featured, IT, Social

Rise of the Social Business

10 May , 2013  

In addition to the commercialization of IT, BYOD, and the use of personal cloud services, mid-sized businesses are grappling with how to manage, adopt and embrace social media as a tool for internal business collaboration and communication. Social media has proven its value in our personal lives, through the sharing of ideas, opinions, stories and personal status. In the business context, social business tools can bring similar benefits to employees and staff, serving as a platform for communication and collaboration that breaks through traditional organizational and communications barriers.

Generational Shift In Communications

Why do mid-sized businesses struggle with the internal use of social media? Like a majority of the current workforce who didn’t grown up in a world enveloped with texting and social media, businesses are experiencing the effects of the generational shift to this new model of communication. In a subtle but fundamental way, social media doesn’t rely on the same large message, sender controlled communications model inherent in email, fax, telephone and voicemail. Business oriented social media tools appear at odds with the tried and true communication methods relied upon for decades.

How is social media different than traditional communications? Lets use email as an example. With email, control of the content and who consumes that content is sender controlled. The sender specifies the audience (one or multiple recipients) for which the information is intended, and the sender by in large is in control of who receives the email. Unless the email is forwarded, only the a limited set of intended individuals can access the contents of that email. Additionally, email messages can be of any length, frequently containing lengthy, rich content and attachments.

Social media flips this traditional communication model on its head. The sender is no longer in control of who receives their communications; the universe of “followers”, friends or potentially anyone (including automated processes) can consume content when it’s sent. The sender likely never knows who consumed their content, unless recipients reply, converse or direct message the originator. Content consumers have total control over who’s content and what content they wish to view, follow and be in conversation with. The sender’s content is “out there” for virtually anyone to consume, often by content consumers the sender may never know.

Social media tools often enforce message size limitations, such as Twitter’s 140 character limit which drops to around 117-118 characters when a URL is included. While other social media tools such as Facebook don’t enforce such a limited message size, social norms emphasize brevity, shorter and more frequent messages that often include URLs to articles or additional content. Lengthly and verbose posts are ignored by most content consumers and go unread. The same brevity norms apply to text messaging.

Understanding the fundamental shift of social media aides in increasing user adoption and makes it easier to understand how social business tools can increase engagement and knowledge sharing, and better facilitate collaboration compared to traditional communications tools.

Increasing Social Business Adoption

Digital social interaction isn’t new to mid-sized businesses; it’s already happening via email, instant messaging and online forums. The challenge is getting the frequently long threaded email chains out of email and into conversational social business tools, where broader groups of participants can interact. Migrating from online forums to social business tools such as Yammer or Jive is less challenging than getting users to try tools beyond tried and true email. It’s often too easy to live out our work day in Outlook, versus expecting users to take the conscious steps of using an alternative tool.

New applications, particularly unfamiliar social business tools, can appear intimidating and users often need compelling reasons to try out something new. Here are five ways to help encourage interaction on social business tools.

  1. If you know Facebook, you can use social business tools. During a meeting, one participant sited his reason for not using Yammer was due to his lack of knowledge with how to use the tool. The answer provided to him was actually very simple; he already knew how to use Yammer because of his experience using Facebook. Re-enforce with users that social business tools operate very much the same way as the social media tools they already know.
  2. Lighten your Inbox load. Who doesn’t suffer from too much email in their inbox? Everyone can relate to solutions that alleviate influx of email into their inbox. Suggest to users that social business tools help move those annoying email threads they are frequently cc’d on to a more appropriate tool where you can more easily chose to participate,  follow the conversation thread (versus fragmented email conversation threads), and manage your notification level.
  3. Asking the question can be more important than the answer. Asking the right questions can rapidly create engagement amongst staff who have views and ideas on the topic. Put questions out there and see what topics and types of questions generate the most interaction. Post questions such as; “What is the one thing you would do to most improve customers’ experience when doing business with us?”, “What’s the best product you’ve recently discovered?”,  “What could we do to improve our presentations?”, “Why is our company a great place to work and what could we do better?”, and “How would you reduce calls to customer service?”.
  4. Create opportunistic social collisions. When senior leadership posts on a social business tool, employees pay attention. It often creates an implicit expectation to join in. If the CEO posts about a topic, or encourages employees to participate, it’s a pretty strong message to everyone that we should all join in. And there are many ways to create opportunistic collisions through content that engages staff. Social business tools often include the ability to host an online poll. Create an area to post about interesting and thought provoking posts, industry related news, and feedback about company products or events. Or create a section about ideas for innovation.
  5. Integrate important content with your social business site. Most mid-sized businesses already have an intranet, likely in a wiki or content management system such as Drupal or Joomla. Integrate social business tools into your intranet and other frequently accessed internal content. The opportunity for interaction is much greater if users are already going to the intranet to get a form or lookup information.

