Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Most organisations have an internal social network without realising it!

Recently, I've been working on a project for an Australian automobile manufacturer. For those of you who are up with the news, the days of manufacturing automobiles in Australia are quickly coming to an end. The project I'm working on, has seen the company migrate close to 3000 mailboxes from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook. A number of people within the organisation have never known anything but Lotus Notes. Therefore, there has been considerable change which people have had to come accustomed to.

In today's world, there is little value in moving from one e-mail platform to another. Almost all of them provide like-for-like capabilities. The biggest problem is that there is little to be gained by making such a transition. Does it provide a better way of working? No.

We need to look beyond e-mail platforms and traditional ways of communicating. We must seek better ways to collaborate and share information. One of the biggest selling points for making the move from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Outlook, is the ability to integrate better with other Microsoft products. I've been looking at how this integration brings additional value to the work experience of the employee.

Today, I was particularly keen to understand how SharePoint and Outlook work together. For most communication within the business, E-mail is no longer productive nor is it considered to be efficient. Conversations get lost easily and information becomes duplicated and out of date. The purpose of e-mail within an organisation needs to move to a one-on-one messaging approach. Communication that includes groups of people needs to be held in an online environment. Typically, this environment needs to be social. By this, I mean that it needs to be based around people and the work they are trying to do.

A simple example of this, would be in line with some of the testing that I was doing today to try to build some simple use cases. SharePoint provides a capability to create sites which allow people to share information. This information could be documents, online discussions, activities and tasks, A team calendar and various other pieces of information. As I mentioned before, e-mail should become more of a one on one messaging platform, however SharePoint and other collaborative platforms should provide team communication and collaboration. For instance, if I have a message which I would like to share with the project team, then I should be using an online discussion forum. By doing this, everyone in the team is able to access the discussion. Where they feel appropriate, they are able to join the discussion and share their ideas. With e-mail, this discussion would only be available to the select few whom it was sent to in the first place. By luck alone, another team member may be forwarded the e-mail at a later time.

People need access to the correct information at the right time. I am often having to make decisions, but to support me in making these decisions I need the right data. If the data is not available, the decision making process will be severely slowed down. Worse still, the wrong decisions may be made. In both cases, this sort of decision making processes will have a direct cost to the business.

You need have a mindset which supports the sharing of information, rather than the sending of information. For example, in SharePoint if I have a document which other people need to have access to, I am able to share the document with them by sending them a message. Rather than having a copy of the document arriving in the e-mail, they receive a link to the document which can be opened through the use of an Internet browser. The key thing about this, is that the user is driven back to a single source of the truth. Let's say, someone shares a document which includes the agenda for a meeting which is to be held in two weeks time. It is likely that that document will change between now and the time of the meeting. Traditionally, updates to the agenda would be e-mailed every few days. People would attend the meeting, not knowing if they actually have the most current version of the agenda. However, with SharePoint's capabilities, new versions of the document can be created without the link which was e-mailed, ever expiring.

Chances are, that you have tools within your organisation which, if used correctly, could help you to operate as a modern day social enterprise. An enterprise where the focus is on its people and the expertise they can bring to the organisation. The key thing is, that the modern enterprise needs to come to terms with modern forms of collaboration and communication which is happening in the privacy of the home, and to workout how businesses can benefit from the wealth of human capital which exists within its ranks.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

We have BYOD, but what about BYOS? (Social Presenting)

Today, I've been thinking a little bit about some ideas around my next conference. At the end of last year I sent a message out about the possibility of having a session here in Melbourne. Due to the hectic pace of life, writing a book, assisting an organisation as they transition from Lotus Notes to Microsoft Exchange, international travel and a host of other things, I hadn't thought too much more about it.

This evening I've been engaging in conversation with Jessica Towicz from IBM. The conversation took place on Twitter and very quickly I was invited to catch up for a coffee. It was interesting to see the size of the audience quickly grew from just the two of us to mentions of six other people.

So, coffee for two people, may have actually become dinner for six or seven people. Spontaneously, a small gathering has grown to something that may be more beneficial for everyone in attendance. I was thinking about this, and it reminded me of an event which I held an Auckland, New Zealand. Through a little bit of effort, by using social media I was able to draw a crowd of new prospects at short notice. More than 80 people attended the event, at which I presented on Social Business.

As I saw the audience involved in the conversation between Jessica and myself, start to grow, I began to realise that the people who would potentially be attending the dinner, would all be influential and the Melbourne social business scene. With the conversation being held in such a public place, such as twitter, it could well be that potential customers may also want to attend.

