In last week’s column, I discussed one of the biggest problems companies have when it comes to intellectual property (IP): capturing the information generated during meetings. I also gave you examples of several methods for capturing that IP so it can be accessed and put to use in your organization. In this column, we’ll look at what to do once you’ve captured IP, what might keep you from using it more effectively, and how future advances in technology will make its capture and consumption simple.

After the capture
Is capturing enough? In a word, “No.”

The value of capturing a discussion is low unless you follow through with transcription and marking. Transcription involves taking all of the useful text of a meeting and placing it in a document that can be read and indexed automatically. Once transcribed and placed on a server where the source can be retrieved, the original media file can be made available to your users via simple text-based keyword searches, such as “Show me all the information regarding the ‘flux capacitor’ project.” They can then pull up the media file and find the reference.

But don’t stop at transcription. If you have a 20-page document indicating that sometime during the 90-minute meeting last Tuesday the flux capacitor project was discussed, you still don’t want to have to listen to or view the entire meeting to find out what was said. Marking is the process of placing time segment information in an audio or video file.

Microsoft’s ASF format, for example, allows automatic marking and quick retrieval by the mark. This allows access to specific segments of audio or video without requiring users to search through the entire file. In fact, if you don’t have time to do complete transcriptions of meetings, it’s at least worthwhile to create a summary document with keywords indicating the topics discussed and embedded links to the ASF markers in the source audio or video file. This sounds complex, but it’s actually quite simple and quick to do.

Why don’t we do this already?
Like most things, where technology solves a problem, humans find a way to make it difficult to apply. The human problems range from ignorance (“I don’t know how”) to apathy (“I don’t want to learn”) to indifference (“I’ll get paid whether I work efficiently or not”).

There’s also a basic human defense mechanism that kicks in whenever anything about us is recorded. When shown their own picture from a Polaroid camera, for example, certain cultures have assumed the device has somehow captured part of them. Some of us feel the same way about being recorded on audio or videotape.

Human issues aside, there are also legal issues:

  • Do you have (or require) an employee’s permission to record them?
  • What about permissions from customers? Vendors? Partners?
  • Would a recording be permissible as evidence in a court of law?
  • If you destroy or alter a recording, could you be charged with tampering with evidence if that recording was used as evidence in a lawsuit?

There are some simple, although untested, answers to many of these questions. For instance, you should have all of your employees sign a document giving you the right to record any activities during work hours for use in collecting, maintaining, and disseminating your IP. These rights should extend to public performance or distribution without any obligation to make royalty payments.

If you want to record meetings with vendors, partners, or any nonemployee, you should get their permission at least at the beginning of the recording, preferably in writing. You should also always save an original, unaltered archival copy of anything for which you save an edited, altered copy. In my opinion, if you just save the transcript information and delete the original media, it’s as if you took notes but never recorded the meeting. Seek the advice of a lawyer if you’re still concerned about the legal ramifications.

Will it get any easier?
Assuming we can work out the human and legal factors, further advances in technology will not only make the recording and transcription of IP more convenient, but also preferable. Elementary efforts in digitization of personal audio have already begun. You can go out today and buy a system—like Dragon Systems’ Dragon Naturally Speaking speech-recognition software—that will allow you to transcribe your own voice, live or recorded.

The bad news about most of these systems is that they have to be “trained” to recognize your voice, dialect, inflections, and so on. The good news is that once you endure the 45- to 60-minute training session on your 500MHz or faster machine, the transcription can be over 98 percent accurate, including technical, legal, and medical terms.

The next step is to auto-transcribe someone else’s audio files without having them “train” the system first. This is all about processor speed and memory. With the appropriate horsepower, the technology can be built and distributed. It’s just not financially viable today.

What about video? Companies are already working on automatic recognition of video images, both recorded and live. If the system can recognize someone’s face to allow logins and computer control (already working in Microsoft’s labs in Redmond), we’re not far away—in terms of human history, not simple passage of time—from being able to not only transcribe, but also to index and mark a video recording automatically.

Future systems will be able to discern who’s in the video, the subject they’re talking about, and what other graphic or video elements were introduced in the video. The systems will then index and mark the video automatically and make it available for anyone to retrieve and consume.

But the time for you to get started is now. You should begin by addressing the legal and human factors that will allow you to capture the IP your company generates. Next, create a process for the capture, transcription, indexing, marking, search, retrieval, and display of your audio and video IP. This could be as simple as buying some microcassette recorders to record meetings and then relying on either internal or external transcription services.

If you’re already using and are comfortable with digital recording technologies, start there and move forward. If you’re not willing to make this investment today, you have no right to complain when one or more of your employees leaves for a competitor and takes with them all the IP you paid them to develop.
Are you saving audio or video copies of meetings? Which format are you using? Send us an e-mail or begin a discussion below.