Short URL to this post: http://goo.gl/HbBNp

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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featured, General, IT, Mobility, Uncategorized

The CIO Role – From Tech Manager to IT Services Broker

27 Mar , 2013  

Recently I was asked to define the role of a CIO in medium-sized businesses so I thought I would share my thoughts and research on the topic. There are many definitions of the CIO’s role. Traditionally the CIO role is defined as managing technology for the business and managing how information is utilized. Views vary whether the role is best served by a business person or a technologist.

In fact, the role of CIO has changed significantly  in medium-sized businesses over the past several years. Once viewed as order takers and leaders of the “techie group”, CIOs now work with the CEO and senior executives to understand current and future business goals, develop technical strategies that enable and facilitate those goals, bring technology enabling opportunities to the business, and create alignment within the IT organization and across its actions.

Effective CIOs see the big picture, understand and anticipate where the business is going, anticipate what challenges may be faced and what opportunities might arise that can be leveraged to benefit a medium-sized business.  CIOs take the initiative to distil changes in the technology marketplace, translate those changes into business value, surface technology-based opportunities, innovate and experiment, and lead cross-organization initiatives to achieve the strategic and tactical business goals.

As an example, the CIO must anticipate the impact of changes from a workforce that is more mobile, works from many locations, uses multiple devices (corporate and personally owned), and has “consumer expectations” of IT technology.

The CIO’s new role is to serve as a broker or conduit to business and technology solutions, assist in re-engineering business processes, educate the organization about potentially valuable technologies, and negotiation with and manage vendors. Most importantly, the CIO facilitates the organization’s access to online services, business applications, hardware and software tools, and technology-based services.

CIOs constantly ask themselves and the organization questions such as:

  • What are the impacts of business decisions on how we work, who we hire, and what business processes must change?
  • Are we capitalizing on technology for shareholder/member value and business profitability?
  • How do we foster a high-performance, creative and collaborative culture?
  • How can we better empower the organization with technology to make it more productive, efficient and lean?
  • What new innovations can IT bring to the business?
  • What technical skills are needed, and how do we develop internal staff and leverage external talent?
  • How do we identify and leverage the company’s knowledge resources?
  • What information exists or is needed by the organization, and how can we transform that information into company-wide solutions?
  • What new or changes in technologies have implications to the business?
  • What can IT do to be more efficient and effective in our use of technology?

Sources for this post: In addition to my own views on the topic, there were also several useful resources if found as part of my research. Some views matched up very well, while others held a differing opinion. Feel free to check out these resources.

Short URL to this post: http://goo.gl/fzH5K

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Cloud, featured, Games, IT, Mobility

Are you ready for BYOC? – Bring Your Own Cloud

17 Feb , 2013  

Short link to this post: http://goo.gl/q4KGj

A not so subtle undertone of CES 2013 was the expanding presence of the cloud, smartphone and tablet apps that connect consumer products with online user data and services. IT organizations of mid-sized businesses are already familiar with consumer devices, apps and cloud services, including smartphones, tablets, Dropbox, Google apps, SugarSync, Evernote, iCloud, Microsoft SkyDrive and Yammer (to name a few), that utilize online storage and application services. Even though many of these cloud services have little or no corporate IT administration capabilities, services like Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox are accepted solutions in many small-to-medium sized companies.

More consumer cloud services and devices are headed into the business environment as employees erase the boundaries that separate company approved solutions and technology end users’ use in their connected lives. Health and wellness biometric sensors, wi-fi enabled cameras, audio connected devices, cloud connected cars and trucks, social networking, cloud-based home security monitoring and smart home devices… all types of personal and consumer products represent “connections” end users want to bring with them and access from the workplace.

