Tag: • Business Model Design

Can the Enterprise Strike Back?

Submitted by Martin Sumner-Smith on Fri, 10/12/2012 – 16:17

Most people have written-off Research in Motion (RIM) and their Blackberry platform. But then most people take a consumer’s perspective in making that assessment.

RIM is making a play to its traditional strength – security. But it is considering security for both enterprises and consumers. Security is a powerful draw for enterprises, but not for consumers in my experience.

I got to think about this when I attended a RIM Blackberry event in Toronto yesterday – the BlackBerry Enterprise Forum 2012. Clearly aimed to the enterprise, as you’d expect, at least half of the attendees were from IT departments. And I estimate 95% were male! This is interesting because the day before I attended a webinar on electronic signatures and all of the questions came from women. In my experience women dominate the business side of records and document management efforts in enterprises. The under-representation of women should have set off alarms.

Toronto-20121011-00110

RIM is responding to the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend in many organizations. First they provide tools under the BlackBerry Mobile Fusion banner to help IT departments register and manage Android and iOS (Apple) devices, in addition to RIM devices. This approach recognizes that staff, and most significantly, senior executives, are bringing such devices to work and demanding that they be connected to enterprise resources, starting with email. But it will do nothing to reverse the trend of people investing in Android and iOS devices personally.

“Blackberry Enterprise Server improvements will mean enterprises will have one unified view of their complete mobile infrastructure so IT managers can have control of every mobile device in their company.” – Thorsten Heins quoted

RIM hopes that BlackBerry Balance (video), a key feature that is further built-out in the forthcoming BB10 release, might encourage staff to pick a BlackBerry as their personal device. There is a complete separation of personal and work information on a device into two workspaces. In BB10 users get a unified interface, but are unable to copy information from work to personal areas. Certainly IT departments will like the added security, and this might let them push back on the deployment of non-Blackberry devices, but there is less ‘in it’ for staff. Perhaps the best feature is that IT can delete all work information on a device without touching personal information. I could have benefited from a better separation between work and personal information on my devices earlier this year (blog post). But in the end, for most people, look for the shiniest, coolest, most fashionable device of the moment, and don’t consider their possible future dismissal.

RIM knows this and acknowledged it by highlighting the hot features of the new camera in BB10 devices and the new intelligent keyboard. But I doubt it will be enough.

I was left with the feeling that RIM is trying to do too much in too many arenas. The breadth of their effort was presented as strength: “No other company has as comprehensive a platform as BlackBerry,” said Andrew McLeod, RIM’s managing director of Canada operations and event chair. RIM offers operating systems, enterprise security and device management, cloud services, and handheld devices, while trying to appeal to consumers and enterprises, and also feeding a developer and partner network across all of these. Apple, Microsoft and Google each only do some of this, and they are able to devote far more resources than a diminished RIM. For me, in a fast-paced market, you can only win when you focus sharply. A fully integrated offering wins when there is enough time to complete it, which requires competitors make few changes and that there are no disruptive market entries. That is not the current climate in the mobile device world.

For me the enterprise and cloud security story was the most compelling, and perhaps it will be the ultimate, surviving asset.

The excitement and enthusiasm of the RIM staff at the event was palpable. They are believers and are being tested in ‘the fire.’ I tried to be supportive – I took my BlackBerry and had my Kindle in my pocket (to read on the subway), but refrained from taking my iPad. But even at such an event for hard-core supporters, I saw a number of iPhones in use.

 

Not all users are bad, but they may not be paying attention

Yesterday, in the As the pendulum swings – Users vs. the Enterprise, I discussed how the balance between the needs of staff users and those of the enterprise that employs them has recently swung strongly to favor users as a result of consumerization.My perspective was that of the enterprise. But even though users are currently in an advantageous position, they may still encounter issues. I found this when I left OpenText recently.I had worked for over a decade in the same company. Outlook/Exchange was the standard email system during that whole period, and in recent years OpenText’s own Exchange email archiving solution was implemented internally. I was comfortable that here was robust data protection, backup and archiving with long-term recovery capabilities that I could rely on without thinking. I kept all of my contacts in the system, and was readily able to access them through my laptop, Blackberry and iPad.When I left the company, my access to the Exchange server was of course removed. That is when I discovered that I had lost all of my contacts, some ~4,000 in number. In hindsight it was obvious that I had become complacent and was not using the features of Outlook that would have stored my personal information locally. Fortunately, I was able to recover the contact vCards. All would not have been lost, as I use Linkedin for many contacts, but certainly not all. But, I also connected my primary ISP email account (Yahoo) to Outlook so I could read both work and personal emails. Fortunately, I had configured the mail service to keep copies even after they were downloaded by Outlook, so I still had copies of the incoming emails, though not some of the outbound. There were a few other emails accounts that I use less often and did not bother to connect so these were unaffected.

