The Intranet and beyond…

As I will soon be hosting an event with the same title, I thought it might be interesting to give everyone a little taster of what I hope to cover with (a lot of) help from my colleague Mark Smith and some very interesting guest speakers.

By now, everyone has pretty much accepted that Intranets are important and a great way to help bring people closer to people and closer to information. Most businesses have some sort of Intranet and some of us are discussing the importance of ‘socialising’  Intranets and making them more collaborative.

But to understand where Intranets are headed, we have to understand the underlying trends and directions that are influencing our working lives.

Our lives have changed
Consider how the way we live our personal lives has changed over the past two decades: we socialise and make friends online (Facebook), everyone knows where we are (Foursquare), we are available any time (mobile), we buy anything anywhere (ecommerce), we only watch what we want to see (TV on-demand), we share our interest and knowledge (Twitter), we have total mobility (iPads, Smartphones) and we expect all of this at breakneck speed (4G and broadband).

I could go on and on about how our personal lives have been unrecognisably changed by technology…but that is only because I am old enough to remember what our lives were like 20 years ago. Most of the 20-something youngster joining the workforce today don’t know any different.

Our workplace needs to catch up
And yet, if we look at the way we work, very little has changed over the last two decades. In fact, if anything, the speed of organisations’ advancement has slowed down.

What does our office look like today? Pretty much the same as it did in the 1990’s. Back then we had open offices, coffee corners, networks and document drives. Some of us had PCs and others had laptops (ok, a bit bulkier and more expensive). We had email and mobile phones. Sure there have been some changes, but the sad truth is that back then our workplace offered us better infrastructures, connectivity and equipment , whilst today we now have better equipment and connectivity at home.

Fundamental change
It is not just about technology but about the way we structure our organisations. As people are becoming smarter, there is less need for traditional business hierarchies. As people start to collaborate, we need to adjust the way we approach targets and job remits. As people begin to share, authority will shift from those with fancy job titles to those with knowledge.

Essentially, the workspace should no longer be a place you go to but a thing you do. The office environment should become an extension of our digital workplace. People will not work 9-to-5 but whenever they are connected. We need to recognise achievements instead of just offering attractive compensation. Mobility (not mobile), collaboration and sharing need to become the focus, and we need to put in place solutions that will allow us to do all this effectively (hint: that is not by email!).

All of this will not be achieved immediately, and we will certainly not have all the answers at the event, but I do hope we will demonstrate ways in which you can start working towards this organisational revolution, and how to ensure your approach is flexible and future-proof enough to meet the challenges of the second decade of the 21st century.

The free breakfast seminar will be hosted at the Hospital Club, Covent Garden from 8.30am-10.30am on 10th October 2012. To register please visit: http://linkd.in/PtE38h (limited availability).

See you there!

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How to avoid social collaboration failure: focus on people

I am aware that the title of this post makes a pretty big commitment to the reader, and I don’t blame you for thinking I am about to reveal the holy grail of social collaboration or Enterprise 2.0. I am sorry to disappoint you.

Unfortunately there is no definitive roadmap for success or perfect case study we can all replicate. The very nature of Enterprise 2.0 is that the solution needs to be adapted to the one thing that makes every company different: its people.

Typical,”, I hear you say, “another wishy-washy blog post that only adds to the conundrums we already face!”. Hopefully, not!

The reality is that although the solution is almost certainly unique, the approach to uncovering the solution is relatively standard. It just needs to be focused on the people. So here are a couple of key steps that should form part of your passage into the world of social collaboration, and help ensure a successful outcome:

1)  Don’t let the technology define you, you define the technology – “we want to implement platform x because our CEO went to a conference where it was presented, and he loves it” does not make a good business case! Before you select the right platform, make sure you do your homework (see #2, #3 and #4 below). Certainly do not start by selecting the platform. Take a step back from technology and resist the temptation to jump on a particular bandwagon. Most responsible vendors actually advocate this approach themselves, as failure is not in their interest either.

2) Understand the users’ requirements and needs – this is not about getting the users buy-in but about making sure that the solution actually meets the needs of the people who will be expected to use it. Sounds like a no-brainer,  right? Believe me, so many organisations still see this step as a waste of time or simply treat it as a box ticking exercise. Gain an understanding of what is lacking from the current system(s),  find out how the users are currently working (tools, devices, locations), find out what the users require to work more efficiently and effectively, and what would make their day more productive (and enjoyable!).

