Month: June 2009

Measuring ROI for Enterprise 2.0 and Collaboration

I’ve just returned from the Enterprise 2.0 conference. (I took the long way home through Waterloo).

It was fun, I got to meet some of the twitterati, and show off Open Texts’ very cool new products.

Much of the conversation there, however was about the ROI of the various initiatives around Enterprise 2.0 – and there was not a lot of satisfaction found in the conversation. So I’m sharing my thoughts on the subject.

First lets define some terms. Enterprise 2.0 generally refers to two major initiatives – one is to use social media to create and improve relationships and communication with the marketplace. The other is to faciliate knowledge worker efficiency within the organization.

I’m talking about the second case – what Open Text likes to call the Social Workplace (vs. the Social Marketplace).

So – ROI. How do you measure the ROI of knowledge worker efficiency. There are basically 2 ways to do this.

One is to try to measure the value in general. This is very hard to measure unless you equate social media to email, the phone, the intranet – they’re modern tools of work, and we don’t measure the ROI, its just how business is done. This really only works in one of 2 situations. Either you have a visionary senior leadership who just feel its strategic and important, and they want to do it regardless of a fuzzy ROI. The other is if you have a small grass-roots effort that can show demonstrable results, and those results can be assumed to grow with further adoption across the organization.

The real thinking behind this is that you acknowledge that you aren’t sure what will happen when you enable a collaborative culture within your organization, but your pretty sure some good stuff will happen in the realm of efficiency, innovation, and solving as yet unpredicted problems because people within the organization will have a much better chance of connecting the dots.

The second way to measure ROI is to recognize that Social Media and collaboration tools are enabling technologies that can solve certain business problems. You don’t measure the ROI of the technology, you measure the ROI of sovling a specific problem. So – if you don’t have the organizational culture or backing to take the leap of faith that method one requires, you need to identify a business problem – teams are spread across the globe, email trails are out of control, information silos are causing lots of redundant work – probably you can come up with your own list.

The ROI in this case is the ROI of solving that specific problem. What’s your business problem? What is the cost of that problem? How will you know if its solved?

That’s your ROI.

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collaboration is not a technology

Collaboration is not a technology – it is about people choosing to cooperate. Its a cultural thing.

The tighter and more explicit the collaboration, the more sensitive it is to the culture in which it resides. I’m a big fan of workplace collaboration. If you have it, you’ll recognize that it makes work thrilling, makes you invincible, and as I’m fond of saying, amplifies our strengths and diminishes our weaknesses.

If you actually read this blog, you’ll find it repetitive of me to say that collaboration is not a single behavior, but a constellation of them, that I broadly categorize as Creative, Connective and Compounding.

But the underlying human construct of collaboration is a sense of team. An esprit de corp of some kind or magnitude. And here are the attributes of teams:

1. A shared sense of goal or mission (even if that’s to identify a shared goal or mission).

2. Mutual respect.

3. Trust

4. A commitment to continual improvement. (this is the hardest one, because to improve, one must admit imperfection, must make it a virtue to go looking for trouble, and see it as an opportunity).

What these things together allow is a powerful, compounded beam of intellect focus on the issues at hand rather than on the politics, insecurities or personal quirks of the contributors. ie – the fastest route to success.

Without these, all the microblogging, profile, yammer, twitter, wiki-tech in the world will not help. Of course if you are powerful enough to build such a culture, those tools will grease the skids in delightful ways.

We are “The Sims”

I like to think that sometimes my posts are pithy and clever, but I know that sometimes they are a bit abstract. This is usuallly cause I’m using this blog as a way to work through what i’m thinking about. This is one of those posts.

Back in the late 90’s, i spent a few years studying, designing and implementing “agent based simulations of complex systems “. I was studying emergent behavior. These were somewhere between “boids” and The Sims in their depth.

I was doing an incredible amount of online research, and realized that if I ever wanted to do related research it would be very difficult to re-trace my steps, bookmarks not withstanding. If I wanted OTHER people to be able to retrace my steps, it would be very difficult to share HOW I’d found what I’d found, in addition to the what.

These two issues put me on a tear to understand tacit knowledge.

So – I wrote a whitepaper that I titled the Self-Organizing Knowledge Manager. The idea was this. People are not very good at tracking things, but computers are. we could get a computer to track where we go and how we get there and what we do when we’re there, and amek it so we can retrace our own steps and share our pathways with others. You wouldn’t have to be explicit about what the relationships between the linked items were, just the fact that there were links at all. People are really good at divining meaning – unlike computers. So leverage what each does best to capture and share tacit knowledge. Simple, right?

Then I asked smart people how to build software that would track click paths, what files were open at the same time, cuts and pastes, etc. They told me I’d need a database as an operating system and it didn’t work that way. hmph.

So the punchline here of course is that Social Media tools are the perfect substrate for capturing this information. Micropublishing, in the form of wikis, blogs, tweets, etc, are capturing the little bits of insight and information, connecting them together – along with the people who contributed – to achieve a self-organizing knowledge system.

So – now people can

a) track the links between people, objects (content) and each other, capturing a ton of tacit knowledge in the process

b) enable people to participate, much like the “agents” in my old simulations, to create emergent behavior.

