Using Scenario Analysis to Predict the Future of the Semantic Web

Next week I will have the privilege of speaking to the Special Libraries Association (SLA) once again. The SLA audience is always interested and engaging, and I always have a lot of fun. I’m really excited to get another chance to talk two topics I really enjoy: the semantic web and scenario analysis.

The “semantic web” is a nebulous and imprecise term. It is generally intended to apply to a collection of technologies that unify digital content with meaningful meta-data. The semantic web makes it possible for computers to process textual or spoken information the way computers have traditionally processed numerical data. Semantic technologies make it possible for computers to “understand” the concepts that are embedded in written and spoken language.

The semantic web is a truly disruptive technology. It will make new products and services possible, many of which are futuristic or unimaginable today. Apple’s Siri, IBM’s Watson and the Wolfram Alpha search engine are contemporary examples of semantic technologies. Readers may be aware of the quirks and limitations of these tools. Disruptive technologies improve on logarithmic or exponential scale. Most critics assume that these technologies will improve on the same linear scale that defines most incumbent technologies.

The role of the information professional changed with the introduction of quality search engines, e.g. Google. Search engines made it easier for non-experts to find information. For librarians the search engine was a disruptive technology. The semantic web will make it possible for computers and search engines can understand the meaning of digital content. This will make sophisticated search, retrieval and processing of information possible for non-experts.

Scenario analysis is one of my favorite competitive intelligence and strategy tools. It’s a very advanced method for developing a vision about the future and enriching strategic dialog. Scenario analysis cuts through cognitive biases that hobble many organizations when they try to plan for long-term futures. When it is used well a scenario analysis can inform a robust set of early warning activities.

Is the semantic web a threat or an opportunity for information professionals? Anyone who wants to dig in their heels and protest the technology is likely to lose that battle. So how information professionals align their skills with the change the semantic web will bring? These are the questions my audience and I will explore. We’ll apply the tools of scenario analysis to create a view on four possible futures for the semantic web.

I hope to see you at SLA 2012 in Chicago.

If you are unable to see the SlideShare embed please feel free to download the PDF.

What Do We Do About “Peak Intelligence?”

CI colleague and friend Eric Garland wrote a very provocative editorial in the April 2012 edition of The Atlantic entitled “Peak Intel: How So-Called Strategic Intelligence Actually Makes Us Dumber.” This is effectively Eric’s resignation from the field of intelligence along with some very important questions about the value of the intelligence practice in business today. The article is worth a read, and I definitely felt it was worth some commentary. Whether you agree or disagree, it’s worth considering the value competitive and strategic intelligence are delivering in our current environment.

Eric begins his article by telling us that he has observed an “endemic corruption of how decisions are made in our most critical institutions.” He goes on to describe how business decision-makers have become focused on feel-good information that doesn’t challenge their underlying assumptions. Eric says that this preference– nay insistence– on feel-good news has increased since the financial crisis of 2008. An industry has sprung up that feeds in to the executive desire to feel good about the future, executive mastery of their industry and general CYA. These charlatans actually making it harder for those of us who are trying to deliver the real, often uncomfortable intelligence. “Strategic intelligence” firms and many consultancies have become the enablers of senior executives’ addiction to graphs that always move up and to the right.

A tripartite cause for the war on strategic intelligence and emperical insight come in for criticism:

  1. Industry consolidation enabled by cheap capital. It’s intuitive that most mature industries are more concentrated today than they have been in the past. I argue that most industries have a diverse second and third-tier of competitors, there is a tendency towards “too big to fail” market leaders that are given special treatment by central banks, regulators and politicians to maintain their incumbency against market dynamics, disruptive innovation and poor management.
  2. Consolidation has created huge bureaucracies out of once-thriving businesses. The problems of agency in business are well-known, where managers’ and owners’ interests diverge. Firms that have reached this stage do things very differently from smaller, entrepreneurial firms. In these institutions it is better to fail conventionally than to innovate and face risk. Internal politics become the criteria for how decisions are made.
  3. Today’s global economy is driven by policy decision-makers and not by competitive markets. In the wake of 2008 the nation-state has its hands in the economy more than at any time since World War II. I attended a recent session of senior competitive intelligence and strategy executives from diverse industries, and the unanimous top priority for all of the firms represented in that room was regulation. Literally every industry has a set of regulatory and policy priorities that will almost by themselves determine success or failure, or at the very least define the shape of success or failure. The state  of our economy is being decided in Washington, Brussels and Beijing rather than in a competitive market.