I've heard of instances where people of influence have appeared and news of their presence is quickly spread by social media. There have been cases where such people have held an impromptu speech or presentation. Logistically, this sort of thing can be hard to accommodate. Finding a room or public space may be easy, but setting up things like projection screens and even finding a projector could be a challenge.

For a long time we have been talking about BYOD (bring your own device), however, this is not really something that you need to encourage people to do as they bring them anyway. Now, I don't know if this is a new term, but I'm going to claim it as my own. It's BYOS - Bring your own screen! With the use of technology, I am able to share a presentation on my screen through other people's devices. For this, I make use of IBM's SmartCloud for social business. There is a feature which allows people to download an app to their iOS or Android device. By sharing a simple pin number, they are able to view a presentation which I am sharing on my screen from anywhere in the world.

Now, let's think a little bit more about this. How many times have you sat through a presentation and found that people have been lifting up their Mobile devices to take photos of the slides which the speaker is sharing on the big screen? It seems to be happening more and more often. What if, your audience was able to take a screenshot and store a high resolution copy on their personal device? Not only that, but imagine the potential for them to be able to share that high-quality graphic through the use of social media, in real time. I think I'm going to give this a go at sometime in the near future.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Virginia Rometty (IBM) & Andre Cox (Salvation Army) announce their engagement .... with the people they serve.

If there was one thing that excited me about social business and social media in general, it would be the potential that it provides for the human race to work together towards the common good. During public speaking engagements, I love to talk about crowd-sourcing. Not just because people start to tweet excitingly, but because I know that great things are achievable when we listen to the voice of the crowds.

It would seem that recently appointed leaders are using social media as a key way to connect with customers, employees, business partners, and a number of other people. When I was at IBM, Virginia Rometty was appointed to the role of CEO. One of the first things that she did, was to create a social community as a central hub we're all employees could engage with her. She's sent out a video to all 440,000+ employees to introduce herself and to share her vision.

Recently, a new top man, Andre Cox, was appointed to the role of General, the international leader of the Salvation Army. Within just a few weeks, he posted a request to the young people of the Salvation Army throughout the world, to make a video in which they would address five questions which were asked by the General. For the first time in recent history people far down the militaristic structure of this organisation, were are invited to engage with the highest levels of the organisation.

The general, stated that the responses would be used in conjunction with some of his top advisors. Just like IBM, the Salvation Army has been in existence for over 100 years. Both organisations are large. As we know, these sorts of organisations have many processes and can sometimes be very difficult to deal with. I've worked for both. I know that both of them have traditions, politics and bureaucracy which sometimes works as a strength and at other times, a hinderance. 

One of the key struggles of such organisations lies and the ability to remain relevant to the people they serve and the people they employ. Both leaders have used social media to reach out to those very people. Both Virginia and Andre will use the information which has been provided by their social audience to bring about transformational change where than their respective organisations. By analysing candid responses they will pick up on trends which are relevant for this moment in which we live.

Take some time to consider how your organisation engages with groups of people to gain insights about how you could provide better products and services. I despair at the thought that most organisations are still in the infancy of using social media is a modern day spam machine. Why not make a video and paste onto YouTube to ask your customers for real honest, transparent, feedback? 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Introducing the project team to each other through the use of enterprise social media

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I am currently involved in a large project, contracted to a company in the manufacturing industry. I spend a lot of my time sitting in meetings, talking to people who are subject matter experts in a particular area. The wealth of experience that people bring to the project team is something to be treasured. In the world of Social Business this is often referred to as 'human capital'. The value that these people bring to the project is substantial.

Even though, people come offering great skills and experience, on their own, the project would quickly go down the path of failure. However, with each person working as part of a greater team and the correct project management and place, the project is well positioned for success. To ensure success, communication and collaboration become absolutely vital.

On large projects people come and go throughout various stages. Except for two or three key people, very few will be there for the entire project. When new people begin to engage, it is really important to be able to connect them with subject matter experts within other knowledge domains. It's also important, that they are able to identify other experts, even though those experts may no longer be on the project.

Using an online community via a social business platform, I find myself recommending that people quickly connect with each other. The other day, somebody asked me for assistance with the installation of some specialised software. The request came to me via e-mail. In days gone by, I would have forwarded this e-mail to the organisation who had developed the software. But in this case, I was able to connect them within the online community. Now, they are having conversations and solving real problems through the use of enterprise social media. In the past, there would have been a long stream of emails, most of which would've been hard to track. In this case, the communication and collaboration is clearly visible to all of the community participants. As a result of the transparency by having most of the information openly available to the greater project team, people are constantly discovering information and a real-time fashion.