I had kept my personal files separate from my work files on my company-supplied laptop, and my departure from the company occurred over time, so I was able to ensure I had preserved all of these on my personal computer. But had I been required to immediately return all of the company equipment, getting my personal files off the company equipment would have been hard or even impossible.So, lesson learned. As I reconfigure my personal ‘IT World’, I will make it more robust and independent. It will have a redundant blend of local and Cloud storage. I learned that lesson with the dot.com bust when a number of resources I used disappeared without warning. In fact recently, both the Adjix and Unhub sites that I used regularly disappeared.

But I will also ensure that I can respect the compliance and efficiency needs of any company that I work with in the future.

The merger of personal and social in the information sphere in recent years has been much discussed. But it isn’t just enterprises that have to deal with this, so must their staff.

As the pendulum swings – Users vs. the Enterprise

There have been two traditional enemies of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) adoption:

  1. Email
  2. Shared network folders/drives

For most users in an enterprise (i.e. staff), it is simply easier to send a file to a colleague through email than it is to first deposit the file and then send a link instead.In the early 2000’s, progress was made to close the usability gap so that it was nearly as easy to deposit and send a link as it was to send directly. Enterprises were motivated to encourage or even require this user behavior by compliance requirements (e.g. SOX), especially in some industrial (e.g. 21 CFR Part 11 in the life sciences sector) and government sectors. The effort was made feasible by the fact that in the majority of cases, the files were in either Microsoft Office or PDF formats, and that each enterprise typically had standardized email system, often MS Exchange or Lotus Notes. ECM systems provided easy approaches that tied the two together. Similarly, with shared network folders, users found it very easy to just create a folder that they needed, then share it with a few colleagues as required. But this is highly non-scalable, even for individual users, who quickly have access to hundreds of poorly named and unmaintained folders and files. The benefits of bringing some standardization to the naming and maintenance of folders and files, with audit trails and version control, became an ECM adoption driver that even many users supported. Enterprises saw the efficiency benefits of making current and relevant information more readily available to staff in support of their work.

Pendulum

But in recent year the pendulum has very much swung back in favor of the end user with the consumerization of enterprise IT.On the email front, most staff have ready access to Cloud email services such as Gmail, even if their enterprise-sanctioned email service goes down. And increasingly staff are creating content in other formats (i.e. not Office or PDF) that are supported by these email services, or other services that provide new types of content such as blogs, microblogs, wikis, videos, etc. And they are often doing this on devices that they personally supply (e.g. smart phones and tablets).And on the shared folder front, dedicated Cloud services such as Dropbox and Box.net are making very significant in-roads into enterprises, even if they are not sanctioned. Users simply take the easier and arguably the best way (from a personal efficiency perspective) to get their jobs done. They gain ready access to ‘their’ files wherever they are and on whatever device they use.Clearly the ‘pendulum’ has swung very much towards the needs of end users in recent years. But the return swing is inevitable. It will likely be driven by:

  1. Disclosure disasters to come (think Wikileaks ‘on steroids’), that will force enterprises to be enforce processes,
  2. Growing process confusion and inefficiencies as the number of consumer-oriented services used by staff continue to grow, and by
  3. Enterprise software vendors moving to adopt the best features of consumer software to the needs of enterprises.