Eric finished the editorial with several examples of former clients became frustrated or even enraged when presented with the most basic strategic facts, such as the aging global population or how long it could take for housing prices to regain 2007 levels (if ever). I’ve been here as well, tasked with defending the blatantly obvious against a corporate orthodoxy, only to have decisions put off because “the verdict isn’t in yet” on clearly settled matters of technological disruption or demographic shift.

While I agree with almost everything Eric has to say in his article, he and I diverge  on our personal conclusions about what to do about it:

  • In the last year I’ve moved to a firm where strategic realities are given their day in court. Not all big firms are closed to the value or import of good strategic intelligence. Sometimes you do need to pick your battles.
  • There are smaller firms competing in truly dynamic markets that demand real insight instead of CYA feints at strategic analysis. I’m always happy when I see smaller firms advertising to fill CI positions.
  • Eventually we will see a dramatic scaling back of state intervention into the economy, either at the bond auction or the ballot box. This changeover won’t happen everywhere at the same time, and the transition will be extremely painful to the leading firms in industries that have come to depend on central bank largesse and government intervention, but it will open up a world of opportunity for those small and medium firms to make their marks on their respective industries.

So, what’s your take on “Peak Intelligence?” Do you disagree with the concept entirely? If you agree, where in your career do you see the bright spots? What companies or firms are doing strategic insight the right way to support quality decision making?

As a fun addendum, here is Eric being interviewed about his article on Russia Today. Stick around for the last few seconds because the look on Eric’s face when the anchor has clearly missed the premise of what Eric is trying to convey is really priceless.

How Big Data and the Semantic Web Will Change Competitive Intelligence and Marketing Research

Recently I had the chance to present to the Marketing Research Association corporate practitioners conference. As a competitive intelligence professional, I was particularly interested in how my practice related to marketing research. I also wanted to take a forward-looking perspective, because technology is moving the horizon of where both our practices can deliver value.
View more presentations from August Jackson

SLA Webinar on Using the Internet to Research Private Companies

Today I had the pleasure to talk with the Special Libraries Association‘s Competitive Intelligence Division on tricks and Internet tools to use to research private companies. I always really enjoy presenting to SLA audiences because they are so engaged and tend to teach me new tricks.

Here are the slides from that presentation. I know the CI Division will have replay details shortly. For anyone who has information they would like to add to the discussion or questions they would like to ask please feel free to do so in the Comments to this blog entry.

Please Vote for my SxSW Session Proposal “Predicting the Future of the Semantic Web”

If you have a moment, please head over to the South by Southwest Panel Picker and cast a vote for my session proposal “Predicting the Future of the Semantic Web” at this link:

We will be developing a scenario analysis capturing the specific drivers and inhibitors of semantic technologies that will shape the future of this platform. We’ll also describe the disruption that semantic technologies will bring to the media, telecommunications and other industries.

Even if you’re not planning on coming to SxSW but would like to see this session please cast a vote. I promise that, if selected for SxSW 2012 I will hold this session as a webinar sometime after the conference.

Wells Fargo and Intuit Join Forces to Ruin My Weekend

I’m absolutely pissed at Wells Fargo and Intuit right now!

You’ll have to excuse me that all professionalism has fled from me as I write this. I have just come through a painful migration not of my choosing. Confusing decisions by Wells Fargo and Intuit have eaten a significant portion of my weekend and cost me $60 to purchase new software. After all of this I am still not made whole. I’m not sure I will ever be.

The World that Was

For many years I have been a Wachovia checking customer. As you probably know Wachovia was one of the banks that didn’t make it through the mortgage meltdown of 2008 and was acquired by Wells Fargo. The transition of the Wachovia franchise to Wells Fargo has been a relatively slow, state-by-state process. Recently the Commonwealth of Virginia made the switch. All of my accounts have been transitioned from Wachovia to Wells Fargo. This includes digital access to my account information.

