Sunday, November 29, 2009

Culture and Collaboration, an explosive mix

Saying that Italians, French, German and Dutch people react differently is an understatement. We all have our stories of culture clashes. Our colleagues in different countries do not behave exactly like us. Although we probably share the same organizational culture, our cultural background makes us approach events and situations differently. This often make our colleagues blink, as they do not understand our reactions. Particularly in large global organizations, collaboration is hindered by these elements, without being taken care of.

When I started working with Indian colleagues, I quickly got completely confused. Not only did they shake their heads strangely, they also told me they would do something and did not do it. Actually, my statement is NOT correct. I should say I understood they were going to do something because they answered “yes” to my question. My assumption became my reality within the frame of my own cultural value system. Much later I understood, India had a different value system. As one of my Indian friends one day told me, “there are 40 ways to say yes in Hindi, there is no way to say no”. They had responded candidly to my question, with what in their eyes meant something like “yes, I hear what you say”. They were sincerely astonished when, one week later, I imageexpected a deliverable.

This example demonstrates the misunderstandings happening daily in large enterprises. The more globalization moves to the east, the more we encounter such issues. Employees are not prepared for such challenges. I found the image hereby, based on work performed by Huntington an interesting starting point, although I believe in differences between ethnic groups within the areas.

When working in an international environment it is impossible to understand all cultures we are confronted to, However, building cultural awareness is important to avoid clashes and misunderstanding in the first place. Cultural sensitive people will be less astonished about unusual responses and try to understand what is happening rather than reacting negatively. Achieving this is already great progress for collaboration as it allows the people to openly discuss their differences and explain why each  member behaves the way he/she does. Let me finish this note with a small example. When I started working globally, I received the name of a contact in Japan. I called him up, as a good European, telling him I wanted to ask him a couple questions. He responded “please send your questions in writing”. This drove me nuts. Who did he think he was? Was I not good enough to be allowed to talk to him? I actually was so angry I talked about it with my boss. He explained that the Japanese person was far from excellent in English. As he did not want to loose face by giving me a wrong answer, he asked me to send my questions in writing. This would allow him to use his translation tools to ensure he understood exactly what I needed and provided the best answer. This was a lesson I never forgot. Lets not look at the reaction from the other through our own lenses, but rather try to understand what the reaction actually mean. Much later, when I had build a relationship with him, I had the opportunity to discuss this “near incident” with him. We had a real good discussion, it helped us to understand each-other better and to become friends. If the reaction of one of your foreign colleagues drives you creasy, it may be time to try to understand rather than judge.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Compensation & Recognition

Many things can be said about how people behave, but recognition and compensation make many people do the right thing. So, the fundamental question is how we distill the right collaborative behaviors through the use of compensation and recognition. In the area of compensation, we obviously refer to variable financial compensation in one way form or shape. This is often called bonuses, and frankly these days that word does not have a very good press. Measuring people on collaboration, as referred to in the previous entry, and combine the achievement of appropriate goals with rewards help distill behaviors. However, there are a couple elements to keep in mind:

  • First the objective needs to be achievable and the person needs to have the feeling he/she can influence the objective
  • Second, the reward needs to be significant enough it gives the person the impression he/she is valued. Never forget that in many countries reward is taxed, resulting in the beneficiary absolutely not receiving what you pay.IMG_7887

Most people are in great need of recognition. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once people have addressed their physiological and safety needs, they are looking for a belonging and esteem. Recognition helps them feel part of a group and being respected. In today’s environment where most people in business have their physiological and safety needs covered, belonging to a group, being respected and growing their self-esteem covers their needs, and prepares them to unleash their creativity, their problem solving capabilities and all those other elements that maximizes their value for the business.

Recognizing somebody is often easy. But I am so astonished it is regularly overlooked by managers. Saying to somebody “Job well done”, pointing out the value he/she added, congratulating her/him in front of people should be a natural to management. It is a major aspect of leadership, one that helps getting the best out of people and increases their loyalty to the company and to management.

Compensation complements this as it is a more tangible way to recognize. It complements recognition, and should, in my mind, be kept for great achievements. It should not become a given. In my mind, the current bonus discussion demonstrates that compensation needs to be managed very carefully, or things are getting out of hand. The team and collaboration aspects should always be included. I remember my frustration when selling projects that the sales person received a lot of recognition and a big bonus, while myself, the project manager, and my team, who really had established the credibility in front of the customer, barely received a thank you.  That does not foster collaboration.

