See ITasITis on Social Computing Journal

My recent posting Social computing and the enterprise user: something’s missing has been syndicated on Social Computing Journal: welcome to any visitors who reach this blog via the link there.

I’m off on the ferry tomorrow morning for a few days cycling in Normandy: via the Avenue Verte from Dieppe to Neufch&acircum;tel-en-Bray, and then radiating out from there. I’m taking Spirit Level and Virtual Shadows with me as reading – and some lighter stuff, of course.

See you when I’m back.

Social Computing Journal: look for Four Strategies for User-Guided Enterprise Social Computing (3 Aug 2009 there)
Social computing and the enterprise user: something’s missing, ITasITis,27 Jul 2009
• Avenue Verte Dieppe-Forges (in French, how’s yours?)
What am I reading (or click the link in the masthead)

Social computing and the enterprise user: something’s missing

Something’s missing from our discussions about social media (and Web 2.0 more generally, and Cloud even more generally).

We often discuss the benefits of user-managed technologies (is that a useful phrase?) and despair of  “The answer’s no. Now what’s the question?” from corporate rottweilers. Thought leaders like Euan Semple provide clear case studies and benefit realisation.

That stereotypical response (and no, it’s not always like that in practice) is driven perhaps by two things. A perception that central is better and that the need for control is absolute. And, more in line with the business, a strongly developed sense of risk both to the corporate infrastructure and its data stores, and to potential leakage of intellectual property.

As I’ve commented elsewhere, these reactions are not new. They characterised many companies when email and the Web began to replace newsgroups and FTP networks. But let’s look at more positive scenarios.

Suppose you’re a member of an enterprise research team; you use many external sources of information. Should you create a Googlemail account for these, separate from more specifically workplace-oriented email? What’s the case for? and against?

Suppose you’re a senior international manager, with direct reports in several countries and your own boss in yet another. You have a range of industrial strength collaborative tools at your disposal, but simple desktop videoconferencing isn’t one of them. Some conversations benefit substantially from face to face contact, and your travel budget has been cut. So should you buy a cheap webcam and use Skype on your company computer? Or on your mobile phone? Or from your home computer if Skype is blocked at the firewall? What’s the case for any of these options? Or against all of them?

You’re a marketer. You want to experiment with virtual presence but SecondLife isn’t accessible through the company network. Do you just go and do it from your home computer?

These choices can be made without involving the corporate IT department. Or even in order to circumvent the restrictions of the corporate environment, which might be as simple as lack of bandwidth, as complex as incompatibility with a core company application, or as explicit as the threat of disciplinary action.

But so far as I’m aware there’s little help for responsible users trying to make decisions, or which supportive IT groups might deploy to guide them. Not “can this do the job?” but how to assess terms of use, risk to the organisation, standards, interoperability, unintended consequences … We can ignore cost, I think; these services conform to Euan’s rule that “No-one bothers about ROI if the I is small”.

But take the SecondLife (2L) example and suppose that our user is a genuinely responsible corporate citizen. How far is it reasonable to go?

In her own time at home she creates a private persona in 2L and experiments with what she can do there – learns to walk, sit down, communicate, attend meetings, build property and so on. I don’t think anyone at work would be concerned.

But she then begins to develop ideas for a marketing campaign and wants to keep the credit. She stays home for a couple of days, on her own initiative, and works intensively in 2L. Still on her home computer, and not involving the use of company information. No problem?

Later, her enhanced presence could identify her or the company to those with sufficient information to recognise the clues. The competition, most likely. She forgets to fence off her 2L area with “No entry” barriers. She then discovers that the 2L protocol isn’t actually blocked at the company firewall, so she demonstrates her work to a couple of colleagues through the company network …

Now re-cast the example, but with the latest, newest, unproven, “risky” cloud service in place of SecondLife (which, after all, is getting pretty respectable by now).

