Saturday, December 20, 2008

Collaboration in 2009, who will provide the service?

As the crisis, or recession if you prefer, comes down, companies are cutting costs. Travel is one of the first elements to go as I stated earlier. This leaves room for collaboration tools, environments and best practices. So the question really is who will deliver this?

In his blog, Ross Mayfield refers to a perspective provided by Gil Yehuda from Forrester, refering to IT driven  and bottoms up collaboration, he calls tech populist. He points out that IT departments react by trying to block businesses from getting software services from the cloud as they are difficult to manage. This reminds me about a large company that wanted to use Google Documents earlier this year to share information with suppliers. It sounded real practical and easy, till one of the key directors found one of the companies documents listed in good place in one of his Google searches. That stopped the experiment right there.

IMG_0235 copy So, on the one hand we have IT departments whose budgets are being cut and on the other, users that increasingly will require collaboration tools as they are hindered to travel to partners, suppliers and customers. Are the two really incompatible? Maybe not.

In an earlier entry I mentioned I was starting to look at the brand new Windows Live integrated environment. At the first glance it provides an interesting environment for collaboration, including storage space, calendar, document management (sharepoint in the cloud), instant messaging etc. Although it is new and comes from Microsoft, which gets a number of people angry for no other reason, it is a well rounded environment that can facilitate team collaboration.

Many of the critics point out that Facebook and Myspace provide similar, or for some better, features. That may be so for individual users that want to share photos and videos. What I like in Windows Live its the capability to manage documents, share large files and other similar features.

If Microsoft can demonstrate a good level of security , a reliable environment and integration with some social networking sites like LinkedIn and Plaxo, this environment may be ready for businesses to collaborate. In doing so they would position themselves differently, which could result in a brand new business environment for them. It's really worth monitoring.

Will IT departments allow such collaboration? It's a good question, but as it comes from Microsoft and has a good integration with the existing desktop applications, one may hope so.

On a totally different note, may I wish you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I have enjoyed developing this blog over the last 6 months. I hope it turned out useful for all of you. If I may have one wish, it would be to hear a little more from you. Let's hope for a great 2009, despite all. May the little bird sing, reminding us that spring is getting closer.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Google, Microsoft and the Internet

Today I ran into a couple interesting articles. One in particular spoke about Google's invisibility cloak. Forbes highlights the fact that web researcher net applications recently discovered that between 11 and 30% of traffic streaming out of Google is stripped of its usual identification. In other words the company is unable to make out on which operating system the originating application runs. The article continues by assuming that Google is developing their own operating system to avoid having to rely on Microsoft. Whether this is true or not remains to be seen and only the future will tell. Google was not available for comment, is and that's what they usually say when the information is correct but they are not intending to admit.

This gets me to a question that I have been hounded by for quite awhile. Many people baIMG_0867sh Microsoft as the company that wants to concur the world, and name Google as the savior but I increasingly have the impression that Google is doing exactly the same as Microsoft a number of years ago. Secretly they are trying to get hold of every Internet related information that we convey from our computers. It is the secrecy that actually makes it even worse than what Microsoft has been doing. At least Microsoft was predictable.

At this point in time a big battle is starting. On the one side Google has been coming from the Internet and is now trying to take over our desktops and mobiles, while on the other Microsoft has started from our desktops and mobiles and is now, through the launch of there windows live environment, trying to attract us to their own Internet space.

I have to admit that the windows live environment appears to be an interesting one, not in its individual functions, but in the way the functions are integrated. They seem to have done a good job not just of integrating the functions that are running on the Internet, but also the Internet with the desktop. It's worth trying it out.

My belief is that there is place for two competitors in this space, and I really don't know who is going to win. However, what I do not agree with is that the one of them is presented as the devil while the other is the savior. I believe both companies have their own economical strategies and a common objectives to make money. Both are trying to maximize the amount of money they make and consider us as a vehicle to do so.

Unfortunately, as both environments are completely incompatible, to collaborate with others one will have to make a choice. As each of us will end up with its own preference, to avoid turf wars we will all end up requiring identifiers in both emvironments and we will have to learn to use both. But that's the prize of competition I suppose.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The financial meltdown, a trigger for remote collaboration

Everywhere I keep hearing about travel restrictions. Amex just released a study pointing out three quarter of corporations intend to cut or freeze travel budget. In the current circumstances, this is probably the right thing to do for businesses, and, although it may not make airlines happy, it will help the bottom line of many of them. However, the question remains, are businesses ready for large scale remote collaboration and do they have the tools and experience required to do so. Are we also increasingly going to see remote visits to customers. This is going to be interesting, and we all have to experience and learn a lot in the process.

Being in a global role, I am often ask to go and meet a customer to share best practices, to update him on new technologies & processes, or to discuss key processes with him. Up till now, these meetings have happened face to fact, but with the current clamp down in travel, we are highly motivated to do this remotely. Well, I have two hurdles to overcome. I first need to convince my sales teams that this can work and that we can have the level of discussion we used to have face to face. I don't know how your sales people are, but I can tell you many of ours do not like surprises, so when they are confronted to the idea of doing a remote sales call, many of them get extremely frustrated.