Consumer technology has shifted from connecting your device to a computer to configure, sync or download data, to registering your device or user account with the accompanying consumer cloud service to perform sync, access data and utilize online services. IT customers bring personal smartphones and tablets into the workplace everyday, expecting to use their consumer devices and accompanying apps as essential productivity and communications tools. This consumer cloud and app bundling is now the norm — Count up the number of apps and online services you use on a weekly or even daily basis. You’ll be surprised at how many cloud services are tied to devices and apps that tag along with you everyday.

All of this represents the next steps beyond BYOD, what I refer to as Bring Your Own Cloud (BYOC). With devices comes apps, and with those apps comes the cloud services they rely upon. Depending on your corporate IT DNA and acceptance of using personal devices connecting in the workplace, BYOC can represent a great opportunity or an even greater challenge to IT’s ability to weave together a suite of productivity tools and applications, while still meeting uptime, interoperability, corporate data protection and security requirements.

What does this trend mean for mid-sized business IT organizations? As IT leaders we must anticipate users wanting, and expecting, to use more consumer devices, apps and cloud services in the work place. We can either embrace the challenge and determine how to best adapt to IT customers use of BYOC, or deny its existence all the while it is happening around us. My approach has always been to figure out how to embrace what IT customers want to do, help find solutions and strategies to make it work, not ways to shoot down their ideas. Don’t be the traditional IT “Land of No”. (See my post IT can’t say No anymore, Learn how to say Yes.)

In my next blog post, we’ll talk about strategies to help you avoid being the IT Land of No in your quest to embrace the challenges of BYOC.

IBMThis post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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Cloud, featured, IT

IT can’t say No anymore, Learn how to say Yes

11 Aug , 2012  

[REPOST] If you are still from the traditional “IT Land of No”, your IT customers are already going over, under and around you. And they have been for some time. Every No is yet another shovel of dirt thrown on your own effectiveness within the organization. IT customers are bringing their own iPhone and Android smartphones and even computers to work, using file sync services like Dropbox on their company computers, using their credit cards to set up their own shadow IT environments in Amazon or other public cloud services, and more… all to avoid dealing with the IT Land of No.

As engineers, our problem solving training taught us to eliminate all the obstacles, and if your proposed solution still stands once all the possible no’s are eliminated, you likely have a workable solution. The problem with our training? It’s slow, leads to analysis paralysis, and most importantly causes you to automatically say No to your IT customers. At least that’s how they will see it.

While at the Cloud Leadership Forum a few weeks ago, I sat directly across from an IT manager who was a good example of an IT curmudgeon. We were discussing using cloud services to deliver IT as a Service and he kept saying things like, “they’re going to ask for their own virtual machines…No, they can’t have that.” Oh my. We need to undo this programmed behavior and learn how to say Yes.

How do you learn how to say Yes? The simplest approach is often holds the best approach. Start by just saying Yes upfront when an IT customer asks you for something. Literally, say it out loud to them; “Yes.” Don’t drag them through all the No’s to get to the Yes. Alternatively, say something like, “I’ll bet we can find a way to do that”, even if you don’t quite know yet how you’d solve their need or achieve what they’re asking. Next, ask yourself “how can I say yes to their request?” and start down the solution path without verbalizing all the No’s. What wasn’t possible a year ago might just be possible today or maybe you discarded their request out of hand in the past by habitually saying No. It’s simple but taking this approach really does work.

Once you’ve started to break the No habit, get out of the defensive IT position. Start by thinking about and learning how to do what your IT customers want… before they start asking. We’re tech people and there are things we’d like to do at work but haven’t figured out how to do yet. Threatened by BYOD? IT customers are already coming to IT with “how can I…” questions. So start figuring out the uses, apps to use, and requirements like security, remote access and data protection, before they ask you. Be ready with Yes answers because you’ve anticipated the need and gained enough insight how to support it. This is just one example.

Envision the future and start trying it now. And learn to embrace change… even better yet, how to enable and help make change happen. And when the next IT customer comes with their request, start your response with; “Yes, we can figure out how to do that.”

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