3) Ensure the drivers are in place – if your business doesn’t not have a collaborative culture, there is no technical solution or platform that will magically create a social collaborative environment. You need to make sure the business is ready, and that the relevant drivers are in place. These drivers are personal to the organisation and will include essential factors such as culture, leadership and technology.

4) Build a strong foundation (business case) – define the business objectives and the relevant KPIs to measure success. You need to be able to measure your solution, not just to prove you are on the right track, but more importantly to know if you are on the wrong one. The benefits of E2.0 are often intangible (i.e. more engaged employees), making them harder to measure but not impossible. Also focus on the wider business metrics. Define the end-goal or outcome  (e.g. innovation, growth, profitability, customer retention), which are measurable.

5) Pilot – the saying that ‘you only have one chance to make a first impression’ is also true within the organisation. This makes pilots so important.  They allow you to launch in a controlled environment, steer the project, make observations and adjustments, and perfect your approach before you roll-out to the wider audience.

6) Planning – “a goal without a plan is just a wish” (Antoine de Saint-Exupery). A medium and long term plan is essential. It gives everyone confidence that it is not just a whim. You need to include in your plan governance, community management, communication strategies (for senior stakeholders) and adoptions strategies (for users) if you are to succeed beyond the initial pilot or launch.

6) Identify champions – I have mentioned this various times in previous posts, but it is often under-rated or ignored completely. The whole concept behind E2.0 is that the users own the platform, provide the content and drive adoption. To make this happen you need the ‘innovators’ and ‘early adopters’ (Rogers’ bell curve) in place. So make sure you have identify, motivated and brought on-board the key influencers, gatekeepers and leaders.

7) Clear communication – if your organisation is anything like 99.9% of the other organisations out there, your foray into launching ‘a new solution’ will not be the first the employees will have experienced. By now they probably have a multitude of tools, platforms, apps, and software systems that were, at the time, equally ground breaking as your initiative. Make people understand why you are introducing this new system, why it will be beneficial to them and set aside enough time and budget to train them and provide support.

8) There is no ‘one size fits all’ – as mentioned in my introduction, E2.0 is world where ‘one size does not fit all’. It is perfectly possible that even within your organisation you might need to consider different solutions or approaches for different departments or business units. I am certainly not suggesting implementing a myriad of platforms within one organisation. That would almost certainly end in disaster, but make sure that you introduce your new solution only to those users who will benefit, rather than forcing it on everybody.

Conclusion:

When speaking to organisations, I am glad that the conversation is no longer about ‘why’ they need to implement an E2.0 strategy. They get it now. They realise that the workforce is changing, that technology is speeding up conversations, and that social networks have altered the way we communicate and collaborate forever. The question now is no longer about ‘why?’ but ‘how?’.

Unfortunately, it is now in the ‘How?’ phase where organisations are losing their faith and where the money is squandered. In 9 out of 10 cases it is because the initiative did not have the users (the people) at the centre. Focus on the people and their needs, and you will be on your way to success. If you don’t have the resource for this ‘discovery’ exercise, get outside help. It will save you lots of money, pain and resistance in the long run.

The Dream Team? Or Nightmare? – Microsoft and Yammer

Yesterday Microsoft confirmed the news Bloomberg reported 12 days ago: Microsoft buys 4-year old Yammer for $1.2bn.

Wow! This really has blown the game wide open. I will be honest (and apologies to my friends at Yammer) but I did have some concerns about Yammer being maybe a little too social (vs collaborative) and that it was slightly handicapped by the more limited level of integration with SharePoint and Microsoft Office suite which, lets face it, is pretty essential for most organisations (although Yammer was working on this already).

However, this partnership must have the others (i.e. GoogleJive, Chatter and Newsgator) running a little scared. And not without reason as the potential opportunities of this union could be massive.

The benefits are easy to see: the ease-of-use of Yammer, fully integrated  with SharePoint, Office 365, MS Dynamics and Skype is pretty exciting. If done well this will catapult it ahead of the competition and provide a seriously powerful collaborative platform. Add to that the investment capabilities of Microsoft, and this has got to be a partnership made in heaven.