Once the sales people are convinced, it is time to go and suggest this to the customer. And here we have two types of reactions typically. Some customers (typically the ones that have similar travel bans), understand and are prepared for the experience. Others have the feeling they are not important because we do not travel to HPIM4433their site. And you may have to discuss the policy with them, the reason why we do that etc. some of them will never understand. It's up to you to judge how important this customer is and whether it is necessary you circumvent the travel ban.

How the meeting takes place and how to make it work is dependent on the technology used. If you are able to use telepresence, you can just run the meeting as any other. The only thing you will nit be able to do is exchange business cards and shake hands, but frankly, you can do without that.

If the meeting happens over the telephone, I would suggest you put a couple things in place. Here are some suggestions:

  • If you present something and the customer does not know you, put your picture in one of the first slides. This will allow the customer to see how you look like and to imagine the person behind the voice.
  • Try to have your local sales person in the same room as the customer, allowing him/her to capture the body language of the customer and the dynamics in the room
  • If possible, use an instant messaging tool for the sales person to communicate to you some of the reactions in the room
  • Be extremely sensitive to the tones of the voices, as they may tell you how your message is being received and may allow you to correct things quickly.

In any case, do a debrief with your sales team to understand how well the meeting went. They are your eyes with the customer and you need to rely on them to understand the dynamics. You may want to discuss with them before the meeting about what you expect them to do and how they can communicate with you. If you cannot use instant messaging for example, you may want to define some code phrases to be used to warn you about the way the customer reacts.

These are just some ideas on how to make the best of having to work without traveling. Some more can be found on Ken Molay's " the webinar blog".  I do hope all these are useful.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Must Google die?

Earlier in the week I ran into an interesting and intriguing article, titled "Why Google Must Die" from from John C. Dvorak. The least I can say is that the article made noise in the blogosphere and on the internet in general. Several sites included detailed discussions about why John was wrong (Sphinn, Newsvine, NamePros to name a few). Some even go to point out this is Google bashing.

Frankly, I have personally experienced the symptoms John describes. I have been on the phone with a colleague, thinking I could use Google rather than dictate or send him a long and complex address. By a matter of fact, while researching for this post, I ran into a number of articles that had nothing to do with the subject. And let's be honest, Google is out there to make money, as much as possible. So, I am only half surprised they push forward the sites that make them most money. What irritates me is that they do not recognize this fact. HPIM5435

Well, maybe this is an overstatement. Interestingly enough, I received yesterday an e-mail from Forbes drawing me to an article titled "The Verdict of Google SearchWiki". On its own blog, Google presents this new facility as a way to "customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. With just a single click you can move the results you like to the top or add a new site. You can also write notes attached to a particular site and remove results that you don't feel belong." I have not had the opportunity to use it, as it is not yet rolled out in our part of the world. Now, is this the solution that John is looking for?

Frankly I do not believe, as the SearchWiki is, according to Google, strictly private. They don't say what they are doing with your changes, as I am sure they are tracking them and use them to their advantage.

However, if we take the web 2.0 promise seriously, and if we believe Tim O'Reilly's definition that the user adds the content, we may want to seriously think at helping WikiaSearch out. They rely on trusted user feedback from the community to improve their search results. And if we refer to the Wikipedia example, they may turn out to be quite successful in the long run. Will that make Google obsolete?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Second Life "Affair", mixing real and virtual

Last Friday, I was in London and read the Times and the Guardian. In both newspaper I found an article about a couple that was going to divorce because the husband had a virtual affair on Second Life. Googling the Internet, I was astonished to find loads of comments, starting with Lewis Wallace's blog, who got plenty of comments,  FoxNews and CNN. Is this event worth the press it gets? In an older article MSNBC asks the question whether a virtual affair is real-world infidelity? And there lays to me the real question.

A couple hours later, I received an invitation to attend a Second Life conference about eco-friendly innovation to take place on December 4th. A banner nicely explains how you can build your avatar, or that you can request a pre-made avatar by e-mailing a specific address. I don't know what I will do yet, but this last point made me think.

Indeed, the newspaper articles contained photos of the couple as well as of their avatars. And guess what, there was not really a resemblance between both. If you can also "borough" an avatar for a conference, how do you ensure you are you in Second Life. This question may sound silly when you are speaking about video games, or whether, as adults, you may want to have fun. I will not even start discussing the danger of having children and teenagers being put in contact with unknown people.

Second Life users can interact and form relationships with other players' avatars.But frankly, to use this tool as a collaboration tool, it is critical that you know who you are dealing with. You need be able to trust the other people with whom you are working. Information will be exchanged, strategies will be exposed, points will be discussed, how sure are you the other people are who they pretend to be? You may argue that this can also happen in real life, when you meet somebody previously unknown to you. Most often you develop a protocol to recognize each other, like holding the good old newspaper. On TV people are not who they are supposed to be, but how often does this happens in real life.

