Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Attack of the Data monsters - Newsgator, Vator Vader

Recently, I was introduced to the nifty concept of plugging for your company by video proxy (vator tv). Just as I had stumbled upon the startling idea of recruiting by facebook not so long ago. I already knew of linkedin with its rather more formal network of connections, infrequent merged info updates, so why the shock?

Recently an Austin company, LifeSize Communications tossed a teaser of an "old hat" conferencing vs. face to face. One interesting comment - "Can following meeting protocol replace the handshake?"

Still stand in a swirling eddy of uncertainties on that one.......wired as I am.
One thing is certain though, there is more to lose if one doesn't jump aboard the bullet train of multi-media social networking. At least dodge into one of the loosely 'compartmentalized' spaces - facebook, twitter, myspace, sharepoint, newsgator - or all of 'em.

The marketing friendly campaign message is already out there, slogan like, animating the webinars and live demos of social computing alligators and widgets with a million teeth sinking into meaty data everywhere via RSSfeeds, facebook profile data, social graphs, and particularly inviting to the data monster - clusters of communities and groups. It is all in the name of "productivity, collaboration, reduced support costs, and building online communities" says the barely masked buzz line, the proverbial red rag to funding-starved, resource-hungry corporations ready to charge headlong, lowered horns and all, into the world of socially collaborative sites for business.

With the sound and fury of discussion boards and the over reaching arm of linked data, positively lascivious in its greed and grasp, the 'antiquated' enterprise faces Hobson's choice on this one. Sink or swim, I say.

In corporate America, the cubicle walls are down much to the consternation of closet workers, silos are in disuse unmasking disconcerted monopolistic knowledge masters, and the floating cloud of bloggy knowledge has made the IT technician less likely to be summoned to succor the infected laptop, defrag the diseased hard drive.

And ah, the economy...any commentary would mention it even by omission. To address it head on, 'Vator' and its matador breed have grabbed the slowing beast by the horns it seems. Enterpreneurship is alive and well - primordial as that instinct is, whether bulls or bears roam the walled streets. In these crumbling times, what better way to sell one's wares with a megaphone than from the Vator platform?

Hit a hundred VCs and bargain hunting investors with one eloquent, eye-catching, attention-grabbing video on the Vator net. Sand hill road remains the sacred signpost of the venture lucre. One notable difference, though. No suited 'toffs' stalk its waiting rooms or prowl its menlo parking lots - Vator lets those aggressive enough to sell their wares in a slump, take a much deserved peek into the offices of the VC without ever leaving the comfort of their home offices.

The intimidation evaporates when the pitch is done via video. It is a level playing field. Gone are the dark oak offices or the glitzy glass of chrome lined conference tables across which sits the nervous enterpreneur, pitching the passion of his/her life to some inscrutable potential investor.

As they communicate via the metaphorical tin can of the Vator vehicle - essentially a strung social network with video capabilities for 'entrepreneurs to showcase and market themselves' - the erstwhile imbalance of power between the source of capital and those who seek it, is redressed. The enterpreneur and investor are not across the table, but behind a camera lens - strangely levelling. Both first among equals. One for adopting the technology, the other for embracing it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Don't Shun the Marketplace

Social Networking across the Enterprise Part 3

Barricading the enterprise from social networking technologies and tools can only isolate it from the “marketplace” where customers, partners, prospective clients and competitors are trading information.

Already, Enterprise content management systems are interweaving ‘social features' into their portal experience. Feeds and connects to and from social networking sites are ample evidence of this bustling, two-way traffic.
HR divisions of corporations in quest of candidates clearly see exponential benefits in looping in the extensively linked body of users on a Twitter, or a Facebook.

Austin based Life Size communications for example, seamlessly streamlines users from their corporate site to facebook, instantly accessing a larger candidate base via the applicant’s connections.

Can’t Avoid the Speeding Train
Increasingly Application service providers, consultants, are brought in to enable sharing with tools like Google docs, SharePoint portal technologies, the latter on the cusp of social networking features, with its retentive blogs and targeted content often replacing Wiki in the workplace.

Compliant collaboration within the enterprise is the objective of tools such as MOSS 2007. Social Networking in its infinite richness of content and communication paths, and its greater facility for linked data takes that structured and often timed collaboration and converts it to a communication coffee lounge….a constant free flow of inspiration and ideas.

The difference is that of degree and kind. As with other technology tools, governance, process, training and trust determine the success of such an initiative. Twittering at work can be a learned art, an acquired skill, if compliance is defined and then communicated during training, one division at a time.

The Tipping Point
One would be hard pressed to find the executive who is not skeptical about the infiltration of social networking technologies into the corporate workplace. Admittedly, there is some cause for their concern, especially in the worst of economic times. The already distracted and distracting employee who currently drifts to MySpace in its social incarnation but with a vague sense of guilt (don’t look behind you right now, but your manager is watching you!) will do so with √©lan, once the tool is ‘legit’. Name any corporation that can afford low productivity in 2009 – a year that has ironically, been dubbed the year of social networking in blogs and news columns alike.

