Archive for August, 2010

August 27, 2010

Stuff On My Cat is an interesting organisation to analyse with respect to Enterprise 2.0 because by its very nature, it is based on Enterprise 2.0 technologies. Essentially, registered members send in supposedly funny cat pictures which SOMC then displays on its website and uses in products on their web store (such as T-shirts and mugs). Considering this business model, it’s not surprising to find that SOMC has to address some of the risks that come with using E2 technologies.

For starters, SOMC stores information about its registered members. Although this data may not be considered as sensitive as, for example, financial information, it still has a responsibility to those member to keep this information private. Should this information be compromised (by SOMC itself or hackers, etc), members could bring action against SOMC or just terminate their account. Since SOMC relies on member submissions, loss of members is a serious concern.

Another key legal issue is that of copyright – the ‘product’ SOMC sells is content created by its members, which brings into question the ownership of and right to use that content. SOMC has addressed this by including in the content submission process an agreement that it can use the submitted content essentially in any way it pleases. It’s likely that a large number of users would simply agree to the waiver without reading it fully but I don’t see how that would cause a big problem for SOMC.

Registered members can also caption each other’s photos and vote for their favourite caption for a photo and this could lead to claims of discrimination. It’s possible that members may feel their caption was ignored or passed over on the grounds of favouritism. It’s also possible that such a member may become disgruntled and start spreading defamatory material about SOMC on SOMC’s site and others. Again, since members and their contributions are so critical to SOMC’s business model and success, this could have a very damaging effect. As far as I can see SOMC hasn’t taken any action to prevent this apart from allowing people to report inappropriate behaviour and content.

One of the dangers of relying on user submissions is that some people opt to submit inappropriate and offensive material, both of which could give SOMC a bad reputation and turn members away. It is hard to tell whether SOMC staff moderate submissions before they are posted, although the ‘FAQ’ section dealing with why submitted photos take a while to appear on the site indicates that the submission process isn’t automated and there is some processing involved with the procedure. Also, the consistent lack of extremely offensive photos appearing on the site suggests that SOMC staff exercise some degree of network monitoring by either preventing those images appearing and/or removing them after the fact.

Actually, it seems that SOMC have taken very little mitigating action to deal with legal risks. Where other organisations require members to agree to terms and conditions on sign up, SOMC has nothing and the only contract users of the site have to enter into is the aforementioned submission waiver. Although the members of the SOMC network could perhaps be called ‘staff’ as well as ‘consumers’ because they contribute the majority of the content, there appears to be no agreed upon policy of use for them to abide by. The submission agreement clearly states that the author of the content is responsible for it but does not lay out any consequences for breaching that responsibility.

Overall, SOMC is a curious case because it is so clearly an Enterprise 2.0 company but apparently lacks any specifically stated policy of use and guidelines to govern its members and direct them through the minefield of existing in a social media space.

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Intrawest Placemaking – an Enterprise 2.0 case study

August 23, 2010

Intrawest Placemaking – the “real estate development” division of a huge company called Intrawest – is an excellent example of Enterprise 2.0 techniques and principles applied in such a way that the organisation achieves almost all benefits and avoids almost all risks. In a clever and daring move in 2006, Placemaking introduced ThoughtFamer an “wiki intranet platform” and so began a dramatic transformation that shifted to the company from an Enterprise 1.0 model to an Enterprise 2.0 one. There are many benefits to be gained by embracing an Enterprise 2.0 approach and Placemaking’s success story demonstrates nearly all of them.

Benefits as exemplified by Placemaking case study

  • Productivity and efficiency ~ Placemaking found a number of improvements in this area – firstly, the dissemination and updating of information was streamlined by employees posting their content in the wiki intranet instead of using email. This  reduced the multiple copies and versions of information sent out to different sets of people and replaced it with a single, central, easily updated source of information. Efficiency was also increased by the implementation of the key principle ‘turn all users into authors’. This removed the need for a dedicated content maintenance team, meaning those resources could be reallocated elsewhere.
  • Knowledge ~ The ‘knowledge’ benefits to Placemaking can be loosely sorted into three categories – the ‘increase’ in knowledge published within the organisation, the ‘ease’ with which it is accessible and the quality/accuracy of that shared knowledge. ThoughtFarmer made the content submission process quick and simple and this made employees more likely to share their knowledge. It also provided a single, accurate repository for that knowledge that was open to all employees.
  • Reputation ~ Embracing this Web 2.0 technology helped Placemaking’s reputation and appearance, particularly in the eyes of Gen Y potential employees and so gives then “a strategic hiring advantage over their competition”. When recruiting or retaining employees, the presence and benefits of current, highly effective technologies act as a powerful attraction.
  • Staff engagement ~ Before the introduction of ThoughtFarmer, Placemaking predicted “users that could add and edit content would feel a sense of ownership over their intranet. Because the leadership of Placemaking would be putting considerable trust in employees, employees would, in turn, be more likely to trust the company and its leaders.” (Placemaking, 2010).  In addition to this, Placemaking found that allowing employees to maintain personalised profiles and communicate with each other on topics other than work led to employee satisfaction and the forming of strong social relationships. These relationships in particular encouraged employees to share more of their knowledge to help each other out.

