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?

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