18 Mar

All Change

It seems to be the season for changes in the IBM Social Business Community and the same is true for me. As of 1st April (and it’s not an April Fool’s joke) I am moving to a new post within IBM as Channel Technical Leader for Europe for the Social Business Unit.

For me this is a bit of a homecoming, having spent most of my career so far as an IBM Business Partner. This move means I get to work with the people who have a genuine and deep passion for IBM’s collaboration solutions like I have, whilst at the same time still banging-on….er, evangelising, about the need for social business adoption.

My new role covers the whole ICS portfolio and the whole of Europe, so I will likely be coming to a town near you before long. I am working with your existing IBM Business Partner reps and my job will be to help you gain the skills you need to make money from IBM’s collaboration solutions.

Some of you will know my predecessor, Alex Forbes (@axeforbes), who is moving to pastures new in the IBM Security brand. Alex’s focus was primarily technical. My role, although still being technical, will be widened to include some of the professional services aspects of being a collaboration solutions partner as well as helping on technical issues.

So look out for some announcements in the next month or so about blogs, events, and other engagements happening in Europe which I hope you’ll take part in.

If you are attending the very exciting ENGAGE conference in Ghent at the end of March, I’ll be there and would really welcome the opportunity to get re-acquainted and start work on some plans with you.

23 Dec

The need for adoption

Quite rightly customers of IT solutions over the years have seen the use of collaboration tools as ways to improve how their business operates.  It can provide competitive advantage, it can make their business more agile, able to scale more easily, to share the experiences of others to the common good.  All of these things are possible and I believe essential if an organisation is to remain competitive in today’s market.

Employees entering the employment world today consider using email in the same way as we would now consider the telex or, perhaps, the fax machine.  It’s an unusually old-fashioned way of communicating with each other.  Yet, as we all know, business thrives on email and it is not the default communications mechanism for companies the world over.  Many of us are struggling under the weight of email we receive.  Bring in a new member of staff, less used to an email-focused culture, and you immediately burden them with something they are uncomfortable with.

Social collaboration solutions bring the best of social networking technologies to a business context.  They fuse status updates, comments, recommendations and sharing with more “traditional” collaboration tools like document sharing, wikis, blogs, and so on.

We have highlighted here, and in many other places, the need, however, to not only implement social collaboration solutions in business, but also to address the culture of the organisation.  Unless your business wants to be better, wants to share, wants to compete, then the best laid plans will surely fail.  That culture change must come from the top of the organisation.  The senior leadership needs to recognise that business is changing again.  They have probably overseen the move from paper to email and now they must adapt again to a socially-connected organisation.

As if implementing culture change is not enough, another barrier stands in your way towards becoming more profitable, more agile and having better staff stay with you – adoption.

A social collaboration solution must have a purpose – it needs to be there to solve a problem, or many problems. The requirement for its use must be clear and simple for people to recognise without being convinced too hard.  Line of Business solutions like a purchase order management system are now the only way purchase orders can be raised in your business.  A social collaboration system remains an optional part of communicating at work (we could still actually speak to each other or pick up the phone).  Thus, finding the purpose and driving the adoption of social collaboration is vital to ensure success.

Indeed, increasingly customers will connect their purchase of a solution to the success of its deployment.  In cloud-connected worlds “deployment” means “people using it”.  In the traditional sense “deployment” meant “installing it”.  It’s here that the fundamental change in our mindsets must happen.

Your organisation must recognise that in order to be successful with anything, people must actually use it. You must drive benefit from a technology solution in order for it to be worthwhile implementing. Getting people to use it requires adoption techniques which involves thinking about the business processes, the communications, engagement and support of the people who will use it.

If you are considering rolling out any new solution in 2015, please consider how you will involve your users in the uptake of it. If you don’t, you might find this time next year that you have paid a lot of money for something and still haven’t managed to make that fundamental change your business needs to compete in 2016.

And with that, I’d like to wish my readers my compliments of the season and I hope that your 2015 is prosperous, healthy and exciting.

