ChiefTech rides again

Some of you who follow me closely might have noticed that a few weeks ago I went freelance again. Blame the doom and gloom of current financial crisis. Enough said? Anyway, I haven’t mentioned it until now as for the moment I’ve dusted off the covers of Chief Technology Solutions and have been working on a couple of small consulting projects. But right now I’m open to offers of both long term roles (either contract or permanent would be given serious consideration) and also any immediate short-term consulting engagements.

What can I help with? Check out my LinkedIn profile for a start. My professional background includes a experience with a range of government, professional services and blue chip companies, such as AMP, ASIC, BHP Billiton, BlueScope Steel, CSC, Ernst & Young, and Rio Tinto. I also completed a Master of Business & Technology (MBT) at UNSW in 2005.

I work in a range of information management, social media and knowledge management areas, including:

  • Intranets and Portals (including SharePoint);
  • Collaboration, Blogs and Wikis (e.g. Confluence);
  • Document Management Systems (including Documentum and Interwoven);
  • Organisational change management for technology projects; and
  • I’m also a well regarded workshop facilitator!

If you would like to discuss further, feel free to give me a call as I would love to hear from you.

Control scales, but the nature of control changes

David Weinberger writes that with a few exceptions, control doesn’t scale and social media makes social control even harder – a point Clay Shirky also makes, although he highlights that its as much about the medium as it is the message.

In my mind the development and relationship of information and communication technology (ICT) to control is also a story about the span and speed of that control. Without ICT we would be stuck managing at the speed of the fastest horse, boat or semaphore message and adding up the payroll using an abacus or slide rule.

And like management, control in itself isn’t a bad thing – for example, look at the use of social media during disasters in recent years – just the motives behind it. If anything, social media shows that control *does* scale, but in a way that doesn’t require either the efficiencies that are part of a traditional organisational structure or centralised leadership. Sounds like something right out of complexity science don’t you think?

Day two at OSNBC 2008

I missed the morning of day two at Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration (I was attending a seminar on MySource Matrix) but ended up sharing lunch with two Government 2.0 innovators from the speakers line up, Phillip Bower from Centrelink and Dheeraj Chowdhury from the NSW Department of Education (see below).

Here is a summary of two sessions from the afternoon:

Paul Salvati, Smart Service Queensland

Due to the demographic profile of Queensland’s population, they need to engage with a sparse population across a large geographic area. They investigated the use of YouTube and MySpace as a way to engage with young people, but ended up picking Second Life. They built an island with a public landing area, but the majority of the space is private and accessible only by invitation. During 2007 the held a forum in Second Life to gather feedback on how they might use the space and in April 2008 they held a virtual youth forum to celebrate Youth Week.

Feedback from these forums showed that the vast majority of the young people involved found it easy to participate, most felt involved with the discussion and that they found it as good or better than a traditional workshop. The benefits from using Second Life were found to be:

  • Convenience;
  • It was a non-intimidating workshop experience;
  • The chat feature gave participants a history of the conversation taking place and the process of chatting provided the opportunity for considered input (but will the availability of voice in Second Life devalue this?);
  • People thought it was a fun and interactive experience, but they wondered if this might be reduced overtime once people get past the novelty factor;
  • The ease of supply of objects that assist meeting facilitation (since they are virtual!); and
  • Automatic capture of a transcripts from the event (for the organiser – however, see my point about voice support above).

However, they also identified some issues with using Second Life and these included reliability (I think this was a more general statement about using a hosted solution), ‘griefing’, lagging, legal implications, content moderation, system requirements (in terms of the user’s computer performance), maturity of user’s collaboration skills, and accessibility for people with disabilities.

Overall it sounds like there are some real opportunities to use immersive environments like Second Life, but Salvati thinks there are still some barriers to overcome before it becomes mainstream. It was also a reasonably low cost pilot – other than the time and effort of the people involved, they invested less than $1000 in building their island.

