Month: April 2011

The tipping point for social and push technologies in the enterprise

“I don’t have time for social media at work!” A colleague made that comment to me recently.My response was: “You have to replace something you already do. It isn’t about squeezing yet more time out of an already busy work day, but of finding when a social media tool better suits some task you are already performing.”Some people have suggested that one or more social media tools will replace email in the workplace. Unfortunately a direct one-for-one technology exchange is not always possible. This becomes clear when you consider the range of use cases for which an existing technology is used.Here’s a common business use case:

  • You want to share an interesting webpage or video that you have found with colleagues. It may be about a competitor, a market trend, a new technology, a new regulation, etc. and you expect that it may be useful to the recipients.

In recent years a typical approach would have been to email a link (or even an attachment) to the six people you think might be interested. Likely you will forget three others who would have been interested, and maybe there are a couple of others you didn’t know would be interested. So the approach would always have been flawed since you could not or did not completely predict who would value the information.In addition, another problem has grown in recent years: namely email overload and developing user resistance. In the above example, of the six actual recipients, maybe two will resent the intrusion and consider your email spam. The issue here with email is that it is a Push technology – recipients get it whether they want to or not – and it also has a narrow reach, going initially only to those people you define.So if the original solution always had a limitation, and over time is becoming less effective, is there a better alternative? Currently the best technological alternative for this example use is a Pull technology. You post the information and users decide whether they want to follow you and/or a specific topic.

  • A good example of a Pull approach is social bookmarking. To share an interesting website, you could instead have used a bookmarklet installed in your browser to automatically post the link and your comments to an internal collaboration site.

While this approach is effective in reducing the perception of span, it is limited because others might not be aware that you are someone they should follow, or may not yet have learned and adopted the technology.Pull technologies have an inherent entry barrier that limits their usefulness and can be hard to overcome. Most social media are pull technologies. This is a critical problem for organizations looking to use social media tools effectively.In the above use case there is an expectation of benefit if the information is shared widely, but it is seldom critical. What if the aim is circulate ‘critical’ information to the widest possible audience?In most current enterprises, if the organization wants everyone to be informed about something they will send an email to ‘all staff’ on the assumption that it will reach everyone and be read. In reality this assumption is increasingly false for a growing proportion of staff – they don’t bother to read, don’t have time or have even set email filters so they don’t see such emails! An alternative is to post the same information to a stream that users can watch, but in most organizations usage has not yet achieved a level that the post will reach most staff.So email pushes are increasingly ineffective, while social pulls have yet to achieve sufficient adoption to take their place as workplace tools. It seems there is a growing communications chasm which will create a tipping point to drive adoption of social media in enterprises at some time in the future.

Where is the concept of Employee-to-Employee (E2E)?

Organizations are struggling to understand the relevance of social networking tools internally. You can see the lack of maturity in this field by looking up E2E on Wikipedia; of the several interpretations of E2E, none refer to Employee-to-Employee. Other X2X concepts are better documented:

  1. B2B – Business-to-Business
  2. B2C – Business-to-Consumer
  3. B2G – Business-to-Government

These three all have aspects of commerce for the provision of products or services between different parties. A more recent, fourth X2X entry is B2E – Business-to-Employee, recognizing what goes on within a given organization rather than its external interactions. As the Wikipedia entry notes (2011-04-20):”Business-to-employee (B2E) electronic commerce uses an intrabusiness network which allows companies to provide products and/or services to their employees. Typically, companies use B2E networks to automate employee-related corporate processes.Examples of B2E applications include:

  • Online insurance policy management
  • Corporate announcement dissemination
  • Online supply requests
  • Special employee offers
  • Employee benefits reporting
  • 401(k) Management”