Video at Work – Video Services for Content Server

I’m a big fan of video for work applications. It’s the best way to get information to staff quickly. As such I’ve been using the OpenText Video Service (OTVS) for some time. In fact, we recently developed a ‘Success Story’ about our own use of the service that will be out soon. We already have over 600 internal videos for staff running on OTVS, mostly made in the last year.But while OTVS is easy to use, it really isn’t practical to train everyone in an organization to use it.What they need is a simple addition to something they already use, such as OpenText Content Server (f.k.a. Livelink). That’s why I’m so interested in the forthcoming release of a module for OpenText Content Server. If you’d like a sneak peak, watch this detailed, and somewhat lengthy video (running on the OTVS service):

Engaging, Syndicated Content Collections

Sometimes providing someone with a simple list of choices is not effective because they’ll find it boring. Users may have been spoiled by the newer, more immersive online experiences. You need to create a more engaging experience.At other times you want to package up content you have in source or original repository and provide it to users through some other website, wiki or blog.These two scenarios are common ones that the OpenText Widget Services (OTWS) solution was designed to address. It also gives control of where the content is used, and more importantly, you don’t have to renounce ownership rights based on an agreement with service provider.A small code snippet is created to be embedded anywhere – much as users have learned for videos with YouTube (and Open Text Video Services) and  presentations with SlideShare. But OTWS supports many formats of content, even in one collection assembled from more than one repository if required. In some ways it is like a dynamic, immersive portal.There’s nothing like an example, so here is a collection of four keynote presentations given at last year’s Content World 2010 – the OpenText global users’ conference. The original files happen to be in PDF converted from PowerPoint, but a wide variety of formats are supported by OTWS as I mentioned. There are a number of different style widget templates – I picked a simple one here.If you’ve never seen this before, here are a few instructions:For the Player

  1. Scroll through the presentation collection using the arrow tabs on the left and right of the player frame
  2. You can go to full screen mode in the widget through the icon on the lower right of the player. Frankly it’s much better when you do that as I only put a small player here
  3. Also on the lower right is a share icon (two heads) to download the embed code to be used elsewhere

For a Presentation in the Player

  1. If you click on a presentation you can open it in your browser
    • There are then controls on the bottom to advance slides/pages, as well as to change the size and fit on your screen
  2. You can download a specific presentation by clicking on the ‘down-arrow’ icon
  3. You can see metadata of that presentation by clicking on the ‘circling arrow’ icon at the top left of the initial view

Next week there will be another Content World event. I’ll be providing presentations from that event through widgets to supplement the traditional channel OpenText has provided. I’ll use another widget template as well as a thumbnail feature to provide more easily read slide titles.The player here is based on Flash, but HTML5 is supported in the OTWS version to be released in a few weeks.

The Future of Work

“The world is full of people whose notion of a satisfactory future is,in fact, a return to the idealized past.”Robertson Davies, “A Voice from the Attic”, 1960I’ve been thinking about the nature of work. Can there be any doubt that:

  • The nature of WORK is changing rapidly
  • WHERE you do it
  • WHEN you do it
  • HOW you do it
  • WITH whom you do it
  • The SPEED at which you do it
  • What you have to KNOW
  • What you have to do
  • And the DECISIONS you have to make

…all the while working to meet the demands and expectations of your organization.

So it has been interesting to review some of the recent future workplace concepts from RIM and Microsoft. The technology and interfaces are certainly very cool. But in large measure most of the depicted activities are things we already do.

  • I think I could have predicted the developments in mobility we see today 10 years ago. I’ve been wanting the ability to link my smartphone to local devices and to create virtual interfaces exactly as shown in these videos for some time.

What is missing are new styles of work. Those things are much harder to predict and they are what will matter far more.

  • I would not have been able to predict social networking as we know it now 10 years ago. Especially as it has affected B2C and B2B activities.

This customer service concept from RIM shows how an idealized version of today’s social networking can be used to detect power outages: BlackBerry Future Visions 1 from Evan Blass on Vimeo.There are many elements in this Microsoft Office conceptual video, but there is a certain irony that one of these (near the end of the video) is how to use a computer to manage cooking recipes – this was one of the first proposed uses for home computers in the 60’s when people could not conceive of the uses we have since discovered. Playing to its strengths in security RIM demonstrates in this video how automated provisioning and de-provisioning could work:BlackBerry Future Visions 2 from Evan Blass on VimeoI must admit that omniscient IT guy is a little scary. Maybe that’s just my perception although I do like how he can provision personal devices to work in an enterprise.So while I like these concepts, I’m pretty sure they are missing the killer application that will be the biggest driver of change. I don’t know what that will be, but I’m confident there will be one.

