Sunday, 16 November 2008

Whatever happened to the 'Death of Distance'?

The term was coined by Frances Cairncross back in 1997, and made the title of her book. I assume it was meant to include the idea that as a result of the communications revolution we wouldn't need to keep flying round the world for business meetings and conferences.

Why, then, is it that most of the 'Web 2.0' people I know seem to spend much of their time doing just that? Could it be that they do it for pleasure? Fine by me, just as long as none of them lectures me about carbon footprint size....

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Sharepoint Summit

Thanks to TFPL, and especially John Davies, for inviting me to their 'Sharepoint Summit' last week. As I said previously, I came to this fighting against a degree of prejudice regarding Sharepoint. My own experience of Sharepoint 2003 had been fairly underwhelming, and the views expressed at Wiki Wednesday had been fairly negative, too.

In many ways my fears proved founded. During the eight or so presentations plenty of weaknesses and limitations were highlighted. I won't go into detail, as James Lappin of TFPL has listed them on Twitter already. Not too surprising, perhaps, as Sharepoint attempts to cover six major information management bases: collaboration, portal, enterprise search, ECM, business processes & forms, business intelligence. It would be pretty surpising if it were best of breed in all these. The trouble is (although not for Microsoft or their certified partners) that IT departments are choosing Sharepoint as the solution to whatever the problem might be, then trying to patch up the deficiencies with widgets, bespoke code, etc. This all takes time and costs money. And it can be very messy. If one message came across loud and clear from the presenters, it was that you must think and plan ahead before implementing Sharepoint. If you don't you can get into a right old pickle.

Call me old-fashioned (actually perhaps new-fashioned is better here), but I thought the new wave of Web 2.0 in the enterprise was about lightweight software, small pieces loosely joined, mashups, emergence and so on. Sharepoint doesn't much sound like any of that to me. Then again, to be fair, I have been focusing mainly on collaboration / knowledge-sharing, which is only one of the six Sharepoint segments. Most of the case studies at this summit involved something more formal - a major intranet, a public website, a hub for integrating information being entered in multiple geographies, a workflow system. But I was left wondering about the wisdom of using Sharepoint for everything instead of picking best-of-breed products. I suppose it's a bit like the old debate about Hi-Fi: do you buy separate speakers, amp and CD player, from different manufacturers, or do you plump for a package from one? The argument for the package was put by Sharon Richardson of Joining Dots. Sharon should know a fair bit about Sharepoint, as she worked for Microsoft from 2000-2006 as Lead Technology Specialist for Sharepoint products in the UK. She took us back to the early '90s - which I am certainly old enough to remember - when Wordperfect was the No 1 word processor and Lotus 123 was the spreadsheet of choice. Word and Excel, she claimed, weren't necessarily better, they just worked better together. And the same argument applies to all the bits of Sharepoint. Well, this is something that jars with me, for two reasons. First, I'm not sure the interoperability of the early Office products was all that stunning, and to the extent that it was, was there not a little issue of some Windows code being concealed from non-Microsoft developers? Second, we're not talking any longer about an office suite of desktop products. The new standard is www (something that Bill G took a little while to 'get', incidentally). It should not be necessary to buy a suite like Sharepoint to get the interoperability and integration you need.

Perhaps I'm being overly negative. As some speakers said, Sharepoint can be tolerably good out of the box for an SME with modest requirements. And if you are a bigger firm which is happy to invest time to customise and extend basic Sharepoint, and prefers to work from a pre-existing platform (ready-made foundations, if you like) rather than build an app. from scratch, it might make sense also. One thing is clear: the Microsoft marketing machine is ensuring that for many companies Sharepoint becomes the one and only migration path for those whose world currently only contains Office, shared drives and Exchange, to one that is Web 2.0 - ish, if not Web 2.0 proper. Whether you like Sharepoint or not, it's going to be hard to ignore it.

Thanks again to TFPL for arranging a great day, and letting us see the warts as well as the beauty.