So, in a nutshell my rules are simple, recognize and say thank you, reward when truly remarkable, but always look at the core team as one, not a bunch of competing individuals.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Collaboration and Measurement, the best enemies

We started this journey on collaboration in large enterprises discussing how organizational structures can stand in the way as far as collaboration is concerned. Today I would like to focus on a second aspect and this is measurement. To make it simple and to quote Dave Packard, a great west coast entrepreneur, “Tell me how you are measured and I will tell you how you behave”. And he is so right.

Indeed, people are willing to work together, naturally they have a helpful attitude. But in the end, the “what’s in it for me” question comes up. And frankly, if the measurement do not line up, bad luck. When times are good and the measures easy to achieve, there is not too much of an issue, but in the current environment, where the recession (officially ended though) is making achieving numbers difficult, it often is lonely out there.

IMG_7471 I have seen companies giving sales people numbers by product lines, resulting in those numbers being achieved at the detriment of what is right for the customer. In particular, when the business units are strong, when they are the profit centers, developing an integrated approach to customers may be difficult. Top management should spend valuable time engineering a simple, but at the same time compelling measurement system to ensure they achieve the behaviors they want their company to portray. And it is that behavior that will foster collaboration.

Calculating bonuses on the success of the company (e.g. achieving objectives, profitability) may be seen as a way to foster this integrated approach, but it is important to think about how the individual contributor can influence the numbers he is measured on. If he is one of 300.000 employees to take a number, can he really influence the objective he is given? And so, will he act to improve this measure?

For sales people in particular, it is key to balance the measures that are part of the variable pay and the ones that provide bonuses. variable pay ones have the tendency to be the first ones to focus on, while the bonus ones are nice to have.

In a nutshell, developing a measurement framework fostering collaboration is feasible. However it requires a good dose of sound judgment and engineering at top management level, which ids often unfortunately forgotten.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Organizational structures often hinder collaboration

Large enterprises often have complex organizational structures based around business units and product lines. Customers on the other hand are looking at them as one organization and are astonished of the difficulty they have to collaborate amongst business units. The first of the 5 key elements I highlighted in my previous post is the organizational structure. The revenue generating entities are typically supported by shared service centers such as finance, human resources, marketing, IT and others. Each BU (business unit) has its own budget and is supposed to manage its own environment.

Many companies use an allocator key to spread the costs of the shared services over the business units. And here starts the debate. What key is used? For example, HR costs are often shared by headcount and this makes sense. But in my company, IT costs also got allocated by headcount, arguing that the more people were working in a department, the higher the IT costs. This worked well till some BU’s started to outsource production, using important IT resources to track operations with partners. They increased IT, but their headcount reduced, resulting in lower allocations. This obviously does not improve collaboration between the BU’s as some feel they end-up paying for others.

IMG_5353Shared services are required to ensure consistent operations across the organization at the lowest cost, but ensuring a fair mechanism is used to ventilate the costs of these services across the whole organization is critical to foster collaboration not just between a shared service and a BU, but also between BU’s. In our organization , we have moved away from allocations all together. We rather request BU’s to deliver a given “contribution margin”. The BU now has under its responsibility the management of the costs it controls, while corporate manages all shared services costs and funds those from the accumulated contribution margins. It eliminates the allocation debate, but replaces it with a debate about why one division’s contribution margin should be higher than another.

Another area of friction between BU’s is related to the place of the sales force. As pointed out earlier, customers expect sales teams to represent the whole company. So, should the sales force be a shared service, or should there be sales teams in each BU? Frankly, there is no right answer here. If a central sales force is used, debates about the cost of that sales force and the lack of representation of a particular BU in front of the customer, will be at the center of the debate. On the other hand, if each BU has its own sales force, the representation of the integrated portfolio of the company is lacking. If you are an IT company for example, despite the fact the customer wants his business problem to be resolved, it is difficult to explain the hardware BU the customer is not interested in blade servers for example. He will buy them if the sales person can demonstrate they resolve his problem. They are a consequence, not a selling argument. But frankly, this is heresy for hardware BU people.

There are many other examples where the organizational structure hinders collaboration. This is actually a never ending story and continuous adaption is required to address this. Strong leadership at the top will guide the organization through this. But we will come back to that element in a later post. Have you had experiences like the ones described hear? Share them, we can all learn from it.

Monday, August 31, 2009

5 key elements to promote collaboration

I couple weeks ago, I wrote an entry on this blog titled “Promote Collaboration in large Enterprises” where I pointed out I had been requested to present on the subject. I have progressed my thinking since and found 5 key areas playing an important role in building such collaboration. I’d like to spend the next entries to discuss each of those in a little more details, and do hope this can spur a conversation between us on the subject.