The point is this. Our employee is working for the best interests of the company, as she perceives them. But she’s working in a vacuum. There’s no set of guidelines she can consult. And I do mean guidelines, not rules. Not “SecondLife is forbidden”, for example. There might need to be a few like that, but it’s a losing battle of the boil-the-ocean variety.

Here are a quartet of ideas. I’d like to gather yours.

1 – Always look at the terms and conditions when you sign up. Read them with the company’s needs in mind. These are enforceable legal contracts.
2 – Do you lose control over the content which you confide to this system? (Look at Sharing your Content and Information, for example, on Facebook)
3 – How far does the provider claim the right to monitor your traffic? (Most systems at least prohibit explicit or inflammatory content)
4 – Does the service claim access to your computer? (You don’t get a more respectable institution than the BBC; but the early versions of iPlayer operated peer to peer, so they used everybody’s processor cycles and disk storage)

Please contribute, so we can build up a body of advice on this. I look forward to your ideas. And if anyone knows of a body of best practice like this that already exists, I shall be delighted to be corrected!

• Facebook Statement of Rights and Responsibilities
The Obvious Euan Semple’s blog (or see my posting Social media Q&A: Euan Semple at Guru Online)

Enterprise 2.0: candy and aspirin

Basex Editorial, one of the many newsletters I subscribe to, recently reviewed an initiative from Open Text which you might like to set alongside the Gartner White Paper I reviewed recently.

I know Open Text from way back. My first commercial IT responsibility was to develop and run text databases using the Basis database software, as it was called in those days. Open Text has, then, a long heritage of dealing with unstructured data and with the issues surrounding corporate information. This perhaps gives them a head start over some commentators.

Sure, their white paper becomes marketing at the end. But it moves the debate about the place of social tools in the enterprise to a more positive level than is often the case. Unlike my reading of the short version of Gartner’s report, here is an organisation that recognises that the primary questions are cultural. How do we interact, as we do business with each other and with our partners?

I particularly liked these elements.

First – they don’t just talk about “Enterprise 2.0” although that’s the headline title. Using case studies, they talk about “The Social Workplace” and “The Social Marketplace”, differentiating internal and external collaborative interactions while at the same time emphasising the commonality of the underlying concept.

Second – they emphasise the role of a “social fabric inside the workplace” in coping with a range of disruptions such as mergers; the retirement of the “baby boomers” and their replacement by younger people with very different workplace expectations but no corporate memory; and globalisation. Conventional information retention structures and records management may well not capture what’s needed for continuity and coherence.

And third – they emphasise the need to understand and to positively manage the risks. That’s not the same as avoiding risk at all costs. Information governance is central. As they say (and as I’ve said in the past) these aren’t new issues; they surfaced with email, newsgroups and the Web. But they are strengthened again. There’s another step up in the trend towards content creation and management taking place across the whole enterprise; it’s no longer limited to specific managers. And they put it graphically (literally – there’s a picture!) saying that “Enterprises need both candy and aspirin”.

It’s a practitioner’s white paper, rather than an analyst’s. Worth a read.

• Roadmap to Enterprise 2.0 OpenText ( need to register to download the White Paper)
• Basex specialise in information and advice for the Knowledge Economy

A bit more on Gartner’s blogs

Zymurgy’s Law of Exploding System Dynamics says: “When you open a can of worms, the only way to re-can them is to use a larger can”. Looks like I did that with this one. Particular apologies to Euan, because I should have remembered his presentation better than this! But I don’t regret starting the discussion about how external facing guidelines can be effectively created. Make sure you read the comments as well as this post.

I just came across the starting note on Anthony Bradley’s Gartner blog which is interesting because it outlines the process Gartner went through before they let their analysts loose. Task forces, business plans and guidelines all carefully researched and internally validated by management.

I’m not going to add any commentary except to say that if you’ve heard Euan Semple talk about the way that blogging was introduced to the BBC and became a significant force both inside the BBC and outward facing, you’ll have seen a very different, lighter weight and more community-oriented option. Not least: the BBC’s guidelines were developed, via a wiki, by the people actively doing that stuff. Only then were HR and legal invited to dot the i’s and cross the t’s. My last encounter with Euan was at a BCS evening in June – follow the link.