I have also been a long-time user of Intuit’s personal money management software. In 2008 Intuit chose to no longer update Quicken for the Macintosh and rather introduced a lightweight application called Quicken Essentials. It seemed odd at the time that the team at Intuit would choose to basically downgrade a computer platform on a strong ascendency with an attractive user base. But Quicken Essentials was Good Enough™. I was able to download transactions for all of my checking, savings and credit card accounts– including my Wachovia accounts. So I cast caution to the wind, moved my data over and continued along with Quicken Essentials.

Wells Fargo Upsets the Apple Cart

Last weekend Wells Fargo pulled the switch on moving the Wachovia customer base in Virginia over to Wells Fargo. Imagine my surprise to find that Wells Fargo does not allow users to automatically download their transaction records to Quicken Essentials. Quicken? Yes. QuickBooks? Yes. But Quicken Essentials? No.

Since there is no longer a Quicken for the Mac, Wells Fargo is effectively telling their customers who happen to own and use Macintosh computers that they are second class. Oh, sure, there is a kludge whereby you can download a transaction file and manually upload your account details to Quicken Essentials, but the process is a pain compared to the single button click update I enjoyed as a Wachovia customer.

Wachovia supported this function. Other banks large and small support this function. But not Wells Fargo. Why not? I haven’t been able to find a satisfactory answer. Most of the forums I review suggest that Wells has asked Intuit not to allow this access. The only reason I can imagine is that there is some smal IT overhead to support this access. I can’t really imagine what that is, but I don’t believe asking a major bank to do what it takes to deliver these table stakes is asking too much. My small local bank that owns my business account offers full access via Quicken Essentials. If the inky-dinky local bank can do it the mighty Wells Fargo can make it happen. ‘Nuff said.

quicken essentials is a roach motel

Upon learning that Wells would not support Quicken Essentials I had to once again swallow hard and move forward. Since I run Parallels on my Mac and have a virtual Windows 7 machine I decided it would be easier to eat the $60 to purchase and install Quicken Deluxe 2011 for Windows on my virtual machine. This is sub-optimal considering the slower performance of applications running in a virtual machine. At the time, though, I thought it would still be easier than changing banks.

Intuit, we have a problem!

Intuit, we have a problem!

You cannot believe how extremely surprised I am to learn that Quicken Essentials cannot export files to a format that can be imported by Quicken. Remember in the movie Apollo 13 when the crew had to built a Carbon Dioxide scrubber from scraps, spare parts and a sock because the scrubbers in the command module were incompatible with the scrubbers in the lunar module? Well, Intuit’s approach to file formats makes the Apollo design choices look like… well… rocket science. I can’t even fathom a “Why” for this decision. It’s pure stupidity.

In summary, these two companies have made three decisions of varying impact that never should have been made:

  1. Intuit should have maintained a full version of Quicken on the Mac. Since building an application for a separate platform can be expensive, choosing not to do this is the most understandable or justifiable of all of the stupid decisions these two companies have made.
  2. Wells Fargo should support full access to Quicken Essentials users to download their transactions the same way the customers of ever other bank worth their salt are able to do. There’s zero excuse that this is not available.
  3. Intuit should definitely support file export and import among all of the financial applications. At the very least there should be a file format usable by all flavors of Quicken. Not allowing export from Quicken Essentials to Quicken is stupidity of JarJarian proportions.

As it stands I’ve spent a significant part of my weekend trying to make a transition that should have taken just a minute or two. I’m worse off as both a bank customer and a software user than I was before the transition happened. I’m out $60. Now I’m in the market for a new bank and a new personal finance application.


I’ve been exploring the potential of Google+, the new social media platform from Google. So far the platform appears to have a lot of potential as a platform for team collaboration and communication. It feels more professional (like Twitter or LinkedIn) than social (like Facebook).

Please feel free to add me to one of your circles there. Here’s my Google+ profile.

If you don’t have an invite yet leave a comment and I will send one to you (while Google lets me).