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The PersonAll-ization of Knowledge Work … On Your Work Screen

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In November of 2008 I spent several weeks in Paris, France speaking at a conference and with several Enterprise 2.0 startups, and was pleasantly surprised at some of the sophisticated concepts and capabilities I discovered.

One of the ongoing (and growing) trends in the workplace is the personalization of work … how you, the individual knowledge worker, carry out the work, choose and use the tools with which it is carried out, and fit yourself into the attendant rhythms of collaboration and co-creation built up from processing constant flows of information. I have written about what I call the “mass customization of work” before … I’ll Do It My Way – The Mass Customization of Knowledge Work, and Personalizing Collaborative Work … Individuals and Co-Creation.  I am about to add this post, which may be the beginning of a series on the personalization-of-work theme.

One of the interesting startups I encountered is PersonAll, being developed by a couple of young French entrepreneurs, Jeremy Grinbaum (President, previously of Google Enterprise search) and Jean-Patrice Glafkides (CTO, previously of HP Software).

PersonAll provides organizations with the means of offering its workers a fully personalized knowledge work portal. It allows each and every employee of an organization to integrate external information (from RSS feeds and other sources) to create always-on sources of information on markets, customers, industries, issues, topics, etc. of interest and utility to the worker) and all pertinent internal information (work team, departmental and organizational objectives, the organization’s news, new policies, access to databases and archives, internal collaboration platforms, etc.).  It also enables each and every employee to publish information to destinations where they are involved in the activities of a given community or group.

PersonAll accomplishes this through what Jeremy and Jean-Patrice call a “strategy of constraints”, wherein peoples’ configurations and activities are managed by permissions. Users can access a catalogue of portlets (modular pre-packaged / designed content).  There are two types of modules; 1) generic modules which users can customize within certain constraints (such as an RSS reader) and 2) specific modules selected from the previously-mentioned catalogue.

Here’s a quick look at a personalized work screen (though I suspect that the picture is not sufficiently large for you to get a decent sense of the different personalized components).

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Effectively, PersonAll lets you, the user, configure the screen you always have in front of your eyes and ears with the combinations and configurations of flows of information and information-processing services that are the most useful to YOU, that help you be your most productive according to your cognitive and collaborative styles.

An extensive use of tags is at the heart of PersonAll’s design and functionality.  This serves two key aspects:

1. the classification of “objects” (profiles, articles, modules, etc.), and

2. the management of users’ rights and permissions.

Essentially, this enables the easy and rapid formation, sustenance and (self) management of work communities around topics, subjects and other items of interest and pertinence.

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PersonAll’s business model is aimed at helping organizations reduce costs while improving knowledge worker productivity.  This will happen through  enhancing effective collaboration and at the same time providing employees with choice when it comes to the the work tools they use.  For example, with their own personall-ized work portal, people can migrate easily between projects or between social computing environments.

In principle, the widespread use of PersonAll in an organization also facilitates obtaining values from latent and explicit folksonomies, as PersonAll also offers the organization a range of statistical analysis tools whereby aggregate views of the kinds of exchanges and use of information flows and services can be examined and analyzed, as catalysts for augmenting the organizations ‘collective intelligence’.

In terms of technical design and architecture, PersonAll is based on Java standards, and is optimized for the major browsers like IE, Firefox, Safari and Chrome.  Of course it is designed to plug into and sit on top of all major / common forms of integrated information systems such as those found in most major enterprises …. the “of course” at the beginning of this sentence refers to the fact that if it weren’t it would not be very useful in PersonAll’s target market, non ?  Sacré bleu, zut, alors !

It is also ‘backwards compatible’ with browsers and enterprise platfroms / portals, and completely compatible with what most of us call the “Consumer Web 2.0″.  As Jeremy and Jean-Patrice pointed out to me, enterprise social computing can be characterized generally as 2 to 3 years behind the consumer Web in terms of trying, using and adapting to web tools and services, and they are aiming to make it easy to try and adopt … or let’s say minimizing the reasons for any given enterprise to say ‘No’.

PersonAll has some early revenue-generating clients, a good degree of recognition and profile in the Enterprise 2.0 space in France, and some exciting plans up their sleeves for the next year or so.

As some readers may know, I think that the use of social computing tools and services combined with collaborative platforms is THE future of knowledge work and that this major trend will inexorably lead to the re-design of fundamental assumptions about the design of knowledge work.

The personalization of knowledge work and PKM (personal knowledge management) is clearly an established and tangible trend. Given a few breaks and early adoption by a few progressive organizations, I think that this small but smart French start-up has an interesting and exciting future in front of it.

Stay tuned .

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