Friday, 3 October 2008

London Wiki Wednesday and Sharepoint

Wiki Wednesday yesterday was the first I have attended for about 9 months, I think, not least because they were put on ice for a while. Hosted jointly by the BCS North London Branch and Bearingpoint, the initial theme or hook was “Microsoft SharePoint as social media platform - Any chance to fight your IT department when they suggest it?”. This was a topic I did not want to miss, particularly as I shall be attending a one day seminar by TFPL later this month, which will be taking somewhat the opposing view.

David Terrar, organiser of London Wiki Wednesdays, had framed the proposal, and whilst he has his own competing product called Wordframe, I believe he's genuine in his desire to highlight the comparative benefits of not only his own product but of others of similar ilk.

A number of audience members who had had experience of Sharepoint implementations in their own organisations offered their views. There seemed to me to be a consensus that Sharepoint is touted by Microsoft as both 'free' and 'out-of-the-box', but isn't really either of those things. Firstly, a MOSS licence isn't free, and unless you upgrade to MOSS from entry-level Sharepoint you basically only have a document management system and miss out on Web 2.0 tools such as wikis and blogs. It needs a lot of customisation, which can take many man-hours of IT people's time. Someone described it as a toolset rather than a product for end-users. As (I think it was) Andreas Rindler argued, no product will be suitable for deployment in many organisations without any customisation. But with Sharepoint it is not possible for an end-user, for example, simply to add widgets by selecting from a tick-list, as they (allegedly) can with other products.

I must suspend my suspicion that this is all a typical Microsoft lock-in strategy, along the lines of "nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM, no wait, Microsoft", thus giving an easy choice to the IT procurement people, then nice employment for their folk, etc. I must also stop thinking that Sharepoint is a mediocre product, since I haven't touched it for 2 years. I'm looking forward to the TFPL day so I can hear the other side of the story.

For a write up of the rest of the 1st Oct Wiki Wednesday (and there was more good stuff), see here

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Systemic risk and social media

Presumably there's nobody who hasn't heard of the recent, er, problems in the finance industry. Whilst the wailing and gnashing of teeth are going on, presumably the FSA, SEC and other regulators are pondering how to ensure it 'never happens again'. Targets in the firing line seem to include bonuses and shorting, plus that rather vague term 'transparency' (or rather, opacity, since that's the bogey).

But is there anything much that regulators can do, without throwing the baby out with the bathwater (ie over-regulating and thus stifling enterprise)? And if so is there any connection with social software in the enterprise, thus justifying this post?

I think there might be, but it's not a nice thought. Let me step back a moment. The credit crunch and recent investment bank failures stem from the fact that a duff security - sub-prime mortgages - was wrapped up into opaque financial instruments such as CDOs (collateralised debt obligations). If I understand it correctly, this opacity made these instruments easier to sell than the underlying assets alone would have been, and it became harder for banks to know the true systemic risk they were running. When the sh*t hit the fan, ie the mortgages became worthless because of falling property prices and consequent defaults, not only were the CDOs etc devalued but putting a price on the devaluation became very hard, as did knowing which bank was exposed to what. So the problem was a combination of devaluation and ignorance. It was the ignorance as much as the loss of value that led to the credit crunch and the failures of Bear Stearns, Lehmans and (nearly) Merrill Lynch.

So where am I going with this? The regulators need to get a better, and earlier, hold on systemic risk in future, no matter what gives rise to it. This is not easy to do. Theoretically it can be done by external observation of economic indicators. It might have been possible to deduce that property prices were about to crash and that mortgage-related securities would go with them. But it's always hard to guess when a market has reached its peak, otherwise we'd all be rich. And probability is only one element of risk, the other being consequences or impact. The latter was probably very hard to measure, again because of opacity of the instruments. It all reminds me a bit of the problems at Lloyd's of London in the 1980s with the so-called LMX Spiral: risk accumulated through a chain of reinsurance contracts and no-one knew (until the s*it hit the fan) that it had ended up with a small number of syndicates, who were left holding the parcel when the music stopped.

