Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Ambient Awareness, Part Deux

In writing about Web 2.0, Clive Thompson coined the phrase ambient awareness. He said, “Each little update, each individual bit of social information is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of people’s lives.” I have no quarrel with his assessment and even like the phase ambient awareness.

Lew Platt, former CEO of HP approached the same idea with a different thought: “If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more profitable.” As I’ve considered both men’s assessment on collaboration and knowledge management, I have begun to form my own definition that is a compilation of their thoughts and those of others.

In my experience, successful application in a business setting of Web 2.0 and all the technologies surrounding the space (a.k.a. – Enterprise 2.0), is really about using social computing platforms to make relevant information not simply more accessible. But to have it flow throughout the organization as a byproduct of organizational activity such that a shared view of the business is derived by all participants in the social computing environment. Just as we do not give conscious thought to breathing or maintaining our body temperature, the creation, dissemination, and maintenance of tribal knowledge can be made implicit in daily activities through application of social computing platforms.

If such an environment can in fact be fostered, what benefit is to be had? I anticipate the benefit will come in two forms:

· Capitalizing on the viral spread of innovative ideas in a rapid, iterative, entrepreneurial fashion.

· Better decision making by improved contextual awareness for each and every business decision.

The benefits I mention are of my own opinion. I welcome dissent and robust debate on this.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Enterprise Social Computing

Too often firms select software in hopes that it deliver a solution to a problem. Typically, this is done without serious consideration to the affected business processes; or hoping organizational change can be avoided, yet expecting improved business performance.

I remind myself of these experiences as I embark on an interesting engagement leading a team through the process of defining requirements for an enterprise social computing platform.

The early days will focus on developing a common language, governance models, and a broad understanding of the business goals and objectives for such a platform. This process of surfacing the team’s thoughts is really a framing exercise designed to guide additional days of requirements definition. The requirements will lead to the selection of a solution or solutions and an organizational structure and method for managing collaboration.

There is a clear need for social collaboration inside and outside the four walls of the business. Along with collaboration is portal functionality to support document sharing, ratings, reviews, and collaborative development of text, video, presentations, and other media for internal and external consumption. I am wondering if this becomes a single solution or multiple pieces of software. At this point, I don’t see a single, monolithic solution out there. But I may be proven wrong.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Web 2.0 and a god's eye view

My good friend Dave Stein (pilot, musician, and Martha’s Vineyard regular) recently wrote a blog post questioning whether a sales team should be equipped with “Sales 2.0” tools. Dave rightly points out that no software, in and of itself, ever solved a business problem. These tools must be directed to a specific set of objectives against which management can measure progress.

Dave’s post elicited a rather vociferous response from Michael Webb. While Dave raises a legitimate question that warrants discussion, Michael chooses to flog his own book of business; a book built around Lean Six σ methodologies applied in a sales environment.

I live in an environment where we apply Lean Six σ methodologies to our sales processes every day. And for all the great results derived, Lean Six σ is but one of a set of tools, not the be all end all that Michael Webb’s book of business compels him to suggest (Michael conveniently overlooks operational effectiveness as a prerequisite to sales effectiveness).

Sales 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0, or whatever banner you choose to fly social media under, directed at a specific purpose or purposes can greatly enhance sales force effectiveness. Take a project driven, team selling environment for instance. Selling in this environment, the team typically finds itself dealing with a blizzard of long email threads, phone tag, and conference calls that prove limited in their productivity, all directed at closing the deal.

Sales 2.0 is about creating ambient awareness for the team. The conference call I mentioned before creates awareness
during the call. But after the call, the participants all go their separate ways and have a difficult time keeping everyone in the loop...until their next conference call.

Since Dave is a very good pilot I will use an analogy of flight to make my point. The F-15 Eagle is my generation’s air superiority fighter of choice used to project U.S. air power around the world. The current generation is the F-22 Raptor.

I consider the F-15 a lethal, but
anti-social weapon. A flight (more than a single aircraft in coordinated operations) of F-15’s will break formation to engage targets, manage threats, etc., all the while maintaining radio contact to coordinate their activities. This need for regular radio contact places a significant added workload on the pilot and creates limits to the effectiveness of their coordination (think intermittent conference calls during battle).

The F-22 is lethal
and social. Yes, the F-22 was in to social networking before it was cool. The F-22 features an Inter/Intra-Flight Data Link (IFDL) that “allows all F-22’s in a flight to share target and system data automatically and without radio calls”...or conference calls. This social networking capability enables each pilot to have ambient awareness of each of the other pilot’s fuel, armament, targeting, and threat assessment data. This heightens the efficiency and effectiveness with which attacks can be coordinated. And at the risk of offending some, I will point out that the Air Force refers to this capability as providing a god’s eye view of the battle, both in the air and on the ground.

So, to dismiss Sales 2.0 out of hand is to utterly misunderstand its potential when applied for specific purposes. And I suspect Dave Stein will continue to fly circles around Mr. Webb.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Innovating Air Superiority

I am fascinated by how organizations learn and innovate. This clip from The Atlantic talks about how the Indian Air Force figured out how to make a cheap, antiquated MIG more mission capable through software updates and inexpensive hardware modifications, beating some USAF F-15 pilots in war games.

The F-22 Raptor will be critical to maintaining the U.S's unfair advantage in the skies.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Long, Uphill Climb

It looks like the Republicans will have a long, uphill climb. I received an email from one of my Republican Senators (he shall remain nameless for now) asking me to subscribe to his e-newsletter. I replied to his email with the following:

Email is so 2003. You might consider social networking for greater affect and engagement with voters. Most folks don't want more clutter in their inboxes. I'm happy to consult with your staff if interested.

