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 David is also pointing out the product is obsolete and not ported to Vista.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?