Dheeraj Chowdhury, NSW Department of Education

Dheeraj works in the department’s Centre for Learning Innovation. It provides teaching and educational resources for teachers, students and parents, with a key online presence at TaLe. They are very interested in providing interactive methods for engaging with their community of users – for example, the TaLe site hosts ‘Professional Learning Communities’. Murder under the Microscope is an example of a collaborative online educational game they developed.

He shared his ideas about implementing social networking – key points were:

  • Actively seek out the right open source tools;
  • Once you’ve selected a tool, move fast and be agile;
  • Focus on developing frameworks and platforms;
  • Engage quickly (a idea taken from Google);
  • Enable self expression;
  • Let them browse the social graph;
  • Proactively drive communication; and
  • Include buttons to ‘add this’ and ‘rate this’ everywhere.

But, don’t forget, “what’s the fuel? Engagement with the audience”.

I actually think Dheeraj has more ideas in his head than he could explain in such a short session – so I’m glad I had the chance to talk to him over lunch!

He also talked about his experience of implementing social bookmarking with Scuttle – using only a viral adoption approach,they deployed the solution in just 2 weeks and at a cost of less than $5,000.

Day one at OSNBC 2008

As promised, here are some notes on some selected sessions from day 1 of Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration:

Richard Kimber from Friendster and Rebekah Horne from MySpace

Deep within these two key note presentations (once you got past the promotion of the particular social networking sites that Richard Kimber and Rebekah Horne represented) I picked up a few ideas in respect to the role and application of social networking tools inside organisations:

  • On the Web, social networking site are becoming “social portals” – however, people probably only have a capacity for using 2-3 different social networks. Statistics on membership show that there is little overlap between different public social networking sites.
  • Different public social networking sites are successful in specific geographies. Also, different cultures use social networking sites in different ways – for example, in the west authentic social networking is the norm, but is less typical in north Asia.
  • Mobile access to public social networking is gradually growing in importance.

I think there are some interesting implications for people trying to deploy social networking tools inside organisations, particularly with the reference to portals – an area that continues to produce mixed results in the enterprise. Horne also discussed their success with the MySpace Road Tour and I think that this might also provide an interesting model for the success of social media and social networking inside organisations too – and that is you still need to link the online world back to the real world.

Horne also shared a list of Six Social Network user archetypes (based on research by MySpace in the UK):

  • Essentialists (38%) – People who use social networking sites to stay in touch with friends and family;
  • Transumers (28%) – People who follow the lead of others and join groups connected to their interests;
  • Connectors (10%) – People who revel in passing on information and links whenever they come across something they find interesting;
  • Collaborators (5%) – People who use social networking sites to create events;
  • Scene Breaking (5%) – People who hunt down media (bands, blogs, video) online and share that through the site; and
  • Netrepreneurs (4%) – People who accessed the sites for the sole purpose of making money.

I also learnt that MySpace is a well established and profitable company… (sorry, that’s a bit of an in-conference joke)

Paul Slakey from Google

This was a refreshing change of gear from the key note presentations on social networking sites, although the bulk of Paul Slakey’s presentation was really ‘Google Apps 101’. He described some of the business benefits of Google Apps as:

  • Low cost solution (e.g. $3,785 per user per year for implementing a traditional office suite versus $87 for Google Apps);
  • Scalability; and
  • Continuous product innovation.

I would also add to that list, accessibility where ever a Web-connection is available. Google Apps in particular is also revolutionary in the way it gives smaller organisations access to the types of integrated collaboration tools that in the past only larger companies have had access to.

Having said all that, Slakey doesn’t believe that hosted applications will replace all traditional applications – instead they will continue to co-exist. But looking at that idea more critically, I do wonder then if organisations will really save money with hosted apps – either they’ll end up with both or Microsoft Office will be evolve into a niche product that will be priced as a specialist ‘power tool’. Really to get the full cost saving you’ll also need to migrate all that macro programming in Microsoft Excel and Word into the cloud.

One other interesting point was that Slakey sees an emerging role for an ecosystem of providers that will help organisations both to migrate data to Google Apps (e.g. email accounts, calendars and data etc) and also help them to develop the new practices and skills needed for cloud-based collaboration.

