Tag Archives: control

Why I Am Ignoring Google Buzz

Note: This post is purely personal opinion based on my preferences and work style. If your are looking for an analysis of Google Buzz based on methodical primary research, abort now.

I have heard many people say that their email inbox is the mother of all social networks. For me, however, email is  the antithesis of a well-built, functioning social network, because it is a communication channel, not a collaboration enabler.

I value my social networks because I can work with members of those communities to get things done. When I worked at IBM, a very large company, my email inbox was more of a proxy for the organizational hierarchy than an instantiation of my social graph. Too much of my email activity was about low value (or value-less) communications and interactions imposed by command and control culture and systems. When I needed to communicate something up or down IBM’s or a project’s chain of command, I used email. When I needed to get something done, I contacted collaborators on Sametime (IBM’s instant messaging product), the phone, or BlueTwit (IBM’s internal-only, experimental microblogging system). In short, the contacts in my large corporation email address book were more reflective of the organizational structure than of my collaborative networks.

That is precisely why Google Buzz is a non-starter for me. The Google Contact list on which it is based does not represent my collaborative network, on which I rely to get work done. Very few of the people with whom I collaborate are represented, because I don’t interact with them via email. At least not often. A quick analysis of my Google Contacts list shows that Google Voice usage contributes more actionable, valuable additions to the list than does Gmail. My Gmail inbox is filled with communications, not action items, and most of them are low-value messages from application and service vendors whose tools I have downloaded or use online.

Google’s design of Buzz demonstrates ignorance of (or disregard for?) the reality that many social interactions happen outside of email. Had I wanted to use my Google Contacts list as a social network, I would have imported it into FriendFeed months ago. Strike One.

I just mentioned FriendFeed, which was my primary social network aggregator for several months. One of the reasons I backed away from heavy usage of FriendFeed was because it became little more than another interface to the Twitter stream. Yes, it is easy to inject updates from other sources into the FriendFeed flow, but, in reality, the vast majority of updates cam from Twitter (and still do.)

I see the same thing happening with Buzz. Too many people have linked their Twitter accounts, so that everything they tweet is duplicated in Buzz. And Buzz doesn’t allow for integration of the vast number of information resources that FriendFeed does. Talk about low-value. Strike Two.

I have not taken enough swings at Google Buzz yet to have recorded Strike Three. So, for now, I have not turned Buzz off. However, I am ignoring it and will not experiment again until Google provides integration with more external social networks.

In the meanwhile, I am still looking for a social tool that blends contacts and information streams from many sources, but lets me filter the flow by one or more sources, as desired. That would allow me to work both formal organizational and informal social networks from the same tool. Gist is promising in that regard, but needs to be able to capture information from more sources with corresponding filters. Hopefully, someone will read this post and either point me to an existing solution or build it. Until then, I will have to continue using multiple tools to communicate and collaborate.

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The Nexus of Defined Business Process and Ad Hoc Collaboration

My friend Sameer Patel wrote and published a very good blog post last week that examined the relationship of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) and enterprise social software. His analysis was astute (as usual) and noted that there was a role for both types of software, because they offer different value propositions. ECM enables controlled, repeatable content publication processes, whereas social software empowers rapid, collaborative creation and sharing of content. There is a place for both in large enterprises. Sameer’s suggestion was that social software be used for authoring, sharing, and collecting feedback on draft documents or content chunks before they are formally published and widely distributed. ECM systems may then be used to publish the final, vetted content and manage it throughout the content lifecycle.

The relationship between ECM and enterprise social software is just one example of an important, higher level interconnection — the nexus of defined business processes and ad hoc collaboration. This is the sweet spot at which organizations will balance employees’ requirements for speed and flexibility with the corporation’s need for control. The following (hypothetical, but typical) scenario in a large company demonstrates this intersection.

A customer account manager receives a phone call from a client asking why an issue with their service has not been resolved and when it will be. The account manager can query a workflow-supported issue management system and learn that the issue has been assigned to a specific employee and that it has been assigned an “in-progress” status. However, that system does not tell the account manager what she really needs to know! She must turn to a communication system to ask the other employee what is the hold up and the current estimate of time to issue resolution. She emails, IM’s, phones, or maybe even tweets the employee to whom the issue has been assigned to get an answer she can give the customer.

The employee to whom the issue was assigned most likely cannot use the issue management system to actually resolve the problem either. He uses a collaboration system to find documented information and individuals possessing knowledge that can help him deal with the issue. Once the problem is solved, the employee submits the solution to the issue management system, which feeds it to a someone who can make the necessary changes for the customer and inform the customer account manager that the issue is resolved. Case closed.

The above scenario illustrates the need for both process and people-centric systems. Without the cludgy, structured issue management system, the customer account manager would not have known to whom the issue had been assigned and, thus, been unable to contact a specific individual to get better information about its status. Furthermore, middle managers would not have been able to assign the case in a systematic way or see the big picture of all cases being worked on for customers without the workflow and reporting capabilities of the issue management system. On the other hand, ad hoc communication and collaboration systems were the tools that drove actual results. The account manager and the employee to whom the issue was assigned would not have been able to do their work if the issue management system was their only support tool. They needed less structured tools that allowed them to communicate and collaborate quickly to actually resolve the issue.

We should not expect that organizations striving to become more people-centric will abandon their ECM, ERP, or other systems that guide or enforce key business processes. There is a need for both legacy management and Enterprise 2.0 philosophies and systems in large enterprises operating in matrixed organizational structures. Each approach can provide value; one quantifiable in hard currency and the other in terms of softer, but important, business metrics (more on this in a future post.) The enterprises that identify, and operate at, the intersection of structured process and ad hoc communication/collaboration will gain short-term competitive advantage.

Why Your Business MUST Adopt Enterprise Social Software

Suw Charman-Anderson posted a thoughtful piece with the title Businesses will live to regret their social media ignorance today.  Her main point is that organizations that do not deploy enterprise social software behind the firewall will lose control of information as it spreads through public social media.

I agree with Suw.  If businesses want to retain some control over their information, they should provide secure, enterprise-ready versions of the specific types of collaboration and communication tools that employees want to use.  For example, if the risk of information leakage via Twitter is too high, the organization should deploy an enterprise microblogging application on its own servers (or subscribe to a SaaS offering hosted by a trusted vendor.)

While it isn’t her central thesis, the most interesting thing to me about Suw’s post is the two similar statements that she chose to publish in bold face.

“People see email as damage and route around it.

People see IT restrictions as damage and route around them.”

What Suw is describing, in a word, is work-arounds.  Employees invent work-arounds to clear hurdles such as poor user interfaces, broken business processes, and ill-informed business policies that exist in nearly every large organization.  The use of public social media by ever growing numbers of people within companies can be attributed, in large part, to the effectiveness of those tools at helping employees work around barriers to productivity.

And that is why your business must adopt enterprise social software.  Not because it provides a level of control over sensitive information, although it does do that.  The real and compelling reason to deploy  enterprise social software is because helps employees do their work.