But is it really true that no-one knows? I emphatically think not. The people who know are those doing the business. You can bet that there were people who knew how potentially toxic those CDOs and what-have-you were. I'm not talking about fraud here, although that did happen also. I mean people doing a relatively honest (by investment banking standards) job, who could see the risk, but had no incentive to do anything about it. In fact they had a big incentive not to - their bonus.

So how does a regulator find out about these risks? S/he needs to tap into what the traders are saying. Once upon a time they just said it in pubs and on street corners. Then, when email came along, some indiscreetly wrote things down, thinking it would remain private. But the regulators could order discovery of it as evidence when something went wrong and it appeared that rules had been broken.

Finally I'm getting to the point. Just as young people often blab about everything they are doing and thinking on social networking sites, then get embarrassed (and maybe risk their employment prospects) when they realise who might be reading it, we can perhaps expect such indiscretion inevitably to occur on social media within the enterprise, when its use becomes widespread. It might come to include traders talking about the latest securitisation wheeze, and how it's gonna be a great little earner for a couple of years until the sh*t hits the fan when x happens. Regulators would be very interested in seeing this material. We may even come to see it as their duty to obtain it. And perhaps to obtain it not just after the horse has bolted, but on an ongoing basis. Not a nice thought, but perhaps inevitable?

Thursday, 28 August 2008

'Knowledge management' again

In a Google group related to content management I saw a post today about KM. Someone had been tasked with setting up a KM system but didn't know how to go about it. This prompted me to comment along the following lines.

It's possible to argue endlessly about what 'knowledge
management' means. I think what most organisations want (or should
want) is an information management system which includes not only
formal-ish documents like reports, but conversations. The latter is
where blogs come in. Old-style KM tried to make people enter
'knowledge' into separate systems - they didn't want to and didn't
have the time. A better approach is to have them write in blogs,
discussion groups and wikis as part of their work, so that the
information is captured and is accessible to all. This is in stark
contrast to information that resides on shared drives and email. You
can give it structure through tagging, enabling the creation of a
folksonomy. This is an ad hoc taxonomy, less controlled (and a bit
more hit-and-miss) but still useful and better than free-text
searching alone. Pop in an RSS feed and people can subscribe to the
subject areas or authors they are interested in. The hard bit is
weaning people off the tools they are used to - email, Word documents
and Powerpoints on shared drives. Old habits die hard.

Do you agree?

Sunday, 10 August 2008

'Managing' email inbox

I used to work on the principle that my email inbox needed to be actively managed. Every message should (ideally at least) be read once then either replied to, filed or deleted. As volumes increased, and I used the Blackberry more and more for email - on which, with my set-up, I can't file - this process became too difficult. Now I set the Blackberry to delete all emails over 15 days old (on handheld and mailbox). The idea is that if the email matters, I'll attend to it. If it doesn't, it dies a natural death.

I no longer feel a burden of fear and guilt from contemplating a massive list of unprocessed messages.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Enterprise 2.0 in a downturn?

I haven't seen much mention on the Enterpise 2.0 blogs of the R word. Is that because Enterprise 2.0 evangelists are in denial, or are they just such eternal optimists that they shrug such matters off as trivialities?

Anyhow, I've been wondering what, specifically, might be the selling points for an Enterprise 2.0 programme during an economic downturn. Here are my 'top 5' suggestions. I'd like to know what you think - are these right, are there others?

1. In a tough business climate, you need all the tools you can lay your hands on to make yourself more effective. Especially if they are cheap. E2.0 tools are effective and cheap.

2. You'll save cash when you migrate to SaaS from home-grown LANs, data centres, client apps etc. Most E2.0 tools are available as SaaS (and possibly only so).

3. You'll save time and thus money by using email less, and blogs, wikis, RSS etc more. This is because you'll reduce information 'noise' and thus time lost looking for the 'signal'.

4. If it comes to lay-offs, you'll communicate well with your staff about the need for them, and about the process, because you know that everyone in the organisation will know if you don't - and if you do. No more 'disappearances'.

5. You might find that staff come up with creative ways of helping the business ride the trough of the wave.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Enterprise 2.0 tools for projects

I originally posted this as a comment on one of Andrew McAfee's blog posts, then realised I should be putting it on here, too.