But before doing so, let me highlight which those 5 areas are so you have a structure of what I intend to blog about over the next weeks. Once the presentation has taken place, I also intend to give you some feedback on the discussion. So, what areas did I come up:Brule parfum

  • Organization & Finance. Large companies are build around business units or product lines. Does the enterprise architecture, in other words, its organization foster collaboration? How are the budgets set-up and does this push them to competition or collaboration? Where are profits and revenues recognized?
  • Measurement. This is the second leg. How are business units or product lines measured? Are those measurements inclusive of collaboration, or exclusive? Are they pushing entities to collaborate or to compete?
  • Compensation & Recognition. Business Units or Product Lines work through people. How are those compensated and recognized for their success in collaborating with other BU’s?
  • Culture & Leadership. Is collaboration core and center to the culture of the company, or is it a nice to have? How does top management behave? How often is the collaboration subject addressed by management, are they leading by example?
  • Tools & Techniques. Tools support collaboration and make it easier for people to work together. Using specific techniques and approaches, collaboration can be made easier. However, it is a myth that tools & techniques on their own push companies to collaborate.

Actually what I discovered is that none of these 5 key elements can foster collaboration on their own. All 5 are required for collaboration to work across business units. Common vision and objectives need to be established and buy-in by the organization as a whole is required. Collaboration is not something that is established once and for all. A continuous reinforcement and effort is required for it to work within a large enterprise. When the economy works well, it’s easier than when times are hard. This might be a reason why the subject is popping up today. So, stay with me. We’ll look at this in more details.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Cloud Platform for Data Collaboration?

Hewlett-Packard today announced the availability of a Cloud Computing Platform for the Manufacturing Industry on the back of its product recall partnership with GS1. The product recall approach consists in a cloud based service providing access to product track and trace information across the supply chain and is primarily focused at the FMCG and Retail industry. It allows them to collaborate and exchange data across the ecosystem while not having to invest in a private environment to do so. The real interesting part is that, working with GS1, HP immediately secures a consistent identification of the products, as this is precisely what GS1 stands for. Otherwise one could say this has already been done, but not in the cloud neither with GS1.

IMG_6510The benefit for companies is that the service allows a faster and more effective way to identify the products that have to be recalled, resulting in both a cost and a risk (liability) reduction. The service is available on a subscription basis.

Now, could this be a first example of how companies could collaborate in the future? Rebecca Lawson seems to hint that way. I also found a blog entry on the HP site labeled “A Cloud ecosystem for inter-enterprise visibility” that hint into the same direction. What additional services could be delivered, well Mick Keyes hints at counterfeiting efforts and hazardous materials as other areas.

If I understand correctly and the platform consists in a development and runtime environment that provides data, analytics, management and security services, then I can see many opportunities. In a couple earlier blogs I spoke about the need to exchange structured data across companies. This might be the backbone that would allow us to do just that. Let’s dream for a moment and assume we have available a service allowing us to share information across our supply chain without requiring upfront investments, just “pay-as-you-go”. This would allow us to more easily motivate our partners to participate and experience for themselves the advantages of sharing. It would demonstrate how sharing allows to reduce inventory, to optimize capacities etc.

To date it may just be a dream, but definitely worth monitoring how HP will evolve this platform.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Promote Collaboration in large Enterprises

After a good break where I had the opportunity to discover other cultures, I’ll come back to that, I found an interesting challenge at my return in the office. One of my clients want me to present on how to promote collaboration in a large enterprise that has grown through acquisitions. I point this out as each of the business units has its own culture, making things a little more interesting.

Many large companies are actually confronted with this problem and although many have tried most have failed of really getting things going. The first issue is that each business unit is ultimately measured on its results. When things get though, as in the current environment, business units have a tendency to focus on their own objectives, ignoring anything else. And one can argue that, ultimately, collaboration will give them more benefits than working in isolation, it does not matter, they focus on their own objectives. Dave Packard used to say “Tell me how you are measured and I will tell you how you behave”. He is absolutely right in this. It’s all about measurement and the associated incentives. So, you could say, lets change the measurement and reward everybody on the company successes. Yes, that would work, but would dilute responsibilities. Who is responsible to maximize the revenues from each of the business units.

IMG_5224 Developing the incentives to ensure maximal revenues for each business unit while maximizing collaboration, taking advantage of the “power of the portfolio”, is really an art. It consists in establishing measures and rewards that include both aspects. The use of balanced scorecards may help in this process. But there is another element to take into account. It is not enough to incent teams to work with each other, its also important to ensure they know of each-other and can easily find the appropriate resources to collaborate with. Particularly in large enterprises grown through acquisitions, this is absolutely not trivial. One approach I have seen in companies is the use of a “buddy program” where employees from different business units help each other understand the workings and culture of the other unit. It works effectively to integrate an acquisition for example and it helps harmonizing the cultures.