In Second Life it seems to happen way more. Indeed, for many people, Second Life seems to be the place where they enact their fantasies, where they pretend to be somebody else, and where they live their dreams. Our society may have a need for such environment, I do not dispute this. But, frankly, I have difficulties imagining this environment to also serve as a global collaboration tool. It is difficult for me to imagine mixing real work and fantasies. And even if people can make the difference, using the same tool may make it difficult for them not to flip-flop between both. I would strongly recommend to separate both thoroughly.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Use what you preach...

As I mentioned previously, with an American friend we developed a training module to demystify Web 2.0 for a leadership training course. Unfortunately, my friend could not be physically present in the meeting room and provided his contribution to the training remotely. As the session was going to take four hours, we referred back to POTS, the plane old telephone system, as we wanted to make absolutely sure the connection would stay open for the four hours.

At the start of the session, one of the attendees asked us why we did not use some of the technologies we highlighted, such as Skype, to give the training. We pointed out the need for reliability, and by a matter of fact, we were proved right, as some of the assistance got difficulties keeping their wireless Internet connection up and running for the duration of the training.

This got me thinking. In my previous post I spoke about advanced, 3D, collaboration tools. They are cool, but we all know they require quite some bandwidth, which may occasionally not be available, resulting in delays, crashes and frustration. Now, if it is to play a game, or having fun, that's perfectly fine. But when yDesigning for People - 500 Telephoneou have 30+ people in the room, expecting you to make the best out of the time allocated, and deliver them a perfect job, you can just not take the risk of having problems. And Murphy's law applies here too. If something can go wrong, it will at the worst possible time.

To make a long story short, the session went well and the participants gave excellent feedback. They felt they really learned something. We had no major hick-ups and the POTS did its work perfectly. The lesson I learn out of this, test out and play with the latest technologies, as it is important to understand what is out there and when to use it. But when you need to do a professional job, make sure to go back to some proven technology. The technology used by NASA in space shuttles is also old and proven.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Do I look like my Avatar?

In my last post we talked about NetMeeting and the fact it was rather old fashion. Let's now move to the other extreme, the use of 3D virtual collaboration software such as Qwaq, Nortel's Web.Alive or environments such as the ones that can be found in Second Life. In her blog entry "Restoring the Meaning of Virtual Collaboration", Patti Anklam speaks about Sun's Project Wonderland, another attempt in this area.

What is different is that, using a personification of yourself, called an avatar you basically work in a video game. You can walk through a room, where your presentation is hanging on the wall and stop, together with the avatars of the other people you are working with and discuss what is being displayed.

Is that science fiction? Actually not, early versions of such software is available today and companies are starting to use such collaboration approaches. The fundamental question in my mind is whether we actually need such fancy approaches or not. I am sure the younger generation, who grew up with video games, is fully acquainted to work that way. Others need to get used to it. I am asking myself what the added value is of going this far. Testing out some of the environments, I found the inclusion and update of the work documents rather slow.

Being able to share a common document or application is critical for virtual collaboration, being able to take control, enter information, perform changes etc. is mandatory. But do I need to have my avatar running around in a virtual room to achieve this? That's what I am absolutely not convinced about. I can already hear some of you telling me I'm old-fashion. And you may actually be right, but I am trying to separate hype from usefulness. And I cannot find the added value of my avatar.

Working remotely with somebody is unnerving for people that are not used to it, in the sense they are working with somebody they do not see. To address that, I used to swap photos with my remote collaborators. You may argue that this is the reason of the avatar. And it could be, unfortunately, you can choose any avatar, so there is no resemblance between your avatar and yourself. In that sense it defeats the purpose. Do you agree with me?

Friday, October 31, 2008

NetMeeting, a Dinosaur?

A couple weeks ago, a friend and I were asked to prepare a four hour session about web 2.0 for a leadership training course of one of our joint customers. They wanted an emphasis on collaboration, marketing and increased customer interaction. What made things interesting is that my friend lives and works in North America, while, as you know, I am living in Brussels. To make things even more interesting, my friend cannot be physically in the training room, but will have to call in remotely. This will really force us to use all the capabilities of the Internet. One of them that came to my mind immediately was obviously NetMeeting. I am saying obviously, because this is a tool both of us have been using over the years.

New Picture (3)Googleling (is this actually English?) the term NetMeeting, I ran into a couple interesting pieces of information. First I found "The Web Conferencing Blog" where David Chao points out it is really a hassle to use the product as setting up the connection is lengthy and difficult and consists in getting IP addresses and typing them in. And yes, this is an issue I have personally experienced a number of times already, so I can relate to the post. However, NetMeeting is a tool that is  recognized and accepted by many IT departments. There exist many other tools, many of which are more effective and faster, but either they are not free, or not "safe" enough for the IT experts. David is also pointing out the product is obsolete and not ported to Vista.

