When portal mania took hold in 2002, a simple enough question often went unanswered: “what is it going to help you do?” (As opposed to what it is going to help you know.) The following story could apply to any new technology that alters access to information 

First, a confession: I pinched someone else’s idea. This is based on a talk by Roger Schank, Chief Education Officer for Learning Services at Carnegie Mellon West, to illustrate the benefits of story-telling.

OK, are you sitting comfortably?

Once upon a time, there was a magic kingdom under threat from the fiercest of dragons. The king decided the dragon had to go, and assembled his most trusted advisers to decide on a plan of action.

“We need a portal” said the Chief Information Advisor (CIA, pardon the pun). “Then we can gather all the facts and resources we need in order to be able to slay this dragon.” “Let it be done, ” commanded the King and handed over a chest full of gold coins.

And so the CIA set to work. First a Dragon Slaying Portal Committee was formed, to decide on what information was needed, and in what format. All areas of the kingdom were to be consulted and integrated into the portal. Engineering contributed maps and weapon designs. Sales & Marketing cross-checked the CRM system against the War Archives, looking for past relationships with the dragon community. The Project Managers built a project plan (no surprises there). The Lawyers reviewed dragon rights – a lawsuit was to be avoided at all costs…

Thanks to the benefits of personalisation (a key feature in any good portal), the Knights received detailed information about flame-breathing techniques, dragon-fighting strategy and what was widely believed to be the best way to kill a dragon. The Negotiators received in depth know-how about dragon-speak, dragon-lore, and the dragon-habitat. The Cannon Fodder received their own personalised portal, detailing how easy it was to kill a dragon, nothing to be afraid of, you just had to stand in front of one and wave your hands…

The King looked at the Key Performance Indicators on the Portal Home Page. He was impressed, there was no stone left unturned in the pursuit of knowledge about the world of dragons. And, according to the Chief Financial Adviser, the portal had come in on time and under budget. 5 gold coins were returned to the King. He was, indeed, a happy man.

But there was still the small matter of a dragon to be slain…

The day of attack dawned. A news ticker scrolled across the Portal Home Page, announcing the departure of the Brave Warriors chosen for the job. The portal included an integrated media player – mobile web cams would enable live footage to be streamed through the portal and viewed across the kingdom. Business Activity Monitoring would be used to check actual battle progress against the project plan, and Real-time Communications would enable the Strategists to communicate instantly with the Brave Warriors during battle, should a change in tactics be required.

The Brave Warriors trekked across the kingdom, the GPS system advising them to turn right, 50 steps past the next mountain.

The Cannon Fodder were, unsurprisingly, first to go. It turned out that someone had mixed up their metres and yards when entering the fire-breathing distance.

On first sight of the dragon, which was much bigger and much fiercer looking than the mug shot on the portal, the Negotiators wisely dived for cover, congratulating each other for time well spent passing the ‘How to hide from a dragon’ module on their Virtual Dragon Habitat course.

The Knights were made of sterner stuff and engaged in battle. But none of them had ever actually fought a dragon before. The flames were hotter than expected, the weapons weren’t tested against a dragon as big as this one, the dragon moved far quicker than the computer simulation back in the lab at the castle, and the plan of attack didn’t allow for losing the Cannon Fodder so soon… The First Knight got toasted, whilst reviewing strategic options on his PDA. The Second fell off a previously unknown cliff (the GPS hadn’t been updated in a while). The Third ran away and remains in hiding to this day. His web cam footage has been entered as evidence of poor conduct by the Lawyers and is now one of the most popular downloads from the Internet.

When the dragon calmed down, the Negotiators reappeared and struck a deal. The Chief Marketing Adviser took control of PR, and everyone in the Kingdom now thinks the dragon is a warm and friendly character. The dragon started a blog to further build relations with his new found friends, and even has his own personal page on the portal. The CIA has begun work on implementing a “fire-wall” 🙂

The moral of the story… Having information available at your finger tips isn’t much use if you aren’t prepared to use it. In a scene from the film ‘The Matrix’, the character Morpheus nails it:

“There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path… “

Featured image: iStockphoto, licensed for this article and not for reuse.

Dragon bridge, Ljubljana, Slovenia, Europe.

Dragon bridge, Slovenia, Europe.

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