I don’t expect an actual reply as the only way I could send this note is through the tightly controlled gauntlet laid down by the Senator’s contact form on his website. Whether he or any others will get it and begin legitimate dialog remains to be seen.

For those of us who use the tools of Web 2.0, this unenlightened approach of e-newsletters and contact forms seems as foreign to us as Web 2.0 must appear to Senators like these. But Robert Scoble just observed the same outcome with key business leaders in a presentation he delivered. And it will take time, but the Obama adminstration’s relative mastery of Web 2.0 should bring about change in business and government and their approaches to their customers and constituencies, respectively; lest they both risk losing them.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Problem with Post-It® Notes

A company I am familiar with did a survey of a subset of their channel partners in an attempt to determine whether a social networking site would be a useful enhancement to their business relationship; providing a destination for news, best practices, success stories, forums, etc. The questions were something like this:

  • Have you used social networking?
  • How often do you use social networking?
  • How much time do you spend using social networking sites?
  • If we offered social networking services, would you use them?
  • How would you use our social networking site if we offered it?

If you were a VC and I were pitching to you to fund my social networking startup business and I included the results of the survey in my presentation, you would be underwhelmed and I would leave having the same amount of money that I arrived with at your office (minus $3.58 for the grande non-fat latte).

Perplexed initially, and in light of my knowledge of the company involved and the subset of channel partners they chose to survey, I would have expected a more positive response suggesting the company should move quickly to provide social networking services to its channel partners.

But as I considered the response more fully, it occurred to me that this situation arises as part of what I will call the Post-It® Note problem. No one ever asked for Post-It® Notes. No great orator cried out on behalf of the public that we must have Post-It® Notes.

In fact, the adhesive used in Post-It® Notes was developed in 1968 and yet Post-It® Notes didn’t come to market until twelve years later in 1980. I suspect that prior to 1980, a market study to determine if people would use pieces of paper featuring a weak, reusable adhesive on the back would have found a lack of demand.

As was with the struggle to bring Post-It® Notes to market, most businesses and their community of users struggle to see how social networking fits within the context of their current business environment. For some, social networking is for kids. For others, they feel they complete their work just fine without new tools. For many, social networking seems to lack a clear frame of reference in terms of its application in a business setting.

Further, one should acknowledge that a business’s organizational structure constitutes an existing social network. Social networking software can mean:
  • An assault on the traditional organizational hierarchy’s communication and behavioral norms and even the politics of that environment.
  • You are effectively attempting to superimpose new and different social networks on those that currently exist.
No doubt there are success stories in businesses that apply social networking software, but the fact there are so many business cards featuring the title “Social Networking Evangelist” on them, suggests we are still doing missionary work.

I welcome your thoughts and ideas.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sustaining Communities

Here is a good blog post by Mark Nankman of Cap Gemini on sustaining communities. I share his thoughts on the commitment required to build communities. They require dedication and cultivation as you are instituting, to some extent, a culture change for the organization.

You have to help individuals see the benefit of participating in the social network and that it is superior to email, the water cooler, and hours spent in meetings reviewing what could have already been disseminated by a community of users committed to open, regular communication via a social networking platform.

Start on the Inside

One thing that Chuck Hollis' white paper mentioned was that EMC started inside the four walls of their business with social networking. He validates what has always seemed prudent to me.

Engaging customers through social networking will require experience, patience, and a cultural change that enables openness. Overcoming fear borne out of clinging to a "controlled message" pardigm from the past may be daunting for some. But I believe that fear will subside as experience will show that open, direct communication will engage and endear customers.

Social Networking's Promise

It will be one year ago this week that I first tried Twitter. I think my experience has been similar to others. I began with a curiosity to see what it was about and was there value to be had beyond “Just polished off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough by myself”.

I used Twitter sporadically from January to May and by May entered my “disillusioned phase”. And I abandoned Twitter for the most part until September where I picked it up again, becoming more judicious about how I used it. I began to target the discussions I chose to follow and followed individuals with seemingly similar interests, but had fun pursuing those discussions. My use of Twitter became more purposeful.

With this being the first full business week of the New Year, I didn’t expect much in the way of business productivity. Maybe the lesson is in maintaining low expectations while working toward big things. I had always known in an intuitive way social networking’s promise, but to experience it in such a visceral way was unknown to me until this past Friday.

My good friends at @capgemini in response to a post I had made, sent me to Chuck Hollis’ blog to download his white paper on EMC’s journey with social networking. Getting Chuck's whitepaper was not only highly supportive in helping me move the ball forward on my company’s social networking journey, it validated finally social networking’s promise; the promise that dedicated, smart people working together can reach better business decisions faster.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Politically, there is a lot that could be said here about David Weinberger's presentation at Le Web, but I won't go there today.  What intrigues me is his core topic...leadership at the "end of the information age."  

My twist on his reference to the end of the information age is that he is reframing all that is social networking/social media.  His 23 minutes are a worthwhile use of your time if for no other reason than to recognize that all that comes with social networking (viral ideas, reputational ratings, the wisdom of crowds, etc.) may well be perceived by some leaders as a threat to their positional power.

Many businesses struggle with what to make of social software, its application, its possibilities, its limits.  Leaders will embrace social software more readily if they can see it as a liberating force; a way to lead more effectively and not be threatened by networks as they develop.  As many of those networks will cut across functional silos and through many layers of traditional heirarchies, managerial angst may ensue.

Ravit Lichtenberg has a good post on Weinberger's message as well.