A more intriguing approach to finding the right resource in a large organization I have seen lately is a program from HPLabs, called WaterCooler. WaterCooler is a social networking tool focused at helping employees find the right resources (information and people) to address a particular problem. It aggregates shared internal social media and cross-references it with an organization’s directory.

As I progress with the preparation of my presentation, I’ll share some more thoughts with you. Feel free to share yours with me. We may be able to find the approach that helps companies to break down the Chinese wall they have between their BU’s.

Monday, July 6, 2009

New means of Communication

Last November I looked with disbelieve at CNN realizing they were relying on blogs to comment the situation in Mumbai. The real up-to date information was coming from bloggers that combined data gathering in their neighborhood with reporting. It allowed the world to follow. Combined with the iPhoto mechanism put in place several months ago, it transformed the way TV’s are reporting events.

But the Mumbai situation was only one step in the change, the Iranian elections and follow-up events have taken this a whole new direction. Twitter has become the center of the battle, and I have been fascinated seeing the events unfolding right from my TweetDeck screen. Courageous people have and are still keeping the world aware of what happens. Several of them seem to have disappeared in prison or even worse. But at the same time we have started seeing the limits of this real time reporting. Israelis, posting themselves as Iranians, have started trying to destabilize Iran through false information.  Fortunately, the Twitter community has quickly reacted and pointed at their feeds as being hoax. They are probably not P1000176the only ones conveying wrong information and as such putting people’s life in danger. But that’s probably the least of their problems.

Now, if we bring this to a business community, we will, albeit at a different level, have similar phenomena. We can learn from what happened and put a couple elements in place:

  • First, clearly establish rules of engagements between the members of the community. In the context of Iran, this was obviously not practical, but in a business community it is.
  • Second, motivate reporting of unacceptable behavior
  • Third, warn and then exclude the participants that do not follow the rules of engagements and make this visible

In doing so, one establishes a certain discipline between the members of the community and ensures they are followed. All members quickly understand the implications of not following the rules. Occasionally refreshing those and reminding members helps keep a community functioning well. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Collaboration, how far to go?

I have spent the last couple days in a workshop around the connected car. We have discussed how the car could be connected to the outside world in the easiest and most appealing way, and what should be done with that connection. What was really interesting is that a number of social network ideas were introduced by the attendees. This got my attention. Social networking being a form of collaboration, what could we do in the car.

Obviously we all do teleconferences from our cars, driving down the motorway, using handsfree obviously. There is a whole debate out there if the driver has the same level of attention to the road while listening/contributing to a telecon. But obviously, this was not what the workshop had in mind. Two main patterns appeared during the discussion. One related to the fact of driving itself, the other to the business interactions associated by driving.

Let me give you some ideas of both, and lets start with the driving itself. The driver is obviously not alone on the road, and anonymously may want to collaborate with other drivers, telling them about the driving conditions on his stretch of the road. Another intreaguing idea was that, if the driver entered the location and timing of his/her next meeting, the car, collaborating with external programs and information (in the cloud), could guide the driver on how to go to the location in the most fuel efficient way. Here we are no longer just speaking about people collaborating with people, but about interactions between people and programs to optimize the trafic and the use of fuel.

The second aspect, the business interactions, got started when somebody pointed out the driver may not be the only person in the car, and even if he/she was, he/she could be stuck in a trafic jam and may want to take advantage of this idle time to warn the contact, prepare the meeting etc. Another collaboration example that was identified was to have drivers and passengers updating a wiki about the locations they cross during the trip, so that others could learn more, discover new curiosities etc. A third example would be if the driver would have access to the location of other "friend", finding out how close they are etc.

So, all in all, it coudl be quite fascinating if we could find applications that make sense while ensuring the security of the driver. All in all, this will require a convergence of car intelligence and the internet, in particular the social networking side. Fascinating.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Vision for an Integrated Collaboration Environment

Developing the global community I talked about in my previous entry, turns out to be a little more challenge than originally expected. This has nothing to do with the community itself, but with how the developers are working together. Indeed, we are developing this with people from different companies, sitting on both sides of the ocean. So, you would think we just need a little collaboration space and everything would be resolved, isn’t it. Well wrong, first the traditional file sharing tools do not allow to share some types of files (eg. java scripts generated by our PowerPoint to Flash conversion tool), do not allow us to make documents publically available (e.g. Google Docs and PDF documents), and I could go on like this.

