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DICTE PLATFORM: AN INPUT TO COLLABORATION AND KNOWLEDGE SHARING

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Collaboration is primarily a human issue: people need both the opportunity to collaborate, in terms of time, and a reason to do so in terms of being able to benefit from it. While people dealing privately with the Internet are generally very willing to participate in social collaboration and knowledge sharing, within the structured working environment most people do not have the leisure to exchange knowledge and pursue information sharing activities. This is usually due to their time restrictions and the lack of a collaborative culture in the organisation. This is a very important point and supports the view that while the technical infrastructure must make it easy to perform these activities there still needs to be the motivation to do it. The aim of the DICTE study is to pave the way for the practical implementation of a collaboration platform that addresses collaboration from both a cultural and technical perspective. This means that the DICTE platform needs to be user friendly (e.g. adequately performing) and have a well structured interface, so as to induce people to collaborate: this will be achieved, in part, through exploiting the Web2.0 (and beyond) paradigm.
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DICTE PLATFORM: AN INPUT TO COLLABORATION
AND KNOWLEDGE SHARING
Annalisa Terracina, Stefano Beco
ElsagDatamat Spa
Via Laurentina, 760, 00143 Rome, Italy
Adrian Grenham, Iain Le Duc
SciSys Ltd
Methuen Park - Chippenham, Wiltshire,United Kingdom, SN14 0GB
Elisabeth Schoepfer, Luigi Fusco
ESA
Via Galileo Galilei, Frascati (RM), Italy
ABSTRACT
Collaboration is primarily a human issue: people need both the opportunity to collaborate, in terms of time, and a reason
to do so in terms of being able to benefit from it. While people dealing privately with the Internet are generally very
willing to participate in social collaboration and knowledge sharing, within the structured working environment most
people do not have the leisure to exchange knowledge and pursue information sharing activities. This is usually due to
their time restrictions and the lack of a collaborative culture in the organisation. This is a very important point and
supports the view that while the technical infrastructure must make it easy to perform these activities there still needs to
be the motivation to do it.
The aim of the DICTE study is to pave the way for the practical implementation of a collaboration platform that
addresses collaboration from both a cultural and technical perspective. This means that the DICTE platform needs to be
user friendly (e.g. adequately performing) and have a well structured interface, so as to induce people to collaborate: this
will be achieved, in part, through exploiting the Web2.0 (and beyond) paradigm.
KEYWORDS
Collaboration, knowledge sharing, collaborative platform, collaborative culture, Web2.0
1. INTRODUCTION
The DICTE project has been commissioned by the European Space Agency (ESA) to gain an understanding
of collaboration and to pave the way for the implementation of an ESA-wide technical collaboration
platform. This platform should support the diffusion of, and access to, ESA achieved knowledge and serve to
improve communication across the organization as a whole. It is recognised that part of the ESA mission is to
interpret the information needs of European citizens, researchers and industry and to transform those needs
into requirements for the space systems that will satisfy them. In this context collaborative environments
represent an important opportunity for ESA to take advantage of technologies to improve the cooperation and
coordination of the different actors mentioned above.
The goal of DICTE is to study the nature of collaboration from both the cultural and technical viewpoints
and to propose an architecture as well as a roadmap towards the implementation of the so called ‘One ESA’
platform. The concept of ‘One ESA’, with respect to the DICTE study, is represented by two main threads.
On one hand, there is the necessity to share knowledge and tools that are commonly used and available in
ESA together with the need to interface with alternative tools and systems used by the industries and research
institutes that work with ESA. On the other hand, there is the need to promote the use of tools strictly related
to collaboration and that allow organisations to work together easily and accumulate a shared knowledge.
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Although commissioned by ESA a specific objective for the DICTE platform is to be as general and
flexible as possible to satisfy the needs of any partner organizations for collaboration and knowledge sharing.
The consortium that works on DICTE has previous important experience on an analogous issue: THE
VOICE project, also funded by ESA focussed on the usage of state of art technologies such as Grid, wireless
and mobile communications for collaboration purposes. THE VOICE was concluded in December 2006
while DICTE is still at an early stage of development.