So I’ll close with another quotation: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Alan Kay

Content Decision Fatigue

If something of value is in short supply you will tend to conserve it. That turns out to be true of your capacity to deal with alternatives, make decisions and even to sustain your efforts at tasks.These finding have profound implications for enterprise content management (ECM).Psychologists have recently described the phenomenon of Decision Fatigue. A recent New York Times article by John Tierney titled, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue? gave an excellent overview which I will quote extensively here.The more you make decisions, the less capacity you have to make additional ones in a given period. And these decisions do not have to be hard to deplete your capacity — in fact they can be quite trivial. Once you have depleted that capacity, you generally respond in one of two ways: you make impulsive decisions or pick the default; or you delay making any decision.The biology behind this process is beginning to be understood. It turns out that making decisions takes energy; in fact regions of your brain actually use glucose to fuel decision making. If the glucose becomes depleted it needs to be restored — typically by taking a break and having a snack. Until that happens, these brain regions, especially those involved in impulse control, have lowered activity.However, overall use of glucose by the brain does not change, because other regions of the brain, including those involved in seeking reward, become more active.An increased tendency to make impulsive decisions is also associated with a reduction in willpower. People become more easily distracted and less likely to complete tasks, including completing a series of decisions required of them. Alternatively, they make take the easy way out by picking a default.What does this have to do with enterprise content management? I think it is very important. Let’s consider two examples:

  1. Consumer behaviour on a business website — a web content management (WCM) example
  2. Staff execution of work — a business process management (BPM) example

Website ConsumersOne of the studies cited in the New York Times article compared the degree of decision-making required of online consumers and the consequences:“…Kathleen Vohs, …now at the University of Minnesota, performed an experiment using the self-service Web site of Dell Computers. One group in the experiment carefully studied the advantages and disadvantages of various features available for a computer — the type of screen, the size of the hard drive, etc. — without actually making a final decision on which ones to choose. A second group was given a list of predetermined specifications and told to configure a computer by going through the laborious, step-by-step process of locating the specified features among the arrays of options and then clicking on the right ones. The purpose of this was to duplicate everything that happens in the postdecisional phase, when the choice is implemented. The third group had to figure out for themselves which features they wanted on their computers and go through the process of choosing them; they didn’t simply ponder options (like the first group) or implement others’ choices (like the second group). They had to cast the die, and that turned out to be the most fatiguing task of all. When self-control was measured, they were the one who were most depleted, by far.”Very clearly then the online purchasing process required a series of decisions that online consumers found fatiguing, and which reduced their motivation or self control.The tiresome nature of the process could cause some consumers to abandon the website without purchasing the computer, defeating Dell’s aim of selling a computer.But those consumers who complete the process became more susceptible to impulse purchases. This is illustrated in another study:“Levav… put the experience to use in a pair of experiments conducted with Mark Heitmann, then at Christian-Albrechts University in Germany; Andreas Herrmann, at the University of St. Gallen in Switzerland; and Sheena Iyengar, of Columbia. One involved asking M.B.A. students in Switzerland to choose a bespoke suit; the other was conducted at German car dealerships, where customers ordered options for their new sedans. The car buyers — and these were real customers spending their own money — had to choose, for instance, among 4 styles of gearshift knobs, 13 kinds of wheel rims, 25 configurations of the engine and gearbox and a palette of 56 colors for the interior. As they started picking features, customers would carefully weigh the choices, but as decision fatigue set in, they would start settling for whatever the default option was. And the more tough choices they encountered early in the process — like going through those 56 colors to choose the precise shade of gray or brown — the quicker people became fatigued and settled for the path of least resistance by taking the default option. By manipulating the order of the car buyers’ choices, the researchers found that the customers would end up settling for different kinds of options, and the average difference totaled more than 1,500 euros per car (about $2,000 at the time). Whether the customers paid a little extra for fancy wheel rims or a lot extra for a more powerful engine depended on when the choice was offered and how much willpower was left in the customer.”These findings could be used to improve the effectiveness of a website to help consumers make the best decisions to meet their needs, or to make the most lucrative, near-term decisions to the benefit of the vendor.They also point to the importance of reducing the number of decisions that are being asked, asking the most important ones first, and providing default options that ideally are matched to the specific, expected needs of a given online consumer. Business ProcessesMany business processes are quire automated, but typically depend on staff to provide input. This input usually takes the form of decisions, whether those are to interpret handwriting entries on faxes or to approve a purchase order.A design goal for most automated business processes is to process more items while employing fewer staff. Little consideration is usually given to the decision-making capacities of the staff, or the consequences of decision fatigue that will lead to poorer or delayed decisions.A study of Israeli judges reviewing parole application cited in the NT Times article illustrate this very clearly:“Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.”Those are astounding numbers. The effects of glucose were clearly illustrated:“In midmorning, usually a little before 10:30, the parole board would take a break, and the judges would be served a sandwich and a piece of fruit. The prisoners who appeared just before the break had only about a 20 percent chance of getting parole, but the ones appearing right after had around a 65 percent chance.”The safest, default decision for a judge is clearly to not grant parole. They take the ‘easy way out’ when decision fatigued. SummaryIn my last post I talked about the ‘disjunction effect’ and how users may fail to correctly use the categorizations you designed in your content management system. In a similar manner, the elucidation of ‘decision fatigue’ has clear implications on the potential for success of a wide range of content management solutions.

