Rebooting enterprise collaboration: the emerging Social Intranet

November 1, 2010
 

Social Intranet, originally uploaded by fredriclandqvist.

Collaboration runs the show in any business, since we all are social creatures and even if mechanical devices helps us to become more networked it all boils down to our inherited path of social constructs. Internet have been the melting pot of new opportunities, and lately with masscollaboration and macrowikinomics we see emerging new practices in basically any domain.
So why is still the Intranet such an difficult place to be in? Land of confussion!
Well from my researchers perspective, having the intranet as platform perspective it is all pretty clear. We lack the open tinkering and innovation of the Internet. Command and control still runs the internal scene, not only from a techie perspective, but even more in terms of governance of the intranet (instead of networked/community based intranet governance?) and use patterns. Business models and ways of working do not change that easy! All Enterprise 2.0 gurus share the same stories about angst to change, and user adoption of the emerging social collaborative platforms, regardless of brand of choice.
From the end-user perspective, we get disjoint end-user experience and clutter rather than slick, simple and seamless workspaces where we are able to contribute and share in the on-going conversations inside and outside the corporate walls. The traditional intranet that we all have used, do reflect top-down publishing metaphores and sometimes look like maze-like gigantic fileshares. Side by side to this creature we have also seen the growing use of collaborative (CSCW) platforms since the 90′s now reshaped in web collab workspaces, such as Sharepoint or the like. When the ambition is set to become the web desktop for any user, we also link to business applications that is supposed to support our daily work (tasks). Sadly the abundance of business apps really clutter the user-experience. Seamless is the last word the end-user use in my research. The remedy is then focused on knowledge discovery, or as the end-user puts it: I want to Google my internal work spaces, rendered as the intranet. Not an easy task, as we all know!
Rebooting the business? Why social web themes outside will drive change inside…
Intranet challenges derived from experience, research and elsewhere that any Intranet Manager needs to think about
  1. Findability
  2. Connectivity / Connecting People
  3. Interoperability / Integrated
  4. Ease-of-use
  5. Externalisation
  6. Mobility
Do these reflect your business challenges as well?
The 5 mega-trends in the intranet space, envisioned from Jane McConnell:
#1 The intranet is becoming the front-door into the “workplace web”, #2 team-oriented, #3 real-time,  #4 place-independent, #5 people focused
How to disenthrall the personlized one-stop-shop (portal) intranet paradigm
The last decade most organisations have joined the enterprise portal journey. The casualties, and wounded from the trenches with intranet-professionals tells a bloody story for us to consider going forward. Failures in enterprise portal implementation and governance, is one of the pillars in knowledge management research in conjunction with (CSCW) collaboration backdrops! Is it possible to address the challenges above from an different angle? Through the cues in emerging Collective Action with Electronic Networks of Practice, and new ways of working for the communications guild with tight intersection to everyday work, so things do not get lost in transmission!
What new intranet design implications decrease the portal-peril?
part #1
If you mash the 4 first challenges (ease-of-use, interoperable, connected and findable) into the stew. You have too spice the design with new social flavor (emergent social software platforms) and information-mechanical (semantics) devices. First one-size-do-not-fit-all, hence the one-stop-shop will always be problematic from a information architeture  perspective. (FYI I wrote this popular science printed matter 2006, What is the right information to the right person at the right moment?)
While using Internet you use Google to locate things, but this space has become more social with referals (social objects). Google’s business model to deliver all information to all anywhere, will inside the corporation become a similar claim for the Intranet manager: ‘The intranet will be the access to all information and people, anywhere, everywhere using any device.’ Pretty bold, but as Mark Morrell Intranet Manager at BT tells his story, this overarching perspective makes his Governance model actually more crispy.
The intranet with only one landing page, being a big search button?
In the best of worlds, the internal information environment consisted of well hyper-linked resources, where content provision practice flourished with world-class information management  and all things where open to anybody. Then this might apply! Sadly, most enterprises consists of closed silos, abundance of both structured data (hidden in information systems) and unstructured data ( all the rest!) Common sensical approach to information management and structure will obviously improve findability and emerging search patterns. This part of the cake, isn’t a redesign thing, it is a never ending story of refinement. With smart-mechanical-devices (info-flow and the meta-data gadget [1,2]) givin’ a helping hand in any content provision, to lower the threshold we will see improved intranet findability.
For all of us trying to find relevant and timely content on the intranet to solve our daily issues and pains, we frequently use social networks to make-do. Connected to the corporate collective intelligence is key. This is why emerging technologies that fosters and cultivate networking and participation thrive, such as Yammer (microblogging). Cross-talk in large distributed work environments is difficult, and the ol’ school CSCW, Document Management and work-flow paradigm didn’t fullfill the ease of contribution. Several of the large scale implementations of i.e. Sharepoint2010 sites I have used for my research, have seen a exponential growth of Yammer use, contrasting the management pref. choice being Sharepoint ;-) simply because it is easy. The same goes with other more open collaborative platforms, such as wiki or blogs. Where trad. CMS contrasts simplicity in Confluence Wiki or WordPress. Interesting enough is that the better user adoption we get from collaborative platforms (open) the better findability we get! People want to have their intranet as easy to network within as Facebook, and simple to contribute in as Wikipedia, or in the blogosphere, and simple social enabled organisation as Delicious.
Interoperability, the rope-trick to keep it dead simple, as with the use of rss. If we get the second wave of users in the collaborative environment to contribute according to our high information management standards and policies with good and helping tools. We get content chunks that will be able to mashup with simple means as web oriented architecture suggest. Contrasting more complex schemes as SOA! Simplicity works, and makes sense.
When we use mashup technologies inside the intranet, social enabled collaboration and pragmatic information management we actually get ease-of-use as the business value from start. The intranet moves away from being indifferent (top-down) to become everyday work. Hence the emerging social intranet. Not one-stop-shop but a web of things, places and people connected as with Internet. Obviously intersected with SSO and proper Identity Management tools (back-end portal services). Push, pull and real-time into one vidid, and living intranet conversation!
social intranet
part #2
Externalisation and Mobility challenges. The conversations within the corporation on all levels will prosper in the emerging social intranet, but what happends with all the daily conversations that we all engage in outside the corporate walls? Social Media is all over the place, and many knowledge workers do have extreme mobile workspace environment (inluding myself). The collective intelligence and participation on the Net through either stationary or mobile devices is already in action. Sanity check reveals that many times the ordinary business users, prefer to set-up simple collaborative environments such as Google Apps / Docs with their professional networks outside the firm, instead of using the internal platform. Why you might ask, well simplicity and easy access to connect and intersect in inter-organisational conversations. This challenge, will evolve into the open-intranet (which already some corporations use daily). At the fringe of the enterprise, we see new value networks emerge. Outstanding question, what will remain in closed silos inside the intranet? and how open and tranparent do the enterprise dare to become. Loosing control and behave according to the five principles for the age of networked intelligence (wikinomics and macrowikinomics) #1 collaboration #2 openness #3 sharing #4 integrity #5 interdependence.
How do we cope with this more complex semi-internal information environment?
Diversity of talent! Organic learning, flourish! Customize to the context

