Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Joining Interact

I've just started a new role with a company called Interact.  They develop and market intranet software.  They were hiring and I got into discussions with their CEO, Nigel Danson, and things developed from there.  Having been pretty impressed with their competitor Igloo's product, I considered the bar to be high for Interact to impress me, but impress me they did.  I also like the 'roving consultant' nature of the role, and gelled very quickly with Rachel and Steve who also interviewed me. 

Have I gone over to the 'dark side', throwing my independence to the wind and from now on becoming nothing but a walking, talking, tweeting plugger of one firm's products?  I don't believe so.  I'll do my best to 'tell it as I see it'. Interact are clearly strong on running intranet seminars and their annual conference is a major event.  They like to emphasis the benefits of intranets rather than merely pitching their own product.

I'm looking forward to joining them.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

No-one ever got fired for....

It used to be 'for choosing IBM'.  Over time, that became 'Microsoft'.  Arguably, now it's 'Sharepoint'.  It certainly seems that way to me.  A huge percentage of large corporations have chosen it for the portals / intranets, yet I don't hear much enthusiasm for the product.  The best that commentators seem to be able to come up with is things like, "It's very flexible - if you've got the development staff to tailor it", or "We know the supplier's going to be there in five years".  In other words, weak praise, mainly driven by safety concerns.  Maybe the recent purchase of Yammer will change things, but it's too early to say.

In the meantime, there are some excellent out-of-the-box and/or SaaS social intranets that are virtually unknown by comparison: Interact, Igloosoftware, Thoughtfarmer, MangoApps, to name but a few that I've looked into or used recently. 

Maybe it's time people did start getting fired for choosing Sharepoint instead of properly investigating alternatives such as these? 

Friday, 15 June 2012

A rose by any other name

How important are the terms we use in world of, er, oh dear, I've got to pick one: Enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0, social networking, social media, social business, social intranets, social computing?  I've had a couple of interesting conversations this week with some folks from an Intranet company, and in their experience the word 'social' doesn't always go down well with customers.  The connotation is often of "not businesslike", "time-wasting".  But of the seven terms I've quoted, five use the word 'social'. Of the other two, Enterprise 2.0 is obscure in lay circles, and Web 2.0 is both too broad and too techie-sounding.  And in any case all these terms have subtly different meanings.

Can anyone help with a way of dealing with this? 

Friday, 1 June 2012

I like LIKE

It's the perfect acronym: LIKE is London Information and Knowledge Exchange.  It's also a very likeable little set-up.  Started 3 years ago by Jennifer Smith, Virginia Henry and Marja Kingman , this for me has become about the only professional discussion and networking group that I go to with any regularity.  Maybe that just proves how unsociable I am, but I think there's more to it than that.  Somehow or other, the founders have developed a format that works really well.  There's a speaker, questions, food, and mingling.  Doesn't sound particularly revolutionary, and it doesn't have to be.  The balance between professional and social, seriousness and fun, is somehow just right. 

Last night the speaker was Martin de Saulles of the University of Brighton, who gave us some interesting perspectives on what the future might hold for information production, distribution and consumption.  Some of his predictions (after saying that only a fool would write down predictions, he made some, perhaps forgetting temporarily that 50% of his audience would tweet or blog them later) related to fairly old themes, such as the replacement of all things paper with a digital alternative.  However, Martin made a compelling case for believing that change is now taking place faster than many realise.  I, for one, would not bet against his prediction that in five years time his university library will no longer be buying printed books. 

Martin is a very fluent and engaging speaker.  I can imagine his students would stay awake during his lectures, even after a not-atypical student lunch of a couple of pints of Sussex bitter.  My only slight disappointment - and this is no criticism of Martin but more a reflection of my own interests - was that he didn't spend much time addressing the Web 2.0 communication / social networking revolution more generally, and where that might lead us in 5 years time. 

If you're into KM, information management or librarianship, and can get to Clerkenwell (which is a nice spot), I recommend giving LIKE a go.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Pen pals as the killer argument

I was helping one of my sons today with a piece of homework, which involved writing an essay addressing the statement "social networking websites have reduced possibilities to form real relationships", or words to that effect. Thinking about it together, one of us came up with the point that in the days of pen pals - arguably a precursor to social networking - people got to 'know' each other remotely, and if/when they met, felt they had a relationship already.  This insight seemed, at a stroke, to debunk two points often claimed about social networking sites: that they are somehow uniquely about computers and the internet, and that they are the first instance of attempting to substitute the 'real' for the virtual, as far as relationships are concerned. 