• Gartner Blogger Network Lessons Learned, Anthony Bradley, Gartner, 18 Sept 2008
• An evening with Social Computing – and a stunning view!, ITasITis, 17 Jun 2008

Part 2: new ideas for the Social Web

Following on from yesterday: Tech Review has also posted an article covering ten new ideas for the Social Web. These are startups which could catch on, for a variety of reasons.

Have a look. There are some you might recognise, like Pownce. There’s a peer-to-peer traffic reporter based on contributed GPS data from gridlocked cars. There’s a new take on making mashup APIs manageable. And more.

But the one that caught my eye is Ushahidi: not just for its idea, but for where it comes from. Ushahidi is a not-for-profit that can aggregate reports by mobile phone and display them via Google Maps. The original was developed in Kenya, as a way of gathering reliable information in the troubles following the disputed election, from local people in areas where the news media couldn’t reach. And it wasn’t developed by someone in the west with a social conscience. It was developed in Africa, by African people, for an African situation; and it could be deployed in any trouble spot or disaster area where conventional communications are disrupted. In the west, even!

• Ten Web Startups to Watch MIT Technology Review, July/August 2008
• Ushahidi

An evening with Social Computing – and a stunning view!

Some 40 years ago the BT Tower (the Post Office Tower, as was then) was on the tourist circuit and I took in the revolving view from the observation platform. Then it was bombed, and was permanently closed to the public.

So last evening was the first time since then I’ve had chance to ascend the Tower. The occasion: a BCS Elite meeting, a fascinating and informative evening on Web 2.0. I’ve heard Euan Semple before (I invited him to give a seminar at GSK), so this was an update on his thinking but complemented by two other speakers: Ian Aitchison, Group Communications Officer for the Japanese shipping and logistics company NYK, and Richard Dennison, Intranet & Channel Strategy Manager for BT (who’d never been up the Tower despite working for the company).

Euan tells a compelling story about how he embedded social media into the BBC, which he left a couple of years ago. He used it to introduce the audience to the panoply of services, and to explore the issues which corporates face. Their people are already using the public platforms privately and for business, but the more far-sighted are adopting them to help people work better together – as internal look-alikes or, in some cases, directly on the external platforms.

Ian Aitchison and Richard Dennison both picked up these themes, in their very different enterprises: NYK a worldwide, very scattered, very physically centred organisation, looking to social media to help them realise their strategic vision; and BT, providing virtual products, UK-centric but increasingly global and also widely scattered.

As I wrote a little while ago: human beings are a gregarious species; we communicate. Almost any network technology goes person-to-person. Social computing, in this sense, represents the Internet coming of age as person-to-person services multiply and people explore the potential.

So, in business, senior managers use blogs, RSS or even Twitter to communicate with their teams. The best share openly in discussion: plenty of examples, from all three speakers, showing how risky this actually isn’t. No-one questions the manager’s right to make the decision, but it’s a lot more likely to be accepted and understood, even by dissenters, after this kind of sharing. The BBC’s policy on external blogging by employees was created in a wiki by those most directly concerned, before it was top-and-tailed by HR and Legal – most enterprises still do this the other way round, and require multiple meetings rather than being able to capitalise on ten minutes of someone’s time here, and five of someone else’s there, to evolve to a satisfactory conclusion. And have you seen the movie someone created of the creation of the Wikipedia entry on the London 7 July bombings? That’s a graphic demonstration of the power of the crowd both to create useful information and to rectify damage very quickly.

Euan’s material isn’t postable, though he’s bloggedf already; and I don’t have Ian Aitchison’s. But have a look at Richard Dennison’s blog for a very similar presentation. And, of course, we all then adjourned to the 34th floor for a buffet supper and to enjoy the unparalleled view over London as the sun went down and the city lit its lights.