Here I have to disagree with David, as I found on Kurt Shintaku's blog a note dated November 2nd (can I now time travel?) and pointing to the Beta version of NetMeeting 3.02 for Vista.

The reason we plan to use NetMeeting is that, despite the unfriendliness of the set-up of the connection, it is very easy to share control. In the training we are giving, we are sharing short sessions, and so being able to take control over at each session needs to be quick and fast.

So, yes, NetMeeting may sound like a dinosaur, but then a well preserved one that still provides a lot of service to many people.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Instant Messaging, more than a gadget

Instant messaging, whether it is MSN, Yahoo, AOL or any other, is a simple tool that allows quick interventions and fast responses. I have a tendency to use it all the time with my teams. It allows me to immediately have an answer to a question, without having to interrupt what the other is doing. It also allows me to trigger a conversation with a simple question, " are you available?". When I get that question, I typically respond with the telephone number of where I can be reached. It's an easy way for fast interactions, allowing each of us to continue our work without major interruptions. Unfortunately, our IT department, as many others I suppose, refuses the use of commercial Instant Messaging tools that allows collaboration across companies. There are apparently security risks of doing so. They now standardized us on Office Communicator, which is a nice product that integrates well with Outlook and shows automatically when you are available or not. But it does not allow access outside the firewall.IMG_0171

In that we are missing a major collaboration opportunity. Indeed, many of us are working with partners, our supply chain is reaching outside our own company. And it is with those people that we want and need to work. Do we need multiple instant messaging tools to achieve this? We shouldn't. Because there should not be a difference in the way we engage our best partners and our own resources. I still cannot understand why Microsoft and the others have not managed to solve the security issue. Or is there actually a security issue? Isn't it the will to be able to control what employees do with people outside the company?

The more our companies are going global, the more we need to work with people we only have electronic contact with. Making those relationships simple and easy, facilitating the communication, should be the number one goal of our IT departments. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. What do you think about this?

Monday, October 13, 2008

What tool for what collaboration?


In previous posts I talked about specific tools that can be used for collaboration. Today, I'd like to take the debate a little further. Increasingly I believe that there is no ONE tool that fits all types of collaboration. Unfortunately, I have not found any research on the subject of what tool to use for what type of interaction. There are plenty of tools out there, going from instant messaging to telepresence, and if my discussions with HPLabs researchers last week is any indication, there are several others to come. However, which tool is used when, is and remains the question.

Let me give you some examples, both in business and private life. You run a project with a number of colleagues around the globe. How do you keep track with them? Well, for a simple question you may want to use instant messaging. It allows you to know who is on-line and gives you a quick response. You can probably not be very precise as you don't want to overload the other party, but through a number of quick questions and answers, you can get the response you are looking for. For a status update on the other hand, you may want to use teleconferencing facilities, being from Skype, from your teleophone company or from any other source. What you are looking for there is that all key members of your project hear the same thing at the sane time.

If you now want to see what has been developed, you may have to use other collaboration tools such as netmeeting, to allow you to share screens with the other players. And there are a bunch of other things to do that each may require a different tool.

I'm sure you get my point. What tool should we use for what purpose. If any of you know of some research done in that space, please let me know.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Supplier Collaboration, a holy grail?

Earlier this week, I was in Denmark, speaking at a conference around the theme of Supplier Collaboration and Strategic Supplier Relationship Management. About 130 people showed up and were listening quite carefully at what the speakers, myself included, were speaking about. Many of them told me they still had a very adversarial relationship with their suppliers however. One of the speakers, a professor from a university close to Detroit, demonstrated the difference in supplier perception in the US automotive industry between the 3 US majors and Toyota, Honda and Nissan. The results were stunning, and guess what, there is a clear correlation between profitability and the perception.

Obviously you will argue that having good relationships with suppliers is by far not the only factor that will play in the profitability of a company, and obviously you are right. But the fact there is this correlation really makes me wonder why not more companies are jumping on the bandwagon. What is it that stops them doing so?

One thought daunted on me while listening to him andIMG_0004 to others. As listed companies, we are focused on the short term. In my company, we jokingly say that the long term is the end of the quarter. Transforming a relationship from an adversarial to a collaborative one takes time as trust needs to be built between the organizations. That is not done overnight, so, is it the long term nature of the effort that hinders companies to jump onto the bandwagon? Could well be. I would understand that if large initial investments were required, but frankly, most often that is not the case. So, should American and European companies wait till they completely outmaneuvered by Japanese ones before taking action? I would definitely not do that if I were in their shoes. How long does it actually takes to find the Holy Grail?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Telepresence, is this StarWars?

The other day, I had a memorable experience. It looked to me a little like StarWars. I was told I had to meet with some researchers and a customer of ours. The meeting was going to take place in the Netherlands, but the scientists would be in the US. Frankly, I had some difficulty understanding what they meant, till I got there.

