Observations from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference

A few of the reports from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this week included some interesting observations.

From NetworkWorld:

Past Enterprise 2.0 conferences have suffered from a lack of end-user case studies, but that didn’t seem to be the case this year. Many presentations were akin to business management seminars rather than technology discussions, with the technical nuts and bolts of the software selection and implementation process kept in the background or not mentioned at all.

Another strike against those claiming its all just rheotoric. The number of case studies is increasing.

Dan Keldsen writing in CMSWire about Nike’s presentation:

With a focus on what [Nike’s Director of Enterprise Collaboration, Richard Foo] calls “Performance Value” — focused not just on “the goals of the business” but also on those of the individual — a disconnect that I constantly have to fight in consulting work as well. There has to be value FOR EVERYONE if you are going to succeed these days, not just a self-serving, one-sided value statement.

You definitely have to answer the WIFM question at an individual, group and organisational level.

Also quoting Richard Foo, The BrainYard:

Foo said he values what he has learned from the Enterprise 2.0 conferences and from connections with other organizations pursuing similar goals. But researching what was going on within his own organization has proven just as important. “We’ve discovered several collaboration-type initiatives in the company,” he said, meaning “we’ve been spending millions of dollars on several redundant things.”

Don’t just look at what others are doing, look at what’s already happening inside your organisation.

In Techworld:

One overarching theme representatives from companies like Nike, American Airlines, FedEx and Virgin Media echoed was their use of social collaboration tools for more than just managing a Facebook or Twitter account: Collaboration tools are about driving more efficient internal business process and extending the reach and user experience of external customer engagements… The end-game, says Wells Fargo collaboration strategist Kelli Carlson-Jagersma, is to improve customer service. “We’re here to solve the customers’ needs,” she says. “These internal tools will help us do our customer-facing jobs.”

Social business is about inside and outside the organisation.


The bigger changes for adopting such technology, show speakers say, is around getting end user buy-in…

…[But] As part of [Virgin Media’s] annual survey this year, employees who were part of the initial pilot reported a seven-point bump in employee engagement compared to workers not in the pilot.

The challenge of organisational change doesn’t go away, but its well worth the effort.

Should businesses use collective intelligence and the wisdom of the crowds?

Amazon reviews are just as likely to give an accurate summary of a book’s quality as those of professional newspapers, according to a study from Harvard Business School.

Professor Michael Luca and his co-authors analysed the top 100 reviews from 40 media outlets, including the New York Times, and the Washington Post, between 2004 and 2007 for their paper. The academics used data from reviews aggregator metacritic.com, which summarises professional reviews and then awards ratings, if not given, based on content. They also looked at Amazon reviews for each title.

Although the study points out that there is “virtually no quality assurance” in Amazon’s consumer reviews, which can also be “gamed” by publishers or competitors submitting false reviews, they found that, nevertheless, experts and consumers agreed in aggregate about the quality of a book.

Another piece of research looking at the reliability of information shared through social media. Earlier in the year, a report was published of researchers who looked at mining Twitter to predict the success of movies. The study was not so positive in this case:

Overall, the study found no clear evidence that shows a direct link between Twitter hype, ratings and box office sales.
“The most surprising finding was that Twitter data may not be representative enough of the total population, so it is somewhat risky to use the site for forecasting,” Sen said. “More sophisticated techniques may be needed to understand the applicability of such data sets, such as the metrics we developed to understand the extent of the difference between Twitter users and other online rating side users.”

Others, like The Economist magazine, still see potential:

search-volume forecasts will help spot consumer trends of this sort with increased precision. But the improvements they bring will be incremental. Sophisticated methods based on natural-language analysis of tweets, blogs, or Facebook pages, by contrast, hold greater disruptive potential. As users of social media grow accustomed to sharing highly personal information, apparently unfazed by market-research outfits like WiseWindow watching their every step, the feelings and intentions of hundreds of millions of people are there for data-hungry computers to see.

