Feeling soft and mushy about Social Intranets

Posted: July 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Social Media, Work | No Comments »

These thoughts are quite preliminary, soft and mushy – but I needed to get them down. I’ve been thinking about an opportunity to create an enterprise intranet from scratch – where the current state is so poor that it might well be abandoned and started afresh as a clean slate. I imagine a workplace with a small number of pillars – communications, HR, carefully selected document stores and maybe the major products – but structuring everything else around social networking models. Throw away the org charts and imposed architectures and let people organize and communicate across disciplines or channels as needed, and base the tools on connections rather than ‘knowledge’ – just like the real workplace.

I like the idea of a solution that supports collaborative creation of knowledge as compared to retrieval of old knowledge. In my experience, corporate knowledge is embodied in its workers, not stored. I don’t gain knowledge when I access a document. I’m in possession of an asset that requires context and community to make it live, and that contextualization comes from people. Even if  all that meta information could be captured, it would be frozen in a moment of time. Pragmatically speaking, document stores aren’t kept up to date at the speed of business (sorry, I know it’s a cop of a Bill Gates book title) and as a result what I learn about some asset could be badly out of alignment with the state of business right now.

My next step is thinking about knowledge assets themselves – where does their greatest value to an organization  lie and how do we identify and extract that value from an online social context? How do we make these knowledge assets accessible while  keeping them social through connections to the community of thinkers that generated them and at the same time ensure their visibility outside the community of practice or interest that nurtured it? How do we avoid the repository trap of sending people through volumes of misaligned, out-of-date data that risks diminishing value? I keep thinking that social is the answer – please weigh in.

On the Social Enterprise

Posted: May 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Business, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | Tags: , | No Comments »

Dion Hinchcliffe continues the conversation sparked by Salesforce.com’s recent announcement of social features in their product. While we still can’t say whether this continued trend is going to have a clear value- in fact the results will be decidedly mixed – I like his Five benefits of making enterprise IT social. Go read it if you haven’t already and store those thoughts for when you’ll need them.

Facebook and identity

Posted: April 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Commentary, Social Media | No Comments »

As unsettling as FB’s move to broker identity across the web is, I’ve sensed an air of inevitability about it that reminds me of my views on SharePoint’s upturning the enterprise portal market.

You don’t have to like it – but be realistic. Get familiar with FB’s privacy controls and exercise vigilance, because it’s here and it will get bigger. That is, until the Next Thing comes along.

Social Media in the enterprise – best practice #5 (final episode)

Posted: December 10th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Business, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | No Comments »

At the company I was with 2 years ago the CEO had been holding town halls around the world. Corporate Communications had put together an intranet site to support the message, including a section that was positioned as being the CEO’s commentary.

One day I was chatting with the head of communications, and he asked me if I’d read the latest installment. Of course I had, personally I always found this section to be too scripted. I said that I thought it would help employees establish a sense of connection with the CEO if he were to keep a simple blog, and take a few minutes to type (or dictate) his own, honest impressions after the events, like “What a great reception I got when I arrived” or “A young man in a yellow shirt asked a really great question”, or anything that honestly sounded like his own thoughts.

My colleague’s eyes went wide. He said (I paraphrase) “Blogs? Blogs are diarrhea. I despise blogs. That’s not an appropriate vehicle for our CEO to communicate.” I understood his position – his career was built by carefully crafting and polishing words and paying great attention to nuance. Yet I could see that he wasn’t seeing the potential so I held firm, suggesting that people were more likely to react positively to a more personal voice. Eventually we agreed to disagree.

A year later the CEO’s Gen-Y son had convinced him that he should be using a blog to effectively communicate with his employees, and he wanted to start right away. I’d hate to be a senior corporate communications professional whose executives were getting direction from their kids before they got it from me.

If, in your professional capacity you may be impacted in any way by social media, don’t be dismissive. Pay attention to the changing landscape before it passes you by.

Best practice #5 – Remain neutral! Social media in the enterprise elicits emotional responses in some. Don’t let personal biases impair your ability to perceive the opportunity related to social media, even if you can’t fathom why people would use IM, blogs, wikis, Twitter…or whatever comes next. Something will and it deserves your objective attention.

Not just for Employees and Managers?

