Personal tools show the way in business collaboration

How will businesses collaborate in the future? This is the core question of a GigaOm Pro report released some time ago. It is titled 'Practical business collaboration: personal tools show the way' and was written by Thomas van der Wal and David Card.

Based on a survey of business managers, problematic areas around business content collaboration were signaled and directions for solutions are given in the report.

Much of today's collaboration still happens in email. 96% says they use email for internal content sharing and 92% for sharing with externals (and this does not correlate with age...).

Some companies like Atos are (planning on) banning email. Businesses are looking for ways to increase employee "productivity, accommodate or counter email limitations, and reduce costs". If a new tool addresses these topics it will probably be adopted quickly.

Searching and tracking documents is still a big problem for companies. Access or lack thereof to content is also an issue.

With email the size of attachments is an issue. And attachments create storage problems when sent around. Email is not optimal for file sharing. But email is, as mentioned above, still a central tool for many. The business managers state that the adoption of new collaboration tools will increase if they are connected to email.

Interesting fact from the survey is that 50% use personal tools to overcome the limitations of email and other collaboration tools, often without IT's knowledge.

What should the business tools of the future be like? They should be easy to use (w.r.t. file sharing), connect with email, support employee mobility and be secure. Looking at the current tool landscape there are many solutions that address these needs. But they are usually not enterprise but personal solutions, like Dropbox. I agree with the report, there's a business opportunity here.

When learning is work and work is...

Harold Jarche has a great blog and shares a lot of his thinking on old HR and old learning and what social learning could bring to organizations. Recently he had a post titled 'Work is learning and learning it the work' that got me thinking.

He basically opposed against pulling learning and work out of each other, as it seems to be in many companies. This is shown by the fact that most companies have someone responsible for learning (HR manager or Learning & Development manager) and formal (online) training.

Learning should be the work. Maybe it's even stronger: Learning is the work. Harold challenges us to actively observe how people are learning to do their job right now.

But why is this so hard for companies? I've written about Peter Senge's book before. Hardly any companies I know can truly be called a learning organization. And Senge's book has been out for more than 20 years now...

As Harold proposes, a simple step could be to "provide time and space for reflection and reading". Some companies like Google explicitly give employees time to do something else. But most people are not given time to reflect. They have to take it themselves, because they themselves find it important to learn. What's wrong here?

Maybe the solution is to start at the personal level. Like Harold's focus on PKM (personal knowledge management), we should start with personal learning. We decide to want to learn and therefore need time to reflect and read. If your company doesn't give you that space, maybe you should move on. Is that it? Or are there other ways?

Also refer to this post by John Stepper about why managers do stupid things.

Relating Enterprise 1.0 to 2.0 systems

It still excites me every time when my RSS reader and tweets point me to interesting content I wouldn't have found by myself. It is true: Interesting information finds me.
James Dellow pointed to Cecil Dijoux's interesting slide deck about 'The nature of software and how it changes the business'.

There's lots of good stuff in the presentation. What particularly struck me was slide 55 and 56. Those two slides are about how Enterprise 1.0 tools, like ERP, CRM and PLM tools, relate to Enterprise 2.0 tools. These slides are important for many IT departments and high-level decision makers to understand Enterprise 2.0 is not an either-or, but and-and game. I find we still have a long way to go here.
Some time ago I wrote about this along two lines: relating business processes to networks, and relating different types of work to tools. It's interesting how email tried to fill up all the gaps between the 1.0 tools. And how much better social tools bridge the gaps between the 1.0 tools, provide context to the structured data and excellerate the processing of the information. I don't see email in Cecil's diagrams, but I think there's a place for that tool in the new world as well. :-)

Thanks for the pointer, James!

Choosing the right social tool - Reflecting on the #SocialNow conference

Many companies are looking into social tools for their internal organization. Lots of others just select what related companies have chosen. Hoping this is the right choice.

As with selecting content management systems, many struggle to select a social platform. There are so many tools out there and they all say they can help you support internal networks. How to choose the right one? Is there a right one? Does the success of a tool elsewhere mean it will also be successful in the company you work for?

The Social Now conference in Porto (June 26-27), organized by Knowman, addressed these questions. And it did so in a unique way. Basically the idea was to have social tool vendors present based on a concrete company case that wanted to move forward in knowledge sharing, idea management and collaborative project work. The vendors were asked to share their approach in 20 minutes and then an expert panel helped the company ask the right questions to the vendors. Many brave vendors presented: Alfresco, Confluence, Microsoft Sharepoint, Oracle, Newsgator, Podio, Teepin, Zyncro, Xwiki, SocialIBIS, Oobian, and Spreadd

Also, several expert talks were given:
  • Oscar Berg about how social concepts and tools can improve knowledge work
  • Ana Neves (also conference organizer) gave two talks: one about selecting social tools and the other about adoption techniques
  • Hugo Magalhães helped the audience decide whether to go for Saas or not 
  • Joaquín Peña shared the insights from the Spanish Enterprise 2.0 conference
  • Lee Bryant closed the converence with a talk about the social organization. 
I think the conference was truly unique and successfully helped the audience gain more perspective in the social tool landscape. There was lots of discussion during the conference in which participants shared their situations and tools they are of have tried. Furthermore the vendors were open about what they are good and less good at and also answered the hard questions in one-on-one's.

What struck me during several presentations was the fact that many vendors address the process-side of work and how their social tools relate and connect processes to networks and vice versa. I think this underlines the fact that the social tool market is maturing. And this approach clearly helped the audience with their adoption questions, because most organizations spend lots of improving processes. Social tools are more than fun, they help get daily work done and improve the overall business. 

Another interesting insight is that Oracle (with Webcenter) and Citrix (with Podio) are taking on Google, Microsoft and IBM. Both are extending their current, more traditional offerings with social tools. 

A final insight: innovation happens at the edges. John Hagel and Seely Brown stress this in The Power of Pull. The Social Now conference proved this to be true. The smaller vendors all had much more innovative approaches to the social space. Take Podio with which users can build their own widgets to get the information or application they need to do their work. Or Spreadd that connects all kinds of tools to a public stream trying to automate as much narration as possible. Or Oobian that semantically analyzes content and connections to provide insights over huge amounts of data. And SocialIBIS that converts your stream for text to speech so you can listen to the stream while on the move. Or Zyncro that translates stream updates in the language you understand. Just to list some of the features of these platforms!

I was curious if this new way to set up a conference would work. I think it did. Most conference are focused on business or IT. This conference took a more integral approach. The conference was well-structured, an impressive list of vendors presented, there was lots of discussion going on during, before and after the program. I really enjoyed it.

What do you think of the concept of this conference? How could this conference be even better?
And are you in the process of selecting a social tool? What’s your approach? 

All the tweets and other posts about the conference can be found here.

Disclaimer: I was master of ceremony of the conference, but did not organize the it.