Really, the reliability of crowdsourcing has to be looked at in context. Structured or designed crowdsourcing sites like , Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and others are seeing success. Competitions and gamification are popular technique, perhaps hinting at the value of using social media and Web 2.0 to achieve scale or breadth of participants rather than the wisdom of the crowds as such. Crowdsourcing is also useful where no other viable method exists to solving the problem, because there is nothing to lose in those situations. Opinion and research on the reliability of Wikipedia is also an ongoing story, but what is perhaps more interesting is the fact that Wikipedia has an article discussing its own reliability – transparency is critical when evaluating the reliability of social media. “Experts” on the other hand typically don’t like to be challenged.

What about crowdsourcing inside businesses?

All the caveats above apply, particularly beware that the size of the pool may affect the quality of outputs. This is why is makes sense to extend crowdsourcing to business partners and customers. But crowdsourcing doesn’t need to be about making decisions or prediction markets, it can simply be about sharing information widely, getting tasks done too, solving small problems, and gathering feedback. “Working outloud” is another way to tap into collective intelligence about what is going on and who is doing what, which has the potential to be mined (tools like Jive and Atlassian Confluence for example are already doing by telling users about popular content or making recommendations on relevant people and content).

Finally, lets not forget the role of the user, as information literacy is critical. We can’t blame the technology for all its hits and misses.


Don’t give users a blank or generic collaboration template

why do we provide our users with out of the box [SharePoint] Team Sites that contain a bunch of senseless containers for information that offer no guidance as to what they should be doing with these things (Shared Documents, Discussions, Tasks, Announcements and so on)? A SharePoint Site is simply a medium with which to accomplish a business goal, outcome or process. You need to provide your users with clear guidance around what function the site will serve. Simply telling them to use a Team Site is not going to provide clear context to users working within.

Further exacerbating this is that now not only do users not have any idea where to store things, they now have little idea about how to store them. With the new capabilities that SharePoint offers beyond that of a simple fileshare users are further confused about what is the best medium for their content. So should be they putting a team meeting in the shared calendar, or should it go in the announcements list or maybe they should email out to everyone and store it in a document library?

The Fix?

The fix is to inject the context that users need into the sites that you create. To accomplish that you need liberal doses of Information Architecture, an understanding of user requirements, an appreciation of the processes they are using all combined with the SharePoint configuration options that leverage this (metadata, content types, document and list naming, navigation and so on).

All sound advice for SharePoint champions from Michal Pisarek, but it also highlights how much reinventing the wheel goes on with collaboration technologies (actually, in the intranet space as a whole).

Obviously the actual configuration options and methods are specific to SharePoint, but the idea applies to all collaboration tools. If you aren’t helping users customise their online workspaces then you will make it harder for them to make sense of the underlying tools. This is potentially one important difference between ‘community management’ on the public Web versus inside organisations, which should include moderation and curation plus workspace design.

Pisarek’s post is also a reminder that so far SharePoint really hasn’t taken us far beyond the original Lotus Notes collaboration paradigm – we were doing this kind of contextual customisation at E&Y with Notes and Quickplace back in the early 2000s. Take a look at a product like Newsgator to get a sense of where we should be taking users on their SharePoint journey.

Hat tip Alex.

Lego’s Principles for Customer Collaboration

CUSTOMER-ORIENTED COMPANIES pride themselves on their ability to understand the experiences and insights of the marketplace and then integrate the best ideas into future products.1 But what would it be like if you found that you had hundreds if not thousands of knowledgeable users of your products ready and eager to spend nights and weekends acting as extensions of your research and development department? For the Lego Group, a maker of children’s creative construction toys based in Billund, Denmark, this close bond with the user community — not just children but a large coterie of adults who have been using its products for years — is not a pipe dream but a reality.

via sloanreview.mit.edu (registration required)

The Lego experience offers these principles for successful interaction with customers: 

  1. Be clear about rules and expectations.
  2. Ensure a win-win.
  3. Recognize that outsiders aren’t insiders.
  4. Don’t expect one size to fit all.
  5. Be as open as possible.

However, I like this summary point, which more than anything highlights the shift in thinking required:

Instead of regarding collaboration as something that needs to be managed exclusively by the company, it is fruitful to think of it as an ongoing dialogue between two allies. Both sides contribute important resources to a common purpose.

Collaboration How-To: Start with Narration of Work

Everyone talks about collaboration in the workplace today but what does it really mean? How do you get from here to there? Every snake oil salesman is selling social something: enterprise social; social learning; social CRM; etc. For me boils down to three principles.