21 Nov

IBM Verse – Connecting Me to We

IBM Verse fixes email to give you back your day.

IBM Verse fixes email to give you back your day.

If you have been around the IBM software ecosystem this week, you probably couldn’t have missed our announcement about IBM Verse. IBM has been working to bring the world of social collaboration into a context where many of us still work – email.

Most of us still use IBM Notes, Microsoft Outlook or some other email client as the primary place we work. We use it for filing, for storage, for search, for communicating and well, for being able to be productive at work. The trouble is, these days, email clients are not designed for this. If you are under the age of about 35 you probably only have a small number of folders with thousands of emails in them. If you’re older than 35 you probably have tens if not hundreds of folders and spend a significant part of your time diligently filing your emails for later retrieval.

Most of us, though, rarely look for and seldom find the emails we’re looking for. Lots of us, when on vacation come back to hundreds of unread mail, most of which are either for information, or if they were urgent, have probably been actioned by someone else in your absence.

The truth is, that emailing replaced the paper memo and as a result the explosion in information – both relevant and irrelevant – which lands on our desk is overwhelming. Email has become a hindrance not a help to daily business.

Smarter organizations have realized that social collaboration solutions such as IBM Connections can move much of the information chatter out of email and into centralized communities where people can work together productively and with purpose.

Until now, however, a social enterprise still had to struggle with a decidedly unsocial email world. That’s until IBM unveiled Verse. It is intended to bring the social enterprise (the “we”) to the email user (the “me”). It interconnects sharing and collaboration with messaging to give you the opportunity to see through the forest of information you get every day and help you be better at work. Who knows, you might even get home on time!

10 Nov

Social Business Adoption 101

People often ask me how to get started with Social Business. As I have said before in this blog “social” is not a thing in itself. Its more of a state of mind. It’s part of the culture of your organisation. If your culture is that information is power then you need to recognise that the culture will get in the way of any attempts to improve sharing, re-use and and better communication of information.

Assuming, however, you’re ready for “social”, IBM Connections whether in the cloud or on premises offers the broadest range of social capabilities along with the kind of collaboration tools you might think you don’t need until you try some of the competition.

Here’s a primer on adoption, without which you will struggle to succeed:

Social Business Adoption 101

27 Oct

Culture is not part of the game – it is the game

Lou Gerstner, pictured opposite, used to be the Chairman and CEO of IBM.  In his excellent book “Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance” there are many great lessons for anyone in business.  I came across recently, however, one particularly poignant quote related to the use of social collaboration in business.  We all recognise the need for the right culture to prevail in the organisation, but Mr Gerstner says:

I came to see, in my time at IBM, that culture isn’t just one aspect of the game — it is the game.  In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value.

This quote pulled me up a bit because it is brutally true.  In the same way as organisations don’t have feelings, or attitudes, so too is the fact that the people in the organisation ARE the company.  Thus, to be successful, an organisation needs to cultivate the kind of culture it wants.  It’s more complicated than that though.  There is a marketing culture – the brand the company wants to put forward and an internal culture which is the environment we make for each other when working there.  Too often we find the marketing and internal cultures are quite different from each other.  As a consumer we’re disappointed when we “believe” the messaging by a company only to be disappointed when contact with its staff fails to live up to the expectations their marketing culture had led you to absorb.

In any organisation, the culture of the organisation, as Mr Gerstner says, comes from the people.  I am sure most organisations look like this:

Employees' alignment to the corporate culture can be different

Which direction are your staff going in? Lack of a common culture means effort is being lost moving your organisation forward.

Marketing’s branding of your culture might well be pointing one way, but is the culture of your innovation or customer service functions pointing the same way? While it’s probably impossible to achieve, the utopian dream of culture is that we are all going in the one direction:

An aligned corporate culture - is it impossible to achieve?

An aligned corporate culture – is it impossible to achieve?