We were introduced in a room with half an oval table and three large flat screens in front of us. On the screen appeared a number of people in what looked like the other half of the same room. The illusion was complete. If I made abstraction of the screen frames, I would have had the impression of really being in the same room. And then the dialogue started. The discussion was initiated in a low and soft voice. There was no need to scream, no noise beside the voice HP_Halo_MeetingRoom_SM.jpgof the person who spoke. Suddenly I interrupted him, and to my uttermost astonishment, he stopped immediately, turned to me and listened.

No, I have been in video conferences before. I have never seen anything like this. We even had a demo of a device they were developing. I had actually not realized that, on top of the three screens I talked about at the begin, was another screen that serves to collaborate. They shared computer screens with us and so we could see the demo that was performed on their halve of the table with the computer measurements that were affected by it. This was extremely impressive I have to say. Our customer very quickly became enthusiastic about the device and started discussing characteristics, usage etc. We had been able to gain his attention at short notice without having to travel across the Atlantic. This was really efficient use of our time. By the way, I learned that the room was a "Hale Room" from Hewlett-Packard.

Have you had such experiences? What do you think about it?

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Can you beat up your customer

In the last couple entries, I spoke about the cultural differences between the Dutch and the Belgians, let me stay on that topic as it allows me to illustrate even more why we cannot take things for granted.

Several years ago, I was asked by one of our sales people to join him in a sales call to his Dutch customer. This was actually my first sales call in the Netherlands and I accepted it immediately. I thought it might be interesting, it actually was, way beyond my expectations, but for completely different reasons.

After the check-in at reception, we were guided to our clients office and sat down in front of him. My colleague introduced me, up till then, nothing unusual. But he turned back to his client and told him in non uncertain terms, he was completely pissed of with him because he had not placed the order he had promised and as such, my colleague had missed his forecast. Obviously, the client did not take that and the discussion heated up quite heavily. I was sitting on my chair completely frozen and asked myself how soon we would be thrown out. I could not understand why he was risking the whole relationship for what turned out being a small delay due to someCRW_0380 administrative issues. The bashing lasted for about one hour. When they finally came to an agreement and the customer apologized (believe me or not), he turned back to me, and as it was already late afternoon, told me, "look I want to hear what you have to tell me, why don't we go and take a drink in a nearby bar. This will allow us to talk more freely." And yes, the customer even paid for the drinks.

The Dutch have this great capability to completely separate business and private life. It is not because you have an issue on the business side, that this will affect your personal relationship. This is actually a great asset, but that got me shivering before understanding what it was all about. Never take things for granted, make sure you get briefed on how business is done in a country prior to go to the first customer meeting. I can tell you out of personal experience. Do you also have such stories to tell?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A little more on culture

Last week my wife and I went cycling in the Loire valley in France and obviously, visited some castles. What else can you do out there, isn't it? Each castle has its way to represent its history. In one of them, plastic sheets were available for the visitors in each of the rooms. Several languages were provided, they included beside French, English, Italian, Spanish, German and a couple sheets in Dutch. I was actually quite impressed about the number of languages available and the effort the French owner had mad to translate the text. So, when I heard a couple Dutch speaking people complain about the fact there were not enough Dutch documents.

Later in the day, we were lunching in a lonely spot along the river when a group of Dutch speaking people choose a spot 50 cm from our place to have a noisy lunch with their family. Then it daunted on me. Despite the fact we are living within a distance of a couple hundred kilometers from each other, we have very different sensitivities. I IMG_2040 would have been pleasantly surprised to find a text in my language all together, and I try to respect people's intimacy. But that is probably not something I share with some Dutch at least.

Now, if we are already so different, while living so closely, what about the differences of sensitivities with people living on the other side of the planet.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Messieurs les Anglais, tirez les premiers....

No, you are not looking at the wrong blog. This title, that is well known in France, can freely be translated in "Mr. Englishmen, please shoot first...". It goes back to the time of the archeries.

Now, why use this as a title. Well to highlight another aspect of global collaboration. English is the only language that is spoken more by non native speakers than by native speakers. It is actually a very rich language which has a lot of nuances. Listening to British humor is one of the best ways to experience that. Unfortunately, most of the non native speakers do not know these nuances and will make mistakes all the time. Messieurs les Anglais, keep that into account and do not get upset when you hear something that may sound rudeIMG_0072_edited-1 .

I remember, years ago, I was responsible for the beta test of a product that my company was going to sell. We tested the product with a local company in Belgium. The development team, based in the US, was asking for our feedback. And we gave them feedback:

  • You must include this function
  • You must change the human interface in this way
  • You must interface with this device

You probably already realize what happened. We completely pissed of the development team. When I went to visit them, they beat me up. You cannot tell us what we have to do. We should have used other words. We did not realize that the word "must" has a much harder meaning in English than in Dutch or French.