The traditional 1.0-style of Intranet is one of the tools used by businesses to provide information to their employees, so it can be regarded as a B2E platform. Typically the provision of information is controlled in a top-down manner.With the newer 2.0-style of Intranets, employees are able to contribute, either by adding documents and other forms of content, or by participating socially. But B2E tools are ineffective at supporting social interactions. It isn’t about what a business tells its employees, but rather what the employees tell each other.Social interactions within an organization typically enable the execution of a wide range of critical business processes that aid commerce. Workers requesting input on a task, or notifying the next performer that they are finished, engage in social interactions that increasingly use mediating technologies such as email, instant messaging, telephone, fax, workflow, online discussion, videoconferencing, online web meeting, etc. Seen in that light the more recently available social tools such as wikis, blogs, microblogs, communities, ideation sites, expertise location, etc. just provide more choices to increase the effectiveness and timeliness of those critical, internal social interactions in support of commerce. E2E seems overdue for recognition.Syndicated at http://conversations.opentext.com/

Should Business Strategy be Influenced by Technological Considerations?

Can business strategy be created in isolation of the technology considerations? There is a widespread belief in the Business Community that Business Strategy comes first and then technology follows in some way to support that business.

In my experience the common perception among organizations is that Business defines its strategy first and then technology enables the strategy.

Strategy Development Process:

In order to explore the role technology plays in shaping and supporting the business, let’s look at how strategies are developed.  There has been a significant amount of research done and published in understanding how strategies are developed.  Here are some relevant highlights.

There are two main dimensions to strategy development.

  1. Visionary thinking based on intuition, a sense, an ability to make bold predictions and define goals.
  2. Strategy development is largely based on scientific analysis, considering options and recommendations based on the analysis followed by implementation.
    • Strategic Analysis guided by scientific approach understanding your markets, competitors, value chain, bargaining power of the key stakeholders.  It also entails understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your organization against the opportunities and threat that the external environment presents
    • Strategy Formulation guided by analytical findings, alignment to the vision and overall goals of the organization to create a strategic road-map
    • Strategy Implementation is of course converting the strategy to real results by successfully implementing the strategy

It is the strategy development that is the focus of this article. Specifically, strategic analysis which then guides the strategy formulation and implementation.

Is there a place for technological consideration in strategic analysis? The answer is quite apparent as demonstrated through examples next.

Technological Influences on the Business Landscape

Examples of technologies that have had transformation impact on business value chain and have redefined markets and distribution channels are all around us.

The globalization phenomenon enabled by the internet is one of most profound. The Internet has impacted all the traditional dimensions of business strategy (reduction in barriers to entry, increased market size across the globe without limitations of geographic divide, increased competition etc.).

Financial services industry is a prime example of an industry where technology has transformed the value chain, redefined competitive forces and given the consumers tremendous amount of bargaining power.  Entry barrier have been declining, new competitor have emerged. Some financial products and services have become more transparent and commodities making the market more competitive. Internet as a tool to create a new service delivery channel (reduced channel costs, 24 by7 availability) has put pressure on the more traditional branch based channels. The resulting service delivery cost structure has changed. ING is operating on the model that bricks and mortar are not required to sell its banking products and services.

Healthcare value chain has been transformed by technological advances, linking healthcare records through electronic information exchange, diagnostic imaging from traditional film based to digital imaging has redefined the value chain and changed the balance of power between the suppliers, buyers not to mention the very nature of the products and services being delivered.

Retail Industry is another such example where technology has changed the business landscape.  Amazon’s strategic business model was completely defined by technology.

Relationship between Business and Technology

Given how profoundly technology has influenced our business and personal lives, it is hard to fathom how a successful business strategy can be defined without considering technological influences and enablers.  By creating a partnership between Business and Technology at the Strategy development stage, you are creating a strategy that is well formed and can maximize business value and competitive positioning by embedding technological considerations from the very start (and not an after thought!).

So why is it that there is a significant divide between the Business and Technology?  In subsequent articles, I will focus on why there is this barrier (real or perceived) that creates this divide between Business and Technology.

If you have examples to demonstrate the benefits of business/technology partnerships, please share your thoughts on this forum.