What is Content? & Why Does it Matter?

One of the problems with the term ‘Content‘ is that few people outside of the self-designated Enterprise Content Management (ECM) field understand what it means. Ironically most end users have more personal experience with the types of Unstructured or Semi-structured Information that we designate as Content – namely electronic documents, email, pictures and videos – than they do with Structured Information in databases. They create data by their actions (e.g. buying shoes online) but have little sense of what is happening ‘under the covers.’With the recent growth of OpenText into the adjacent market of Business Process Management and Analysis software through the acquisitions of Metastorm and Global360, I have found myself having to explain the term ‘Content’ as well as why it matters to organizations. For that reason this new video is very timely:Of course you can go into more detail, and specifically you have to talk about how content plays a role in most business processes. I did that last week in my talk to Knowledge Managers in Toronto.

News on OpenText Online – a new journey blog

Some time ago we started to use OpenText Online as an umbrella description for a number of external Open Text sites: http://online.opentext.com/. While that name stuck for Communities, it didn’t for the Knowledge Center, My Tickets (Customer Self Serve or CSS), and Solutions Central (since been retired).I’m glad to say the pace has picked up again. Now we’ll be merging the Communities and the Knowledge Center sites, and linking them more tightly with our WWW site. You may have seen the new look of the My Tickets site if you have a support account.There are many ‘moving parts’ to this project. One of these is to merge user accounts and convert the usernames to email addresses.

  • The first phase of this work, linking download rights from WWW to Communities accounts, has already been completed
  • Soon the Knowledge Center accounts will be merged as well

From that point on you should only have one account with OpenText.There’s lots more that will be happening and we thought you’d like to follow along.  You’ll be able to get the best out of the sites when you understand what’s happening. You may also learn a few content management tricks along our journey  ;-)So we created a new blog:The OpenText Online BlogPresently you can find it here: http://blogs.opentext.com/blogslist/resolver.vcarp/blog/1.11.722/OpenText_Online#, but it will soon be syndicated elsewhere.There will be many contributors and content will be added on a regular basis.Oh – there’ll be lots of videos. I think you’ll enjoy the first one from my colleagues Karen Weir in her first post:

I’ve been emailing

I’ve been emailing around a few references which I believe form a corpus of the subject of Cloud Computing. Some might look and have some dated references but are still relevant IMHO.

Technology Review Cloud Computing Briefing: very well written and defines the IaaS, PaaS and SaaS layers of cloud computing, reused by US CIO. US CIO Cloud Computing Strategy: when the largest buyer of IT defines a cloud-first policy, requires of every agency that they migrate 3 applications to the cloud rapidly, you can only underestimate what the IT industry impact will be. An estimated $20 billion of the Federal Government’s $80 billion in IT spending is a potential target for migration to cloud computing solutions.

