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From Selfish Giant to Slumdog Millionaire – lessons from Channel 4 film and drama

Sometimes it is good to step outside of the information echo chamber. 

What can we learn from leaders in another profession – one which seeks to balance creative vision with tight budgets; is challenged by new formats, technology and delivery channels; has to balance multiple stakeholders; is threatened by pirated content, and is working to meet the anytime, anywhere demands of end users?

Tessa Ross is the Controller of Film and Drama for Channel 4 and recipient of the 2013 Bafta award for ‘Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema’.  Her projects included Slumdog Millionaire, A Field in England, In Bruges and The Selfish Giant.  She came to film via theatre and – speaking at the Olive Till Memorial Lecture* – described a ‘drift’ into her current role rather than a firm plan.  She commissions films for the Channel with a ‘tiny’ budget of £15 million a year.

Her responsibility is to spend that budget wisely and to help people fulfil their creative vision.  Her role requires her to combine creative mentoring, experimentation and risk taking, in depth knowledge of the industry and the people within it, team development and creative matchmaking – and financial and business acumen.

“I think you’re brilliant.  What can I do to help you?”

For Ross, talent rather than the medium is her objective.  The vast majority of projects brought to her will not be made and Channel 4 may not be the right home for everyone’s idea.  But for those that she does work with, her focus is on helping them fulfil their creative vision.  This requires tenacity and sometimes a long-term commitment (One of her recent films, Under the Skin, took 13 years to make it from script to screen).

Channel 4’s remit encourages eclectic storytelling and experimentation.  The recent ‘magic mushroom/civil war’ film A Field in England was the result of an experimental masterclass in making a low budget feature film.  It was released simultaneously on multiple platforms.

Ross works with – and helps to develop – creative talent and her role requires a wide-ranging skill set.  Many members of the audience, the majority of them film students, expressed their interest in working with Channel 4 – and her.  And who wouldn’t want a mentor like that?!

*The Olive Till Memorial Debate and Bursary are presented by Stewart Till CBE, CEO Icon Entertainment and Deputy Chair Skillset, in memory of his mother at Goldsmiths, University of London’.  Previous speakers have included Danny Boyle and Tim Bevan.

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The psychology of sharing

If we understand what drives people to share content online, then we can appeal to their motivations to connect our content with others.

The New York Times Customer Insight Group has collaborated with Latitude Research to gather insights into what drives people to share content online.  It describes six personas and explores ways to appeal to them.

“I share to enrich the lives of those around me”

The research shows that the very act of sharing helps people to process information – 73% say sharing helps them process information more deeply and thoughtfully.  However, the vast majority (94%) are careful about information overload – they report that they “consider carefully” how useful the information will be to those they wish to share it with.

Other reasons for sharing:

  • To support issues or causes (84%)
  • To stay connected (78%)
  • To connect with others with shared interests (73%)
  • To feel more involved with the world (69%)
  • To give others a better idea about what matters to them (68%)

Sharing personas

  • Altruists – reliable, thoughtful and connected sharers
  • Careerists – sharers of business interests and ideas exchanges
  • Hipsters – creative sharers who see sharing as ‘part of who they are’
  • Boomerangs – provocative sharers of [often controversial] content
  • Connectors – planners and sharers who bring others together
  • Selectives – careful, informative and selective sharers of content

If you want your content to be shared by others, some rules are relevant irrespective of the personas of your target audience.  Keep your message simple, embrace a sense of urgency and show a sense of humour.  Above all remember that ‘being shared’ is just the beginning - remaining engaged is the most important aspect of all.

Download the research.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

Managing information risk – European business must do better

European companies are improving when it comes to managing information risk, but they must do even better.

PWC and Iron Mountain have published their 2013 Risk Maturity Index, exploring attitudes to information risk and examples of best practice in mid-sized businesses in six countries in Europe (France, Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Spain and UK*).  Their findings suggest there has been some improvement in attitudes to information risk, but that there is still a long way to go.  Middle sized (250-2,500 employees) European companies are ‘ill equipped’ to navigate the complex information landscape.