My son went on to mention other benefits such as one-to-many conversations and near instant responses, but we both felt the 'pen pal insight' was something of a killer argument against those claiming that real relationships are being killed off.  I suspect I might be using it in a professional context before too long.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Clear purpose, or see where it leads?

At the Social Workplace Conference the other day a number of presenters emphasised the importance of having a clearly defined purpose for your social business initiative. I found myself nodding in agreement.  Today I started reading Euan Semple's book "Organisations Don't Tweet, People Do", and found this recommendation:

"Don't have a clear idea where you are headed.  The more fixed you are in your aspirations for your ecology the less likely you are to achieve them.  Be prepared to go where people's use of the tools takes you and enjoy the ride."

On the face of it these two views are contradictory.  They might not be - and I can guess ways in which it could be argued that they aren't - but as I proceed with Euan's (very readable) book I'm going to be looking for answers to that point.

Senior managers who don't 'get it'

I had the experience not so long ago of discovering that a senior manager not only didn't 'get' the point of a social intranet, he was positively hostile to it.  He valued face to face communication very heavily and saw workplace tweeting and blogging as the pied piper that would lead people away from it. I did my best to bring him round, with arguments such as it's not a replacement, it's a supplement; that it enables people in remote offices and who work from home to feel involved, and so on.  I succeeded to the point where he dropped his opposition and allowed his team to work with me to implement it. 

The social intranet took off, or seemed to.  But this person never contributed anything.  I also noticed that nor did the majority of his colleagues on the senior team.  My fear is that by working round him (and them) rather than truly getting them on board, I introduced a social intranet that will forever be stunted in its growth.  It will remain OK to talk about social and/or non-controversial business topics, but serious business-related discussions - particularly where controversy is involved - won't happen.

I'm still not sure what the right course of action is when top level support isn't really there - work round, or make getting that support the first and paramount goal?

Blog re-boot time

I've been neglecting this blog for sometime now. I've use the excuse to myself that Twitter is my new preferred place for self expression and networking with others, and that blogs are maybe a bit passé.  I knew it wasn't really true, but couldn't really face getting started again on the blog.  It felt a bit daunting to try and think of the appropriate words of wisdom.

Well, that changed today, and the trigger was a tweet from @themaria , who talked about the same issue, and how a different perspective changed that for her.  Incidentally, I don't know her and had never heard of her until today, but her tweet had been retweeted by someone I follow.  Serendipity Twitter-style.

So that's the kick-off!  There will be more to come.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The push-pull conundrum

We've launched our social intranet at the charity I'm working for. It's been going for about three weeks now. Needless to say there have been a few technical issues, some of which are minor bugs of the sort that you get with any software and one or two of which have been more problematic. On the whole, though, the platform (Igloosoftware's SaaS offering) is working pretty well already, and adoption is coming on apace.

Aside from bugs, one of the key concerns that keeps cropping up relates to the intended demise of 'All Staff' emails. Reducing or eliminating these is supposed to be one of the benefits of the new set-up - a reduction in spam and an increase in choice as to information consumed. I've explained during my training sessions how this can work: scan the activity streams, subscribe to content you're interested in and/or visit the site often.

But it's not quite that simple in practice. In fact, All Staff emails, with all their faults, are a lot simpler. It takes a little while to figure out exactly how to optimise your alerts, and how they are working. Even if you've got them set up just how you want them, and even if there are some that have been set up by an administrator for all staff, there is still uncertainty. The user remains uncertain that he'll see that crucial message (especially about cakes in the kitchen - we like our cakes at the charity) and the poster isn't sure who's seen it.

Of course, there's never certainty that everyone has read an email, unless you specify a read receipt and go through all of them to check - not too likely for over 100 staff. But at least people have only one place to look for that critical message.

Our solution? Really key messages from 'the centre' go out as specially formatted emails, everything else goes (or will go) onto the intranet somewhere, and it's down to you to make sure you see it. Emails can still be used for sub-groups of staff, but people are being encouraged to link to content on the intranet rather than to put it in the email itself.

Whether this will work well or not depends on how quickly people take to the new platform-centric, 'pull' concept. That might in turn be a function of people's experience to date with Web 2.0 on the Internet, which will vary from person to person.

If you have any other suggestions for tackling this one, please post a comment.