Cost cutting, productivity programs, motivational speakers and all the other techniques you see these days about aligning corporate culture often fail. In many cases its because of a number of issues:

  1. No understanding of what the current culture is.
  2. Unclear corporate direction – what do we stand for?
  3. What does the organisation value? Profits, people, products, share price?
  4. Poor communication – in both directions.

When talking to potential customers about the use of “social” as an added dimension to their organisation I am often told that they have an intranet and so therefore don’t need anything else. What an intranet does for most organisations is to give the different parts of the company, but mostly HR and Marketing, a place to announce things. They are not generally designed to engage people. The traditional intranet, therefore, often is the manifestation of the marketing culture – the propaganda the organisation would have you believe. Nowadays, in my opinion, this is a recipe for disaster.

The best employees in your organisation probably treat your intranet with disdain. It’s probably considered to be some relic of the 1990s when it was all the rage to have one. The best employees get to understand what it’s like to be in your organisation based on their interactions with other people. If you want to make those interactions better, to make them rewarding and to address people’s need for self-actualisation (according to Maslow), then you need to cut the propaganda and make it easy for employees to find each other, to work with them, and then share the results and rewards from doing so.

Using a collaborative social network to flatten the organisation structure, where senior staff routinely interact with people well away from them in the organisation chart, is one of the best ways to start dealing with the culture. Have you ever seen the reality TV programs where the boss of some big organisation goes undercover to see what it’s really like to work in their company? Introducing a social network in your organisation where this becomes possible across all the areas you operate in is a great first step.

Giving people the opportunity to work together in communities of interest, centres of excellence, whatever you want to call them, as one strategy, is an excellent way to recognise and reward their abilities. Building a culture where it’s OK to discuss sensitive topics about the company in a public (within the company) area is a very healthy approach to ensuring that people are not disillusioned.

Could your company build a culture where a senior executive who does an “all hands” call stays on the phone for a prolonged period to answer ALL questions which are put to them? The call ends when there are no more questions?

Of course, this is where the challenge to any organisation lies. Culture change almost always needs to come from the top of the organisation. If your senior management doesn’t recognise the need, or doesn’t want it to happen, two things will happen:

  1. Your marketing culture will continue to be completely different to your internal culture
  2. Your best employees will leave and probably go to your competitors.
13 Oct

The Collaborative Commuters


“Being Social” is not a thing. It’s not something a business would want to do. In the same way as a business doesn’t have feelings, it doesn’t need to be social. It’s there to deliver something to someone – dividends to its shareholders, services to its citizens or aid to the people it is there to help.

So why would “social” be something you would want in business? Let’s drop the word “social” for a minute and think about a new word – “collaborative”. Why would a business be collaborative?

Collaboration is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals [Wikipedia].

So if we’re working together to achieve shared goals then presumably Collaboration is something a business would be interested in?

So what does Collaboration look like these days? Well it’s talking to each other and helping solve each others problems by applying our own experience and knowledge. It’s working together on a document, or jointly moving something forward by each applying our own abilities.

The result for the business is that customers can be happier, projects delivered more accurately, with better quality and perhaps on time. Work gets done more efficiently and, in general, work progresses smoothly towards whatever goal it is we have for the organisation.

This is how work has always been, well, it was when we all commuted to an office and were around the same people every day. I remember hearing about a group of people who worked in different companies in London and lived in different parts of England served by the same train line. They all chose to sit in the same part of the train and over time decided that they would each bring part of breakfast with them. One would bring coffee, the other cereal, one would bring fruit, and so on. They then had a good breakfast and shared the experience while swapping information about their lives. The commute went quickly, everyone benefitted from the experience and the people found that through collaboration there was greater value to be had from the train journey than would otherwise be the case.

Its this inherently “social” nature in humans which lets this kind of behaviour happen. Imagine therefore what steps could be taken in your organisation to make the most of this collaborative approach?

You might think you already do collaborate at work. You’ve got document management, intranets, emails, corporate bulletins, jogging clubs and social events. What more do people need? You’re right – maybe they don’t need anything more for them to turn up and work for you each day.