My request is actually pretty simple. Keep in mind that not everybody you talk to is as fluent as you are in English. It may avoid a lot of bad feelings.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What does YES mean?

One of the biggest ahah I got when starting to work internationally was that the same word had a different meaning in different countries. It goes from time management all the way to the simple word YES. When you tell a call is at 5PM to a German, he will call in at 5, an Italian (particularly from the south), may call in between 5 and 5:30.

When I started to work with my Indian colleagues, I was in a number of teleconferences with them. In one of those, I asked them for some material and got an enthusiastic yes. I really felt good, those guys were so willing to help. In the following days I actually became nervous as I did not see anything coming. So, what the heck was this. Were these unreliable guys? I called them back and reminded them of what they had promised me. And that's where I got the shock. They did not feel they had promised me anything. Their yes did not meant they were going to send me something, but yes they had understood what I said.

It's much later that it dawned on me, when one of my friends told me there were 40 ways to say yes in Hindi and no way to say no. Whether this is fully correct or not, I don't know, but yes can mean many different things, from yes I hear you say something to yes I agree, with the whole spectrum in the middle.

ph-10420Ever since, when I work with them, I finish my calls by asking them what they are going to do. If the answer is, "do we need to do something", then I know I have to be more precise in what I am expecting. I rewind and start all over again.

I have shared this many times in conferences and more than one have come back to me telling me they had similar experiences, so keep that in mind, what does a yes actually mean.

On a different subject, I am going to take some holiday, so the blog will be quiet for a little while. Don't worry I'll be back. Have some good time, and don't hesitate to leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Is he working?

I had an interesting discussion in the office yesterday with another manager who was talking about one of his remote employees. He explained me that he saw little outcome and asked himself whether the person was actually working or not. And here is where it got fascinating. He told me he had asked his employee to be online with instant messaging. He told me he spent quite some time on the phone in telecons and others, so using a mobile phone to communicate was not an option. Rather using IM was a way to get a quick answer in parallel with the phone call going on.

HPIM4646It was also a way to see whether the employee was actually at his desk or doing something completely different. I frankly had never looked at IM in that purpose. Yes, I am using the tool to get a quick answer from some of my team members when I get a question in a telecon. I am also using it if I want to talk to them, prior to picking up the phone and interrupting them. It's an easy way to know whether they can spare a minute to discuss a particular point.

However, using IM as the web 2.0 badging system is new for me. It raises however a good point and that is how to evaluate the work done by remote employees. There is a need for some trust, as one cannot just look up and see they are working. It also requires more mature people. Although the home office is getting more and more popular, there is still place for the good old office, isn't it?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Web 2.0, use within the enterprise?

As I mentioned in my last entry, I am currently traveling in Asia. I had the opportunity to meet with a series of business leaders and in at least two occasions, the use of the web 2.0 tools came up. If you are not familiar with the term web 2.0, you may have heard about blogs, wiki's, instant messaging, facebook or linkedin etc.

The point that was raised is whether it makes sense to start using the web 2.0 tools in the enterprise. My feeling is absolutely yes, and for two reasons. First, as the younger generation, who grew up with IM, SMS and facebook, comes on board, taking advantage of their familiarity with these tools, it is a tremendous way to increase the communication with them. Whether they are part of the enterprise, or part of the customer base, they are expecting you to communicate with them using those tools.

But there is a second reason, and that is what I call the "virtual coffee corner". Let's remember the time we were all located in the same office and we got all the gossip and informal communication happening at the coffee corner. That quickly became an essential communication vehicle in the company. It allowed the informal network to develop itself. And we all know and experience the importance of that informal network. ph-10546

Unfortunately, the desk sharing, home office, tele-working etc. which many of our companies have put in place, have tried to kill the informal network, the gossip and the "corridor radio" as we used to call it. That in return has reduced the loyalty of many employees towards their enterprise. I dare to advocate the importance of rebuilding those networks and would like to suggest the web 2.0 tools give us a unique opportunity to do this. They will allow us to rebuild the strength of the enterprise.

Many CIO's today are afraid of the security risks many of those tools are posing. So, they cut out the IM message streams, make Skype illegal, and discourage the use of any tools such as linkedin, plaxo and others. I believe it is a fundamental mistake. Yes, we need to ensure the IT environment security, but we also need to implement the tools that maximize the productivity of the organization. Web 2.0 is definitely part of that. So, let's start the web revolution within the enterprise!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Understand the language

I am currently in Kuala Lumpur and this morning we had a conference call with a customer in China regarding a project they were asking our advise on. The discussion was held partly in English, partly in Cantonese. Frankly, my knowledge of Cantonese is zero, or even worse, which means I did not get anything of what was said in that language. Fortunately, I had with me in the room one of my friends who can understand the language reasonably well.

This sounded invaluable, as it allowed me to assess more or less the thinking and feeling of the customer. Not being able to see him, it is important for me to understand how what I am saying is actually coming over. In some cultures, and when you know the language, you can assess that from the tone used. Unfortunately, when things just sound as a series of sounds without any meaning to you, it is very difficult to assess things.