In Paragraph 2 this paper presents the generic problem of collaboration and knowledge sharing. The
cultural aspect of collaboration is discussed in sub-paragraph 2.1 whereas the technology aspect is discussed
in sub-paragraph 2.2. In the last paragraph some preliminary conclusions are drawn (preliminary only now,
as the project is still ongoing).
2. COLLABORATION AND KNOWLEDGE SHARING
In THE VOICE project, the concept of collaboration was addressed from a very technical point of view. A
review was conducted of a set of state-of-the-art technologies that could be used to build up a collaborative
platform organised as a set of services (implemented as web services). A layered model was adopted with a
sub-set of the services classified as ‘basic’ and, therefore, common to every application while others were
classified as ‘domain-oriented’ and specific to an application domain. The platform was shown to be very
flexible allowing the services to be combined in a number of configurations including the omission of
domain specific services in particular configurations. The DICTE study adopts the philosophy developed for
the THE VOICE platform characterized by an open, web services and standards based approach, and
proceeds to bring it up to date with current developments and paradigms. In addition, particular attention is
drawn to the culture of collaboration that completes the vision at 360 degrees.
In the initial phase of the DICTE study a user requirements survey of the ESA staff and stakeholders
needs was performed. To facilitate the survey and to make our objective clear, a definition of Virtual
Community was given to the interviewed people. One objective was to assess the relative importance of a
range of collaborative activities based on the use of common tools and the definition of tools that enable and
encourage collaboration. Four main areas of collaboration and knowledge sharing were distinguished and
characterized:
Personal communications (meetings, conferencing, email, chat, VOIP, etc.)
Knowledge management (blogs, wikis, e-learning, etc.)
Information exchange (results, parameters, processed images, data, etc.)
Project/process management (business models, project meetings, etc.)
Figure 1. ESA Virtual Community
Obviously, depending on the Virtual Community, certain tools are considered more useful while other
less. In the survey which was conducted the distribution of interest are summarized in Figure 1. The figure
illustrates the Virtual Community divided in four segments according to the areas of interest described above.
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Each of them contains a set of tools and the geometric shape indicates the interest (crucial, important, non
influential) as indicated by the ESA community.
The general approach described so far should be translated in a concrete platform. For this reason in the
following paragraphs we provide an overview of the two main issues: cultural and technological.
2.1 Culture of Collaboration
“The ant is a collectively intelligent and individually stupid animal; man is the opposite” said Karl Von
Frisck who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1973. This quote stresses a very important point: human
collaboration is weak. This is true for big and small organisations and it is therefore essential to find a way to
emphasise its importance and to encourage the culture of collaboration. In an organisation, collaboration
means combining all the tools, methods and processes that enable connection and cooperation among
individual intelligences in order to achieve a common objective, accomplish a mission or complete a task.
From this viewpoint it is worth noting that a collaborative platform is like a marketplace where information
and knowledge can be exchanged and further, that a collaboration platform can be useful only if the culture
of collaboration is largely diffused.
Figure 2. shows a process in which everyone can support the efficient functioning of a collaboration platform
just simply performing three actions: contributing, taking, evaluating.
Collaboration as a human interaction requires an investment by the participants in much the same way as
any other relationship. Therefore, building and maintaining collaborative partnerships requires the
willingness to spend the time on all sides that cannot be replaced by any technical environment or
collaborative platform. Thus true collaboration needs an element of sharing and a long term relationship
typified by working together rather than merely working alongside or of simple co-operation.
Figure 2. Information market place.