Key findings of the study

  • Awareness of the importance of information risk management is growing
  • The average number of data breaches is growing 50% per year
  • 36% of companies are keeping all of their data ‘just in case’
  • Only 45% of companies have an information risk strategy
  • 42% of those surveyed are worried about the security of their company’s stored data
  • Only 25% consider their employees to be a serious threat to information security
  • 45% do not monitor employee social media use

National differences

Companies in the Netherlands performed better than in any other country.  They were more likely to have strategies and plans in place to deal with BYOD and minor data ‘mishaps’. They were also much more likely to have a corporate risk register.  Alongside companies in France, Dutch businesses were most likely to treat information risk at board level.

Hungary takes second place in the Risk Maturity Index.  Over the last 12 months, businesses have focused on raising employees’ awareness of information risk issues and providing relevant training.

Spanish companies lag behind those in other countries and are least likely to provide guidelines to employees or to have key security measures in place.

Best practice

  •  Information management and risk must be a board level issue
  • Information audits – identify what you have, where it is stored and how it is classified
  • Operate a policy of ‘controlled trust’

*600 senior managers were interviewed in mid-sized businesses in the six countries.

The White Paper is free to download from Iron Mountain.

[Follow Val Skelton on Google+]

“A good time to be original” – lessons from the movie industry

In the early days of knowledge management, organisations focused on maximising the value of the workforce.  New structures and ways of working were explored.  One of these structural models involved the creation of ‘dream teams’ to tackle specific projects.  The teams might cut across hierarchies and departments but the members would be chosen as being the most appropriate for the project.  The right people at the right time would come together, deliver a project successfully and disperse into new project teams.

This model was often referred to as a ‘film production’ model.  A film producer’s role is to bring together the right script, talent, funding, marketing and distribution to deliver a successful project.  What, then, can we learn from film producers?

Tim Bevan is co-founder and co-chairman of the UK’s most successful film production company.  Working Title, founded in 1992, is responsible for such films as Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy; Atonement; Fargo and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Tim was the guest at the ninth annual Olive Till Memorial Debate, held at Goldsmiths College in London this month.  Interviewed by Mike Goodridge, the editor of Screen International, he shared insights into the business of making movies and some significant transferable lessons learned.

  • Don’t be afraid to learn as you go – Try to learn something concrete after every project.  His work on an early project (My Beautiful Launderette) not only taught him the process of film-making but also helped him focus on what really interested him – the business and creative sides of getting films made.
  • The power of creative partnerships – and of team selection.  In film-making, talent relationships are everything.  Tim has had long-lasting and successful partnerships with people who trust him and understand how he works.   Face to face meetings have proved more informative to him than show reels when it comes to choosing partners.  Sometimes completely counter-intuitive appointments are the most successful (Ang Lee was certainly not the obvious choice to direct Sense and Sensibility)
  • Challenge and push you team – Despite having trusted teams around you, remember that most team leaders will ask for more budget than they really need!  By challenging them appropriately and collaboratively, sometimes wonderful, creative solutions arise.
  • Ensure projects are sufficiently resourced- When resources are tight, you might end up having to complete a project simply because you have spent so much on it already and need to claw some back.
  • Balance your portfolio – Working Title may be working on 60 projects at one time – although many will never be pursued to completion.  They have always balanced box office/commercial hits with other films
  • Speed is sometimes the enemy of thought – when it comes to newer technologies such as digital editing, the simplification of the technology means that some processes become less ‘considered’
  • Dare to be different – particularly in the current climate, other movie makers might prefer to play safe, creating the same movie over and again.  But for those who are steeped in an independent spirit, this is the perfect time to be creative, take a chance and go down a different path.


[The Olive Till Memorial Debate and Bursary are presented by Stewart Till CBE, CEO Icon Entertainment and Deputy Chair Skillset, in memory of his mother] 

Challenges faced by marketing sound familiar

IBM has just published its 2011 Global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) 2011 report (called From Stretched to Strengthened).  Over 1700 senior marketing staff in 64 countries were interviewed about the transformations and challenges they and their businesses are currently facing.

The CMOs identified four big ‘game changers’

  • data explosion
  • social media
  • proliferation of devices and channels
  • consumer demographics

They also identified key areas for focus and development, including understanding customers and delivering value to them; creating lasting relationships; and the necessity for measuring ROI.  This focus on ROI reflects a move from marketing being seen as a ‘cost centre’ to focusing on customer centric initiatives.   In fact, it’s all sounding rather familiar.

