Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Business Survival needs good IT People

What a ridiculous proposition. How could embracing web 2.0 and having a good IT strategy be important for business survival in a recession/depression? Or even anywhere near the top of the list. This sounds like spending money.

Well, yes it is spending money, just like wages. One lesson that is common from all our previous experiences is that strategic shortcomings are punished hard in downturns. When we learn lessons from the Great Depression we have to make sure we adjust for a world that really is different (telephones, TV, internet, for example). How could IT and Web 2.0 be important though, for a washing machine manufacturer for example? How can a web site and good IT affect their sales? Surely only Geek-based businesses have to worry.

Our washing machine broke down two days ago and we rang our trusted repair technician. He won't repair that brand any more. I asked him why not? Reply "their website is crap". In what way? "well, to give you an example, of the last 7 orders we put through it for spare parts, 5 were wrong. It wastes our time, which costs us money, and the customers get annoyed because of the delays and blame us, so we don't touch them anymore". His recommended brand? - Bosch or Miele. Our replacement brand - not the one we have now, even though I was happy with it. Sure it can be fixed by the outfit in town that doesn't care what they fix, but the point is that they don't care. People that don't care usually cost a lot more in the end. I'm not going to drill down to the cause - it's probably a poorly implemented parts catalogue. What I am interested in is that I am lost as a customer through a poor website, and the Company won't even know it has happened. It's not the customer-facing part of the site - it is the maintenance person part. There is no obvious way to measure the loss of my custom, nor how many others are lost as well.

What has fundamentally changed is the way customers interact with businesses and each other. There's good news in this because transforming technology gives us future growth. There's bad news in this because managing by, and measuring the wrong things will kill a business stone dead. The toxic effects of bad measurement have been discussed before. It's affecting the new crop of IT people - the very people that will save their organisations - but the organisations don't even know it.

Business (including Government) is still slow to recognise the importance of web 2.0 to future survival, and to identify their own people that can help them. I recently responded to a Twitter stream from a 'thought leader' - an influential networker, who needed to explain what he does in 'value adding' to his own IT management.

Yeah, how can IT or even HR (who should be making the call on productivity) measure the efficiency and quality of work I perform ..
.. that I've leveraged through my professional social networks such as Twitter, LinkedIn etc?

YOU are 'peer reviewed' as worth following on a daily basis by 573 people (twitter followers) - the peer review bit is key
HR does not measure quality. So give them stats. Training.gov.au has nn unique hits and 17 committed (daily) followers from zero [in just a few days]

So why aren't we asking these questions? These are the very people that will lead our organisations to better efficency and effectiveness. At the very least they will see us through to survival. What do you know of your people -
  • who blogs,
  • how are their blogs rated by peers,
  • who Twitters,
  • how many followers do they have,
  • how many retweets,
  • who is monitoring the twitterspace for mentions of your organisation, service or product?

Right now is the time to update your business and IT strategies for what will be the toughest year we will have ever faced in our working lifetime. Are you ready? Are you measuring the behaviours you need to have a future?

Friday, November 14, 2008

More Management lessons from Obama Campaign.

Well, in my earlier post (8 factors for Web 2.0 Business Success) I said the Obama victory would have an impact on how management theories for Enterprise 2.0 and business agility would be applied. Huffington Posts' Daniel Debow believes that the clear results from the new way of doing business and the ongoing communication with the Obama base will convince business to move and adopt faster. Success is a real convincer.

Daniel Debow: How Fast is Bottom-Up Coming Up? What Does Obama's Internet-Powered Election Mean for How Business is Managed?
This week, I attended Don Tapscott's book launch for Grown Up Digital. Don's latest is a follow-up to his two prior best-sellers, Wikinomics and Growing Up Digital.

Don didn't disappoint. He outlined two key trends that are changing the way businesses are organized: Internet-based, bottom-up collaboration; and demographics. Don focused on the Net Generation's entry into the workforce and their use of the Internet as a communication and self-organization platform.

I loved the talk, but wondered: "How long will it take for traditional business people to really start changing their organizational structures, social norms, and expectations to account for the reality of the Net Gen?" Will this change occur over the next 12-24 months? Will it take a few years? Or will it take a decade or longer? Will it wait for the Net Gen to take on more senior management roles and force business to redesign around Net Gen models of communication and collaboration?

I don't know for sure, but I think the shift to "bottom-up" is going to happen a whole lot faster than most business people imagine.

When I talk to people about Rypple's goal of re-inventing performance management and professional development as a bottom-up, collaborative, and self-organizing process that integrates work with learning... light-bulbs go off. People get it, which is great.