I've been trying to get a project team to use E2.0 tools recently. It's been harder work than I expected. We've been using Google docs to hold project documentation. This includes a spreadsheet that is the project plan. I had to switch to Zoho for the plan, because it became too big to upload to Google Docs. So that made 2 places to look, and 2 applications to learn. I thought both Google Docs and Zoho would be 'no-brainers' to get the hang of, but some people found it difficult. And we've had glitches, both human (eg my forgetting to give the right people access to a document) and technical (a bug in Google preventing editing of access permissions).

However, despite all these issues I think we've begun to see some benefits, and no-one has refused to play ball out of our small team of half a dozen or so. It's also been interesting that, some sensitive customer data apart (which was kept off the system) there has not been too much concern about putting the project data onto third party servers.

Incidentally, the team comprises the customer for a system, the supplier, and myself as an independent project manager. The fact that we're from three different organisations made it beneficial to use SaaS platforms (no access problems), but it also meant I didn't have the power to make the choice of tools and methods a matter of diktat.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Wikis and Blogs: same but different?

It struck me today that the types of Web 2.0 tool (or at least, publishing rather than finding tool) can be roughly divided into two paradigms. We could call the first the add-a-post paradigm. Into this camp fall blogs, Twitter, discussion forums (or bulletin boards, if you're old school) and, I think, social networks. The second paradigm could be called the overwrite paradigm. It includes not only wikis but Google Docs, Zoho and online mindmapping like Mind42.

It also struck me that the first paradigm seems to be the more intuitive for most people. Or at least, it seems to be easier to get people to adopt it. Much has been written about the problems involved in getting wikis to take off. As Jay Hariani says here, "When we hold presentations with the goal of explaining to users that Word is the past and Clearspace, Confluence, Zoho, or Google Docs is the future, they often smile politely, but have trouble seeing how things might be. Selling them on the E2.0 ethos of knowledge reuse, search not store, and folksonimies takes a lot of convincing." Why this is, isn't quite clear, although I suspect it's a combination several things:
- people like to see 'their post' being responded to rather than changed;
- they might feel diffident about changing someone else's work
- they might feel an overwrite paradigm space is 'owned' by someone else in a way that they don't about an add-a-post space.

If I'm right about all this, it will take longer to see widespread adoption (assuming other things are equal) of the overwrite model in organisations than it will for the add-a-post model. The only exception I can immediately think of would be for a heavily templated or structured overwrite space which meets a clear and specific business process need.

What do you think?

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Students don't expect their tutor to see Facebook

During a drink last night with a friend who is a noted academic at London University, we talked a bit about social networking. I was interested in the extent to which university students were using Web 2.0 facilities in general as part of their studies. My friend did not seem to have deeply integrated these tools into her teaching methods, but she did remark that she had run a quick search of Facebook and found twelve of her students on there. The interesting thing was the reaction of these twelve on being told that she had done so - deep shock. She emphasised to me that her motives were strictly honorable - no dirt-digging was involved. In fact, she had been thinking of using Facebook as an internal forum for her student group, and that was the reason for checking who was on there. Despite this the reaction of the twelve could not have been stronger if she'd just told them they had all flunked their course.

This came as a surprise to me. I'd assumed that young Facebook users simply didn't care who saw what they were posting. Apparently not. If this group is representative of the whole - and, although it's a small sample, I see no real reason why not - it seems more as if they assume anyone over, say 40, either hasn't heard of Facebook or can't do a search.

Projecting this situation into a corporate context, I'm again having to revise an assumption. This was that young joiners, social networking users to a man (or woman), and of the 'let-it-all-hang-out' style to boot, would pressurise companies to change their culture, and that this in turn might accelerate the adoption of Enterprise 2.0. I now wonder if it isn't more likely that social networking will be a leisure-related medium only, as that's the way 20-somethings want it.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Consulting in Enterprise 2.0: all things to all men or shrink-wrapped product?

