I confess to owning two blogs. One is my work blog, and the other, this, a more whimsical personal blog. As sometimes happen, there is a blog item that falls between two stools. Here I blog about virtual teams (and of course, Nasrudin), and there I blog about sales channels – sometimes known as routes to market – how products and services reach end customers. What is the connection between virtual teams and sales channels? A channel ecosystem is a large virtual team, with a vendor at the heart of it, trying to motivate, cajole, coral, train and support third party companies to do their bidding and add value. Plus I have this YouTube Symphony thing whirling in the background. So this time, a blog on virtual teams, sales channels and the YouTube Symphony as an example of a large virtual team went to my work blog.
Tag Archives: Social networks
Blogging and KM expert Bill Ives writes about Sneaking Enterprise 2.0 into the Office , a look at how IT departments are swamped by the pace of technology change on the consumer front and how employees are increasingly reliant on their IM, their Facebook and other social tools to stay productive. Ironically, managers often argue that what they are seeing doesn’t constitute work – yet blithely allow indiscriminate use of the most stressful application, email, because it looks like work. I read with great interest that communications technology pundit Jeff Pulver has shrugged off LinkedIn in favour of Facebook, the latest bogeyman for British business. As with any new communication medium, there is an exciting, bedding down period when a tool is used for what appears to be chit chat alone. And then we get on with our jobs, often finding innovative uses that IT departments are initially unaware of – until the desktops are once more locked down. Productivity may dip, but then it rapidly recovers as we build stronger bonds with employees, customers, suppliers and partners.
Security is the other major objection cited against the use of consumer social tools in the enterprise. It would be interesting to compare by sector and by country the extent to which desktops are locked down. Is, for example, the blue chip UK financial sector one of the most restrictive regimes, compared to its US counterpart? And if productivity is the issue, does that not put UK plc at competitive risk? Security is an elastic thing. It has tradeoffs. In emergencies, some aspects are tightened, and others are loosened for expediency. There are tradeoffs between security and productivity, cost, time and manpower. Security can be defined as keeping the bad stuff out, and the good stuff in. But what is in and what is out in the extended enterprise? To what extent are channel partners in or out? Collaborative R&D – what’s in and what’s out?
The answer, I believe, is a simple one but it requires a shift in the security approach from being top down and prescriptive, to being bottom up and selfish. By selfish, I mean it remains in the best interest of the individual to keep secrets. Authentication in Facebook stems from my knowledge of my friends, yet I’m reliant on Facebook for not allowing someone to spoof my identity or that of others. I’m reliant on Facebook to not divulge my password. Facebook has top down infrastructural responsibilities I depend upon, but I determine who is in or out of my friends and groups. Security in a business team requires that I know who to trust with what. I decide who sees what and who does what with it. It is not top down. Yet I’m reliant on my IT department to provide an infrastructure that can’t be snooped or email addresses that can’t be hijacked. They provide me with the infrastructural highways, not the keys to my car. This devolvement of security down to the individual requires a role based infrastructure, one that is too complicated to roll out and maintain in most larger organizations as a top down project. So it must be a self forming thing, stemming from how individuals work already. And given the pace of change of technology in the consumer and SMB areas, tools for secure teaming are more likely to be found there.
Social network tools often have a consumer and freebie connotation – wikis, blogs, IM, collaborative sites. Pundits point out that a common thread, besides being able to support communities of interest, is their “bottom-up” nature. By that, it is meant they can be installed, or used without anyone else’s help and in business that means without the involvement of the IT department. Perhaps that is an unnecessary and misleading restriction in definition. It is true that many consumer tools find a business niche without, and in spite of an IT department. The PC was a classic example – built for business but reviled in some organizations, embraced in others. In all, it was only with the IT department’s support that the PC could be networked or integrated tightly into the data infrastructure that already existed. Guerrilla tactics only get you so far in an organization and after that, you need the cooperation and help of others.
Another common thread is that they tend to be free or free for a while or free as long as you can tolerate someone else trying to sell you something. Perhaps that thread is also too restrictive. Free often only means the vendor is extracting revenue from someone other than you, such as an advertiser. Or free means a very basic service, and other useful services or add-ons are available for a price. Give away the camera, the razor, the web site, and make your money further down the line. Free is illusory.
Much of what has been written about Web 2.0 and social network tools originally stems from analysts or journalists who work as freelancers or in loose knit communities of freelancers. Their view of a business organization can be very different from the world familiar to corporate employees. For some, their ambition for social network tools is underpinned by aspirations of global egalitarianism. Social networks somehow become the mechanism for a new socialism.
The other major influence on what is written about social networks comes from advertisers or people who want to attract advertisers. To an advertiser, a community of interest is a self -selected target market accessible in one fell swoop. Targeting offerings to select communities has always been one of the challenges that marketers face. Get like-minded people to group together on their own and you have your target market on a plate. But consumer or even B2B community advertising shouldn’t define what makes a social network tool.
Get beyond the hot cauldron of web 2.0 hype and you see very little of what these startups produce finding its way to the table of corporations. Most are chasing the consumer or carrier bubble and think they can adapt to the needs of button-down business. It doesn’t work like that. You need to start with a security model that large organisations will accept from the outset. You can’t bolt it on later. You need to think at the outset how to integrate with the core data infrastructures that already exist in corporate land. So whilst there are many, many tools a very small business could make great use of to support a team of home workers, there are actually pretty few that are suitable for medium to larger enterprises.
Business social network tools may allow people to self organise in teams – or that may require the help of the IT department. To really make these tools sing, they most definitely will need IT’s help – to presence enable applications, to extend the corporate directory or intranet or to incorporate the tools into CRM or ERP applications -in other words, to be really useful. Business social network tools can be free, but businesses want supported tools to mitigate risk. Even if the initial cost is zero, someone is going to be trained or contracted to provide support. Their choices can’t be cavalier because there are too many existing interdependencies. Finally, most businesses don’t have a social agenda beyond maximizing shareholder value. The tool is there to support a job that needs to be done.
Having just attended a Wealth Dynamics weekend run by Roger Hamilton, one is tempted to gush forth, claiming epiphany. My hands are restrained, though I have started to put into practice many of the thoughts that resulted. Many of those ideas are on synchrony and even synchronicity – a term coined by Jung. And it has opened up an insight into how business teams could act, given the right tools and conditions.
If one thinks about sport teams that perform one level beyond what they thought they could, or groups of musicians who experience being in the groove, they all experience that new dimensional level at the same time. They are focused on a single goal, though each member may have different profiles or contributions. They open themselves up to that common goal, leaving aside their own concerns. They listen as one, they act as one, coordinated like a ballet – and they perform the spectacular. But they all have to be working towards the goal at the same time. Literally at the same time. Synchrony is a requirement for the spectacular.
Much activity in business these days is asynchronous -it either has to be due to time zone differences – or it just is because of an over reliance on email, blogs, wikis etc. That asynchronicity must have a negative effect on productivity. Though there are more oarsmen, we’re not all pulling at the same speed. We’re not acting as one. That is why real time tools are so important to bringing back cohesion to members flung far and wide.
As I’ve explained – our mission is to gather together all the digital breadcrumbs to give organizations a better view of who is available and where they are in times of crisis. To buy time. Yesterday I went to a great seminar in London by Unicom on social networking tools and their business use. With all the widgets now available and being used in blogs, it got me thinking that an aggregation of an ecosystem’s blog content just might be a source for more breadcrumbs. Thanks to Ian McNairn, Stowe Boyd and Hugh MacLeod for some great ideas in their presentations and for convincing me that, I should be blogging about elastictime.