Moving targets: playin’ the networked web governance game

July 13, 2010

The web emerges into most parts of our daily life. In our everyday office hours, information and conversation interplay through the lenses of the web, either internally through the intranet, or externally through all our interactions with web sites and services. Obviously this blurs into our more nomadic urban life, where our mobile devices serve up as our embodied knowledge network expanders. The emerging lifestyle with blurred realities, work, family and friends do stress new ways to govern our enterprise web spaces. Networked conversations in your private and professional life have to be a learning process.

In my research and practice, Web Governance repeats as one unsolved riddle, both for large enterprise portals (read intranet) or external web portals and sites. This governance theme have been heavily debated in communities of practice amongst Internet and intranet professionals, where several really good ideas and practices have been elaborated to find a design pattern that fits for purpose in our networked business environment. The term Web will in this context cover the enterprise information and communication spaces where web technology is the key delivery mechanism, be it enterprise portals / intranet, internet sites or extranet in all modalities stationary/mobile. Inside the corporate wall and outside web governance have different set-up, but when the open and networked everyday life unfolds, things will be very similar.

A few areas that still need to be ironed out are (focus in this blog post on #3):

  1. Intersection between business strategy, decision making, operations and web governance. Who owns the enterprise web platforms when everything becomes web? Depict the areas of responsibilities? Mark Morrell @ BT reveals his tales from the trenches…(being web manager)
  2. Web governance and IT governance, flip side of the coin? or a multi-faceted shadow entity? Since the Web do have heavy implications to the ICT environment for any enterprise
  3. User Adoption, and engagement in the continuous evolving business demand to everyday use of Web platforms.

Pre-condition: Every large web site is a complex adaptive system

A complex system is a dynamic network of agents (which may represent cells, species, individuals, firms, nations) acting in parallel, constantly acting and reacting to what the other agents do, John Holland

Can we govern a series of moving targets?

The control of a complex adaptive system tends to be highly dispersed and decentralised

The overall behaviour of the system is the result of a huge number of decisions made every moment by many individual agents

A networked Web Governance model….

Networked Web Governance

Networked Web Governance

This simple work-flow illustration stretches to the two core implications with User Adoption and conversation and pragmatic steps to make ‘the Web’ space development more transparent, second the ‘builders‘ view. The latter have been pretty detailed over the years with a set of useful good practices and patterns, such as Enterprise Architecture, ITIL, agile methods and other means to deliver new features to the Web.