The report synthesises the wisdom of the respondents to suggest nine strategic imperatives.  These too are relevant to information professionals.  These include:

  • focus on creating value to customers as individuals
  • capitalise on new digital channels to stimulate customer conversations
  • use advanced analytics and compelling metrics to improve decision making and demonstrate accountability

It seems there are opportunities for information professionals to help senior marketing colleagues understand the potential impact and deliver the benefits of social media and to support them as they attempt to meet the challenges of data explosion and analysis.





What ‘good’ looks like

Some years ago, when he was working at BP, Chris Collison and his colleagues developed a deceptively simple methodology that helped transform the way that knowledge and expertise was identified and shared.  This ‘river’ diagram remains an astonishingly powerful tool that is used by organisations of all types, size and sectors, from global telecommunications businesses to third sector organisations.

At the latest NetIKX event, Chris guided members through a river exercise that sought to identify the supply and demand for knowledge expertise within the room.

The process involves:

  • Bringing stakeholders together to agree ‘what good looks like’
  • Enabling teams to self-assess their performance levels
  • Encouraging teams to set targets for improvement
  • ‘Matchmaking’ those with a supply of expertise and experience with those who want to improve

As with any great consulting methodology there is as much to be gained from participating in the process itself as there is from the actual outputs.  The conversations that take place to discuss what constitutes ‘basic’, ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ can help stakeholders to develop a shared organisational language.   The process helps organisations identify, capture and share good practice. The longevity of the river diagram approach also shows the power of effective visualisation – and of a great metaphor.

In our session, two café conversations took place, bringing together those who self-assessed high on knowledge strategy and organisational learning and those seeking to learn from them.

The amount and level of animated knowledge sharing at our workshop demonstrates just how healthy the NetIKX knowledge marketplace is.  It also shows how committed the members are, not only to their own learning, but also to the ongoing development of peers and the future success of knowledge and information management.

Information professionals – unsung ‘good fairies’?

This week’s Sue Hill breakfast meeting provided a compelling snapshot of what is exercising information professionals across a wide range of sectors (health, law, property and more were represented).

Several delegates reported that their organisations are working to develop new strategies and models to reflect the changing business landscape.  Collaboration, both internally, but increasingly externally, is seen as a strategy for success – or at least survival.  Organisational websites are no longer static ‘repositories’ but are being opened up to collaborative content creation – with all the challenges that this might generate.  Colleagues must learn to work more openly and in new matrix structures.  There are opportunities for knowledge and information people to act as role models when it comes to collaborative working.  It may not come as easily to others as it does to our profession.

But it’s not just our customers with whom we need to collaborate.  There is also work to be done educating, informing, and exerting influence on those who seek to regulate and measure our business.  We can assist in raising the profile, not just of our profession, but of our organisations and the sectors in which we work.  We can help share success stories, internally and externally and have a role to play in helping our colleagues interpret, and maximise, internally generated knowledge.  We can help our organisations mitigate information risk and maximise information value.

Even against the backdrop of a challenging business landscape, the conversation was positive and energised.  In hard times, we are the ‘good fairies’ of our organisations – our good deeds bring business benefits!

Suzanne from Sue Hill Recruitment has also blogged about this event.  Click here for her review.

Clear, concise, accurate – what all information managers should aim for

Information is an organisational resource that needs to be managed, just like any other.  It needs to be allowed to flow appropriately and effectively if its value is to be maximised – and its potential to harm is to be minimised.

Our second speaker at the NetIKX Information Risk Management workshop was Patricia (Pat) Bryant – a risk manager with experience of advocating the benefits of managing risks at a senior level in the public, private and third sectors.

Pat used the recent events at News Corp and Westminster to highlight some key lessons about managing information risk.   Poor information management combined with alleged criminality has created financial problems for that organisation and raised political implications in three continents.