The basic actions, described in Figure 2, guarantee that everyone is part of the process and that everyone
contributes to the creation and sharing of knowledge. At the same time everyone can take advantage of it just
by picking up the contribution available. The action of evaluation insures that the information in the market
place is correct and useful. Participation in a successful collaboration environment will inevitably generate
benefits. DICTE has identified two classes of benefits: benefits to the organization that arise simply from
collaborating and benefits that may be realized from the implementation of so called ‘collaborative tools and
technologies’. It is important to understand that while technologies can often improve collaboration, if the
culture is lacking, they will not result in collaboration. Hereafter is a short list of some of the benefits of
collaboration per se:
Accelerated and improved decision making process
Encourages team cohesion
Reducing staff turnover
Encourages collective responsibility
Process improvement (reducing inefficiencies or eliminating process steps)
Being able to exert influence for the benefit of the collaboration
Improved knowledge sharing
Access and Availability of expertise and experience
Reduced travel & less time spent in organising attending meetings
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Better searching / more accurate results
Immediate communications
Access to information anywhere
In addition to the statements given above, we believe that the culture of collaboration cannot grow
spontaneously in a structured organization. Once a suitable culture has been created and the benefits of
collaboration are understood, employees will be willing to share ideas and knowledge with colleagues and
will not consider time spent in sharing experience as wasted time. However, if an organisation truly considers
collaboration as important it should consider adopting a system of encouragement and evaluating employee
performance based on their ability to cooperate. Indeed, it is very important that collaboration becomes an
ethical issue of the organisation and that employees are well aware of this. Collaboration should become a
new individual performance criterion so that people can no longer consider it a waste of time but instead one
of the tasks that they should accomplish.
2.2 Technologies behind DICTE
As suggested in paragraph 2.1, the DICTE platform will be influenced by the insights and experience gained
during THE VOICE project. The study will also take into account recent developments and trends in
collaborative technologies and Web2.0 in particular. In general, the term “Web2.0” is used to indicate the
trend of using the Internet in a much more interactive way than has previously been possible. It has revealed
a widespread appetite for large scale syndication of information and vastly increased interaction and
communication between users involving a level of participation not achievable in the previous standard web
based applications. From a technical point of view Web2.0 has also shown the popularity of using simple
protocols and open standards aimed at data syndication (rather than concentrating primarily on service
coordination) allowing easy re-use and reconfiguration of data to generate new services.
Recognised benefits from Web2.0 include:
access to the ‘long tail’ (applications aimed at realising income from the huge number of small
value users rather then relying on a few large value clients)
harnessing the intelligence of the crowd
enabling new s/w lifecycle (continuous Beta)
better dissemination of info
improved communications
involving the consumer
delivering focussed products
context sensitive searching based on user preferences and past behaviour
Leveraging folksonomies to contextualise information searching, rich applications
DICTE will take into account these new paradigms in the approach to the design of a technical platform
that will offer an increased level of interactivity while retaining access to the tools considered crucial from
the user requirements (see Figure 1).
The unique contribution of DICTE is to review the currently available collaboration technologies from
the perspective of the culture of collaboration, that is, how best to exploit the benefits of collaboration. It
would appear that this can be best achieved through the management of ‘collective intelligence’ which is not
well served by existing tools that tend to isolate information and concentrate on simple communication
solutions. The issue is to locate, manage, access and share knowledge that is not contained in a single source
but is representative as the result of multiple human interactions. DICTE has identified a set of key
technologies areas that are generally weak and not well integrated into existing collaborative platforms.
Enterprise Search (all of "what", "who" and "where")
Application interoperability
Knowledge Management
Content Management
Semantic interoperability
While each of these areas is individually the subject of continuing research, collaboration in its most
general sense requires a seamless combination of all of them.
A general principal of DICTE is not to cause unnecessary changes to established working practices and to
integrate, as far as possible, existing and familiar tools and technologies. A major goal, therefore, is to design
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the platform in a way that different components coming from the market can interoperate; as a consequence
the consideration of the middleware permitting a plug and play approach plays a key role. DICTE will
provide an architecture that enables the use of different tool for the same service and thus it will not force the
user to use a particular one.