The core problem, relates to the initial conversation amongst actual end-users, about i.e. their intranet experiences and business demand. Over the years we as practitioners have tried to take ‘hostages‘ through different means of end-user participation methods (i.e. UX), but in most cases I have discovered both in practice and research we end up having’ the ‘developers‘ (web professionals) driving the scene. The developer’s guild will obviously encompass, both ‘content owners’ and communication professionals, and all different pieces of the ICT folks trying to deliver the Web technologies. I know it is pretty unconventional to pair the communication professionals and ICT folks into one coherent group, but in reality they have melded together.

Obviously, as with Intranet Managers, they usually derive from the communications guild, but since they have to cope with a ‘social technology artefact’ being the CMS, Portal, Search or whathaveyou techie stuff, they learn to master the language of the ICT folks to be able to reach for their everyday business demand to deliver a decent working platform to undertake their craftsmanship. Similar to the ICT people working close with the communicators, they sooner than later try to become web communication ‘savvy’, with some difficulty ;-) . Regardless of this, these two Communities of Practices have so far represented the ‘business’ in the lion part of all decision-making bodies to deliver the intranet, enterprise portal or Internet sites. All in all they do represent the Professional Web practices, meaning people working everyday delivering content or technology for the Web.

With the advent of Emerging Social Software Platforms, Andrew McKefee (read web 2.0 technologies) there is a new player to the Web Governance game: the business end-user, who contributes daily through their ‘in-the-flow’ conversations with peers. In IS research, the Diffusion of Technology and Innovation is omnipresent! There are bulk loads of stories/research data from ERP, CRM, CSCW and so forth that show how crucial User Adoption is to reach for real business values, and how often misuse, no-use and so forth diminish the outcome of the investment in any ICT platform.

The ambition with the outlined and proposed (simple) Web Governance Model is to bridge this gap through open-conversation spaces (emerging social software platforms, web 2.0 technologies). To be able to cultivate a vivid, cultivated community that in a highly dispersed and networked manner engage in the development and change of the enterprise Web platforms.

Web Governance, today and cues to the future

As many gurus within intranet and web, have stated there are some commonalities for an i.e. Intranet Strategy and Governance model. Mr Martin White compiled a simple and descriptive model 2007 that still works as good bedrock for our conversation. Lacking in this model is User Adoption and Participation. It has three dimensions: steering, operations, and lastly development. As stated by Martin White , Jane McConnell, Gerry McGovern and others in the ‘guru‘ conversation, there is no one-model-fits-all! The set-up for any given enterprise has some similarities or patterns, but then reality comes in and strikes back. In the best of worlds we all would like our key leaders and managers, such as the CEO, CIO, VP HR, VP Communication etc to become owners of the Web Governance.  Over the years, and in enterprises that have a more matured governance model, they do act in the Web Governance space; in other it is less obvious who will take the lead in all this. It would also be very nice to have the strong leaders/managers from the key areas in the business to take active part in the governance of their enterprise web, such as marketing, sales, supply chain, operations or Research & Development.

Simultaneously with the efforts to bring the managerial resources to the dinner table, there is a need to close the gap to the IT-Governance model. Sometimes these resources do overlap, sometimes not. In several cases that I have written about in my research there is an emerging practice to deal with web governance, but this is continuously interlinked with the means (money): The IT-governance people do act and own the money to invest in the infrastructural pieces that make-do of any Web. Power Relations and politics!!!

Too play any game, as board games like chess, backgammon or why not Monopoly, we all need a set of common rules (standards, policies, operating procedures), but the actual game playing is like a live soap-opera. In the Networked Web Governance model, the main idea is to bring in ‘social constructs’ derived from the open-source movement. If the model is able to cope with different levels of granularity, dispersed open decision making amongst many agents in real-time through Emerging Social Software Platforms  we will be able to boost User Adoption.

The democratisation of the business demand and change conversations from the Web Professionals scene to all users, with a strong focus on Communities, will be the lever. Essential in all this, is that when the developers ‘black box‘ is open, and the conversation flows. The users do not have to cope with professional ‘lingo‘ to express their needs, instead the social fabric of networks will bridge this and make-do of the conversations and translations between practices.

All Artisans, like ICT-folks, Communication pros’ use different means and tools to communicate. A common allegory: When you buy a house you invite several different crafts to both translate your ambitions to what the house should look like, what features and uses you intend to have with this artefact in a social fabric. They all translate this into their descriptive models and simplifications to both make-do of their internal practices communication, but also between practices (carpenter, plumber, electrician, roofers, architects and so forth). You as the forthcoming user of the house will have the opportunity to both compile their detailed schemes and models, but most often you trust their craftsmanship.

Sometimes you as a house buyer have difficulties to express your inner thoughts about the social use of the house, and the artisans deliver a house with a disjoint end-user experience….but if you had the option to tap into ‘all’ house buyers networks, combined with the artesian common place knowledge in their standards and guidelines as well as their internal discussion. You would at least have the option to be able to have a more fluent dialog. And hopefully your house would emerge into something you actually asked for, or want move into!


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