The custodians and stakeholders of compliant use of these ‘promethean’* tools must be hand-picked from the middle management ranks. They shall be the foot soldiers for the responsible and reasonably fettered use of the facebooks that make it in - properly ‘screened and badged’ of course! In their corporate incarnation, social networks must be constructed with building blocks from the enterprise itself.

Keep it Kosher
For example, within the ‘confines’ of Facebook for the enterprise 1.0, foundations must be laid with ‘relevant’ technical and marketing data, exchanged with corporate etiquette, between active directory users who utilize business objects, corporate site pages, emails, spreadsheets, knowledge performance indicator data – in short, content contoured by business requirements, meeting agendas to layer content that is piled high in a defined yet free-flowing structure.

Certain social networks reinvented for the enterprise, the early players in this space, restrict the creation of home pages and anchor user profiles to ‘business-friendly’ needs. To be fair, most companies looking seriously to promote themselves on Facebook will likely try a sophisticated approach that takes advantage of the platform's extraordinary interpersonal lattices. They'll pretend they're not marketing, but in reality will try to leverage personal networks for corporate gain.

Not quite the Relativity Quotient
The formula can be made simple and easy to follow. Bring content that is pulled from the business, data that will build the business - instead of data that detracts from it, or worse, demolishes it. Seal the brick and mortar with cementing compliance. Inhabit in comfort, security and well-ventilated environment of responsible communication.

A Slippery Slope
The acceptance and adoption of Web 2.0 (read social networking) tools does require a seismic shift in perspective from the decision makers in a corporation. This is because social networking tools pivot on the demolition of organizational boundaries and hierarchies, potentially leaving even the chief executive in an exposed cubicle instead of the metaphorical corner office.

What's in it for me? Empower the steward
Since it is the middle manager with her/his specific domain (read group) that is most likely to be threatened by this flouting of authority, it is precisely that person who must be made steward and stakeholder of the initiative. If such custodians of compliance can foster an atmosphere of cooperation where mistakes may be inevitably made, but easily corrected, social networking will be possible to safely introduce and productively enjoy - a collaboration environment that “practices the philosophy of making it easy to correct mistakes, rather than making it difficult to make them” as Jimmy Wales has said. In its implementation, social network architects must walk a fine line indeed.

Positively Promethean
The Facebooks and Twitters of the world foster networks that grow organically, in a free-wheeling spiral, potentially dismantling the imposed and relatively rigid structure of the enterprise network. Encryption issues aside, one doesn’t want to threaten the very identity of facebook behind the firewall by limiting and delimiting its use, till it becomes just one more collaboration tool hemmed in by compliance and code restrictions.

After all, it is the very protean fluidity and free form of social networks that make them what they are, convert them into enablers of enterprise-wide, global collaboration where compliant creativity knows no bounds.

Free up with Facebook

Social Networking across the Enterprise - Part 2

There is absolutely no reason why the introduction of social networking tools would not enthuse clock-watchers.
We unclutter mental space once shades of ‘self’ filter through the ‘business casual’ workplace demeanor.
The shared libraries of sundry information, virtual bookshelves et al, make it easy to grab that nugget of information without ever leaving the comfort of your swivel chair.

Business-Booster or Time Waster?
To unleash the power of social networking technologies across the enterprise it is necessary to create and communicate the value proposition that social networks can be ‘profitable’ to the enterprise, and not just a caffeinated comfort zone to which the individual can occasionally slip away and alleviate the stress of the work day.

If the concept can be constructed as a business model and an infrastructure plan, if it can be backed by rules of governance, and applied with sensitivity to the tastes and temperament of employees and the requirements of management across a company’s network, the scope of social networks will be easy to extend to an entire organization and provide tangible benefits to the business as a whole.
Collaboration in the Enterprise 2.0 represents subversion of boundaries and hierarchies that many people consider a plague in productivity. Still, it will need governance and development of metrics to see progress of social networks as factors in success and failure of projects. How?

  • By leveraging available web tools and apps (there are many though some are indirect).
  • It is not unrealistic to project that once social networking technologies become de facto B2B tools, employees will demand and receive user profile maps (an online interests and groups genetic code) that could potentially contain targeted content (objects and data) framed by qualifiers/conditions to protect privacy.

Corporate casualties

Needless to say, it is over-exposure of the personal lives of corporate users on social networks that is a looming concern for executive management and the potential nightmare of any legal division. The employee who engages in heartfelt outpourings or candid discussions of personal matters on discussion boards, will clearly be a casualty of social networking within a corporate cloud.

The frivolity of facebooking on-the-clock is another stigma to overcome for undisciplined employees of the socially networked enterprise.

Yet, the shared libraries of sundry information, exposed virtual bookshelves et al, make it so easy to grab that nugget of information without ever leaving the comfort of your swivel chair.

More for Sony than Goldman Sachs

Like individuals, some industries will be more receptive than others. Gaming developers – who sketch designs in blog fashion and idea box type conversations that follow a stream of consciousness are more likely to adopt the productivity enhancing aspects of social networking than your financial analyst on wall street whose contributions are conditioned by security and encryption, blocked in by SEC regulations, and whose business value is enhanced by exclusivity.

