HR self-service and virtual social capital

Quite a while ago I mentioned that I had a new article being published in the IHRIM Journal. Following an unexpected delay in the printing of the July/August 2005 issue of the journal, I’m pleased to say that it has how been published. The article, titled HR Self-Service: Empowering Staff while Creating Social Capital in Virtualized Organizations, discusses the need for HR managers to develop “virtual” social capital in organisations where self-service HR has implemented.

In the introduction I say:

Human resources self-service is perhaps one of the most indisputable HR information management success stories. While in other industries, users and project sponsors alike bemoan failed IT projects, organizations deploying HR self-service systems report high levels of employee satisfaction and a fast return on investment. This successful virtualization of HR services has also coincided with the change of emphasis in the HR profession – from personnel administration to strategic human resource management (HRM). There is, in fact, a strong suggestion that HR self-service is a key enabler of strategic HRM, since it has allowed HR transactional processes to be automated and, in some cases, re-engineered. But as we rush towards implementing second and third wave employee and manager self-service systems, is there now a risk that the potent combination of self-service and strategic HR management is too much of a good thing?

Thomas A. Kochan has criticized the strategic HR management approach for creating what he calls a ”crisis of trust” in the HR profession. While on one hand I agree that there is a need for organizations to modernize HR processes, I also believe that it is possible that the virtualization of HR service delivery has actually contributed to the relationship breakdown between HR professionals and other stakeholders. Surely it was only to be expected that there was a risk of HR professionals becoming isolated when they served the majority of staff from behind self-service systems? After all, people, networks and communities make the social capital in organizations, not computer systems.

If you have trouble getting hold of a copy of this article, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.

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Throw off your BlackBerries and unite with a Wiki

Enterprise social software must be really going mainstream when we start hearing about corporate execs smashing their BlackBerry‘s in frustration and converting to more collaborative tools! According to BusinessWeek magazine, people are getting sick of information overload caused by email. As a result they suggest the importance of email as the collaboration tool of choice is fading “in favor of other software tools that function as real-time virtual workspaces“:

  • Private workplace wikis (searchable, archivable sites that allow a dedicated group of people to comment on and edit one another’s work in real time);
  • Blogs (chronicles of thoughts and interests);
  • Instant Messenger (which enables users to see who is online and thus chat with them immediately rather than send an e-mail and wait for a response);
  • RSS (really simple syndication, which lets people subscribe to the information they need); and
  • More elaborate forms of groupware (e.g. Sharepoint, eRoom, Quickplace), that allow workers to create Web sites for teams’ use on projects.

Its intersting to note how they include what I would think of as traditional groupware and collaboration tools in this mix with social software.

Thanks to Ross Dawson for picking up on this story.

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Before social software there was…

Lotus Notes. Ok, I know, I know, I keep going on about it. But if you want to know where we are going, you should also know where we have been.

While IBM‘s official history is a good place to start, I also recommend going back a bit further and reading about its origins in the PLATO system which has some insights about the future if you look. What I particularly enjoy about the story of PLATO and Lotus Notes is that:

  • Like social software, “Notes” originally appeared out of the PLATO system in response to an evolving demand for functionality, rather than a planned design case (i.e. users didn’t know what they wanted until they started to use it).
  • The PLATO system provided an integrated same time/different time communication environment – something we are only beginning to see in many so called “modern” groupware or social software tools.

Of course Lotus Notes has some downsides (sorry, “features”!) so its interesting to consider these as social software tools are increasingly used within corporate IT environments – e.g. the flexibility and power in Lotus Notes can result in usability, scalability, duplication and information overload problems.

More recently also have a look at this summary of a panel discussion at Lotusphere 2005. Here Ray Ozzie talks about his concept of a “meshed” information environment. Jack Vinson has also posted a summary of an interview with Ozzie in the November 2005 issue of ACM Queue. Ozzie apparently points out “that large companies are at a disadvantage with respect to flexibility in software. New collaborative technologies are coming out, and individuals and small enterprises are using the new technology to good effect“.

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Innovation in new economy knowledge networks

The timing of this BRW article about sharing knowledge and innovation through networks is pretty good, considering we’ve just had a conference on that same topic. Quoting from a chapter in Innovation and Imagination at Work (Innovation in the networked world), they list four attributes of “New-economy knowledge”:

  • Speed – Information is increasing at an exponential rate and becoming obsolete more quickly.
  • Cut-through – Gaining access to relevant and constantly updated information is of prime importance for continuous innovation.
  • Sharing – Organisations trying to increase the diversity of their knowledge by doing everything themselves will suffer from information overload.
  • Networks – New networks let companies expand their database of contacts.

If this interests you, also have a look at 5 principles for high-performance collaboration.

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Thanks Ozzie, for Simple Sharing Extensions

Ray Ozzie‘s new blog itself is a little disappointing, but the announcement in his second post about the launch by Microsoft of an open extension to RSS, called Simple Sharing Extensions (SSE), is already sending out a few shockwaves around the blogosphere and other parts of the IT industry who are riding the Web 2.0 and social software wave.

According to the spec, what SSE does is to allow us to create “loosely-cooperating apps” that use:

  • RSS as the basis for item sharing – that is, the bi-directional, asynchronous replication of new and changed items amongst two or more cross-subscribed feeds.
  • OPML as the basis for outline sharing – that is, the bi-directional, asynchronous replication of outlines, such as RSS aggregators subscription lists.

In other words, what SSE will do is allow multi-directional synchronisation of data and objects across multiple applications. BTW If this sounds familiar, Ozzie points out the heritage of the SSE concept with the multi-directional synchronisation found in Lotus Notes.

The big difference of course is that while Notes is proprietary, SSE is an open standard and Microsoft have released it under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. And if what many of us are thinking is right, then we should expect to see quite quickly a whole range of new applications that get mashed together to take advantage of the SSE standard, in the same way the RSS has taken off.

Yes, this is pretty cool 🙂

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Blogging for intelligence at Sensis

Yesterday afternoon I presented the last session of day 1 at the Ark Group‘s Knowledge and Innovation conference, held in Sydney. I have to say that the levels of awareness and deep understanding of what social software is all about by people in this space remains mixed. For some the idea of blogs and wikis are quite new, while other have started to experiment. Either way it makes it hard to talk usefully on this subject in the space of only 45 minutes (I’m still waiting for someone to hold a decent conference on Web 2.0 and social software here in Australia!).

It was interesting to observe that while one organisation, Sensis (part of Telstra), has tried blogging as part of a competitive intelligence KM initiative, the outcome was to use that success as a proof of concept that resulted in a new content management system, rather than greater use of blogging.

Incidentally, in this instance Sensis used Blogger as their blogging platform for a CI community of practice – you can take a look a two examples, Sensis Classifieds News Service and Sensis CI News Service – beta version. However, when you look at the detail really they are just using these blogs to manually aggregate content that members of the community spot out on the Web. That is, there isn’t much conversation or reflective learning going on.

Anyway, at least this is some proof that some Aussie organisations are looking at blogging for internal use rather than just external communications or marketing.

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