But like the people on the train, they turned up each day to travel to their destination. They could have simply read their newspaper or listened to their iPod. Instead they decided to talk to each other, find out more, and find a common ground – breakfast in this case – that they could work on. They each brought their “expertise” to the shared goal.

What opportunity do you offer your staff to share a goal and bring their expertise? What about the many different locations your organisation runs in? What connections could be formed by people who don’t work next to each other but actually could collaborate to produce something great in your organisation?

Permit me a small metaphor: Some organisations think that collaboration is provided using an intranet. To our commuters, this is the equivalent of the train itself. They’re all on it, but they’re all doing their own thing. Other organisations think that collaboration can be provided by giving people email. Our commuters would see this as the background conversations they hear in the train as they move to their destination. Occasionally something important (like an announcement from the driver) might be heard, but mostly its unimportant chit-chat they have to try to block out.

Instead, if you give people a common purpose, like connecting Project Managers across your organisation, or involve discussion and feedback in business processes, you unlock the social nature of your staff in a way which is shared instantly with the rest of the company. Who knows who might in the future make use of a snippet of knowledge or experience which a collaborative network in your company would capture?

So, being social isn’t really a thing. Being collaborative is, and if you think you’re doing it well in your organisation, consider our commuters and how they had their breakfast.

10 Oct

Social Connections VII in Stockholm

The worlds finest social collaboration conference comes to Stockholm on 13-14 November

It’s time for Stockholm, Sweden to be the centre of the social collaboration universe with the seventh Social Connections conference being held in the “Venice of the North”.  This is a fantastic opportunity for anyone who works with, or is considering deploying social collaboration solutions from IBM to get the facts and strategies they need to be successful.

This is a community-run event where the speakers and organisers give their time free of charge.  You pay a small fee to cover the cost of the venue.  You’ll get the rub shoulders with the greatest and most inspirational speakers on the planet.

The enormous popularity of this event and its predecessors is testament to the value attendees get from these events.  Space is limited so if you can attend – book now.

18 Sep

Embracing Corporate Communications with IBM Connections

Or how to avoid one of your employees writing a song about your company…

One of the first uses many people consider for a social platform is corporate communications.  I mean the kind of top-down good-news story stuff that the senior management would want you to read and feel good about so that you’ll be happier at work and do more on a day-to-day basis.  We all know however, that the circular email, the printed out newspaper or whatever form it takes, is often dismissed by its readers as being simply propaganda from the HR department or some other faceless part of the organisation.  Everyone is smiling in the pictures, someone is getting a carriage clock to celebrate 25 years service, and some department has done a charity paintball thing.  You might glance at it for ten minutes and then put it in the trash, delete it, pass it on to someone else, or simply snort and carry on working.

Am I overly pessimistic and jaded in my outlook on the corporate newsletter?  Maybe.  But I bet many of you reading this will recognise some aspect of the status quo situation for corporate communications.  Of course, its not just the monthly or quarterly newsletter that gets treated this way.  Often communications from senior management are written in third-party dispassionate prose.  Long paragraphs extending to several pages of your screen in the circular email announce changes of staff, new directions, etc.  There is little to engage, motivate and drive you forward.  There is rarely any kind of call to action, nothing that provokes a response, and again you return to your work.

Source: Statistic Brain http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics/

Source: Statistic Brain http://www.statisticbrain.com/social-networking-statistics/

With this long setup you have no-doubt recognised by now that I am going to offer you some sort of alternative solution.  Some sort of panacea to these ills that drives engagement, enthusiasm, motivation and action.  Well, maybe some of these things, but with the number of people using Facebook topping 1.1 billion we must assume that a more social, interactive form of media holds some sort of interest for people.

In the chart shown here, there are three big players in social media: YouTube, Twitter and of course Facebook.  I haven’t included LinkedIn because although it is a significant player in business networking, its main use is similar to Facebook, in my opinion.