It’s a Small World after all
The real capitalization of the undeniable reach and free wheeling forums of social networks will be seen when a design engineer in Bangalore, India and a business developer in Austin, TX, collaborating on microprocessor design can share the affinity of EE technical groups, professional affiliations, (semiconductor consortiums, technical literature) – relevant to the deadline driven, highly code-named project at hand.

Already they share design documents that both employees of the global corporation collaborate on within the confines of the company portal. Once the social network extends to the workspace – beyond the home-office of nocturnal creatures such as these, the ongoing and incessant conversations assume an energy of their own.

In the midst of a top secret, high priority design cycle for a much-awaited chip design, useful items of interest on Discussion boards, Notes, Tags can attract the attention of Eric in Austin in the middle of his workday, as Rakesh sleeps, in his Far Eastern Time Zone - Hyderabad.

The constant availability of a shared and targeted body of relevant information, and the ability to convey and execute on that data, is the core value of social networks across the enterprise. If this concept can be proved on the company balance sheet, it will be possible to extend the reach and scope of social networks for an entire organization and provide benefit to the business as a whole.

This is precisely the sort of message that makes enterprises, struggling with the user-centeredness of Web 2.0 software, sit up and pay attention since it offers the promise of aggregating returns on investment back to the bottom line.

Looking through the glass, darkly……

If IM is here to stay in the office, can Facebook be far behind? One can’t ignore the persistent rumble of this particular approaching train. Social networking is already infiltrating the enterprise in fits and starts. It is when vendors integrate this component into their platforms, or when service providers, consultant craft, communicate and implement social networking technologies consistently and with compliance, that the true value-add of these networks to the enterprise will be realized in dollars and cents.

Wanted, a Social Networking Steward, a Custodian of Compliance

This must be driven by not only strategists and thought leaders, but by the middle-level manager, the true steward who viscerally ‘gets’ the value of the social web in business. (look for more on this in my next post)

Not your average water cooler conversation

Social networking across the enterprise - Part 1

Compare it to a holler across the cubicles or chit chat around the water cooler – the informality and ease of communicating is common to both. But it is the sinuous and subtle connects between content and the live, linked data across categories that make social networking a virtual mine of of untapped information for today's global enterprise.

Still, in this year of the great economic downturn, some companies are vehement in their resistance to the Twitters and MYSpaces of the world infiltrating the hallowed precincts of the corporate environment.

Even if they are suitably “attired” for a business climate, the penchant for colorful “profiles” and intriguing and frequent “Status updates” in the facebook foyer must be redressed with strait-laced rules of compliance and corporate etiquette. Predictably, “Most foul - for productivity!” is the general outcry from the executive office.

Still, There are those, like Research in Motion executive Jim Balsillie, who do believe that social networking tools power the enterprise through their content customization and facilitation of the free flow of ideas and information, and most importantly categorization through “groups” – as they are known with their tremendous capacity to cluster the minutest of special-interest topics into atoms of affinity for like-minded users.

Like fish to water ....others more amphibious
Those that thrive and survive on creative juices however, are embracing the warm, fuzzy, and often intellectually aromatic coffee-lounge characteristics of facebook to drive innovation and creative output in the corporate workplace. Case in point, media software, marketing and gaming companies. Let it not be said that more traditional technology companies (semiconductor, engineering) companies will lag in the social networking spiral. If corporate mandated IM tools can change the way business is done in IT and Design engineering divisions of certain advanced and microprocessor intensive semiconductor companies, can Facebook and Twitter be far behind?

Age of the open office
In a cloudy financial climate that increasingly calls for performance under pressure, is it time to lower those cube walls, open up the tinted windows, and let in the glare of Facebook - or Orkut - or whichever Web 2.0 ‘twittering’ tool is most apropos for your business needs and corporate culture. Research has shown that under favorable and defined conditions, social networking can hugely boost employee productivity and understandably so.

Numbers never lie
A pan-European survey of more than 2,500 people in five countries shows that the use of social networking tools as part of everyday working life has led to an increase in efficiency. The study shows that 65% of employees surveyed in Great Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands say their company has adopted social networking as part of their working culture. The research also reveals that the rate of adoption is most popular in Germany, leading the way at 72% while Great Britain lags behind with 59%.

Other than the cultural differentiator (and it has been proven that in the universal arts of chat, search, and social networking there are more similarities than differences across cultures and continents) there is no reason why the social networking phenomenon should not cause employee satisfaction and consequently, efficiency and output to soar.

In the global corporation with round-the-clock activity proliferating many time zones, ‘facebooking’ (the term newly synonymous with social networking), could well foster ongoing conversation even when one or the other branch office is asleep – thus driving the 24 hour enterprise and sky-rocketing productivity. What price jet fuel and air travel?!

Turn on Twitter.....first check the compliance code
A precarious see-saw of control and enablement will poise the ‘agile’ corporation to extract the maximum productivity benefit from a firm and flexible, structured and process-driven social networking arena that is energized and alive with compliant yet creative chaos.