However, as is to be expected when this kind of news is revealed, the doom-sayers are in a high state of excitement.

Not everyone is a Microsoft fan (suggested by the CEO of Jive) – although this may well be true, I dont think we will see people leaving Yammer in their droves just because Microsoft is now involved. First of all, most multinational businesses I work with have SharePoint and MS Office running in some shape or form and therefore are not Microsoft averse. But more importantly, considering the effort it takes to get a social collaboration structure up and running successfully (even with the easy-to-use Yammer) , I don’t think companies are likely to abandon their efforts and/or switch to an alternative platform just because Microsoft is on the scene.

Microsoft dwarfs Yammer and kills the technology – although Microsoft have made it clear that Yammer “will continue to develop its standalone service and maintain its commitment to simplicity, innovation and cross-platform experience”, there is a risk that they will see this as an opportunity to commercialise their other products through Yammer (i.e. force feed them to us). I don’t see this as a risk but as a benefit. It will add the necessary weight to Yammer’s offering rather than threaten its existence.

The Microsoft curse – the argument that for some inexplicable reason Yammer will suffer the same mysterious fate as some others, like Groove, have suffered after they have been bought by the software giant. The reality is that Groove’s fate was already sealed before Microsoft got involved, but for the more superstitious amongst you, here is a list of investments that Microsoft has made over the years. There are a couple of bloopers but I think you will agree they have won more than they lost.

I am conscious that I am starting to sound like a Microsoft groupie. I am not. In fact, I come from a totally platform agnostic angle. I believe that your needs should define your choice of platform (based on a clear understanding of the user requirements and well defined  business objectives).

However, I do think it is great news, not just for Yammer but for the whole socially collaborative landscape. It is going to spice up the competitiveness (hopefully bringing down the costs),  raise the awareness of the benefits of social collaboration in general and lead to more product development, thereby improving the functionality, usability and effectiveness of the platforms. Lower prices and better products – who doesn’t like that!?!

Social vs Collaboration – Are organisations getting the mix right?

If you have recently attend events on corporate digital communication, you will undoubtedly have noticed that there is really only one topic on the agenda: ‘social collaboration‘.

The format for these events is pretty predictable. First the thought-leader confirms why we must all go social, then an organisation show-cases (or shows off!) their social collaboration platform and lastly the vendor (sponsor) takes a few minutes to explain how their platform can deliver the new ‘digital workplace’ straight out-of-the-box.

The first question from the audience is also pretty predictable: what measurable result did this collaborative utopia bring to the business?

Unfortunately, that is when the organisation (and some of the vendors) come unstuck and more often than not bring out the statistics:….more than so many thousand active profiles, over 1,000s of groups and communities, and more than a million posts, etc., etc. Alternatively, out come the results of the latest employee survey, normally concluding that “the employees using the platform feel x% more engaged than those not using the platform”.

Interesting stuff. Essentially, these figures do show that people are using the platform, that they are socialising and interacting and that the interaction can lead to improved employee engagement, which is essential to any successful organisation wanting to keep its best staff.

However, what is so frustrating for me is that none of the organisations or vendors talk about tangible business benefits. Surely, if you are going to invest in a new way of working you would expect measurable, financially beneficial results?! Dont we expect 1+1 to equal 3 if we go down the social collaboration route?

In my opinion, the reason why most organisations and vendors find it hard to be specific about the tangible business benefits is because there is still too much focus is on the ‘social’ and not enough on the ‘collaboration’.

Don’t get me wrong, conversations are good. They can cross cultural divides, make distance irrelevant, build team spirit and create a sense of belonging. It is also a great way to get people to use (and get comfortable with) the platform provided. But it is not to be confused with ‘collaboration’ and, I would argue, that it is in the collaboration where you get the tangible benefits.

In order to make collaboration successful, an organisation needs to have clearly defined objectives and establish the KPIs to measure them. The outcomes might include one or a combination of the following: innovation, cross-selling, knowledge sharing, growth, increased profitability, improved customer service, faster on-boarding.

Once the objectives have been clearly defined, organisations need to provide their people with the tools to collaborate and work effectively. It is essential that your chosen collaboration platform is seamlessly integrated with the other tools (e.g. ERP, CRM, file servers, email, etc.) that your team needs to perform their day-to-day tasks.