As the world becomes global, increasingly companies and people need to collaborate virtually. Unfortunately the tool providers (Google, Microsoft, Yahoo) are looking myopically in silos, addressing collaboration aspects in isolation. What we really need is for a company to take the problem from a different angle, HPIM5785 starting by asking itself what is required to collaborate and then develop the integrated environment to just do that. So, let’s think a minute, what do we need to collaborate?

  • Well, first we need to share documents either with a know community, with a larger group who’s names and e-mails we do not all have, or be made publically available. These documents may just be looked at, may be downloaded, may be commented upon (with notes or voice) or may be edited by particular members of the community. Obviously we would want to keep track of any activity around the documents.
  • Second, we may have to interact, either asynchronously or synchronously, using text, sound or video, or any combination of those. Interactions may be private (between two people) or with a group. During those interactions, documents may have to be referred to and shared. Data may be made available also.
  • Third, we may have to work together at a common task, in that process we may share real-time information, documents, and we may use a common application that can be on one of our systems or in the cloud. Here again this can happen between two people or with a larger group.

A number of supporting functions should be available. These include a group calendar (that links with the calendars of the members to identify availability etc.), action item lists, a parking lot, participant information, version control, etc.

Most of what I describe here is available in one form or another on the internet, but there is  no consistency, no easy way to cobble it all together, and even if we managed, we would spend our life login on to different systems. Why is nobody looking at the collaboration needs of globally dispersed people and addressing their needs, rather than continuously coming up with incompatible tools.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Building a global Community

With a colleague we have embarked on what turns out to be a real interesting experiment. We are building a virtual community focused at a specific group of people with responsibilities. The objective is for them to be able to continue their discussions, idea generation and thought leadership exchange although they can no longer meet in  conferences, during exchanges etc.

To do this we have started by identifying what they were looking for and identified a number of specific subjects. We are now hunting for thought provoking content in those areas and are looking at experts that might be willing to trigger discussions. We believe this to be of key importance to initiate the debate and to attract the users back to the site. The objective is to release content on a regular basis. Content consists of short  sessions, up to 20-25 minutes IMG_0219_edited-1each, that can be viewed when-ever time is available. We keep the sessions short because we believe it is difficult to attract the attention of the user for longer periods of time. If the subject requires more time, we suggest the contributors subdivide the presentation in multiple parts.

Associated with the thought leadership subjects we have dialogue areas where the users can discuss the subject, respond to each others comments and initiate an open debate in the community. If they wish a more private discussion they can contact each other as the contact details of the members are known by the others. Over time we may develop sub communities, but that will not be part of version 1.0

We are also planning an open forum, where any question can be raised. This will, amongst others, serve as a source for new subjects as we expect members to ask questions about what keeps them awake at night.

A library offers background documents, links to blogs, articles, RSS feeds etc. This is really the information base the members can rely on.

We are in the early stages, ready to launch. The feedback we received from people to whom we showed the prototype are very positive. So, let’s hope it works. It is something new we are trying. All suggestions are welcome.

Friday, April 17, 2009

On-demand Presentations

Working with teams all over the world and being used to share my presentations for them to use, I am often confronted with the request to share with them what I say during the presentation. It is difficult to get everybody on the phone at the same time and walk them through the material. Also, they end up using things at different moments in time and may have forgotten what we discussed when I walked them through the material. So, finding a good tool to record voice and synchronize with PowerPoint slides has been one of my objectives for quite a while. I do know you can record narration with PowerPoint, but if you want to listen to it, you need to download the whole file. So a “streaming” approach was what I was looking for. HPIM5617

Over the years I have been experimenting with many tools. Some only worked with a Microsoft Streaming Server, which I did not have access too, others took a long time to download prior to start, others did not support features of PowerPoint 2007, others did not synchronize well, or left long blank periods in between two slides, others made extremely large files etc. Some seemed to do everything I needed, but cost several hundreds of US$, and the trial version did not really allow a thorough test.

May quest may have reached an end, as I found a small plug-in for PowerPoint 2007, called ISpring. At this point in time, I only tried the free software component and frankly, it seems to work like a dream. It converts PowerPoint into Flash, and my 16 minute trial presentation takes about 11.4MB. The production is extremely simple. Using PowerPoint narration, the audio is recorded and the timing of the slides is set. Once that is performed, a plug-in module, labeled iSpringConverter, allows the production of the flash files. Three files are created, one of which is an html file to link to for playback. As I mentioned it is extremely simple and works well. And on top of that it is free. The only drawback is that the iSpring logo appears in the control menu. To get rid of that, the Pro version, currently at 199 US$, is available.  It’s simple and it works.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No Travel, Collaboration & Performance

We're all being told to stop traveling. However, in our international or global roles, we are all supposed to continue collaboration within the enterprise and across the eco-system. obviously, our performance is supposed to be at least as good as what it used to be, however we are not been given any tools or hints on how to do this virtually. Isn't that strange?