In addition to the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 technologies and principles, companies need to be aware of the risks they bring. These are addressed below with regard to the Placemaking case study.

  • Security ~ When adopting the principles and practices of ‘openness’, companies open themselves to the risk of employees seeing and sharing sensitive information that should have remained private. If broadcast on an internal or external network, information can be amazingly rapidly spread and may even end up published in public spaces such as blogs or newspapers. So far, Placemaking seems to have avoided that kind of crisis, perhaps due to the accountability brought about by prohibiting anonymous posting – content can be traced back to the person who published and that person can expect to face the consequences of their actions. It should be noted that whilst a disgruntled employee intending to resign anyway may not be so easily deterred by disciplinary measures, this method of control has apparently worked so far.
  • Loss of control ~ When the principles of openness are fully embraced, it opens organisations up to the loss of control of information set loose and unbound by the established heirarchy. This is another event Placemaking has so far avoided and this could again be due to not allowing anonymous posting and generating good will amongst employees.
  • Reputation ~ Although the strategic use of Web 2.0 tool can improve an organisations’ reputation, they can also harm it. Employees leaking sensitive or damaging information or broadcasting inappropriate comments on external and internal networks can quickly spread bad news and make the organisation appear to be unprofessional and unappealing. Perhaps due to happy employees and being ‘clean’, Placemaking seems to be avoiding this risk so far. It is also important to note that Placemaking’s network is an internal one – if ‘bad’ information was to be released on it, it would be contained within the organisation and presumably not reach the public – and so this is an option for damage control.
  • Reliability ~ When entrusting everyone in the organisation with the ability to submit and edit content, the question arises of whether that content will be reliable and error-free. This can be a bit of a paradox, because allowing everyone to edit content can in itself reduce errors by letting those people who do spot errors fix them immediately. The risk remains (what happens if nobody spots a mistake or maliciously makes false/misleading comments) but it should be recognised as belonging to projects with only one author as well. It seems that in Placemaking’s experience, employees have worked together to generate reliable content.
  • Productivity ~ Another scary issue for managers and employers involves the hijacking of the network for non-work purposes. Whilst some play and light-heartedness is recognised to be health, the risk remains of employees turning the tool from a work-helper to a work-hinderer through the publishing and absorbing of purely fun content to the extent that their productivity suffers. Placemaking has certainly found that employees used the intranet for non-work purposes but that this created stronger relationships and a sense of community that combined to urge those same employees to share information because they cared about their peers.
  • Resources ~ An additional concern is that excessive company resources (bandwidth, time) will be spent on play and socialising. Again, in Placemaking’s experience, workers seem to self-moderate to the effect that the resources expended on entertainment and interacting with others were beneficial to the employees and prompted willingness to work and share.

After examining these benefits and risks with respect to Placemaking, what occurs to me is that an organisation’s success when making the shift from Enterprise 1.0 to Enterprise 2.0 depends largely on managing the people involved. Placemaking’s brilliant results could have been very different if they had introduced the technologies but done it in a way that forced employees to contribute ‘or else’ or allowed them to publish anonymously. Keeping goodwill amongst workers (allowing them a reasonable degree of freedom and fun), generating relationships between them and making them responsible for their own reactions are, in my mind, key elements that need to be carefully addressed for a company to succeed as an  Enterprise 2.0 company.

2 Examples of Enterprise 2.0 Organisations

August 22, 2010

Advancial Federal Credit Union is an example of a company that has successfully incorporated Web 2.0 technologies to become a thriving Enterprise 2.0 organisation. Its transition began in response to problems its employees were experiencing – problems characteristic of companies in the chasm between Enterprise 1.0 and Enterprise 2.0 that have introduced new computing technologies but haven’t brought in the guidelines to help members/employees to make the most of them. These problems are listed below:

  • Employees didn’t know each other or what everyone’s role was.
  • Not everyone could contribute content to the company information base
  • Information was hard to disseminate and keep consistent and relevant
  • The information base was hard to search, making finding information difficult and time consuming
  • Security was disorganised

In an effort to address these problems, they brought in an ‘intranet in a box’ solution called ‘IntelliEnterprise‘. This platform provided Advancial with a base for Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis and profile pages and so helped solve many of Advancial’s problems by:

  • Creating a single source of information with controlled access and editing privileges (this keeps out duplicate or outdated versions of data and solves some security issues)
  • Making visible other people and their role in the organisation
  • Opening up content creation to other people
  • Introducing an effective search tool that could swiftly locate relevant information from the central information base.