Unbelievable. I was reminded about all this stuff, and how (perhaps surprisingly) relevant it is in understanding social media. David Armano’s engaging and relevant talk about how his effort to help a homeless family connects the dots.

So – what do we know about tacit knowledge, and what do we know about emergent behavior.

1. We know that most people think those terms are inscrutable.

2. We know that neither are easily tangible or predictable

But – if we apply the study of complexity theory, emergent systems, and what Stephen Wolfram calls “A New Kind of Science” (the first couple hundred pages of which are fascinating, but while I love Stephen (i know him from way back) he could use an aggressive editor, the book weighs about 10 lbs (and thanks to Salinger for teaching me the art of the multiply embedded flourish of parens – there’s a quote somewhere)) and the study of communities and collaboration, then, I think we can help enterprise, government and society develop a language for expressing ideas in this area, and start to really pursue the possible.

I promise my next post will make more sense.

Oh – the title – “The Sims” is a very popular computer game which is, in essence a sophisticated agent based simulation. It is unpredictable in its behaviors and outcomes, and yet elucidates cause and effect very well. Try it and you’ll see. My obscure point here, is that the read-write web has turned its participants into real-live actor agents in a giant simulation game. We can’t predict its outcomes, but we can learn a great deal about cause, effect and the important drivers of various outcomes.

power shift from hording to sharing

At the Canada 3.0 conference, I met a headhunter.

He asked me how social media helps him

My first thought was “you’re in the networking business, how can you not get how social media helps”? But fortunately, i paused long enough to ask another question of him. “Do you use linkedIn?”, I asked.

“Yes, sort of ” he says, “but I’m afraid that people will see my contacts and steel them”.

Oh – fear. Now that’s something that I can understand and relate to.

So I asked him if he could see other people’s contacts. What if its sharing and not stealing? I asked him if that could make him the “go to” guy and if he’d see that as a good thing.

I started my spiel about information sharing replacing information hording as the new source of status and pride.

And then he asked the key question. The KEY.

He said – “Once I empty my little cup of knowledge for someone, what value do I have left?”

He nailed it. The source of Social Media fear.

I did my best on the spur of the moment to answer his question with sensitivity and wisdom (not sure how good my best was, but I tried), so here’s what I said, and perhaps a bit of what I should have.

Information has some value.

Insight has more value.

Capability even more.

The  ability to reliably  find any of the above is perhaps most valuable. So a headhunter should be near the top of the food chain. But he did not see it that way.

So – how can someone like my smart, but worried friend move forward in this world? He’s got 2 key things he needs to do.

1. Become more familiar with Social Media in a non-threatening way. Take little steps that don’t feel high risk. I recommended some a while ago.

2. Start to think of himself in new ways. If he was useful when he horded information, he can be more useful, more influential when he starts giving it away. Just ask google. When people know that you’re the one with the info, they go back, they listen, you get an audience.

My new friend is worth much more than his rolodex.

More critically the point here, if I failed to make it yet, is that information isn’t the treasure, its how you got it and what you’ll do with it, and Fear is the only thing keeping you from discovering your post information, insight-economy value.

canada 3.0

Canada 3.0 – a quickly organized conference designed to bring together canadian government, students and tech industry to get some excitement flowing around the new Stratford institute for digital media- a joint venture between waterloo university and Open Text.

Beginning  a great conversation –  It forced an initially awkward close-quarters interaction between people who would normally never meet –  interesting to watch. It also brought a lot of people who hadn’t a clue about social or digital media together with people who did.

I didn’t get into most of the track talks, as I was working the show floor, but I got to speak to a pretty wide assortment of the highly varied attendees – everyone from students to government ministers, retired school teachers, consultants and analysts.

Canadian Keynotes – they all had a  strong theme of canadian nationalism – the message  – that if canadians want to lead, all they need to do is step up to the plate. The government, the institutions of higher learning, industry – they’re ready to do what they can to enable it.

a couple  things could have made it more valuable, I think.

1. An intro to digital media track. we could have given the people new to the industry more of a vocabulary to work with thru the rest of the camp. We from otex used it as a place to showcase our wares – which was fine, and many people, I believe were excited about it. But it could have been an opportunity for us to talk about what digital media and social media is, what some of the ideas of the future are, and given more people a truly interactive way of learning about it.

2.  More interactive, please – there was a lot of presenting – even people (gasp) reading their speeches – this community is still learning what listening is – and it does take some getting used to. but after attending a few unconference, barcamp, startup weekend events, I can attest that the quality of the conversation that emerges is very impressive.

An advantage –  it was much less self-referential than many of the events in the U.S. since this is an emerging community there was less of the “we’re all experts affirming one another” thing going on than you sometimes see when the same cast of characters shows up time and again at various events. This is a great chance to develop a community with its own distinct personality and objectives.

Website done fast, well and in real time –  very slideshare, twitter, hash tag, youtube enabled, and updated with content in real time.

Key take away – its the beginning of a potentially awsome thing. we all know that this type of excitement fades fast. And in reality, they could work on building up the participation and excitement Should have been thousands there. That said – it was a solid beginning, and, if followed up fast and tangibly, could add up to something big.