My slides from International Employee Communications Summit Richard Dennison, blog, 10 Jun 2008
One identity, multiple networks ITasITis, 9 Apr 2008
A Humanizing Influence Euan Semple, The Obvious? (Euan’s blog), 17 Jun 2008, with reference to the event
New Horizon 2010 NYK strategy

At a workshop on Business 2.0

Forrester Research, when I worked in corporate IT, were a major source of inspiration for the company’s development of its next generation user environment. Forrester’s phrase, Information Workplace, encapsulates the vision. You probably stick with a major office and collaboration suite – Microsoft’s or IBM/Lotus’s. But that’s no longer the end of the story as consumer-scale services develop on the Web. Many of them are being used already; if you’re in enterprise IT, just check how many of your colleagues are already on LinkedIn.

I shared yesterday in a Forrester workshop on this theme. There’s demand from enterprises to know what it’s all about. The analysts, Rob Koplowitz and Oliver Young, were moving on to do a repeat in Germany and they are a regular in the US. This isn’t directly a report of the workshop; discussions are of course confidential between participants. But I’ll share some of my own thoughts, stimulated by the discussion and born of experience.

First, and as I’ve said before: the issues aren’t new, just presented in a new form. When web browsers and internet email reached the enterprise, managers were terrified staff would spend their time browsing. Now, the paranoia is that they’ll spend all their time blogging … strange to hire people and then trust them so little or manage them so poorly.

But there are issues. Staff with technology at home need to treat corporate information differently from the holiday snaps. The issues are regulatory as much as intellectual property related. On the other hand: what happened to X.400 as the secure email channel? The collective judgement turned out to be that the overhead of managing two email architectures wasn’t a good investment, and encrypted SMTP, or just the low-ish risk of open transmission, was good enough for most things. Implicitly, management accepted this. Now, digital rights management overlays this. We’re getting there.

The same potential to compromise the company arises with external blogs; people need to be educated, not threatened, and supporting technologies made easy and accessible.

Second, can social networks enable better business interactions? Facebook, MySpace and others are beginning to lose ground as they become another overloaded channel – just when platforms such as are beginning to integrate to them. Younger people of my acquaintance confirm that Facebook is less cool than it was. LinkedIn (which I visited with a Leading Edge Forum field trip in 2005) is going in a different way, maintaining its professional focus and adding value through services like its what-are-your-colleagues-reading News feature.

Third, what about Web 2.0 inside the firewall? A wiki, for example, will automatically maintain an audit trail as a document is developed; with office documents and email that is an extra task that probably doesn’t get done. SixApart (which I visited, again with LEF, in 2006) have commercial-weight, internal, blog software as well as carefully differentiated Internet ones. Enterprises are finding great value in a blog (and its automatic generation of RSS) for internal communication, as opposed to the blanket email. You can do tagging internally too (e.g. Cogenz or ConnectBeam). But – seeing what your colleagues are tagging is useful, but it’s likely more useful to view tags from outside your usual circle. Take care though: have a look on and see how many internal documents from your enterprise domain are tagged there. The content’s not accessible of course. But the document title, and the fact that it is tagged, are maybe of interest to competitors, anti-company activists, and others.

New ideas don’t arise from people who already share much of your own perspective! Take this one further, to social networking, and it’s the breadth of an open external network which is its value.

As we found with browser access and email, the enterprise will eventually find the right level to use Web 2.0 services. The business benefit will come to those who can think through the issues clearly, find the right answers for their particular situation, and enshrine those answers quickly in architecture and business process, while everyone else is catching up.

Footnote. After I wrote this, I found a blog posting from Forrester’s Groundswell linking to a write-up of their research in MIT’s Sloan Management Review. So even if you’re not a Forrester or SMR subscriber, you can see this for free.


Forrester Research Workshops on Web 2.0 and business
‘Harnessing the Power of Social Applications (Sloan Management Review, 14 Feb 2008)
‘Facebook fatigue’ hits networking website (The Guardian, 22 Feb 2008)
I guess you can find your own links for IBM and Microsoft …

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