Key lessons from Pat’s presentation and the discussion that followed it:

  • ‘Secrecy’ is the enemy of information security.  If information is locked down, then it becomes siloed.  Information lock-down creates a barrier which can lead the disaffected to believe that you have something to hide.
  • It is possible to manage information boundaries, but organisations are not very good at it!  Organisations should aim for information transparency within clear boundaries.
  • Organisations should consider who is best placed to control and manage information flows
  • Similarly communications are vital and serious consideration should be given to who is the best person to do it!
  • Your information should be concise, factual and the person who communicates it should be trustworthy
  • Leaks tarnish people and organisation
  • Get your information right in the first place
  • Organisations should seek to move from ‘risk averse’ to ‘risk managed’
  • Has your organisation defined its ‘appetite for risk’? – you should work within that framework
  • The watchwords should be ‘Clear, Concise, Accurate

How to align IM with organisational risk management

As recent events have only too clearly shown, poor information management and control (particularly when combined with a ‘flexible’ appreciation of information ethics and legislation) can lead to financial and reputational loss.

It was an extraordinary coincidence of timing that while a UK Government Select Committee was in progress in Westminster, members of NetIKX were discussing the concept of organisational information risk management.

Liz Scott-Wilson, currently an information architect at a large law firm, has years of experience in information management and consulting roles in both the public and private sectors.  In her presentation she shared what she considers to be the most valuable lesson of her career.  When it comes to exerting influence within your organisation the key to success is to focus on what keeps senior people in your organisation awake at night.

Senior managers are unlikely to care much about the intricacies of information governance but they will be concerned about organisational risk.  Liz outlined how in a previous role, she had analysed a (very detailed) organisational risk register and identified information pressure points.  She then used these to demonstrate how effective information management could help mitigate organisational risk at key pressure points.

Key lessons from Liz’s presentation:

  • Focus on real pain points for senior managers
  • Ensure you understand the power systems in your organisation
  • Find friends in your organisation’s governance/risk teams
  • Reflect organisational language in your strategy
  • Demonstrate how IM can bring plausible and affordable processes to mitigate risk

The key call for action was to encourage anyone interested in demonstrating the importance of IM to organisations to meet with organisational risk managers.


(There were two speakers at the event.  Watch out for a second blog entry!)

Making the most of SharePoint – 8 lessons from NetIKX

The latest meeting of NetIKX, focusing on making the most of SharePoint, was a full-house.   Delegates were keen to learn from others who have experienced (and even been responsible for) SharePoint roll-out and survived.  The session proved that as a tool, SharePoint is flexible enough to ‘take on the personality’ of the organisation.

Mark Field set the agenda for the afternoon, outlining the ways in which the UK’s Department for Education is using SharePoint to help deliver real behavioural change.  Additional case studies were provided by the British Red Cross and Jones Lang LeSalle.

Although being showcased in three very different corporate settings, some key lessons and themes reflect how to deliver a successful SharePoint project.

  • Recognise the value of IM as well as IT skills in taking implementation forward.  Sound information architectures and information standards as well as customer skills are essential
    • Over engineered approaches are high risk  
  •  Do not use SharePoint/Microsoft terminology if that will be a barrier in your organisation
    • For one organisation, the tool simply provided ‘workplaces’ for its users
  • Obtain high level ‘business’ support (that’s a given) but also identify pilot groups/individuals who will challenge you
    • The naysayers will test and push you but will become valuable advocates if you deliver what they need
  • Get ‘intimately’ close with your internal clients to understand their work processes/pain points.  Focus on the ways real people really work
    • Focus on constant improvement and iterations not on one ‘big delivery/rollout’ of a standard implementation.  Really understand internal work processes
  • One size does not fit all but recognise the dangers of letting a thousand flowers bloom   
    • Provide the necessary support and training to ensure success
  • Be pragmatic, not dictatorial
    • Not all documents will require rich metadata
  • Be open to learning from other organisations/rollouts but recognise that you will have to adapt for your own circumstances
    •  For one organisation, extensive customisation is required to ensure access in low bandwidth situations
  • User pull is vital
    • Under deliver on functionality and then respond to user demands for more ‘stuff’

All of the case study organisations had identified the contribution that collaborative software, interfaces with a good look and feel and well structured document libraries make to team and organisational effectiveness – and to improved compliance with records management policies.