August 2008

relayImage by FelipeArte via Flickr

As a guy who loves to do things in spreadsheets, often using lookup-functions, pivot-tables and auto-filter to integrate data and get to what I need, I still don’t consider myself to be particularly high on the technical curve.  By this, I mean that I’m comfortable working up to my elbows in the data – but I leave abstracting it out into enterprise systems to the “IT folks”.

Considering the semantic spreadsheet capabilities described here on this ReadWriteWeb post, and the related comments, I think the real value lies not so much with the spreadsheet user (which seem to be the assumed target), but with the enterprises for which the spreadsheet-ers (if that’s a word) are working.

As was noted in the post and comments, people who aren’t capable of leveraging the serious capabilities of Excel itself won’t likely be able to navigate the system described here.  At the same time, those who can could likely achieve what they need through Excel functionality.  More skill than that, and you’re talking about “real IT people” who could perform the work in databases.

The value proposition seems more centered around enterprises being able to allow their “non-technical” people to work in environments they can easily handle (i.e. spreadsheets), while the enterprise can reap the benefit of the collective work of the spreadsheet-ers by using the semantic capabilities to integrate the disparate datasets of their forces.

Perhaps there are other, stronger methods to accomplish this without requiring work forces to swim in less friendly waters than spreadsheets, but I leave that to the “more technically inclined”.

An example of a social network diagram.Image via WikipediaWacky looking title.  Not perfect – but the point is to do a little analysis of Value Network Analysis.  There’s a good Aleksola post [note 9/15/10: that link seems to have died, but here’s another for it] up, relating to the topic – which VN Group(ie) John Maloney shared with the list today.

The post explains VNA as social and technical resources being used together (in relation to one another) to create value – whether intellectual, physical, or otherwise.  It distinguishes between in- and out-facing networks, but emphasizes that “Value is created through exchange and the relationships between roles”, over systems in place to enable those interactions.

While it may seem that VNA is about mapping the pathways of social or organizational interaction, such mapping only provides a framework for analysis and discovery – revealing pathways for value.

The actual value created is through the meeting of needs of various parties to transactions or engagement situations.  In this way, I think of VNA is a way to consider how the system dynamics of engagement between parties facilitates a kind of currency translation and barter – enabling each to bring to the table something that may (perhaps in combination with something brought by someone else) satisfy the needs of another – and similarly may have their own needs indirectly met.

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Extra! Extra! via Flickr

UPDATE to my 7/29 post on the use of semantic technology in finance:

Talis has posted issue 3 of Nodalities, which contains the full full article on the subject.

relayImage by matsugoro via FlickrI talk a lot about the most interesting parts of life being where things connect – where seemingly distinct topics run into each other.  Not so much that they abut, but in their doing so, they reveal or allow tendrils of overlapping elements to lap out to one another.

This past weekend, I filled-in on a team that was running 92 miles across the state of New Jersey, in the 13th annual River to Sea Relay.  The day was the embodiment of connecting:

  • Each 7-person team came together through any number of connective threads – around family, work, geography, life, death, marriage… (one team was called “Runaway Bride” – I guess this was their idea of a bachelorette party).  We were the “Village Idiots”, and while we could easily have passed for the sister team to one called “Beauty and the Beasts” (we had plural of the former and singular of the latter) I think our name served us well.
  • Each team handed off to their next runner with a swipe of the hand or high five (or waive across a busy road) – connecting step-by-step, and hand-off by hand-off from the western border of the state, on the Delaware river – to the beach on the eastern side of the state.
  • Every runner ran two of the 14 legs that comprised the course – getting back out there after having a few hours to stiffen up on their way to their second leg, while chasing and supporting their teammates.  Since most of us don’t run twice in one day, each person connecting their two runs provided a unique opportunity to see how it feels and to realize that you can in fact do it.
  • A hundred separate teams came together around one “basic” objective (and many unique ones), and greeted each other with competitive spirit and supportive friendliness.
  • At interchanges, people from different teams discovered they knew each other through someone else, had gone to college together, had worked at the same place, that their daughters are in the same singing group at college – that they share another common element (and a swig of water, thank you, or directions at a turn…) besides just being a nutty runner/adventure seeker.

When you take a trip like this, as I did with these six women (yes, my wife knew – in fact she was one of them) who made up the rest of my team – a 29 hour adventure, including a road-trip, hotel stay, dinner out, sleepless night coupled with a really early morning, countless switching back and forth between chase cars, 14 back-to-back legs of running with all the interchanges and support encounters, a finish at the beach, something to re-nourish yourself at the end, and the trip home – you discover you’ve gained, (groaned), learned, (ached), enjoyed (maybe griped).  I won’t repeat what I heard one runner say, because you get to say things out there knowing that they won’t be repeated – “honor among nut-jobs” and all.

Everyone worked hard – really hard, dealing with the heat, sun, each other, silence (course rules prohibited use of music players), rain (on two legs, the sky opened up), lightning…  As the race director summarized, “Despite a short howling storm that raced through central Jersey at around 12:30pm ( thunder, lightning and ferocious rain ) for about 20 minutes,100 stalwart teams-of-seven successfully navigated [the] 92 mile course from Milford on the Delaware River to Manasquan at the Atlantic Ocean. Teams started [on a staggered basis] from 6:00am to 10:15am…”.  The fastest team (not ours) was going at a clip of 5:18 per mile!  Teams took anywhere from eight- to fifteen hours to finish the course.

People connected – with each other, with each others’ ideals, with group and individual goals, one border to another – town-by-town and county-to-county – even connecting with elements of yourself along the way.

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