My point here is that a product such as IBM Connections provides similar functionality to the main players in the social media space but in a business context.  YouTube provides video streaming – Connections has its media gallery.  Twitter is primarily micro-blogging – Connections has its Status Updates.  Facebook is about people information and status updates – Connections of course has Profiles and Status Updates too.

There are many parallels in IBM Connections to the kind of social media functionality you will already be used to, such as @ mentions and # tags.

The unbalanced use of Social CommunicationsWhy then, if these social media tools are so popular, and the market-leading enterprise social business platform has much of the same functionality, would you not use it to promote your organisation internally?

Many organisations have recognised the need for a social media presence.  They have a Facebook page, a LinkedIn presence, Twitter accounts and of course some sort of website.  Internally, however, they have not invested so much.  They might have an intranet which is underused and rely on paper or email mass communication as the means of communicating with its staff.

The reason many organisations maintain this imbalance in social communications is because they recognise the risks of what people in the outside world might be saying about them as a company.  Unchecked social media rumours and speculation, un-handled customers complaining about bad service and so on are all the kind of thing a corporate communications or marketing department is kept awake with at night:

Since the publicity around this example and many others which followed it, like the guy who took out a paid-for tweet when British Airways lost his father’s luggage, larger organisations are much more attentive to the sentiments expressed in social media and are much quicker at correcting inaccuracies and putting out social media fires.  Why, though, if they recognise the advantages and risks of social media, in terms of engaging their customers, and showing that they care, would they not want to use similar technologies for internal communications?  Are they more scared of what their own employees might say about the company than the general public?

Fundamentally the culture shift to use social technologies is still happening, in my opinion.  I believe many of the organisations who have a strong presence on social media have been forced into doing so because of some of the examples and many others I have illustrated.  They have done it not necessarily because they want to be open, caring and listening to their customers but are in fact so scared of bad publicity they have had to take action.  Internally though, the process is more controlled and of course, not public.  The need to do something to be open, caring and listening is not one which they have to take.

At least, that’s what conventional corporate culture would mandate.  These days, many of the best organisations have recognised that culture shift internally towards open communication and collaboration drives better and stronger customer service, happier employees and better productivity.  In the recent publication “Raising the Game”, the IBM Business Tech Trends Survey highlighted that “Pacesetters” (those that believe that these technologies are critical to their business success and adopt them ahead of their rivals) are seeing a six fold improvement in communication and collaboration by embracing social inside their organisations.

Turning the Corporate Communications newsletter into a daily blog with the same kind of attention to typography, photography and journalism as is the case with the current monthly paper newsletter is the kind of thing that drives interest.  People get smaller snippets of news (a single article, rather than ten or twenty at a time) and can be more compelled to provide comments and feedback about these specific points.  With the current mode I as a reader have no idea what sentiments others are expressing about the content of the newsletter.  Putting it into a central blog accessible from everyone’s desktop with the facility to comment means that I as an individual can participate in a discussion with my colleagues about this news.

Culturally of course, having open discussion in such a medium might frighten management.  They may wish to put a stop to it to avoid discontent being stirred up.  The truth, of course, is that  people talk to each other anyway, its just that management doesn’t hear it when its done in the corridors or in the car park.  By having open discussions where a debate can be aired and people’s views expressed and understood by a wider audience helps in these ways:

  1. People feel that they now have a voice to feedback on what’s happening in the company;
  2. Others find that they are not alone in how they feel and debate can be had;
  3. Management can get a better understanding of what the employees think of a particular announcement

In other words, the very thing that the management of an organisation craves – feedback to improve the business – is unlocked through the use of social internally.  Using video, status updates, micro-blogging, regular blogging and all the other social media tools available to organisations using something like IBM Connections means that the path to business improvement can be accelerated.