I had the opportunity to meet a number of industry analysts last week and asked them the question if they saw research in that space. And frankly, with a very small number of exception, the overwhelming response was NO. I believe there is a great opportunity here to innovate and contribute to the companies need to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions, while motivating employees and improve efficiency.

The answer in my mind is not ONE tool, as the collaboration needs are from a variety of types. Collabortion Model In the attached drawing I tried to illustrate my idea. Let me walk you through this by taking a couple examples from a supply chain.

  • If you work collaboratively with a supplier and he sees that one of the trucks will arrive late, he can easily make you aware of this through the use of an instant messaging software. A couple of interactions are enough to point out what the issue is, how much delay it will cause and how certain you can be of the new timing. This interactive conversation will obviously be complemented by data that is automatically transferred between partners (e.g. Shipment Notification), and business processes that are executed (e.g. Call-Off process).
  • If, when receiving the new revision of the forecast, the supplier realizes he is unable to deliver, but has another proposal on how things could be done, he may want to have a more personal interaction with the planner. He can call him up, using regular lines or VoIP, eventually complemented with PC based video, to discuss the situation, his proposal and come up with an agreement on how to move forward. This interaction is obviously followed up by a transfer of data and the execution of a forecast revision process, and its acceptance.
  • If the customer is planning to introduce a brand new product, that implies a different approach in the supply chain, he will probably not want to discuss this over the phone or instant messaging. He will probably be interested in looking at his supplier eye to eye. Video conferencing, and telepresence are ways to achieve this. The interaction is different as it needs a different way to view and understand the attitude of the other.
  • If the customer wants ideas being generated by his own or suppliers employees, he will probably use another mechanism. Today a number of "innovation storm" techniques exist. But here again, they address a specific purpose.

These are just examples, but they illustrate the variety of technologies that are required and the different skills that are required to interact with each other. It used to be so simple just to drive or fly to a common location, discuss things face to face and end in the bar,.... where a lot of issues were washed away with a couple pints. Haven't found any techniques to address that one unfortunately.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Web 2.0 and the Enterprise

Late last week, I received a message pointing out social networking had no place in the enterprise. Indeed said the message, Facebook, Twitter and the others do not add any value to the enterprise. Well I choose to respectfully disagree with that comment. Indeed, enterprises should increasingly look at the Web 2.0 space and how it can help them in running their business. There are two main reasons for this:

  • First, a new generation of employees are entering the workforce. They are called the Y generation, and have grown up using SMS, Instant Messaging and others. They are all over Facebook, share photo’s in Flickr, video’s in Youtube etc. For them, e-mail is a dinosaur. Whether we like it or not, they are integrating their experience in their business communication in the same way they do privately. If you are interested, a very good case study in the February issue of  Harvard Business Review describes the phenomena
  • But there is a more immediate need. In many global companies, travel is severely restricted. But the business needs to go on, and the need for collaboration is not diminishing. Actually, I would argue that the increase in volatility in the current markets only increases that need. Companies have to find new approaches and tools to collaborate virtually.

Web 2.0 in the Enterprise

As pointed out by Dion Hinchcliffe in his blog  entry “Using Web 2.0 to reinvent your business for the economy downturn”, the deeper implication of web 2.0 for the enterprise are often overlooked. The drawing on the left comes from an older entry, but is still very relevant. Listening back to a definition of Web 2.0 given by Tim O’Reilly, I really like the concept of “the user adds value”. Indeed, where in traditional environments you have the producer and the consumer, web 2.0 gives everybody the possibility to contribute. And is that not what we want from a collaboration perspective. To my knowledge, very little research has been done around collaboration tools and what approach to take for what type of business process. Companies need to collaborate all the time, being it for forecasting, sales & order planning, product design or any other critical process.