Chris Knowles from Heinz Australia

I saw Chris Knowles present last year at the Intranets ‘07 conference, so this was a bit of an update for me really on what he has been doing more recently in this space. Heinz have implemented internal blogs and a wiki, an extranet blog and an external social networking site for customers. He explained that the internal tools used simple software options that didn’t need database infrastructure, while the extranet and external social network used cheap hosted solutions.

He is a very relaxed presenter and happy to share as much about what has worked at Heinz, as he was about what didn’t work. For example, internal blogging has been more successful than their wiki. However in the process of promoting their new blogging platform to Heinz’s mobile sales staff as an improvement to their intranet, Knowles found he couldn’t assume that people actually even knew what the intranet was! He also told us that he had been asked on a couple of occasions to remove comments.

Some of his tips include:

  • Start simple;
  • Remove any disincentives and make sure you have the right incentives to participate;
  • Expect to fail – label everything as a ‘beta’;
  • Use working groups to help guide future development of the tools; and
  • Don’t stop evangelising, encouraging and educating.

I also get the impression that in the process of rolling out these different social media tools, Knowles has been prepared to ‘eat his own dog food’ and use the same tools to support how they are used. However, overall I was left wondering if there was any deliberate strategy or plan behind the different initiatives. Also, how much of the long standing knowledge we have about managing Web-forums applies to the situation at Heinz?

Jeremy Mitchell from Telstra

The key point in Jeremy Mitchell’s story of Telstra’s Now We Are Talking site was the importance of getting high level support so you can be as transparent as possible.

Ok. That’s enough about day 1. I’ll blog another post about day 2 next.

The last few days

Phew! Well, the last couple of days have been a process of absorbing a lot of information and ideas from attending the Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration conference, a half-day seminar about the MySource Matrix commercial open source Web CMS and also the last formal NSW KM Forum meeting of the year.

I have some notes from the conference to share (day 1 and day 2) and also a write up about MySource Matrix in separate posts to come later….

In the meantime, just a quick mention about the NSW KM Forum meeting, which featured Matt Moore and Serena Joyner – I don’t have any notes to share, but Matt’s slide are already available online and Serena used this video from Step Two’s Intranet Innovation awards as part of her presentation.

At Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration World 2008

I’m attending Online Social Networking and Business Collaboration World 2008 in Sydney today but unfortunately a lack of easy access to power and wifi at the venue is limiting my ability to blog and twitter (the hash tag is #osnbc). However, I know that there has been a lot of chatter on the back channel – so far we have had a lot of advertising and few insights. Of course I’m mixing with a crowd of marketers so I’m sure some people would find this interesting. I’m looking forward to the business stream sessions later this afternoon.

I’ll blog more when I can.

Elcom Technologies IntranetManager.NET launch

I had heard that Sydney-based content management software company, Elcom Technologies, were launching a new intranet package called IntranetManager.NET, but I’m not sure how I managed to miss the launch event.

Anyway, as Anthony Milner from Elcom Technologies explains, IntranetManager.NET is based on their Community Manager product:

For some time at Elcom we’ve deployed our Content Management product, Community Manager, as an Intranet. It has excellent content management, document management, forms, corporate phone book, blogs, wikis, workflow and enterprise search features making it an ideal intranet software choice for a mid-sized to enterprise level businesses. In fact it’s capability as an intranet search engine alone would make it a great choice for an enterprise federated search solution.

We’ve recently taken a close look at the marketing of our product offerings and came to a conclusion that companies that were looking for intranet software or intranet search engines had no idea that Community Manager provided this functionality out of the box. So we’ve been promoting the not so obvious and decided to make it a little more obvious. So what did we do, we launched a new product, it’s called, wait for it….drum roll….Intranet Manager (tada).

ITWire also have an interview with Orica, who were a case study for IntranetManager.NET at the launch and @trib has shared his presentation slides and notes. So there you go – with all this stuff online, its almost as good as being there! 😉