One of the complaints that I hear the most within any organisation, has to be in regards to the lack of communication. It frustrates the heck out of people. Everyone knows exactly what I am talking about. A lot of this is due to most organisations working in a siloed fashion. The silos exist for quite a number of reasons. In regards to my current project, the greatest reason would be that members of the project team work for several independent vendors. The challenge, is to bring each person together while breaking down traditional barriers to effective communication and collaboration.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Using Social Media to increase project collaboration and productivity

Over the past few months I have been playing a lead role on a large project with a leading motor vehicle manufacturer. The project will be their largest information services project in 2013 and will impact most of their workforce as they strive to provide an exceptional employee work experience while providing tools for modern collaboration.

This project has a lot of moving parts and relies on external vendors with subject matter experts who are top of their speciality, to provide services that are on time and within budget. With over 30 work parcels, there has been a need to seek multiple proposals from a variety of respondents. Once selecting a vendor, the typical project on-boarding challenges require addressing to ensure that people are up to speed and productive.

Being able to distribute the information across the entire team of vendors created another set of challenges. Every member of the project team needs to benefit from the sharing of accurate real-time information, no matter what organisation they were working for.

A couple of weeks ago, an American gentleman attended the project site to provide some critical services. He was provided with access to all the information he needed. As he had some problems and was unable to complete the work, an Australian colleague of his will be visiting today.  There is going to be a lot of pressure on me as I arrive late after an international flight, with multiple people demanding my time. It is going to be important that I can get his colleague working as quickly as possible.

So, I have three main problems, tight timeframes, multiple people and a need to share information. I think that it is high time that I taste my own medicine.

I have created an online secure Social Network for the project. Through the use of IBM SmartCloud for Social Business, it took just a few moments to put this in place. I created a private community through which vendors have been invited to participate and to share their project information. Over the next few days, I talked to the vendors about the community and made it the hub of information sharing.

Tools included within the community include, Blogs, Wiki’s, Files, Discussion Forums, Media Galleries, Activities, People Profiles and many other features. There are also mobile apps which allow the team to access information from an Andriod phone or iPad. The mobile apps make it very helpful when I am in a meeting and need to quickly reference information.

The use of a Wiki is a great way to share information which is evolving as the project makes progress. One of the most popular wiki pages contains a list of servers, simple configuration information, their status and other relevant information. As this information changes, the page is updated and the entire project team is able to see it. Below each page, there is the ability for the team to have an open discussion giving everyone who visits the page a broader understanding of its content.

Discussion forums are providing value by allowing people to ask questions and to connect with subject matter experts from across the project, to participate in solving problems. Traditionally these questions would come through the use of email. I would then redirect them to the person whom I thought could answer them the best. However, with discussion forums, experts are able to identify each other and get the assistance they require. This is good when I am in back to back meetings, people don’t have to wait for me to get out of the meeting to get the support they may need.

I like the ability to be able to share files with the vendors. At the beginning of the project, I found myself sending out files which were combined into a zip file. As the content would change, I would send out the information again. I had no way of knowing if the updated documents were being distributed to the right people. At times I also had problems with the email servers at either end not accepting larger attachments. All of which was costing me time. Through the use of the Files tool, I am able to upload documents and share them in the community. When there is an update to the file, I just upload a new version. Community members may wish to ‘follow’ a file, if this is the case they will receive a notification of the new version, the moment it is uploaded. Once again, there is the ability to have an online discussion about a file, providing one place for the information and the same place for the conversation. Getting this sort of thing out of email has some great benefits.

Through the use of the Media Gallery, I am able to share photo’s (pictures), video and other content. I have been using this to quickly share project timeline information. Not everyone in the wider team has access to Microsoft Project, therefore having the ability to take a screenshot and share it within the Media Gallery has been quite helpful. I also find myself taking screenshots of configuration information which I need to share.

It is not uncommon for me to be sitting in meetings where diagrams are drawn on a whiteboard. In the past, these diagrams and brainstorming sessions are often erased at the end of the meeting and important pieces of information are lost. It is common for me to take a photo using my cellphone or iPad. I would then have to go through the process of e-mailing the photo to myself so that I can have it on my PC and possibly share it with other people with the project team. However, I have been able to take the photo and upload it to an online community where it has been shared in real-time with the rest of the project team. From there, it can be viewed or embedded into other media types such as blogs, activities, wikis. The conversation is able to continue outside of the meeting room.

The killer feature, for me, is called Activities. This provides the ability to create an activity which can be broken down into individual tasks. Tasks can be ordered by dragging and dropping them around the screen. I am able to assign tasks to people as I need. An activity can be easily completed by people working as one team even though they span many organisations. Again, each part of an activity allows for people to add comments and engage in meaningful conversation as they complete a task. The project manager benefits from being able to see this by knowing what is happening and saving valuable time by reducing the time spent on gaining status updates.

