Info-Tech Research Group: Successful Collaborative Note-Taking Architectures Require Mapping to the Research Patterns

Posted on March 6, 2011 by Tim Hickernell – Previously, we discussed how a resurgence in electronic note-taking application popularity is the latest trend to result from the consumerization of IT: employees are using note-taking apps outside of work, especially on mobile devices, and bringing their desktop counterparts into the organization.

Faced with this challenge, most IT shops will want to get ahead of the trend by investigating the more popular note-taking apps and the architectures each uses for enabling sharing of notes among employees and teams. But the key to successfully implementing a collaborative electronic note-taking solution is understanding the research patterns employed by the different employee roles that perform research within your organization. Why is this required for success? Because we�ve known for decades now that knowledge management initiatives only succeed if users are both contributors and consumers of information. You can�t be a taker and not a giver. If you try to forcefully bolt a non-optimal note taking architecture onto your organization�s research patterns, then users will not participate and will not be contributors. Game over.

Let�s examine two generic research collaboration patterns and the optimal electronic note-taking architectures that enable the patterns so that employees can both contribute and consume information through the system.

First is the centralized knowledgebase model, shown in Figure 1. In this model employees collect information as part of their jobs and directly connect to a central database to contribute information to the knowledgebase. They also connect directly to the central database to search for information other employees have contributed to both find information and to find expertise among their fellow employees. They can add metadata themselves to tag and categorize information, or that role can be given to a dedicated, centralized knowledge manager or librarian.

Figure1, Centralized Knowledgebase Architecture

The benefits of this model are simplicity and consistency. But is has limitations. Employees have to be connected to the system to use it. In the modern mobile world, where knowledge workers regularly extend their workday from home, the centralized model doesn�t work the way employees work and participation in the system suffers.

Modern knowledge workers participate in knowledge processes in more of a �loosely coupled� model: they keep their own knowledgebase of information they need to do their jobs and to participate in a variety of processes. By doing this, they can unplug from one role and plug into another role quite quickly, all the while keeping their corpus of collected knowledge. It doesn�t matter if they store this in email, file shares, formal note-taking applications or a combination of these.

Figures 2 and 3 illustrate two different approaches to using technology to instrument the loosely coupled research pattern.

In Figure 2, we see the loosely coupled research pattern instrumented using peer-to-peer sharing technologies. For example purposes, we have chosen to use Microsoft SharePoint Workspace (formerly Groove) as the note-taking application.

Figure2, Loosely Coupled Peer-to-Peer Knowledgebase Architecture

Users maintain their own local knowledgebases, but can decide what to share with other groups through shared workspaces. There is no need for a central repository. Shared workspaces can be established by IT or independently by teams and projects themselves. Shared workspaces keep each other updated by peer-to-peer data transfer technology and all end users keep a local copy of their information and any shared information they wish to subscribe to. Peer-to-peer technologies work best when mapped to loosely coupled research patterns that cross organizational boundaries (and thus firewalls). Extreme movement of users among different workspaces is easily supported.

Figure 3 illustrates how to instrument the loosely coupled research pattern in a manner that adds some level of central control, while respecting the knowledge worker as both an independent researcher and a participant in the organization�s teams and projects. For example purposes, we have chosen cloud-based electronic note-taking technology from Evernote Corporation. Note that MS OneNote integrated with SharePoint Server can instrument the same pattern.

Figure3, Loosely Coupled Cloud-Based Knowledgebase Architecture

As in the peer-to-peer model, users still maintain a local copy of their personal knowledgebase and have the option of maintaining a local copy of any shared knowledgebases. But their information is backed up in the cloud, not backed up among their peers in a mesh network like SharePoint Workspace does. Knowledge workers can contribute to shared notebooks or search and retrieve information from shared notebooks and their private notebooks. In Evernote�s case, client access options support the modern mobile worker by supporting a web browser client, a Windows client, a Mac client, an iPad client, iPhone client and clients for every major smartphone OS. Users can even choose to replicate private and shared notebooks to these local and mobile clients if desired.

Bottom Line:

* If your predominant research collaboration pattern is a loosely coupled pattern typical of modern knowledge workers, then it�s easy to see how the architectures in Figures 2 and 3 will provide end users with valuable tools and incent them to share information with other employees, ensuring the success of loosely coupled knowledge management initiatives. MS SharePoint Workspace, Evernote, GoogleDocs and MS OneNote with SharePoint Server can all instrument the loosely coupled research collaboration pattern.

* If your company is in an industry where, in addition to having traditional knowledge worker researchers, you also have vertical research processes, such as in pharmaceutical research, then a more centralized architecture will likely work the best for these vertical research processes. Centralized models, such as that illustrated in Figure 1, allow for more control, enabling security on intellectual property and ensuring regulatory compliance. Specialized electronic research notebook systems are available to satisfy these high-end electronic note-taking requirements, such as LabTrack, Nexxis ELN and Symyx Notebook.

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