That's the reason why it is of the uttermost important, when holding such discussions, to have somebody with appropriate language (and culture) understanding to keep you on the right track. And it needs to be a person you can trust. Particularly with Asians, that are very good at not showing their emotions, having such an ally is critical for any serious negotiations. Here again, I can HPIM5074_edited-1only stress the importance of gaining a good understanding of what is in the mind of the person at the other side of the line. Keep that in mind when having discussions over long distances. Otherwise, you will be flying blind and may end-up in completely the wrong place. Remember this old Chinese proverb (actually this is how it was explained to me) "If you do not know where you are, no map will help"

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Telecommuting

A couple days ago I received a survey result from NFI Research on telecommuting. The majority of senior executives and managers(65%) spend 20 percent or less of their time telecommuting and/or working any place other than the office. Actually more than 40% spend 10% or less. Only 10% spend 50% or more.

Despite a strong believe that telecommuting and/or working remotely significantly increase (15%) or increase (33%) productivity, not more people are doing it. This got me thinking.

About one year ago, our office, (yes, I am still going there) moved and most of us migrated to hot desks or shared desks. The reaction was actually pretty negative. A personal desk is still a symbol in our part of the world, and taking it away was like being removed from the IMG_0088_edited-1community of people working in the office. Particularly for somebody like me, who travels a lot, and as a result works from everywhere, it's a strange feeling. I can't explain it, but feel less attached to the company than I used to be. This is scary for HR professionals, I'm sure.

Now, if you think rationally, when most of your colleagues work from other locations than yours, whether you are in the office, at home or on the road does not make a difference (except time zone obviously). So, why are we so attached to our desk? Good question, maybe you have an answer.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Multi-Media Collaboration, myth or reality?

IMG_0794 Today I was talking with one of my colleagues who did just hang up from a call with his boss. Wouldn't it be so much easier to see his face on my screen when I talk to hem, he pointed out to me. And indeed, he is probably right.

Including video in communications is something that is done daily today. Friends, who's son is currently living in Cairo with a small child, are seeing their grand daughter growing day after day through Skype. They love it as it really establishes a relationship between them. Why is that not used in the corporate world? It's actually a good question.

In our company, the video portion of NetMeeting is disabled to ensure we cannot use it. When asking around, two key arguments come up. The first is, not surprisingly, cost reduction. It seems such video feeds take quite some bandwidth and would clog the corporate network. The Internet isn't, so why would the corporate network be? And with all the fiber in the ground, capacity is cheaply available if required. The second argument is security. And here too, I have my question marks. Knowing that our phones are tapped, our SMS's followed etc. what is the security issue here? Is it really such an issue if somebody sees my face? Or is it the IT department that is not eager to have things done outside their control?

The fundamental question is really how much we could improve productivity through the use of more multi-media collaboration techniques? I would like to argue that the potential additional cost and risk of using such tools is easily offset by the benefits gained from higher productivity and improved communication.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Kill the Business Trip? ... Really

In yesterday's on-line issue, Forbes Magazine ran an article entitled "Kill the Business Trip", speaking about web-based conferencing technologies such as Polycom and Webex. I've had the privilege to use both on multiple occasions, and frankly, I am not sure what to think about them. Yes, they are a little more reliable than NetMeeting, but depending on the load on the Internet, the time of day, the amount of people in the conference, they can be very slow. As they are often used for presentations, I have ended up a number of times watching to one slide while the presenter (to whom I am linked via the telephone) is already talking about the next one.

IMG_0265 It's actually a good brain exercise, as it forces you to remember the key points to look at in the next slide, when that one appears. I am rarely using such web-based conferencing in cross continent activities as they are not reliable and often make you loose quite some time or irritate some of the attendees. I have a tendency to send the slides ahead of time and point out to the audience when I move from one to the other. That has actually given me much more satisfaction than the tools described above.

But to come back to the original question of the article, will such tools kill business trips? Well, I do not believe so. Yes they facilitate working together (when everything goes well), but do not replace personal contact in any way form or shape. So, my answer, as you probably realize, is a plain no.

Mots clés Technorati : ,,

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Actually meeting your virtual partner

Years ago, I started working with a team that was based in Bangalore and was given the name of a contact with whom I was supposed to arrange the use of Indian resources in EMEA projects. I will actually never forget my first call to him. First it took me quite some time to get through, and finally when I got him on the phone, I kept hearing horning and noise on the line. I had the impression he was sitting in the middle of the street, with cars buzzing all around him. And he must really be in a strange position as all those guys needed to horn to get around him. My imagination went wild

IMGP1341 It's only six months later, when I finally went to Bangalore, that I started to understand. The building in which we had our offices were not really air conditioned in those days, as it was quite difficult to ensure a consistent supply of electricity. So the team was used to open the windows, and those were facing a busy street (actually, are there any others in India?). I also understood the two fundamental rules of driving in India (The bigger the more priority & Horn any time you do something), and its implications on the environment of the team that quickly became friends.