Posted: October 29th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Business, HR, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | No Comments »

Many of the portals I’ve worked on have had a complete lack of attention to the HR practitioner. The generic scenario is an enterprise intranet, often driven by an underlying portal technology, with a static and outdated HR presence oriented towards policy and benefit information and links.  These organizations are motivated to improve their HR offering and there’s no lack of energy around ESS and MSS integration, and plenty of thinking around how to balance centralized vs. decentralized employee programs.

When I recommend optimizing the experience for the HR professionals I find this has been given little to no thought, and that’s reflected in the environments I have seen for HRs, typically a password-protected sub-site with some stale documents and an unused discussion forum purported to be an exciting ‘collaboration’ space to share a handful of sensitive documents, with little thought to making it easier for HRs to work together (“Test Message” and “Hello World” seem to be the common subjects).

A couple of things – first,  it’s generally acknowledged that the ERP user experience is sufficiently difficult to require supplemental front end work at a portal interface layer, yet the expectation is that HR professionals ought to be able to deal with it. Why is that? Frequent/’power’ users of an application stand to gain a lot from optimization, and I frequently interview folks who demonstrate tasks that require high numbers of clicks, screen changes, data fetching from other sources, etc. Training doesn’t make awkward processes efficient.

Second, the value proposition of leveraging collaborative technology in the HR space hasn’t been connected to the ongoing transformation programs in place at most large enterprises. I commonly hear from professionals out in the businesses and regions that don’t have a good sense of what’s going on in Corporate, and they often feel that their local dynamics are either unknown of ignored. Corporate people often expresses that they feel disconnected from the field and have little visibility into who does what, where. Often HR operations is under pressure to reduce operating costs, making it appear counter-indicative to provide practitioners additional IT effort on top of the ERP systems that are already in place.

Contrast this with sales. Here’s a function with similar needs: to rely on ERP but in this case a recognition that there is also a supporting data, historical information and a need for awareness of ongoing work efforts among their teams. Sales has always had a tacit social knowledge network supporting a set of individual practitioners performing against personal and group goals.

The big difference is that sales generates revenue and HR is an expense, and as such it’s managed quite differently.

The HR Professional portal should provide a functional workspace with information and tools that can be managed by a distributed workforce, centered around the areas that align to the business and corporate HR strategies and moves the value proposition away from the administrative formula. I’ve yet to see an organization that doesn’t get an ‘ah-ha’ moment when we talk about it but I have seen those that just can’t get it either funded of adequately staffed and developed. Where we are building them, they are in their infancy but I feel they will have high value as HR emerges as a strategic business partner over the next decade.

Social Media in the enterprise – best practice #4

Posted: October 15th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Business, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | No Comments »

Let it be!

In best practice #3 I say that without governance, social media risks failure. Now I’m going to speak out of the other side of my mouth and say that too much governance will also lead to failure.

Like raising a child, there’s a responsibility to set a foundation that supports positive and healthy growth but one must step back and not interfere – most of the time. Groups will ultimately define their own priorities and tone, and to be valuable to itself and ultimately to the enterprise they shouldn’t be meddled with.

Overly visible ‘management’ will almost certainly stifle open discourse, and that is the opposite of the exact value proposition that social media holds. With all the thought, care and consideration given to establishing an appropriate medium for collaboration and discourse it will be hard to step back and let this nascent environment develop according to it’s own needs. The fact that the intranet environment is by definition controlled by a relative (and often somewhat disconnected) few within the organization makes this even harder.

Find the balance and resist the urge to steer conversations. Let people bump into things and make mistakes, just keep an eye out so things stay civil. In time, the community will be on it’s own feet and in the best case will become self-maintaining.

Best practice #4: Don’t interfere with the community-building process.

Geeked & Poked 2.0

Posted: September 28th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | No Comments »


Lovingly linked to at GeekAndPoke.typepad.com

Thanks to the Fast Forward Blog for bringing this to our attention.

Social media in the enterprise – best practice #3

Posted: September 11th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Business, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | No Comments »

Yesterday I was speaking with a client about collaboration opportunities for a certain community. They described a common scenario – employees had been given broad access to Sharepoint. Folks rushed out and set up their own spaces, and now nobody collaborates across them. As a result information and knowledge is more hidden than it was before ‘collaboration’ became broadly available.