This brings us back to generation Y. We should take advantage of their arrival to train the organization in the use of such tools to improve collaboration and productivity. If we don’t do that, chances are that they will continue using their favorite tools and expose company information on the internet. I was talking to a client the other day and he pointed out to me he had spent the morning in their local office. He had seen one of their young engineers typing frantically into IM. He was ready to go to him and point out that private conversations did not have their place in the office, but fortunately asked his employee why he was using the tool. As it turned out he was reviewing a beta version of a new software that was being developed by the central IT team in Eastern Europe, and sharing in real time his remarks with the developer who happened to also be an IM fan. My client told me he was happy he had asked first, before beating him up. Now, this scenario is a nightmare for many CIO’s as security cannot be guaranteed. Unfortunately, they do not provide any other means to achieve the same results. Web 2.0 is a tremendous way to harvest the knowledge of the enterprise, increasing productivity and streamline approaches. It is completely under-used, but could be of such a great help in the current downturn. So, what are we waiting for?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Where did good old voicemail disappear?

Back in the nineties, I used to have in my company a real interesting system that we called voice mail.  When I got to the office, in my car, I called up a special number.  I got a nice message telling me how many messages I had received and asking me whether I wanted to start listening to the first one.  While driving I pressed the little button and started listening.  I had one of my colleagues shortly explaining me an issue in asking me what to do about it.  I could IMG_2985then respond by choosing another number, or if I did not know the response, forward it to somebody else with my own comments.  I could then delete the message and move to the next one.  I could send a message to somebody as long as I knew his ID number, or send a message to distribution lists.  As you can put a lot of emotions in spoken words be able to address a whole team was actually very powerful. It actually had nothing to do with the mailbox we now have with our mobile phones.

The way we used to work was actually simple.  We used e-mail for all the background information.  All documents, notes, presentations a.s.o.  were sent to e-mail, while short questions and points needing fast response were going through voice mail.  Actually in voice mail we could even send something normal or urgent, allowing us to differentiate between the things that came at the top of the list and the others.

When we merged with another company that system was obsolited and e-mail became our only and single communication mechanism.  Now we've flogged by hundreds of emails a day and have no way to make a difference between the important things and the details.  Many people speak about voice over IP, and unified communication, but I have seen very little companies implementing anything like that.  I truly believe that 10 years ago are mechanisms to collaborate where better than the ones we have today.  It looks like some time in history we need to take a couple steps backwards before taking the next leap forward.  We used to have voice mail, what's the next thing now?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Teleportation for Collaboration?

Many of you may remember the Star Trek Transporter beaming the crew from the USS Enterprise to remote locations. Obviously, this is film, you will tell me. What does it have to do with collaboration and the subject of this blog.

Well, maybe more than you think. On November 4th during the US election night, CNN used hologram technology to beam their remote reporters straight into the study. To do this, they used equipment developed by Hollywood. The remote reporter was surrounded by 35 cameras that shot him/her from all sides. Didn't sound very practical to me yet.

Last night, I was in London and switched on TV. On CNN, Richard Quest met with a British entrepreneur who was located at the other end of town. Seeing both of them on screen I really had the impression they were in the same room and it took me a while to realize what was happening. They were, here again, using holograms to beam the image of one of them to the place of the other. They even managed to take a group picture and virtually shake hand.

The images were beamed across town using fiber optics told the entrepreneur. And he then added that he expected this to be available for sale within 6 months from now. When asked whether there was a market for this, he felt that CEO's would be interested in having such a room near their office to be able to give a keynote speech somewhere in the world while loosing a minimum of time.

Now Richard himself pointed out it is not as good for true collaboration because when you are on stage you do not see the hologram, but rather a screen view. To have the full effect, you need to be in front of the image, looking at the stage.

Interested in looking at how it appears, take five minutes to look at the video.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Cloud computing and collaboration

Cloud computing is definitely one of those buzzwords that is currently found all over the Internet and the concept has nearly as many definitions as there are people to write about it.  So at the beginning of this post, let me explain what I understand by the concept. I recognize two different concepts behind the term cloud computing.  First, it consists in a number of IT resources that are made available in near real time over the Internet.  These resources can be compute cycles or storage space or combination of those.  Second, a set of services are made available over the Internet and can be orchestrated together by the user to perform a particular functionality.  Software as a service, often referred to as SAAS, is one instance of such services.  However where things really get interesting, is when services on the Internet can be integrated with proprietary services running within the enterprise IT infrastructure.  The twoIMG_3796 categories described in my mind represent cloud computing. The first category has appeared  a couple years ago and is being proposed by companies like Amazon and others.  What is really interesting from a collaboration perspective is when we will see the second one appearing.  Today there is not really a valuable collaboration offer.