This short story to illustrate the importance of never to assume things. Actually, imagination is not really a good thing when working with remote people as it may get you believing things that are far from reality. I learned about the importance to visit the people and understand in what environment they are operating. Now, if visits are impossible, photos and short videos can be used to show remote team members what the environment is and how the person on the phone looks like. Pragmatic approaches should be used for people to understand each-other environments and habits. That's what I learned then.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Our Staff meeting

HPIM4337 Every other week, we have our staff meeting, but being a highly distributed team, this happens over the phone. Occasionally we complement the call with the use of a "virtual meeting room" in which we can share documents and presentation material. As we know each other quite well, we actually achieve a lot of work during those calls. We update each other on what we have done and are doing, we agree on the way forward and come up to consensus. But this is only achieved because we have an operations manager who is very good at moderating the meeting.

Indeed, the issue of teleconferences is that people do not see each other. In the photo above, the drummers need to see the leader to follow the pace. This is actually a very good analogy. The moderator gives every person on the call a prompt when the person can talk. We go around the room several times during the call. If you do not do that, the most vocal ones (and we have a number) are the ones who take control, and the others do not get their say. Putting discipline in the meeting is mandatory to make it smooth and productive.

Now, let's be honest, we still have some control taking going on, occasionally. One of the people in the team has the tendency to use a hands-free phone, one of those with a mike and a speaker. Now, one thing to know, is that, in most of those phones, the speaker is disabled when the mike picks up sound. So, when he starts speaking, he cannot hear what the others are saying. So, he speaks, and the only thing the others can do is wait till he has finished. This is frustrating, and often results in the fact people are not listening. So, one of my key learning: never use a hands-free phone, our chances are you do not get your point across.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Virtual Conference Presentation

IMG_9586 Today, I do a first, at least for me. And this consists in presenting at a conference in Las Vegas from the comfort of my home office. I am a little afraid as I have no idea who is at the other end of the line and whether they can hear me well. I did send them my presentation ahead of time, so they will be able to follow and get plenty of animation to ensure they don't fall asleep. But I have no idea what it will be for them, not having the speaker standing in front of them and looking at them in the eyes. The advantage for me is that I don't need to dress up. They will not realize I don't wear a tie.

We have done a first series of sound checks, unfortunately we realized I could not hear the audience. Little problem. I felt blind and deaf. They just sent me an e-mail telling me they have fixed it, but the previous speaker is now on, so no way to test. At the half hour we will test again. let's cross the fingers, and hope for the best. I really don't line not being fully prepared and sure that the technology works. Should be used to it, working for a technology company. But this is one of the lessons I learned over time, always check the technology if you want to avoid surprises. From my side, I just silenced the home phone in my office to ensure that one does not ring while I am presenting. I also asked the children not to disturb me. The last thing I want is having them making hearable comments while I am presenting. So, now it is waiting time. We are supposed to be all set.... Oh, and one last thing. As I don't trust net meeting or any of those tools, they will advance the slides for me, avoiding potential Internet delays and other surprises. Don't want them to be three slides behind what I am telling them about.

Ok, the time arrived and I was nicely introduced to the audience. Things went well, I warmed up, as always, after the second slide and got things going pretty well. Unfortunately I could not hear any return from the conference room which was a little awkward. I started pacing up and down in my office as I would have done in front of the room. So, it sounded business as usual. Unfortunately about 20 minutes in the presentation, the line went down and I got the beep-beep-beep signal suddenly. Since I have not heard from them. So, I let you to judge... success or not success? But was an interesting experience anyway.

Introduction

My name is Christian, and I work since many years in an American multinational. For the last 15 years or so I have been doing European and now Global jobs. With those I have not only the opportunity to travel a lot, but also to work in geographically distributed teams. In that process, I learned a lot about collaboration and want to share some of that with all of you, my readers. That's the objective of this blog. Simply share experience on working in multi-national roles and collaboration around the globe.

HL104860 By the way, the photo on the left is NOT my home, don't worry about that, I live closer to an airport. However, one of my hobbies happens to be photography, and I always have a camera with me when I travel, so I hope you don't mind if I share some of those photos with you along the course of this blog.

The reason I choose this one, that was taken in Switzerland in March by the way, is that, when working remotely with others, we often feel living in the middle of nowhere. But we are still expected to be as productive as if we were in the middle of the office.

Over the years I have seen people being requested to use their home office, people being recruited as part of geographically distributed teams, people being expected to work with resources in lower cost countries etc. But how often have those people been given training to take on their new job, role or responsibility? I have never seen it, but have encountered frustration, misunderstanding, de-motivation and stress, due to the inability to coop with the changed environment. If through this blog we can reduce that, I would have reached my objective.

Tell me what you think and give us your comments and feedback. They are really welcome.

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