The Big Switch: Does IT matter? author and former Harvard Business Review editor at large Jonathan Carr book on how cloud computing is reshaping IT the same way the grid reshaped electricity production in late 19th century.

Google Container Datacenter tour: if you believe you can still internally match cloud providers when economy of scale and pure engineering is applied to IT infrastructure by upgrading to what infrastructure vendors call a private cloud, take a look, it’s game over for most of the internal datacenter.

More to come…

How Coupons led to Social Commerce

A colleague asked me for my take on Social Commerce. This seemed like a good reason to delve into very a hot area.I decided to look from a historic perspective – what preceded modern social commerce? A very good case can be made that social commerce had its origin with the first coupons. The story involves both technological changes in how content is presented, as well as how various types of social interactions are enabled. There are fascinating parallels with the rise Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and the interplay between push and pull models of distribution. I’ll likely make several more posts on these topics.First the historic perspective.Coupons Appear for Physical StoresThe vast majority of today’s coupons are paper and therefore distributed by print media and mass mailings, typically by manufacturers of consumer packaged goods and by retailers. Asa Griggs Candler who acquired Coca-Cola (Coke) in 1888, is credited with the invention of the modern coupon. In its first year, only nine glasses of Coke were sold on average each day. By 1913, Coca-Cola had redeemed 8.5 million “free drink” coupons.

pl_prototype_cocacola2_fCoupons are a way for manufacturers and retailers to selectively offer discounts to price sensitive shoppers who might otherwise go elsewhere. Price sensitive shoppers are those most likely to make an extra effort to receive a discount. The distribution of coupons also enables the list price, which will be paid by less price-sensitive shoppers, to be increased! It is sobering to realize that if you don’t use coupons then on average your purchase costs will be higher because you have been identified as someone prepared to pay more!Coupons also enable various forms of market research and segmentation.The ubiquity of coupons today is demonstrated by Extreme Couponing, a popular television series that profiles people who manage to pyramid coupons to acquire merchandise with little or no cash outlay.DistributionInitially all coupons were distributed in paper form, typically in periodicals and mass mailings. The Internet created a new distribution channel enabling the downloading and printing of electronic coupons to paper. From that point on though the printed coupon is treated in the same way as any other paper coupon and taken to the physical point of purchase.With the recent widespread adoption of mobile devices, it has become possible to carry an electronic image of a coupon to the point of sale and have that scanned, obviating the need for paper coupons. For this to be effective, widespread ownership of mobile devices such as smart phones, even among price-sensitive shopper, is obviously required.Tying Coupons to Commerce Systems in StoresWhether in paper form or electronic images, coupons to be used in physical stores are tied to electronic commerce systems by scanned bar codes. Products have UPC bar codes, as do the coupons that can provide discounts. Product and coupon UPC bar codes are similar, but not identical. At the time of purchase the point-of-sale (POS) computer decodes a product family code from the coupon bar code and matches it to any item purchased from that product family (identified by the product bar code), derives a value and sends a discount amount to the cash register (details).

barcode4

Internet Coupons for Online StoresWhen the point of sale is not a physical environment, but rather an online store, then an alternate approach is commonly used – Internet coupons. These are typically numeric or text strings entered by the customer in a web form at the time of sale. They are referred to by a variety of names such as “promotional codes”, “discount codes”, “key codes” or something similar. In this case the electronic commerce system is an integral part of the online store.Once coupons and coupon codes became available online, an opportunity was created to consolidate them on coupon services sites like Coupon Craze (video overview). The top ten coupon services sites have recently been reviewed. Couponers can see a very large variety of available printable coupons and/or online coupon codes from many stores, pick up the necessary coupon code and be redirected to the appropriate online store. These sites are generally centered on individual consumers, but do have limited social support – for example by providing a link to send an offer to friends by traditional email or social networks.Social/CollaborationAt times there have been attempts to limit the trading of coupons, but these have generally failed. Since coupons have inherent value to those prepared to go to extra effort, and this value can be exchanged or traded, people committed to using coupons (i.e. “couponers”) have formed coupon exchange clubs – typically meeting in residences, churches, club facilities, etc. to exchange physical coupons. These coupon clubs are prevalent in geographic regions where coupons are especially heavily distributed and build off existing in-person, social networks. They also have the potential to create new social relationships based on shared goals.The differences between societies often manifest themselves in online social communities. For example, Tuangou, is a shopping strategy that originated in China. People connect over the Internet in order to haggle with a vendor as a group. They benefit from group leverage to get a larger discount and the vendor increases their volume. Haggling is of course a Chinese shopping tradition. There is no intermediary in the transaction and the social bartering groups have to organize themselves, typically using online forums.In contrast, in Europe and North America, where consumers expect most prices are fixed (with the notable exception of automobiles and houses) unless a coupon can be used, intermediaries are the norm. The group-buy, or “deal a day” leaders are Groupon, LivingSocial and BuyWithMe. In essence a special price is offered for a limited time on one product or service to an entire group in a given geographic location. While deals are distributed by RSS feeds and email, an essential social element of these sites is the targeted use of online forums which encourage consumers the share their questions, opinions and experiences with the product or service on offer.