In summary

In summary, if you want to improve employee engagement, improve morale, communicate better with your staff and understand from the experts (the people you employ) what your customers are saying and how to improve your products then open the door to a two-way conversation.  Start with something simple and universal like corporate communications.  Abandon the monthly paper newsletter or the long circular email.  Use a blog to post a news update once a day or once a week.  Use pictures, video, whatever makes it attractive to read and absorb and pose questions throughout the article.  What do you think of this?  What could we have done better?  Do you know of a situation like this we could improve – give us your comments.  Treat your employees as valued people and give them a voice, before someone makes up a song about your organisation!


12 Sep

Start small to build success with Social Business

Iterative Adoption ProcessIf you are a regular reader of my blog, or even my book, you will know that I recommend an iterative approach to rolling out a social business project. By picking one area of your business and fully implementing IBM Connections to solve a specific business problem you:

  1. Don’t bite off more than you can chew;
  2. Gain the experience needed to expand your efforts into more complex areas;
  3. Show progress early on for your business sponsor;
  4. Can celebrate success earlier.

I am often asked which department in an organisation should get the solution first. The perceived wisdom has been that the IT department is generally the LAST place you would want to start (mainly because everyone will have a view about technology you’re implementing
and not the business solution). In reality, as long as IT has a need which we can help with then there’s no reason not to start there.

Another question I get is which processes are best tackled with social business? Should we solve file sharing for the company? How about meeting management, standardisation of documents, etc. The truth is that it depends. I would not try to tackle anything for the whole company in one move. Pick off departments or areas of the business which have a clear and pressing need and help them. Once you’ve finished with that, move on to the next area.

One department’s problem might be the need to share files amongst themselves. Tackle that, get them happy and move on to the next department. The next one might need to make Standard Operating Procedures more accessible. Use a wiki to achieve that. Move on.

Breaking down your organisations’ problems into iterations will result in a long list of work for you do to. Once you get the first few of these iterations implemented and have a process which works for you, it’s important to consider how you are going to be able to scale the rollout so that the pace of change can increase.

The key to this is to find “early adopters”, “ambassadors”, “champions” or whatever else you want to call them. These are people, sourced from the departments where you are going, who clearly get what you are trying to do. They might self-select – i.e. come to you and ask to be involved, or might emerge from your earlier iterations. Whatever the case, in order to scale your implementation out you need to change your approach.

You need to go from being a hands-on practitioner to a coach of those who will do the job you’ve been doing up until now. You need to lead, enthuse, motivate, support and generally cheer for your team of people who you want to take your now finely-honed approach to rolling out an iteration of social business to the rest of the organisation.

It might seem obvious, but this is the time when your own use of IBM Connections becomes critical. All the lessons you’ve been passing on to people about status updates, being vocal and visible, etc., now really matter because your newly-found recruits will need your help.

Create an “ambassador” (or what ever term you’re using) commmunity. Focus it on using Forums, and drive Q&A through the forum. Make a commitment to timely responses. Be ruthless about having questions posed in the forum as this is the time where your tacit experience needs to be converted into explicit knowledge, i.e. something someone else can search for and find without asking you.

Make sure your ambassadors don’t bite off too much at the beginning either. They are now on the same learning path that you were and need to gain confidence in their approach too.

21 Aug

Socializing Microsoft with IBM Connections

The title of this post is one which I borrowed from my colleague and friend, Omar Davison, who has (with some assistance from his colleagues) put together a very compelling and direct little video on how IBM Connections can bring a whole new dimension of collaboration to Microsoft SharePoint and Outlook:

The point he makes here is that the many organisations out there who have SharePoint and Outlook are not getting the return on investment, the sea change in productivity, they would expect.  The reason for this?  Because although SharePoint is where many organisations lodge their documents and expect people to find them, it doesn’t put the people involved in the work in the centre.  The result is that you haven’t really moved past a file server and email which we all had back in the 1990’s.

IBM’s approach is to recognize how people interact with the knowledge and information they are presented with.  We’ve built tools and solutions around that paradigm to support better productivity, smarter decision making and faster access to knowledge:

By adding IBM Connections to your Microsoft environment you unlock your staff's potential.

By adding IBM Connections to your Microsoft environment you unlock your staff’s potential.