Businessman Chris Dines realised a decade ago that mid-sized companies face an information vacuum.
"If you are a start-up there are lots of resources on offer. If you are a big company you can bring in McKinsey to advise you. But if you are mid-tier, it is very difficult to gain access to guidance, mentoring and information," he says.
The answer is to help businesses learn from each other, Chris Dines concluded.
Dines - who claims credit for growing Ovum from £8m to a £30m company before it was bought in 2006 - tried some initial experiments at the analyst firm.
"I started arranging closed group discussions, and found that people with similar job roles across rival organisations were willing to talk together," he said.
In 2008 he began looking for ways to replicate these closed groups through an online service that would allow CEOs and other senior managers in mid-tier companies to learn from each other's experiences.
"CEOs don't participate in online discussions and forums. They don't trust them. They don't want to approach people unless they know them," he said. "But research shows they are willing to engage with their peers around a defined topic."
Dines founded a company, Knowledge Peers, to develop a forum where executives would feel comfortable sharing ideas with their peers.
The group evaluated a number of cloud-based platforms and social media services such as Linkedin.
"We looked at platforms like Ning, That's a US business where you can create your own community, but you are very dependent on Ning. They will decide something needs changing, and make changes for all their customers."
Dines chose a cloud offering, Mvine, to create the Knowledge Peers service. Dines already had a business relationship with Mvine's managing director, Frank Joshi.
"The Mvine technology gave Knowledge Peers the tremendous ability to manage and publish content," said Dines. "The platform also allowed us to sell on to third party organisations, enabling them to manage their own user groups."
Crucially, the Mvine platform offered high levels of security and availability.
"The servers are highly resilient. We have got people from China trying to access the databases and denial of service attacks once a month, but we have a whole series of defences," said Joshi.
"Mvine is hardened against SQL injection attack. We can control what is published by whom, and have checks for HTML code, to test for scripts and malicious links," he said.
Knowledge Peers has grown to 6,000 members, of which 2,000 are actively taking part in events and information sharing. Members of the group take part in video case studies, events on and off line, and online benchmarking research.
"We have now got to the point where we have a good base of executives who trust what we are doing. You have to work really hard to get to that place, " said Dines.
The company has formed a partnership with a network for mid-sized businesses in south-west London. Members of the group will be able to use the information resources on the Knowledge Peers site.
Dines is looking to create similar partnerships with other business groups this year.
"We will shortly be getting a big upgrade to provide use with a lot of inline or adaptive analytics, which will show us who is downloading what, where and when, plus a host of other information," he said.
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