3. CONCLUSION
Collaboration is principally about communication and may be seen to rest on 4 pillars: People, Culture,
Information, and Infrastructure. Insufficient consideration of any of these aspects will inhibit collaboration
within an organisation. However, the benefits of collaboration are also contingent upon the active
combination of these elements. Hence, the technologies used to support collaboration must provide the means
to encourage the free exchange of ideas and information by making it easy to contribute and benefit from the
‘collective intelligence’.
As an example of complex human activity, collaboration within an organisation relies on the right culture
supported with the right technologies. A review of existing tools has revealed that interoperability between
applications and data is generally missing together with the ability to manage information across
heterogeneous repositories. Also content management and semantic interoperability is not well developed
making it difficult to manipulate information (data with meaning or context) within a collaborative
framework.
The DICTE study has a very ambitious goal: it aims to design the architecture of a technical collaboration
platform that fulfils the ESA vision of One ESA. In order to achieve this, DICTE exploits the results of THE
VOICE study and proceeds to address two further fundamental aspects of collaboration, particularly in a
structured organization, that are the culture of collaboration and the Web2.0 paradigm. In addition the study
has determined that the collaborative platform must not dictate working practices or prescribe the use of
certain technologies.
We contend that the DICTE study has several points of strength. It faces the collaboration problem from
IT and cultural aspects and particular relevance is given to knowledge management that is considered one of
the main issues that can help knowledge capitalization. The best practice off the shelf tools available will be
used and the DICTE effort will be focused on the middleware and glue software in order to foster
interoperability.
The DICTE study has already passed two important phases: User Requirement Retrieval and Benefit
Survey and Mapping. Two further phases are to come: Strategic Development Plan Definition and Initial
Architecture and Prototype Definition. The study will end in April 2009 and it will provide the architecture
for the proposed collaborative platform plus a prototype as proof of concept.
We believe that DICTE platform will be flexible and generic enough to satisfy the exigencies of other
structured organizations.
REFERENCES
Book
Olivier Zara, 2004, Managing Collective Intelligence, Toward a New Corporate Governance, M21 Editions, Paris,
France
Evan Rosen, 2007, The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global
Economy, Red Ape Publishing, US
Public document
Frost, Sullivan, 2007, Measuring the true business benefits of web collaboration, white paper sponsored by Webex
Mehandjiev N., Stokic D.,2006, Future and Emerging Technologies and Paradigms for Collaborative Working
Environment, DG Information Society, European Commission
Beco et al., 2006, THE VOICE Executive Summary. Available at http://www.esa-thevoice.org
Beco et al., 2005, "eCollaboration in working environments: approach and views for the future", Brussels, Belgium.
Available at http://www.esa-thevoice.org
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Conference Paper
The aim of the DICTE study is to pave the way for the practical implementation of a collaboration platform that addresses collaboration from both a cultural and technical perspective. This means that the DICTE platform needs to be user friendly (e.g. adequately performing) and have a well structured interface, so as to induce people to collaborate: this will be achieved providing a flexible and dynamic architecture. DICTE architecture design does not aim to offer a collection of collaborative services. The added value of the DICTE architecture is the middleware that supports the use of collaborative services and not the services themselves.
Managing Collective Intelligence, Toward a New Corporate Governance, M21 Editions
  • Olivier Zara
Olivier Zara, 2004, Managing Collective Intelligence, Toward a New Corporate Governance, M21 Editions, Paris, France
The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy
  • Evan Rosen
Evan Rosen, 2007, The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy, Red Ape Publishing, US Public document
Future and Emerging Technologies and Paradigms for Collaborative Working Environment
  • Sullivan Frost
Frost, Sullivan, 2007, Measuring the true business benefits of web collaboration, white paper sponsored by Webex Mehandjiev N., Stokic D.,2006, Future and Emerging Technologies and Paradigms for Collaborative Working Environment, DG Information Society, European Commission Beco et al., 2006, THE VOICE Executive Summary. Available at http://www.esa-thevoice.org Beco et al., 2005, "eCollaboration in working environments: approach and views for the future", Brussels, Belgium. Available at http://www.esa-thevoice.org ISBN: 978-972-8924-68-3 © 2008 IADIS