This approach adheres in multiple ways to the principles of Enterprise 2.0 – it flattens teams hierarchy by opening up content creation to team members, it facilitates the forming and strengthening of social connections through making people’s profiles public and so bringing people together, it supports the collection and sharing of knowledge within the company and (while not exactly going global) still links the geographically diverse branches. That said, Advancial seems to avoid totally embracing the principle of openness since it doesn’t publish the vast stores to information about its members. Considering the confidential nature of that information, this policy is highly appropriate and Advancial does publish details of the products and services it offers.

Another example of an group doing well as an Enterprise 2.0 organisation is BUPA, a healthcare organisation. Part of BUPA’s work is to provide people with information and so knowledge sharing and dissemination amongst its workers is extremely important. To this effect, BUPA has made use of the Cogenz enterprise bookmarking tool.

According to Wikipedia, enterprise bookmarking is “a method of tagging and linking any information using an expanded set of tags to capture knowledge about data” (as different from, social bookmarking, which it defines as “individuals creat[ing] personal collections of bookmarks and shar[ing] their bookmarks with others”). It is expected that the end product of enterprise bookmarking is a rich, relevant folksonomy.

BUPA state their enterprise bookmarking goals to be:

  • Facilitate networking across the organisation
  • Create a knowledge base on the intranet, improving intranet search
  • Analyse tag patterns as a source of information about intellectual capital within the organisation
  • Feed users’ content tags into Autonomy search engine to improve automatic indexing of content

These goals align to some degree with Enterprise 2.0 principles. For starters, networking at all levels of the organisation enables and encourages close collaboration and connection between peers and throughout the ranks. In addition to that, a single user-built information source has been coupled with a powerful search function meaning the vast knowledge base is not just in place but accessible. Linking is not just supported but made the core function of the bookmarking tool.

Although little mention is made of employees actually authoring any of the bookmarked content, tagging has been made an essential part of the bookmarking process.

A key result of the enterprise bookmarking practice is a type of recommendations scheme whereby employees can see what information their peers have listed under the same tag. In this set up, it isn’t the system that identifies similar material – the people using it do that for themselves. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any signalling function directing people to the appearance or tagging of potentially relevant information.

Though their use of Web 2.0 technologies is considerably different, both Advancial and BUPA are solid examples of Enterprise 2.0 organisations thriving in their respective ways.

Blog post on blogging

August 9, 2010

The benefits of blogging are many and diverse but now as I pause to think about it, the main one that comes to mind is the creation of a person’s online identity through persistent revelations. A series of blog posts help to make public a person’s character and situation in a way that one-off articles cannot – when presented with a collection of material contributed over time, a reader might be able to follow the progression of growth and change the author has undergone than they could if they were faced with a single article. Differences acknowledged by the author (for example, mention that they had completed a degree or moved into a new job) as well as differences evident but not mentioned (for example, alterations in the style or quality it of writing) combine to create an image of the author that matures along with the reader. This development over time creates a narrative for the reader to follow and allows them to feel closer to the author for having seen their history and where they came from instead of just their current status.

It could be argued that one long article may demonstrate more of the author’s personal development than several small articles and this may be true, but long articles raise the problem of actually getting readers to read to the end. In a world where time is increasingly precious, I suggest that readers are more likely to read short articles over several brief sessions than they are to read a very long article on once only basis.

Actually, the breaking down of information is one of the things I noticed that made other people’s blogs easier to read. Sacha Chua and Dion Hinchcliffe (each a prominent identity in the world of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 bloggers) both seem to favour short paragraphs and dot-point-style formats over ‘wall of text’ styles. I find this approach much nicer to read as it simplifies and minimises the content for me so I don’t have to synthesise verbose writing for myself.

Another thing I noticed about Sacha Cuha’s blog is that it had lots of links – links to similar bloggers, links that made it easy to follow her on other platforms and links to her other blog posts (both to single posts and to categories of posts). This made going deeper into the material she has published much easier because the reader can hop to related posts instead of having to trawl through all of them sequentially.

It also occurs to me that blogging, when done frequently, can help keep the author fresh in their reader’s mind. Infrequent long articles mean that the author is only occasionally directing attention back to themselves, whereas more active blogs maintain the author’s presence in their reader’s daily life.