Groupon

While services like Groupon were preceded by other deal-a-day sites, such as Woot, those only supported online transactions. The newer sites appeal to a much wider range of merchants as they are able to offer deals for any type of product or service (i.e. not just consumer packaged goods), especially tailored to specific geographies. They are of interest to smaller merchants and local services like restaurants, sports activities and spas. It should be noted that group members actually purchase a coupon or voucher that is redeemable with the merchant, typically at a physical location (i.e. not usually online). Deal sharing using email and social media outside the subscribed group is actively encouraged, and there are direct benefits for assisting in recruiting others (i.e. referral rewards).The success of Groupon has both attracted suitors to buy the company at elevated prices of up to $6 billion (e.g. Yahoo! and Google), as well as motivating existing major Internet players to replicate it – notably Google offers and Facebook Deals.Parallels to Enterprise Content ManagementContent – In many ways coupons have followed the same historical path as more classical content types such as documents, moving from paper form to electronic – first on PCs and later on mobile devices. However, whereas documents are key elements in business-to-business (B2B) commercial transactions, coupons support business-to-consumer (B2C) interactions, where the business party may be a manufacturer or retailer, as already noted.Collaboration/Social – In a similar fashion, for much of their history, the primary coupon-related interactions were pushes from the vendor or manufacturer to individual consumers – much as business have interacted with employees (B2E – see an earlier post). But consumers have discovered that they can realize greater benefits if they work together using both generic social tools as well as purpose-built tools. Given the flood of coupon and discount opportunities consumers have also started to favour pull instead of push mechanisms – which are increasingly perceived as spam.

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/

The Implicit Value of Content is Realized Through Business Process

As I have noted before, much of the historic discussion in the document management field has concerned the cost of producing content, or the cost of finding existing content.But the value of a document, or any other piece of content, is seldom the same as its cost of production.I was chatting about this the other day with my colleague James Latham. He used an invoice as an example of a piece of content that may be managed by an enterprise content management (ECM) system. James noted that, ‘There is inherent or explicit value in an invoice’. In fact the value of an invoice is fairly tightly linked to the cash it represents.A $10 bill has an explicit value of $10. Likewise a delivered invoice for $10 has a value of about $10 to an organization. Arguably it is not quite as valuable as $10 cash given the delay and perhaps uncertainty of payment, but it is close enough in most cases and will be treated as such in an accounting system.There is a case where a $10 bill is worth much more: if it is a rare, old $10 bill, it may have a lot of implicit value (e.g. to collectors it may be worth hundreds of dollars) above its explicit value of $10.Tangible value (explicit plus implicit) is established by sale of the item itself or the recent valuations of comparable items. But it is hard to think of invoices, especially electronic invoices (i.e. digital content), as having any implicit value.Are there other kinds of enterprise content besides invoices that clearly have implicit value? I think so. Here’s a good example: documents that support a patent application for a product with large market potential may have huge implicit value that greatly exceeds their cost of production and their explicit value at a given moment. This implicit value may become more explicit over time with the issue of a patent, together with product and market advances. At some point an intellectual property sale could attribute very significant tangible value to the documentation.In this patent documentation example, the application of process over time helps to create tangible value. In ECM discussions we often speak of the context of content as helping to give it meaning, but clearly we also need to consider how process can give it value.