As true with collaboration than many other areas, lack of governance is a sure way to failure.  There’s a common perception in the general public that a site like Wikipedia is a wild west, with anyone and everyone invited to say whatever the heck they want about anything under the sun. While a bit of that may be so, there is in fact a shadow army working within a rules set that generally rights egregious wrongs, often in near real time. Rules are indeed in place and they’re both explicit and tacit.

A rules set, structure and governance is necessary to ensure the context and health of  of a collaboration platform. Volumes have been written about supporting a community, and the subject can run quite deep.  For a pragmatic approach to the common problem described above I recommend reading what James Robertson of Step Two Designs posted today,  a tidy summary of four stages that move the adoption of collaborative tools from fragmentation to coherence.

Best practice #3: Collaboration requires a balance of freedom and governance to thrive.

Social Media in the enterprise – best practice #2

Posted: August 30th, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | No Comments »

I’ve heard that email spam got it’s nickname based on the physical behavior of its namesake processed meat product. Apparently you take a large quantity, throw it against a wall and see what sticks…I’ve lived in rural America, sometimes this is what passes for fun.

Unfortunately the scatter-shot approach is sometimes used in early stages of emerging technology deployments. Blogs, Wikis and IM have been no exception. You’ll see skunkworks driven by a well-meaning enthusiast pushing a technology out and justifying it by essentially declaring that ‘if we deploy it, they will come’. More often than not, very few people come. Resources are wasted, management finds out and the entire effort gets a bad name. When the subject is raised again, the resistance is high.

If you’re thinking of deploying a form of social media, it must have a defined value proposition, be aligned to a business process and demonstrably improve or enhance that process: eliminating friction, reducing errors, capturing undocumented data or knowledge and making it easily findable…you get the point.

If you crave a Sharepoint or other collaboration instance, find a project that is broadly distributed. Chances are high that too much of the process and communications is happening between a small number of participants via email and attachments. The rest of the team wonders what’s happening and the lack of visibility leads to a lack of engagement.

Show how document sharing and simple versioning reduces the problem of multiple unsynchronized documents driving people to actions based on the wrong version. Show how a discussion forum can help a person in a regional office stay aligned with a corporate framework, and how a person the the corporate office can learn who does what in the regions, and how they’ve needed to modify that framework to work better in their business environment. In short, show how these tools help people work more efficiently.

Best Practice #2: Show direct business value by aligning social computing to real-world work.

Social Media in the enterprise – best practice #1

Posted: August 22nd, 2007 | Author: | Filed under: Archive, Business, Social Media, Systematic Viewpoints | No Comments »

One of the first issues that comes up in the business community when discussing social computing behind the firewall is control. It’s a valid issue – companies can and are held liable for the actions, words and postings of individuals. The expressed concern is that given unfettered ability to post to a blog, wiki, discussion thread or more traditional intranet page, employees will behave badly at worst or incorrectly at best. Most often this point of view comes from the communications disciplines, who sometimes hold a conceptual model of the intranet as analogous to the newsletter or house publication, which of course is the domain of the Editor.

Publication models are still valid, but they’re no longer primary and are rapidly being replaced by transactional and collaborative models that place the value proposition more directly in the hands of the knowledge worker. It’s good to remind our communications colleagues that we’re not publishing when we send emails, we’re using technology to collaborate and share knowledge. It’s easy to see from there that what some social media represents is moving those activities out of the inbox and into the browser. Organizations with sufficient size and maturity have existing communication policies that should adequately cover the forms of communications afforded by social computing.

Sometime in that last century, the intranet I managed featured a threaded discussion forum which was greatly underutilized. An interesting ‘feature’ was that we relied on the honor system for registrations. We required an email address to use the forums and presumed that folks would identify themselves honestly. A group of employees in a service center proved us wrong. These employees were not given email as a policy so to use the forums they simply made up names or even used their personal email addresses (in retrospect, a Bad Idea). At first the group dynamic was light and friendly although they used it conversations about everything except work. Within a few weeks the crowd got larger and the conversations veered towards the street corner. We rang an alarm and pulled the service. Within a few weeks we had tightened governance and included an address verification process which drove anonymity out of the system.

Best practice #1: Trust, but verify. People behave better when they know the rules and are identifiable.