Category Archives: EntGov

The Read/Write Organisation

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m just putting the finishing touches to a handbook on the topic of using social technology behind the firewall to make an organisation more interactive, collaborative, better at learning, and that sort of thing.

I’m quite proud of the first line in it:

Has there ever been an intranet that didn’t suck?

We haven’t decided yet just how it is going to be published, other than giving it to customers as part of projects we are working on, but I’m sure it will be available in some form to everyone in the near future.

As a taster for what’s included, here’s a brief outline of the contents. If you’re interested in finding out more, or would like to get hold of it once it is finished, do let me know in the comments or by email.

  1. Introduction
  2. Why this matters
    • Talking about change
    • Learning and knowledge
    • Managing talent
    • Working smarter
    • Innovating
  3. The toolkit
    • Networking
    • Status updates
    • Discussion
    • Collaborative authoring
    • Blogging
    • Resource sharing
    • Idea sharing
    • Note taking
    • Mashing up data
    • Project collaboration
  4. Approaches to implementation
    • Cobbling free stuff
    • Off the shelf
    • Roll your own
    • Use what you have
  5. Culture and the invisible architecture
    • People, process and technology
    • The importance of workflow
    • Wide and shallow, or narrow and deep?
  6. Governance and risk
    • Strategy and policy
    • Training
    • What are the risks?
    • Mitigation
  7. Summary and next steps
  8. Further reading and resources

Importance of workflow in social technology

From Gartner’s Mark McDonald:

Too many people think of a wiki as another knowledge management tool. Knowledge management tools are something that is separate from your day to day workflow. That attitude will need to change along with the technology that integrates wiki technology into the workflow in order to have people say ‘put it up on the wiki’ rather than inventing an ad hoc process that takes time, resources and puts bottlenecks in the flow of information.

As I found myself writing over and over again when describing the social tools I use, it’s all about workflow.

The best software keeps out the way and just lets you do stuff. There shouldn’t be anything new to learn, and the process should be completed within one or two clicks of a mouse.

It’s also individual, of course. What fits in my workflow might not fit in yours, and learning and knowledge technology needs to be able to fit in seamlessly, nonetheless.

The death of crowd control

James Gardner:

The point,  of course, is that if the central thinking is that communications are about crowd control, then organisations are really forcing the many-to-many communication outside their organisation. Although I don’t think we are about crowd control at the department, the fact that we don’t have our new communications channels yet has already resulted in crowds forming beyond the firewall. Imagine the circumstance when new channels, far being lacking, aren’t even allowed.

My conclusion, based on this, is that crowd control is pretty much dead. And that centralised command-and-control will soon follow.

Technology, learning and knowledge

I had a good time up in Scotland last week, and enjoyed putting together and delivering my talk at the Learning Pool event we ran – which saw a great turnout.

My discussion focused on the use of technology in a time of immense change and budget pressures, focusing on not just the use of social media in communicating and engaging outside the organisation but also how such tools can be used internally to improve the way everyone works.

Not exactly ground breaking stuff, but I think it is certainly an area that few organisations in the public sector have right and also one where genuine benefits, cashable and otherwise could be realised.

Think about it. With talk of budget cuts of up to 40% we are going to be seeing huge amounts of change in terms of personnel, with early retirements, redundancies etc. The issues as I see them are around:

  • Knowledge and learning – how do you record and share what the people working in the organisation know? How to capture what’s in the heads of all those staff likely to leave?
  • Change – how to keep staff engaged with large scale change programmes?
  • Talent – how to make the most of the people that are left. Where are the hidden gems in your organisation, and how much money might finding them save you?
  • Innovation – how are ideas shared and assessed in the organisation?
  • Collaboration – how much duplication of effort is going on? How can communications be improved within teams, departments, the whole organisation, even multiple organisations?

Effective use of social software is no panacea and won’t see all the problems of government disappear. However, current usage is so limited I believe it could have a genuinely substantial transformative effect. I’m hoping to be writing a bit more about this in the future.

One other thing I covered in the presentation is around the development of technology from mainframes to today’s smartphones. Two things are apparent:

  1. Technology is getting smaller and more personal
  2. As it does so, the ability for a central authority to control it diminishes.

How does this affect what I was talking about, in terms of organisations using social tools to work better? I think the key is to focus on the personal aspect of this. Don’t try to force people into using specific workflows to achieve what are generally pretty personal tasks. The way people like to record their learning and knowledge differs, so don’t assume the same tool will work the same for everyone.

