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.

and

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.

Telsyte: 30% of Australian businesses are investing in enterprise social apps and marketing

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Social networking and media applications are becoming more popular among Australian businesses with more than 30 per cent already using an enterprise social media application and more than 30 per cent use public social networks in advertising instead of using an existing Web site, according to new research from independent emerging technology analyst firm Telsyte.

The use of social media in businesses is being driven by a number of factors – from the consumer use of public social media services to adoption of enterprise social media applications to facilitate internal collaboration to the use of social networks for company marketing programs.

When I saw this on ComputerWorld, I assumed it was the findings from a US or global survey, but it is great to see a report focused on the Australian market.

The Intranet Imperative (2005)

I wrote this in June 2005. The history of intranets is one of a slow burn of adoption (or innovation, if you like). But the pace of technology change is increasing, email is being challenged… is it time now to dust off the intranet imperative and think about about where we go next?

What exactly is an intranet?

The nature of intranets is changing. In fact the term intranet itself is rapidly losing meaning as the Internet interpenetrates organisations through a mixture of business-to-business marketing, extranets, hosted application services and of course personal use of the Web at work. The traditionalist view of intranets, one that concentrates on static information built around an impregnable information architecture, creates a risk for organisations that may be oblivious to the rise of collaborative and dynamic “application-nets” that connect users to people, places and things.

Consider for a moment – what exactly is an intranet? The most simple or basic definition defines it as a restricted, private computer network that uses TCP/IP (Internet) network protocols to facilitate data transmission and exchange within an organisation. But when we look at modern intranets (and extranets), this definition raises more questions than answers – for example:

  • Restricted or private to whom – does this include business partners or even customers?
  • What is the computer network – does it end at the PC on your desk, the mobile phone in your pocket or a kiosk on the shopfloor?
  • Does data include self-service systems, rich media, access to Web – and video conferencing and business intelligence tools that empower staff to get their work done?

Clearly the potiential demands placed on intranets are moving well beyond their original scope of simple access to information and documents. In fact paralleling other changes in our working environments, intranets now need to support always on, always connected access and provide flexibility and interactivity on demand. The technologies to do this already exist and the key challenge for many organistions is how to manage the evolution of an intranet into a multifaceted application-net in a controlled manner.

Of course while you can choose to ignore this imperative, be aware that technology has a habit of winning. You may find your users taking the path of least resistance (like returning to the dreaded network drive) or they will pick their own user-driven tools that will ensure they can get the job done.

The Strategic View of Intranets

Organisations need to control how their intranets will evolve into application-nets. The right approach for achieving this control is a management response that starts with developing a strategic view of their intranet. This strategic perspective does not prescribe the exact future form of the intranet as an application-net, but it provides the basis for creating a system architecture that will facilitate it. The critical point of difference between this new architecture and the old approach is that the intranet imperative forces us to broaden our horizons in order to understand more fully the fit between people, places and things.

This new strategic view should be built from understanding four key elements:

  1. People and Process – understand who the current and future users of system will be, where they are located and what work activities the system must support;
  2. Content – not just documents and information, but the collection of applications and other data in the system;
  3. Infrastructure – The basic technical structure or features of the system (e.g. servers, networks, content management software, etc) and also the human support functions (e.g. helpdesks, trainers, technicians, etc); and
  4. Governance -– the management controls (standards, committees, etc) that deal with the form of the infrastructure and the nature of the content in the system to ensure it meets the needs of the organisation and its users.

But like any type of strategic planning, the application of this strategic view must take into account the overall context of the organisation. Steps for understanding the strategic context and incorporating it into the design of the new architecture include:

  • Business and Technology Analysis – Develop a strategic understanding of the intranet and how this technology, at its most fundamental level, relates to the overall strategy objectives of the organisation;
  • System Audit and Gap Analysis – Complete a review of the people, processes, technology and content that already exists within your organisation to identify the gap between where you are and where you want to be;
  • Manage expectations – Negotiate performance outcomes with your stakeholders to link the evolution of the intranet to the organisation’s objectives; and
  • Innovation – Look outside the organisation to learn from leading practices, understand the different options that are available in the market, and emerging trends.

These steps take us beyond simply asking how users will contribute and access information in the intranet and instead make us focus on the bigger picture, resulting in an architecture that is better aligned to the needs of the organisation.

From imperative to action

The intranet imperative is driven by unstoppable technology advances that affect how people work with and use information technology in the workplace. These include:

  • Blurred lines between people, places and things – the distinction between intranets, extranets and Internet sites is changing;
  • Rich media and interactive content – the scope of content has expanded to includes more than static documents, text and images;
  • Always on, always connected – the working environment and intranets need to be delivered through new channels, such as mobile phone, wireless PDAs, voice and kiosks on the shop floor;
  • Next generation networks – awareness, presence and locality will be built in; and
  • User-driven software – users will take the path of least resistance and will pick less sophisticated tools if they get the job done.