What I am looking for is an environment that allows companies to quickly create business processes using available services, that low them to do the key collaboration activities they require. These go from planning & forecast collaboration, to inventory collaboration, status information sharing, sales & order planning (S&OP), master data management and the management of orders and invoices. What I envisage may happen is that cloud computing is first used to do things that are not done today. This could be hazardous material reporting, CO2 emission reporting or tracking of counterfeiting. What is important in each of those is for companies to make available proprietary information in return of obtaining a grander picture. However, they would like to keep that proprietary information as much as possible under their own control. Cloud computing and its capability to approach distributed data as if it was an integrated database, is ideal for such type of reporting. But we need standards, and standardized ways to approach the data.

If I am looking at Amazon ACS tools, they are proprietary and incompatible with other environments. As such they do not allow applications to address multiple environments in a seamless and transparent way. It’s what limits the current generation of cloud environments. A lot has still to happen for truly integrated and collaborative environments. But its worth looking at what will be needed as this is the only way we will get people looking at how to address our needs.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Where there is a Will, there is a Way

Today I’d like to share an experience which is a little different from the ones I shared up till now on this blog. Indeed, over the Christmas period there was a large religious event in Brussels. It was the international pilgrimage of Taizé, stopping for the year-end in Brussels. 40000 young people from all over Europe and from a variety of Christian religions converged to Brussels for a three day event consisting in prayers, workshops, meetings and being together.  We got involved through our parish as they were looking for households to provide space for the people to sleep. Speaking English, I was asked by my neighbors to serve as a translator, and having some space at home, we welcomed a couple polish people. She spoke some English and he a little German. But we got along quite well.

Taizé 2009 In pour parish, we welcomed 20 Italians, 20 Serbs (some of which actually turned out to be Slovaks) and 20 Polish people, a couple of which actually came from Ukraine and a couple other countries. A nice melting pot of languages, cultures, religious and historical differences. Reviewing those couple days, it was actually a great success, despite the difficulties in communication. People were constantly speaking in 3 or 4 different languages, with translation from Serb to Slovak to Polish for example.

Experiencing this, I was thinking back on a number of those international meetings I assisted over the years, where professional translators need to be hired, or where people expect you to speak to them in their language or will refuse to listen to you. What was the difference. here we had people from all over Europe coming with the intention to live something together. Silence, songs (and I believe, despite my awful track record in singing, I must have sang in 8 or 10 different languages over those days), and eagerness to learn to know and understand others better made the difference. And, as somebody told me, if the words could not be understood, gestures and drawings did the rest.

I believe we can learn something important from such an event. Where there is a will, there is a way. Indeed, its by being open and eager to understand the other, his/her standpoint that communication can truly take place. But how often are we blocked by feeling we are the customer and the other should adapt to us. How often are we in a one-way street. That’s our problem. So, lets take a lesson from those 40000 youngsters who are the Europe of tomorrow.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Are IT departments pushing collaboration in the cloud

I was intrigued earlier in the week by a comment made by one of my friends who is doing a lot of work in the collaboration and knowledge management area. HPIM5525He told me about the difficulties he had with the IT department and the lack of support he got for the collaboration tools we use. He made the comment “its like if they want to push us to the cloud”. That actually got me thinking. Indeed, IT departments don’t look at collaboration and knowledge management environments as being critical applications, and in times where budgets are down, where resources are reducing, the first things for which support is reduced are these. Does this actually make sense in a business environment where companies are globalizing, travel budgets are reduced and collaboration increasingly becomes important.

As the number of “Generation Y” workers (born between 1975-1995) surpasses the baby boomers, the social networking literacy increases drastically. With the IT departments not providing the appropriate support systems, the tendency is to use the social networking tools instead. Unfortunately in the current circumstances this exposes enterprises to three key issues:

  • First, the level of security of most of the on-line collaboration platforms, at least the free ones (the ones most people turn to), have not been audited. This potentially exposes company confidential information to the world and may result in competitors getting hold of key information early
  • What happens in the cloud is completely outside the company's control and makes Sarbane-Oxley and Basel 2 compliance difficult to prove
  • Third, this now puts key company information in the hands of a third party that might be subpoenaed to release the information to court without the agreement of the owner in case of a court case. Legal departments see this as a nightmare scenario.

In a cover story, titled “Innovation meets Collaboration”, AT&T describes some of the issues related with internet based collaboration, pointing out though that the gap between the companies that take advantage of the internet and the ones who don’t is widening.

As IT budgets reduce and employees look outside the company for tools to collaborate, it is mandatory that a clear approach is taken and that all implications, including security and legal ones, are reviewed prior a decision is made. Many employees today are not aware of the implications and threats caused by moving documents and confidential information to the internet. I do not advocate the status quo, but rather to approach the problem with eyes wide open. Moving forward, companies will have unhappy surprises, just make sure it is not yours.