And as a prerequisite to it all, the organisation has to have the right culture and drivers in place. Social collaboration doesn’t just come about by buying a few user licenses, or as Oliver Marks summarised it is his blog “buying a toolkit doesn’t make you a mechanic“. Successful social collaboration requires an organisation to already understands and embraces the spirit of traditional collaboration, from the top down. Without this, understanding social collaboration is like trying to understand a foreign language and what will they do instead? Two outcomes: revert to chatting or do nothing at all (the most common failing of social collaboration platforms is inactivity).

Let me substantiate the above with a practical example: a client of mine defined one of the objectives of social collaboration as ‘improving profitability through better customer service and feedback’. Traditionally customer complaints were dealt with through a system of reporting. The customer-facing staff would report a product complaint to their line manager, who in turn would report it to his/her director, who in turn would report to the buying director, who would pass it down the chain to the specific product buyer who would finally discuss it with the supplier of the product in question and pass the answer back up the chain…Phew. I almost lost my train of thought twice writing that.

This process was resulting in numerous customer complaints being missed or going without action. Faulty stock was going to waste because nothing was done about it as no one knew why it wasn’t selling.

On the positive side, the organisation had an incentive system in place to motivate staff to report product complaints and feedback. So it had an excellent ‘driver’ to help achieve the objective.

What (social) collaboration is going to do is to reduce the reporting process from a few weeks/months to a few hours/days by linking the customer team (and their feedback) directly to the buying team (and eventually the supplier). The KPIs attached to this objective will measure response times and time spent by staff dealing with the issue, the affects on the number of product returns and complaints, and ultimately the affect on customer satisfaction. “Hold it, hold it…customer  satisfaction is not a tangible benefit” I hear some of you say. Yes, of course it is! It directly influences the organisation’s bottom-line, turnover and profitability.

It is good to socialise, even better to collaborate!

Some interesting articles I came across whilst preparing this post:

Luis Suarez – Why Social Business Keeps Failing to Deliver
Sam Dyer – The social shift in internal communications
Alistair Rennie – More Than Facebook: The Time Is Right For Social Business
Elena Galitskaya – Enterprise Social Networks Failing to Meet Expectations

Social business and the internal evangelist

social collaborationAs we find ourselves on the eve of the largest IPO in history, and Mark Zuckerberg is about the join the elite and enviable ‘top 10 richest billionaires’ list at the ripe old age of 27, there can be no doubt that social media has not only revolutionised the way we spend our time and how we interact but also that it is here to stay.

Facebook is not the only social platform but it has been the most active in adding functionality and content, making sure that we spend more time there. The question is why does Facebook spend so much time, effort and money on making our experience richer? Well, the real reason is because Zuckerberg & Co is not selling a platform…
he is selling us!

We are not the customer, we are the product. A product that has an estimate market(ing) value of $100bn.

What Facebook, and social media in general, offers is an incredible and unrivalled insight into the human psyche, behaviour, habits and likes/dislikes. It is this and the fact that social media has changed the way we communicate that makes it such an asset to the business world.

There are already a wide variety of social business platforms out there including giants like Yammer, Jive and MS Lync as well as lesser known options like Igloo. Even Salesforce, the CRM giant has jumped on the bandwagon with Chatter and I suspect we shall see many more come (and go) over the next few years.

Putting the choice of platform aside there are many obvious benefits to implementing a social business strategy, namely that it allows people to collaborate in real-time, facilitates exchanges of ideas and discussions without geographical boundaries. It is more mobile, and provides the generation Z workforce with a platform that is familiar, slick and quick. It allows them to have conversations on their turf, in their language and on their terms (we are after all talking about a generation which is arguably more comfortable typing LOL than actually laughing out loud!).

And of course then there is the cost benefit. Social business platforms are relatively affordable in terms of licence fees but the enormous savings are made in the deployment. As they are to be used ‘out of the box’ and don’t need (can’t/shouldn’t) be bespoke, they are unwrapped and configured in weeks rather than months and there are less bug fixing or training requirements. You don’t need a battery of people in a dark room tinkering away 24/7 to keep it going. Add it all together and the savings over implementing an intranet are enormous (note: that is not to say one replaces the other!).