What do those of you who consult in Enterprise 2.0 find is the best way to go about your business? It seems to me that at one extreme there's the approach which says, "I am the ultimately flexible consultant. I'll talk to you about some of the high-level ideas behind Enterprise 2.0, I'll listen to your needs, then we'll implement something together - no preconceptions."

At the other extreme is the consultant who is really trying to sell a product - perhaps a piece of software, perhaps a 'TM' methodology, perhaps a training programme, or a combination of these.

I think the first approach is the more genuine service, but the second perhaps appeals to the many of us who like to buy something 'off the peg'.

What do you do?

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Moblogging from Seafrance

I ought to moblog more. I tend to forget I can. When I remember, I'm always surprised at how simple it is, especially with a querty keyboard device like the Blackberry. This one is being written from the Calais-Dover ferry, after a pleasant few days in La Belle France.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Google Docs, Mind42 for projects

Google Docs is of course well-known. But maybe like me you were aware of it, tried it a while ago, and then didn't use it for some time. If so, have another look. It's truly brilliant now. You can upload an Excel workbook and retain all the sheets, and most of the functionality. And of course, in addition, you can use it collaboratively, and it keeps a change history. I've been using it on a project for a client recently. My client is an accountant. He described it as 'cool'. How often do you hear an accountant say that about anything? ;-)

I've also been using Mind42 for a little while now. I've got a few pretty hard-baked developers hooked, and the accountant I just mentioned likes it, too. There are a number of mind-mapping programs, such as Mind Manager and Freemind, but as far as I know thay are not SaaS and not collaborative. Mind42 is. It's only real weakness, for me, is the lack of a facility to relate concepts laterally by drawing arrows.

The more I use collaborative tools the more I like them, and the less I like the 'old way': emailing versions around and then losing track of them.

Do you agree?

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

The New KM - a year ago and still spot-on

Ever up-to-the minute, I have just come across this article by David Tebbutt, which encapsulates extremely well my own views on 'KM', and how Web 2.0 tools change that particular game.

I always find David's articles in IWR worth a read.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Google and blogs

A friend and neighbour told me today that he'd found my weblog. Wasn't too sure how, but thought it was probably via Google. This reminded me how I had been surprised, when I first began this blog, how quickly Google had indexed it.

So far, so trivial, perhaps. However, it reminded me of what for me is one of the key points about information management and the Web. Search. As Andrew McAfee has pointed out with his SLATES notation, search is one of the central tenets of Enterprise 2.0. And it's an area where the contrast between the World Wide Web and the average corporation or not-for-profit organisation is extreme.

Because the WWW is all web-based (obviously), but the internal organisational environment isn't.

Do you agree that this is a fundamental (and quite puzzling) point?

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

I finally get Twitter

Oh dear, is it really nearly a month since I last posted? I'll have to make a belated New Year's resolution to post more often. Perhaps little and often, the little I hope referring to quantity rather than quality.

On that note, I 'got' Twitter today. I've had ambivalent feelings about Twitter for a while. It seemed to be about, well, (t)wittering on about trivia, yet many raved about it, including Euan Semple who posted about how Twitter made him feel safe.

I've been supporting Brian Paddick's bid for mayor, and signed up to 'follow' him on Twitter. Today I received a text message from Twitter, relaying a Tweet in which he said he was going to Croydon today then appearing on a TV show at 3.00 pm. So now I know what Twitter is for - being alerted to what selected people are doing, if you want to be.

I feel a bit sheepish writing this. I can almost hear "Call yourself a Web 2.0 expert, man?" ringing in my ears. But that's what blogging's meant to be about, isn't it? Letting it all hang out, dirty linen and warts and all.

Don't worry, that's all for now...

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Blogs don't have to be for blogging

..And wikis don't have to be encyclopedias.

A blog is a website with a predetermined format - posts in date sequence. It doesn't have to be used for writing an online diary or collection of online musings.

A wiki is a website that anyone can edit. Wikipedia is the only wiki that many people have heard of, so these people often think wiki equals encyclopedia.

What might an organisation's collection of written material be like if was all on blogs and wikis?