I also use Activities to help document repeatable processes. There is an important piece of work which needs to be done 16 times with some slight differences. It is important that this activity is documented and done correctly. When I set up the activity, I have included a list of tasks which need to be completed. These tasks include a commentary and some specific requirements. I am not sure if the information is 100% correct, however, one of the vendors will be able to help me to make the required corrections. Once, this is done, I can create a reusable template which someone can follow as the work is completed each time. If the person completing the work finds a way to improve the process, they are able to communicate this and improvements can quickly be made.

When the community was first set up, it contained very little content and didn’t provide anyone with any great value. I had to drive user adoption by asking vendors to share information in the community, rather than emailing it through to me. I also had to model this way of working by using it myself. Rather than emailing individuals, I would put the information into the community and then send them a link. I had one vendor who tried to resist using it, but over time they have found value for themselves.

I have learnt more about the importance of a ‘tag cloud’ and how it relates to a project. For each piece of information within the community, there is the ability for people to add tags. Tags are words which they may want to use which describe the content. I tag information to help me search for it in the future. Tagging also gives information of relevance to the people viewing it. On the main page of the community the is a ‘tag’ cloud’.  A tag cloud is a bunch of seemingly random words, the more a word is used, the more it is made to stand out. The more popular words are usually displayed in a larger font. A quick glance at a tag cloud helps show how the project is changing. Each day as people interact with the information, the cloud changes. This provides a great way of quickly identifying what is important to the project the current time.

A tag cloud is also a good way to quickly spot project trends or, more importantly, the lack of them. If certain activities should be happening on the project, but there are no relevant words appearing in the tag cloud, then it’s time to look a bit deeper into what is happening.

The use of IBM Smartcloud for Social Business is not the only collaboration tool that is being used on the project. The use of this tool is only for information which is to be shared across organisations. Each vendor may have other tools that they use internally. The automotive manufacturer for whom the project is for, also makes use of Microsoft SharePoint for internal collaboration. However, the way Microsoft SharePoint has been set up, doesn’t provide for collaboration with external parties. This is good, as it clearly marks a demarcation point for sensitive information which should not be shared with external vendors or which may be commercial in nature. Each of the vendors have been asked not to share commercially sensitive information on the the IBM Smartcloud site.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Closing the knowledge sharing gap to increase team performance

There are not too many things that I enjoy about flying, the long waits, sitting in airport lounges, the confinement of a cabin for extended amounts of time. However, one of the things that I do enjoy is meeting people, typically business people who, like me, are trying to solve real problems.

On a recent international flight I got talking to a gentleman who works for a company based in New Zealand. I was rather intrigued with what he was telling me about the products and services his company supplied to various parts of the world. They sell machinery that connects to satellite systems to manage crops. The machines use GPS to track soil samples. The soil is tested, and the machines then know where to sprinkle the right amount of fertilizer without over doing or under doing a certain part of a field. Therefore, the farmer is able to reduce the waste of excess fertilizer and also yield a better harvest.

As we were talking we discussed some of the challenges in doing business. He made a comment about how some of his Australian sales representatives were outselling their New Zealand counterparts. It is important, to him that his sales people are able to spend time together to gain some insights into what works and what doesn’t. Therefore, he was flying his team from all over the world to be together at the same location.

This got me thinking about what I refer to as the “Knowledge sharing gap”. This is a gap that exists in almost all organization’s whether large or small. I’m sure that I hardly need to convince you of this being a problem within your organization.

Several factors, lines of business, departments, geographic location, and language often cause this knowledge-sharing gap to manifest itself. I generally refer to each of these as silos. I am always interested in hearing from people about examples of how this sort of thing affects them within their particular role. While the farmer is able to collect data that leads to decisions that reduce costs and increase their yield, they also gain a significant competitive advantage. Providing ways to transfer information among employees, suppliers and customers allows a business to leverage human capital to help the business as a whole. To be able to provide the information to the right people at the right time has a direct cost benefit associated to it.

When working with and teams of people, it's important to ensure that they have the relevant tools to enable them to share information in real-time. It’s important, that team members have a platform upon which they can share their stories and experience. By being able to share stories and experiences the rest of the team are able to engage in conversation to help them gain new insights.

One of the key components of a Social Business is a business that is able to encourage the sharing of ideas and experiences. By enabling these ideas and experiences to become a part of a conversation, team members will be able to solve problems in a shorter amount of time, creating a sense of agility and nimbleness.