Rather, be as flexible as you can, and ensure that as an organisation you can loosely join the small pieces of your employees’ shared knowledge and learning.

Here are the slides – ignore the title on the first slide, I moved on pretty quickly from that.

Collaborative innovation

This is a great video from John Seely Brown, who is a really interesting guy. His website blurb states that

I’m a visiting scholar at USC and the independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

In a previous life, I was the Chief Scientist of Xerox Corporation and the director of its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). I was deeply involved in the management of radical innovation and in the formation of corporate strategy and strategic positioning of Xerox as The Document Company.

He also has a book out, which looks good: The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion.

Anyway, here’s a video of a recent talk he gave on collaborative innovation. Well worth a watch.

Instruments of torture

Nicely put by Gerry McGovern:

Over the years I have been struck by how awfully designed internal systems are. Most internal tools I come across are more like instruments of torture than the drivers of efficiency they are supposed to be. What is even more shocking is that nobody in management cares. There is an almost total lack of leadership.

Opportunities for serendipity

Excellent stuff from Andrew McAfee:

I think serendipity is part of what underlies Metcalfe’s Law and a big part of the explanation for Eric Raymond’s insight that ‘given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.’ Knowledge workers and their organizations should be doing everything possible to increase opportunities for serendipity. This means searching broadly for information, narrating work so that others can become aware of it, asking questions to the biggest possible audience without presupposing who might have the answers, and generally contributing to and drawing from the biggest possible digital commons. This is what Enterprise 2.0 should be all about.

Enterprise mashups

Quite a few people – at least those that read this blog and others like it – are comfortable with the idea of mashups, the activity of taking data from one source, and combining it with one or more others to create something useful and interesting.

Often this happens on maps, but of course it doesn’t have to.

One potential application of this sort of technology which doesn’t get discussed much, certainly in the public services context, is enterprise mashups, in other words applying these techniques within the organisation, behind the firewall. So, taking a set of data or statistics from one department and mashing it up with another.

I’d read about enterprise mashups before, but the idea didn’t really catch on until I saw Bill Ive’s post about JackBe, a vendor providing a platform for organisations to do this stuff. Here’s a video giving an example of how JackBe can be used:

I certainly remember my days as a Business Analyst at a county council where I spent days taking information from one source and having to reformat it to make it play nicely with another, usually in Excel. Having a tool like this available would have made life much easier.

Here’s a whitepaper explaining all this in more detail (PDF warning).

(Obviously, there are other providers of enterprise mashup platforms and not just JackBe, it’s just that I wasn’t looking at their websites when I was writing this post.)

Buzzin’ enterprise

Two interesting viewpoints on Google Buzz and its potential application behind the firewall, within organisations.

Firstly, Larry Dignan on ZDNet’s Between the Lines blog points out that perhaps Google has Sharepoint, not Twitter, in its sights:

The Google Buzz playbook will resemble the current Apps and Docs strategy. Aim Buzz at the smaller companies first since they are the low-hanging fruit. Large enterprises will stick with SharePoint for now until Google makes the ROI case over time like the company currently does with Exchange.

If Google Buzz becomes Google corporate Buzz it could be disruptive. Enterprises could potentially use it to save on Sharepoint licenses. It’s all about the collaboration.

But ReadWriteEnterprise questions how suitable Buzz will be in big organisations:

Google Apps has it own faults to work out, before Google Buzz can even be considered a viable service for the enterprise. The Google Buzz open architecture may be the difference though, creating real opportunities for customers to pull external data into its real-time environment.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this plays out.

Jakob Neilson on intranets

Jakob Neilson has some good stuff in his yearly roundup of intranet trends:

Intranet design is maturing and reaping the rewards of continuous quality improvement for traditional features, while embracing new trends like mobile access, emergency preparedness, and user/employee-contributed content.

Ideas of enterprise 2.0 are leaking into intranet design, and quite right too.

As per this post, I’m focusing a lot of my attention this year on what goes on within organisations. I dare say that few councils and other government organisations have interactive – and mobile – intranets as discussed by Nielson.

I want to explore what technology people are using and what the barriers are to adoption – and then think about what the solutions might look like.

I’m on the lookout for stories about collaboration and innovation in this space within public services – like the stuff Carl Haggerty is up to in Devon. If you have any examples, drop me a line, or leave a comment.