But, I wonder... how long until the early majority start to get it and change how they do business?

Up until last week, I didn't think the mainstream population took this stuff very seriously. Sure, people heard about Linux software being built in a open source fashion, but... hey, that was just a bunch of tech stuff, right? There have been dozens of stories about corporate wiki-style innovation. But these were just gimmicks and experiments, right? And while everyone (not under a rock) got YouTubes emailed and chatted about (and maybe joined) Facebook, most people were cynical when they heard how things are "different" with this generation.

The Harvard blogs were out the morning after the election. Umair Haque posted Obama's Seven Lessons for Radical Innovators said:

It's a momentous day for America - and the world. Barack Obama is poised to take the reins of the Presidency.

So how did this unlikeliest of candidates do it? How did Obama utilize radically asymmetrical competition to shatter Washington's toxic, bitter 20th century status quo?

The most critical part of the story is the organization Obama built. Though conservatives are still arguing that Obama has little executive experience, nothing could be further from the truth.

Barack Obama is one of the most radical management innovators in the world today. Obama's team built something truly world-changing: a new kind of political organization for the 21st century. It differs from yesterday's political organizations as much as Google and Threadless differ from yesterday's corporations: all are a tiny handful of truly new, 21st century institutions in the world today.

This is just qthe start of the analysis. If you are a manager or a strategist - it is time to get across what just happened and understand why.

Low cost high speed broadband access for rural and regional communities

Low cost high speed broadband access for rural and regional communities - could it be reality?

CNET reports a step closer to delivering phone and broadband services over powerlines with strong backup and service providers. IBM bringing broadband over power line to rural America | Cutting Edge - CNET News
IBM has been hired to help rural Americans get broadband access using power lines.

On Wednesday, Big Blue announced it has signed a $9.6 million contract with International Broadband Electric Communications to bring the technology to rural America where it hopes to deliver high-speed broadband connectivity to millions of people who otherwise wouldn't be able to get it. IBM and IBEC, which will build and manage the networks, are working with over a dozen electricity cooperatives in seven states, The Wall Street Journal reported.

For years, people have hoped broadband-over-power line technology, or BPL, would allow power companies to become the third alternative in the broadband market, competing against cable operators and telephone companies. But technical limitations and interference issues with local emergency radios and short-wave ham radios have stood in the way of mass adoption.

In recent years, new modulation techniques supported by other technological advances have helped BPL evolve. Most services today are capable of delivering between 512Kbps and 3Mbps of throughput, which is comparable to most DSL offerings.

In rural areas in particular, BPL technology could finally bring high-speed Internet access to people who otherwise couldn't get it. Traditional phone and cable companies often find it too expensive to deploy new infrastructure to provide service to the far reaches of rural America.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

8 Factors for Web 2.0 Business Success

There is a 'Tipping Point' in how business is conducted - public sector or private - that the Obama campaign has highlighted. American or not, supporter or not, every manager/strategist must recognise that something important has to be learnt from that campaign. Like Senator Obama, Ron Paul reached an audience and retained a presence that would have been impossible 8 years ago. Business is as much about communication as Politics is. The new tools are essential for business too. That's why companies like Oracle so keenly embraced a PR 2.0 (Public Relations 2.0) strategy.

Governments are reviewing the efficiency and effectiveness of their service delivery. The Australian Government is running presentations for their Departments on Web 2.0. The Department of Finance website, somewhat ominously, states "The Government and particularly the Minister for Finance, the Hon Lindsay Tanner, has a keen interest in this area and is promoting increased use of Web 2.0 applications to engage with the public and to enhance government information and service delivery."

