Shortly after the discovery of Australia by Captain Cook, the "First Fleet" of eleven ships was sent to Botany Bay with everything they'd need to build the first European settlement in the Land Down Under. Far from their original homes they started building a new community. They grew plants, raised animals and did everything necessary to be self-sufficient.
When we were asked to deploy our knowledge-management software to the other side of the globe with only a month (and 2 people) to do it in, we wondered if we could use the same approach. Our system is in fact a living organism or eco-system that possesses a core which allows it to grow in a nutrient-rich, life-giving environment. If we did something similar to the original settlers, we could use it, the existing local assets (data resources) and our know-how to raise and support a new Ency settlement Down Under. There was one concern. Given the tough deadline, if we could establish a platform, would it have grown to a sufficient size and reliability in the time available that we could simply hand it over to a governor to run and oversee the rules and processes? Well, there was only one way to find out.
What to pack in your steamer trunk?
Everything! Customers' infrastructure is very diverse today. When deploying onto a vast number of operating systems, versions of operating systems and database platforms you need to make sure that for every combination you will get the same result. To achieve this through manual configuration is next to impossible, so you need to have an auto-install package with a bundled application server which can sit on the customer's infrastructure, connect to their databases and install everything it needs automatically. When you have an install package, you can set up an automated test to check regularly that every build of your application is stable for that specific configuration - just switch on a new virtual server in the cloud and run it. With such a package, installation is just a question of a couple of minutes.
Bringing it to life
Once the product is installed and connected to the infrastructure we need to bring it to life, to get the blood pumping through its veins. In this case, the blood is information. It’s everywhere in the enterprise's systems, so all we needed to do was create connectors that would automatically synchronise useful information with our system. To load up the Report Catalogue, we connected to the company's BI platform (SAP Business Objects) and loaded up a list of reports with detailed structural definitions including field descriptions. For our Business Terms definitions we used the existing excel files for the initial load. And what about architectural diagrams buried somewhere deep in unspecified word documents? Even those were imported and indexed by our system and were now just two clicks away from the home page.
Building a community
We'd managed to bring our "plants and livestock" system and use it to start up a self-sufficient system but could that system encourage the building of a community? We got our answer quickly. With the information from the company's system loaded into Encyclopaedia it was very easy for users to make "google-like" searches for the outputs they were looking for - that “revenue report” or definition of a term they'd been trying to find. Ency is built on the data from the legacy of the old data warehouse. During the deployment month, a group of initial users were trained in Ency basics and pretty soon they'd learnt how to share information, discuss definitions or send warnings that there were issues with the quality of a report's data. It’s easy and intuitive, sharing many of the UI features of social media platforms. You can share, discuss and rewrite pretty much anything - data, documents or reports - meaning there’s no need for emailing things backwards and forwards again and again and again. I'm happy to say that the response to this and take up was exciting.
Handover to a local governor
Did we achieve what we set out to do; take over everything we needed in a steam trunk and set up a self-sufficient system like the original settlers? Well the day of handover to the local governor finally came and with it the moment of truth. The processes had been fine-tuned and set up so he could concentrate on gently moderating the system. The initial trainees were training others. And I'm happy (and relieved) to say, everything ran smoothly.
BI knowledge systems like Encyclopaedia have a life and rhythm of their own, very different from other IT systems, e.g. data warehouses. Deployment doesn't need to be a vast long-term project with a lengthy design period, full of documents that are difficult to understand. Setting up our settlement in Oz shows that with a good team and a ready-to-use deployment package, the knowledge system can be up and running within a month. Within a month it can be connected to a reporting platform like Business Objects or a modeling tool like Erwin or PowerDesigner and within a month it can be providing useful information to many users.
So what of the future? The latest email that arrived with the most recent steamer reported that everything was well in the Land down under. I'm happy to say that our system is alive and thriving prosperously.