both. Something bizarre since we are all deeply influenced by current approaches that, despite of the fact we’re submerged by too much pushed information, we still fear to miss something so we do nothing to clean up our information flows.

Two components of these new platforms raise questions : activity streams and micro-blogging tools that generate information flows in which many fear to drown themselves. What lead us to wonder if we need so much information and if it’s really useful.

The answer to “do we need so much information” is “no”..or rather “no..but”.  It’s again about the difference between pushed and available information. With a funny side : with email people suffer from information overload while, on social platforms, they overload themselves their flow…what leads to the same result. It’s not about tools but about a personal approach to information management, what is a very rare skill and a matter people are not very mature one.

On the tool side, we are looking forward to seeing system embedding more intelligence to filter, prioritize, hierarchize according to context. Meanwhile, hand-held filtering tools are becoming mainstream.

Then comes the question that needs the more education because it’s a real copernican revolution : “is everything useful ?”

Anyone is not used to such uses of information flows and does not use it every day will say “most of these information, status updates…are useless. That’s only noise”. With experience, it”s easy to realize that this surrounding nose has value and is very close to what I call situational intelligence.

But how to explain explain that, at the same time, noise is necessary but has not be be heard or read ?

Let’s start with an assumption : in everyone’s work, on-the-flow coordination is key, as well as knowing what’s happening here and there to act and adapt. So it’s essential to catch the signals that helps us to act the right way at the right moment. And, as our environment is getting more complex everyday, that our own situation is more and more influenced by what other do or say….

Now, imagine you’re driving a car. Do you focus on what’s ahead and on your dashboard ? Most of all when driving downtown, what is a more complex environment than an highway ? Of course you don’t. You catch surrounding signals. Someone who seems to be about to cross the road, a car approaching the traffic lights a little but too fast, a kid that walks, then is hidden by a van but may appear 3 seconds later…on your bumpers. You can’t tell what can of car ir is, say if the person is a man or a woman or if the kid is blond or dark-haired. But you are aware that something is happening that may have an impact on your driving, on a decision you’ll have to make a couple of seconds later, that suggest you become more vigilant and focused and even tells you to break or pull on the wheel.

That’s exactly the same with activity streams and micro-blogging tools. The fact a piece of information comes, even for a second, in my vision, even if I had only read half the title of the alert, makes me aware of something and may lead to an immediate (I need to do..) or future (I should take it into account) action.

But what makes on adopt the right behaviors, the best way of using such tools ? That they filter the right rights, make the most of it without being submerged ?

That’s the problem that makes organizations very uncomffortable because they would like a 3 steps methodology saying “do that and it will be ok”. As for driving, it’s a matter of experience, habits. One learn by usage and the first steps are often uncomfortable..but going through this step is mandatory.

Maybe next generation employees will be more comfortable with that when they’ll enter the market. We may even hope that new approaches to education will help them improve the way they use, in a business context, these tools they know quite well in their private life. Meanwhile, the transition will be hard but necessary.






  • It can be challenging for people to learn how to identify what is transient, situational and ambient information in the stream. But it is as much as an attitude as it is a skill. Also, compared to email, activity stream technologies still have plenty of room to innovate further – but unlike email, the more people participate the better these systems will become.