Let's drill down into what and why a bit more. The article from The Huffington Post The New Organizers, Part 1: What's really behind Obama's ground game is one of the few 'must reads' about the campaign that examines the management structures and the communication tools that were brought together to make the campaign effective. Key activities I can see here are:
  1. Recruiting people that are interested - heavy use of advertising and social media.
  2. Allocation of basic 'test tasks' - note the transfer of empowerment and communication tools for reporting results. Also note that there is a complete set of instructions and a backup person to go to for help - all online.
  3. Assessment - easy to overlook that all advancement is on the basis of assessment.
  4. Allocation of new roles to fit the person's skills - not the 'holes' in the organisation - using the virtualised organisation to get the person's input to where it is needed e.g. a person in one location phone banking in another. Even tasks like door to door canvassing could use people bussed in from elsewhere.
  5. Empowerment and full briefing with support materials and training courses - yes I've mentioned this before but three things are important here - empowerment comes after assessment (again), empowerment is given clear direction through support materials and training and there is constant engagement - not monitoring, but awareness.
  6. Maintaining engagement - whether donor or volunteer the regular news keeps you involved and feeling that you are part of a larger movement - and there is always someone online to help you - quickly. (Have you ever been in a Bank and seen the internal staff having to wait on the same phone queues as we do - it wastes everyone's time and leaves us all feeling secondary to profit - your call is valuable to us - well answer it then). Constant engagement means that all levels of the organisation know what is happening above and below in a collaborative way - not a directive/enforcement way.
  7. Finishing the job of communication - 2 days after the election one of the other major campaign sites was still asking for phone volunteers.
  8. Fundraising - why did I put this last when it grabbed the headlines? Because it was the result - the outcome - of doing the rest right. Ron Paul also used the web effectively to raise funds, although his power brokers did not react to social pressures in the same way. It was about more than funds.
Some these factors translate into business directly. TS14plus is a clothing company for the Woman with Curves. Every day one or other of the management team sends out an email to all staff and shops with news about the TS14plus world. A new shop has opened, there is above target turnover in a store, an opening sale here, an event there and new stock just released. It is upbeat, semi-formal, professional but community - and it helps keep the franchise engaged as a community across Cities and States - and going gangbusters when other clothing stores are feeling a chill wind.

Engaging staff, volunteers and donors is not easy - it has to be done right - but the path is clear. How do we reach customers and stakeholders? Oracle finds that clients respond to the 'voice of genuine experience'. White papers have a role, the academic framework and list of product features is an essential part of informing clients - but what they really respond to is a real person and a real voice. The pasteurised, neutralised language of the traditional white paper doesn't create enough of the trust relationship - it forms part of the foundation, but not the motivation to act. Oracle took action and created the Oracle Blog Centre where any authorised blogger (note assessment before empowerment) is allowed to blog, and the community rates the blogs up or down. Clients and stakeholders help Oracle identify their MVP's (a basketball term - Most Valuable Player) and they get all the second level information (e.g. what are the hot topics right now, where are ou problems) that social software communities offer.

What else can social software show? This example is from The Network Thinker blog. The article Complete Polarization analyses Amazon book buying data to show the extent of political group polarisation during the lead up to the 2008 US Presidential Election. Using the data to gain behavioural insights can give important strategic direction. This example helps explain why political comments in blogs drew such strong reactions during the immediate lead-up to the election.

An associated blog is Network Weaving. In one article it discusses using twitter (Triangles on Twitter) concluding "Connect on your similarities and profit from your differences".

Imagine the information about us, our organisations and our competitors that a similar analysis of Twitter would reveal.


So where do we start? How do we find out what this means? Glad you asked. PR 2.0 The Social Media Manifesto – Integrating Social Media into Marketing Communications is where I would start


Because you want you or your organisation to live on the web. Doc Searls has written succinctly about the difference. "A question arose: Why are there so few visitors to our websites? Millions use their services, yet few bother with visiting their sites, except every once in awhile.

The answer, I suggested, was that their sites were buildings. They were architected, designed and constructed. They were conceived and built on the real estate model: domains with addresses, places people could visit. They were necessary and sufficient for the old Static Web, but lacked sufficiency for the Live one.

The Web isn’t just real estate. It’s a habitat, an environment, an ever-increasingly-connected place where fecundity rules, vivifying business, culture and everything else that thrives there. It is alive." Read the rest of this Harvard article if you are serious about your web presence.


What is Web 2.0 anyway? Participatative Anthropologist M Wesch probably explains it best from the links in Understanding the Dance - Web 2.0 through Youtube - brilliant videos.


Do it now. A community organiser has shown the World what can be done. Governments are training staff in it. EDS is sponsoring training sites. Leading companies are using it to reach customers in a trusted relationship. The time is now. The wave is here.

New IT Policy for Obama Administration

The new policy for IT in the USA is up. For the full text follow the link:

Technology | Change.gov
Science, Technology and Innovation for a New Generation

“Let us be the generation that reshapes our economy to compete in the digital age. Let's set high standards for our schools and give them the resources they need to succeed. Let's recruit a new army of teachers, and give them better pay and more support in exchange for more accountability. Let's make college more affordable, and let's invest in scientific research, and let's lay down broadband lines through the heart of inner cities and rural towns all across America.”

— Barack Obama Presidential Announcement Speech in Springfield, IL 02/10/07