The fears about conversations getting out of control or it becoming a distraction rather than a benefit are real but with the right governance in place and the essential absence of anonymity, experience shows that these platforms do become self-policing and hugely effective. The harsh reality is that the conversations are going to happen anyway so the question is: would you rather they ‘graffiti the inside of the company or the outside’ (love this analogy but can’t claim it as my own – Thanks Nick Crawford).

But now the million dollar, euro, pound (and soon drachma??) question is: what makes them successful?

I am sure some may disagree and offer suggestions like usability, adoption campaign/internal marketing (all of which are important!) but for me it is the same ingredient that made external social media platforms such a success: The Evangelist.

This is the person who is first to post a comment. The first to like a post or start a poll. The first to use locations to identify where he/she is. More importantly the person who loves to talk about it and who people listen to.

Identify your evangelist(s), give them subtle incentives, allow them to be the ‘alpha leader’ who influences the rest. Make them part of your core team and let their enthusiasm enthuse others. There are few things as effective as endorsements from your peers and colleagues.

It is these evangelists that have a commanding influence over success and failure. Embrace them, I say!

Intranet trends for 2012

It is generally accepted that Intranets will play an even more important role this coming year, as companies begin to understand the ways they can use it to address their business pains, and help create efficiencies, as well improve employee engagement (and thereby satisfaction). Here are a few trends that I think will be important in 2012.

1. Importance of people

This might seem a little obvious but it is probably the most fundamental trend for 2012 and one that underpins all the suggestions I mention below. Intranets will need to focus more on the users. They will need to talk to them in their language and on their turf. This will be brought about by a shift from the traditional departmentalised approach to organisations (i.e. internal comms, HR, finance, etc.) to working together to focus on the needs and best interests of the user.

2. Higher expectations

As a new generation of employees is being on-boarded, organisations are going to have to accommodate their expectations as well. These new members of the team don’t know a world without apps or social media sites. Sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have had a profound impact on the expectations of ‘look & feel’, simplicity of navigation, and functionality. Users expect an increased level of engagement and immediate and dynamic communication. This will need to be reflected in your Intranet layout and functionality.

3. Mobile

Most businesses understand the importance of making their Intranet more accessible, whether that is on mobile phones (through mobile sites or apps) or mobile device friendly (including tablets and iPads). The target should not be transporting the whole Intranet onto other devices but to instead to deliver the right content and functionality to an ever-increasing workforce, such as collaborative tools, people finders and segmented news.

4. Social collaboration

I believe that businesses should focus on creating fully integrated social workspaces throughout their organisations. Facilitating knowledge sharing and collaboration will lead to better informed and more engaged employees. To achieve this will require companies to combine the best platforms and technologies, i.e. social collaboration platforms like Jive merging with content management platforms like SharePoint, integrating profiles with LinkedIn, etc.

5. Findability

As user-generated content is being added to the already growing levels of corporate content and documentation, surfacing relevant information becomes more challenging. In 2012, faceted and semantic search functionality will become essential to sift through the noise. Search-driven menus and navigation will become more prominent and Intranet managers will need to spend more time looking at statistics and search logs to ensure the site is making the ‘right’ content available to the user.

6. Content

Although this was one of the trends I highlighted in 2011, I see this continuing in 2012. This will be the year of ‘content culling’ and ‘content segmentation’. As the ‘noise’ levels increase, people will have even less time (and patience) to wade through irrelevant content. Ensure that your content is streamlined, up-to-date and customise-able. Ensure that the content is also relevant to new methods of delivery like mobile devices and don’t forget self-help content and e-learning.

To conclude:

I believe 2012 will see a shift from ‘Intranet’ to ‘digital workspace’ – a space that focuses on the users and the tasks they need to perform rather than on technology. Different platforms will need to work seamlessly together to make collaboration easier and these needs to be accessible whenever and wherever the user finds themselves.

 

Interesting event:  The Intranet and beyond… – 29th February @ Hospital Club

This event, organised by View Plc (where I work), will look at case studies from large multinationals who have implemented SharePoint and enterprise social collaboration software (Jive and Yammer) to communicate with there internal audience. It will focus on the highs and lows, the challenges and the achievements. There will be expert’s speakers, real client case studies and a lovely continental breakfast to accompany it all!

To register your interest please send an email to – nclayton@viewplc.com