Blocked Community Arteries

Online communities can form around many different technologies. But once they have formed, they can be very difficult to update, convert or move. The problem is not one of technology conversion, but rather user habits and preferences, which seem to become more solidified the longer the community has existed.I’ve been reminded of this as I started to get involved with some online automotive forums. Recently I purchased an old car that I am refurbishing as a hobby. There are now fantastic online resources, with detailed illustrated procedures that are far better than the factory manuals.You can also ask for help and people respond almost immediately, provided you don’t violate the many customs and expectations. The most important of which is that you must have searched first. Since the forum I use has been around for a decade and the cars it covers are from 16 to more than 30 years old, most issues have already been covered in previous posts, often many times. This also means the veterans are intolerant of people asking the same old questions. So I search really carefully first and only if I don’t find what I’m looking for make an apologetic posts along the lines of: “I have searched, but can’t seem to find out how to…”The community is very centered on classic, threaded discussions and search. Just how centered was recently illustrated by a post by a brake vendor offering to provide free brake pads to the person who posted the best explanation of why they should get free brakes, as judged by ‘like’ votes on Facebook. The resulting furor was really fascinating to watch.There were a succession of ‘Fail’ posts. The first started:

  • “I don’t have a facebook account so can’t enter. Don’t you have your own business website?”

Others chimed in with incrementing posts; very quickly 18 negative votes were posted. The comment about a business website certainly illustrated that the poster has missed out on current trends. Other anti-Facebook comments included:

  • “Rarely use the FB. Don’t Like”
  • “What’s a facebook?”
  • “I have no plans on signing up for facebook at all, ever”
  • “C’mon, without FB how am I going to check out all the girls that wouldn’t date me in 1985 and feel better now about the bullet(s) that I unknowingly dodged?”
  • “I don’t “do” facebook either, and it might be a long, long time before I find a reason to sign up for it.”
  • “I have some semblance of a life…”
  • “I am worthy of getting the brake pads for the simple fact that I don’t use facebook.”
  • “No interest in joining MyFace or any of the other ones. I’m waiting for the ‘winner’ to emerge. This one is probably just another fad like parachute pants and jackets with zippers all over them. Boy am I glad I passed on those.”
  • “News feature today mentioned employers and now banks using FB and twitter to help evaluate the qualifications of business/job/loan candidates.”

One poster was particularly incensed that the vendor had posted on more than one such site (which is a typical social marketing approach):

  • “When he posted this I went to his FB page and was pretty put out that it looked like they spammed every car forum out there with the same offer. Needless to say, I didn’t “Like” this.”

After this tirade, there was a tentative response from a few Facebook users. I was one of the first to point out that there was a Facebook page dedicated to this particular car, but supposed they would not be using it, which was quickly answered with an, “uhhhh… no.” There were actually a couple of positive posts:

  • “I actually love facebook. It is a very useful way for me to stay in contact with many friends that I would have otherwise lost due to lack of free time. I have re-connected with old friends and use it to schedule real life get togethers. It’s actually a pretty amazing site.”
  • “Wasn’t saying anything negative about FB, I’m on there entirely tooooooo much.”

One of the final posts directed to the vendor was spot on (if sexist):

  • “Don’t worry (not that you were) about the crotchety old hags on this forum somehow connecting your company to the terror threat of FB. Its just new and different, and not many here are early adopters.” And the last one:
  • “I found this funny on a forum dedicated to owners of 16-34 year old cars.”

So they are not open to change. Which is a pity because there are newer technologies that would actually help the community:

  1. The illustrated procedures would be far better in a wiki format that could be refined over time, rather than depending on original posts with some threaded discussion additions that are hard to follow
  2. Likewise, some of the threads are really just social conversations that have little to do with the subject car. A microblogging application would be far more suitable

This well-entrenched community is very much wed to a traditional, content-centric model (threaded posts and search) and most members don’t understand the people-centered, social model of collaboration. Although comprised of technically-savvy people, their preferred technology is old, as are their cars. I don’t think this community is ready to change.