Unfortunately for the average intranet manager or management team these changes will of course increase the complexity of dealing with already existing document-centric challenges such as information architecture, effective search and content quality. For example, expert designed information architectures will need to co-exist with those created by user communities. In practice what this means is that we will see organisations embrace different degrees of control, standardisation and integration in order to align their application-nets with the strategic goals of the organisation. For example, centralised authoring will live along side self-publishing systems such as wikis and blogs because it makes business sense rather that isolated decision to choose one over the other.

What may be worse still for some teams is that the technology of the intranet will no longer be isolated from other parts of the organisation. Under these circumstances the system architecture becomes even more critical as both a plan but also as a process for engaging with the rest of the organisation, both in terms of needs but also to create the right operational linkages. So, applying strategic thinking and designing a system architecture for your next generation intranet represents more that just a nice theoretical step but is instead a critical success factor.

Summary

We now understand that the nature of intranets is changing. Unless you use strategic thinking to broaden your concept of what constitutes an “intranet” into a next generation application-net, then you risk losing control as technology leaps ahead without you. You can prepare for this challenge by:

  • Understanding why the nature of intranets is changing;
  • Analysing the strategic context of your intranet today and what will be needed moving forward; and
  • Designing a new system architecture that will facilitate this change so it is progressive, evolutionary and beneficial rather than chaotic, revolutionary and disruptive.

 

The “social action” frameworks are coming

I would consider the social intranet solutions I covered at the NSW KM Forum on Tuesday as pretty mainstream within the social business software landscape. Of course there are many other solutions out there that mirror the same basic social patterns in those particular solution – e.g. products that are similar to Yammer, Jive or Newsgator. In fact there are too many to mention which is why I tend to focus on a short list of proven products. However, there are some other products I’m watching that I think are extending and exploring new collaborative patterns. Here are some examples, which have strong emphasis on structured tasks and taking action:

Strides (VMware Socialcast)

Strides-logo

“Strides is a fresh approach to getting things done. With Strides, you and your team can work together more effectively as you tackle new challenges, hurdle information barriers, and soar to new heights!”

Do (Salesforce)

Do-logo-medium

“Easily create and share tasks, projects and notes with your team so you always know what needs to get done, no matter where you are.”

SAP StreamWork

Streamworks-logo

“It’s the first and only solution that brings together people, information, and business methods to drive fast, meaningful results. People: Get everyone on the same page. Information: Share documents and data all in plain view. Methods: Provide structure with tools for brainstorming and decision-making.”

NationalField

Nationalfield-logo

“NationalField leverages the power of private social networks to give you valuable insight into your company’s productivity and effectiveness. You can track teams, gauge results, even encourage healthy competition—all within one secure social network.”

Nokia Socializer

Socializer-leader-board

This isn’t a product as such, although it is built on top of an existing off-the-shelf package (Socialcast) using an API-based approach. Socializer is an example of a new bread of social action tools that “uses a clever combination of social analytics and game mechanics to maximise attention and action.”

Personally I think there is something rather special in Socializer that goes beyond any of the generic tools mentioned above – the point being, there is still room for bespoke (or at least semi-bespoke) solutions.

To date, the workforce collaboration discussion has been dominated by the focus on conversation-centric social tools (even with products that have features that support tasks and projects). But as you can see there is strong pattern of “action” through out all these products and examples.

I’m expecting that social action frameworks are going to rapidly become more important and I’m sure that some of these products will either eventually emerge as stronger contenders in their own right or we’ll see them have an influence over the evolution of the current crop of leading tools.

Social Business Design is about the social transformation of work

My question is simple: if we are going to think about our organizations as cities, what can we learn from people who “design” cities for a living? Those “designers” are called planners and their profession is planning. Who are they? What do they do? How do they plan?

For those of us who are look at social technologies as being situated in organisations that we treat as complex human systems, the design of urban environments presents some interesting parallels with the domain of social business design. As introduction to this idea, Gordon’s post about his joint presentation with Thomas Vander Wal at E2Conf Santa Clara 2011 is well worth reading (and looking at). There is plenty of follow up reading in the post too.

Claudio Ciborra’s From Thinking to Tinkering: The Grassroots of Strategic Information Systems

Claudio Ciborra’s “From Thinking to Tinkering: The Grassroots of Strategic Information Systems” (in The Information Society 8: 297-309) is still (or even more) relevant today, as it was in 1992. Here are some of his ideas:

  • Cherish local knowledge and everyday experience
  • Value open experimentation, prototyping by end-users and design tinkering
  • Establish systematic serendipity, don’t aim for sequential execution in systems design
  • Strive on emergence, except failure

Sounds still familiar, right?

Yes.