In my post about Designing Social Workplaces, I discussed a model for collaboration built around social networks, observable work, and insights and analysis. However, I quite like the nuance in Harold Jarche’s post, Making collaborative work work where he talks about stepping through Narration of Work, then Transparency and finally Shared Power as a basic roadmap for creating a collaborative workplace.

Developing a Cooperative Culture for Social Business

There are strong risks related to delaying or not implementing efforts to embed the use of collaborative technologies within normal flows of work. Competitors moving more quickly towards adopting Social Business ways of working (through the use of collaborative technologies and the accomplishments they generate) will soon have a distinct competitive advantage. Because the benefits of Social Business require a fundamental change in the way employees work, simply installing software will not be enough to realize its value. Unlike the .com boom of the 1990s, companies falling behind or waiting to begin Social Business efforts will not be able to buy their way back in. Installing collaborative technologies and using them as a “water cooler” application to promote awareness of corporate events doesn’t make your company a social business in 2011. The novelty of wikis in the workplace is over. It’s now the degree to which your company can move its “work in progress” to transparent, enterprise, participatory, searchable platforms which ultimately reflects the degree to which your company is “social” in the way it executes its business and serves its customers.

via itsinsider.com

The thrust of this comment, from Susan’s post about Lowe’s pay off from investing in a social intranet, reminds me very much of what I wrote in my 2004 chapter for Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques. My chapter was titled, Online Collaboration Tools, Knowledge Managers, and a Cooperative Culture. I said then:

Online collaboration is perhaps the most demanding e-business strategy to attempt, but it is also the strategy that is most likely to provide your organisation with a competitive advantage. This is because the development of the capability to collaborate online takes more than just the right technology, and if you make the investment this is not something that can be easily replicated by your competitors.

The problem with email is everyone else

There is no single cure for email overload and Inbox Zero doesn’t claim to perform miracles. At the end of the day it’s a system, and it’s nothing without your own personal input. It might work for you and it might not. It’s important to remember that productivity systems are subjective beasts and that can be their ultimate downfall or the reason for their success.

What works for you won’t necessarily work for me. And for that reason you can’t say wholeheartedly that Inbox Zero works or it doesn’t. That’s just like saying that having cornflakes for breakfast doesn’t work. It’s simply a matter of personal preference or taste.

I’ve always been critical about email ‘diets’, although I view more contemporary efforts by Luis and Geoff to eliminate email with great interest.

Years ago I recommended the following:

  • Where possible, eliminate the root cause of the problem. 
  • Take control of your own inbox by managing it appropriately. 
  • Lead by example and practice better e-mail etiquette and style.

At the root of this advice is that email is a communication tool that is often misappropriated as a collaboration tool. You can keep trying to fix your own inbox, but the problem is actually with everyone else using email.

The good news is that I hear more and more frequently how social business tools in the workplace do help to reduce email overload. We really have moved beyond marketing rhetoric.

I can even see it in my own work practices too – I use a combination of email (yes, its still there!), wiki, microblogging (enterprise microblogging and Twitter) and instant messaging. Of course, its the wiki and microblogging that make the critical difference, as they create a open plan workspace online where everyone can work out loud.

However, the root causes I identified originally still stand. Working out loud works best when:

  • Everyone is working out loud (or at least ‘in the room’). 
  • People know why and understand how to work out loud. 
  • Users are able to control how they consume the online open plan space.

Part of the reason for this is that its not simply about shifting communication that takes place in email to other channels. That would simply shift the location of the problem. Instead, we use different tools in the flow to deal with transient, situational and ambient communication and collaboration in different situations. See my Architected for Collaboration presentation for more on this.

Overall, this is a very different approach to the problem from the simplistic ‘occupational spam‘ mentality. We eliminate the root cause of email overload, not the individual messages.

On a strictly personal front, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of personal email I receive these days comes in the form of notifications from other public social tools, subscriptions and automatic notifications (like my bank). However, the dynamic of personal use is very different from the workplace. In the workplace, we have the advantage of being able to choose the commons spaces where we will work out loud (assuming you are proactive about it).