Monday, July 30, 2007

Social Networking

It has been interesting to see how people are reacting this last year to social computing technologies as they become part of the mainstream packages (Lotus Connections & Microsoft MOSS) and as other technologies (SocialText) become real opportunities for enterprise sized organizations. We have been approached by a whole lot more companies/organizations than I ever would have thought (of course my expectations were low <30) wanting to know more about how they could use it and what they could use it for.

The software industry still suffers from marketing self gratifications in this space. What I mean by this is that we come up with words like Wiki, Blog or RSS and post it around like everyone knows what the heck we are talking about. When you ask a non-tech outside they seem to think you are talking about a fruity drink with an umbrella (Wiki), some new form of the creeping crud or something you go 4-wheelin' thru if you are down in KY (Blog), or the latest Rave party drug (RSS). I remember the most hilarious meeting I had been to in a while was one that we brought a vendor to that had blog technology. They pitched it to the customer (someone that has about $600M in capital improvement programs a year) as a tool that "your organization can begin to build communities of interest from". The customer then turned around and said, in all seriousness, "I pay these folks to work not talk about knitting". LOL!

Let me help then a bit. We have been playing around with a lot of social computing tools and solutions lately. My company is about to role out social computing to about 20,000 employees in the next 4-6 months. We have 3 schools, 4 municipalities, 2 defense organizations and about 8 enterprise organizations that are currently going through the evaluation stages and a couple of those are actually now exiting to solution deployment. So what are all of these folks using it for.

1) Talent Retention. You want to keep good talent make them feel like they are part of the company and that their words are heard. When we establish these types of technologies for this solution, we establish a methodology that engages the top management to either participate directly or to ensure their participation in commenting in the community. We all know that tool such as e-mail, the telephone and stop by meetings are horrible ways for people to stay in touch with what others are thinking. However, if you have 10-15% of your staff participating it gives you a good vibe on the community and smart management can make adjustments.

2) Mentoring. We have several industries that the talent pool is retiring at a much faster pace then the new crop is coming through school or that technology can keep up with. That being said, these organization must find a way to capture the knowledge of those users and pass it along to the masses. Things like building classroom curriculum isn't always the most effect. We use these technologies to build a "pod of knowledge" to team people up on tasks but to ensure that the work is a cooperative effort.

3) A One-Way Communication. I know this goes against the concept of "social" computing a bit but I tell you it these are some nice tools if you want to publish updates on processes such as RFI/RFP. There are many type of black hole processes where people are afraid to open the flood gate of communications but with this they can just push out updates that are much easier to do than managing a web site.

I could go on, but that is it for now...


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