Friday 21 December 2007

An interview with Barney Twinkletoes from Santa about Enterprise Web 2.0

There has been a lot of talk this year about Enterprise Web 2.0 and a number of interesting case studies have appeared. Well, this week I had the opportunity to interview Barney Twinkletoes, a senior associate with North Pole-based social welfare organisation, Santa, about how they are using Web 2.0.

Barney was excited to tell me that while the Santa organisation was one of the world's oldest social welfare organisations, they weren't afraid to try new things. Of course it wasn't all jolly to begin with.

"A first the big fella's IT manager wouldn't touch this stuff - he told me that with our mission critical systems we only had one chance to get it right on the night and he wouldn't let anything 'flaky' compromise our systems."

"However, during the year myelf and a few other senior associates got together and started a bit of a skunk works - all we had was an old PC that lived under my desk! I can tell you, it was pretty exciting but at the same time we felt it was a do or die situation where we had to come up with some really useful ideas that wouldn't risk our core operations. In other words we had to add value."

And this is exactly what Barney and his skunkworks team did during 2007, including:

  • A wiki that was initially used to manage information about the different products and suppliers that Santa uses, that then evolved into a tool to track and manage information about different toy laws in the 150+ jurisdictions around the world where Santa delivers care packages.
  • A mashup, using Elf! Maps and their CRM system, known as the N-or-N database.
  • Each skunkworks team member also started a blog and they implemented an Enterprise RSS system for the team.

Each of their Web 2.0 projects was an instant success and when the Elf! Map mashup actually saved the day during a dry run of their annual toy distribution in June ("Christmas in July"), the IT manager had no choice but to start looking seriously at Web 2.0 approaches. In fact, during the next 12 months we should expect the map mashup to evolve into a consumer service where parents can add comments and the N-or-N database itself will be moved to Elfazon's new EasyElfDB platform.

However, one thing they didn't expect or plan for was the role of social networking sites. In the beginning the IT department blocked social networking sites but it soon became clear that the policy was unworkable and was affecting staff moral. Barney explained:

"Well, you know the younger elves who are less than a 1,000 years old, they just live and breath this stuff - so in the end we had to unblock Earbook and Elfspace or risk losing them, and you know there is a war for elf talent right now."

"Of course we're not quite sure what to do with sites like Earbook, but we know we can't just ignore it just because we don't understand it."

I asked Barney if he had any advice for people in other organisations that wanted to introduce Web 2.0 ideas. He simply said,

"I just remember what guy in red says: If you believe it, it will come true."

Tuesday 18 December 2007

From small twitters, a big online next generation KM conference grows...

Earlier today, Luis twittered that his abstract for the knowledge management conference was rejected, so I suggested we run our own online conference. Of course, once you plant the seed of an idea with Luis, well say no more...

"while trying to wrap up everything at work since tomorrow is my last working day for the remaining of the year, earlier on today in Twitter a crazy thought came up from James Dellow after I mentioned in one of my twitterings how one of my abstracts for a conference event, taking place next year, on the state of social computing, was rejected. From there onwards, Dennis McDonald also jumped in, along with Steve Collins, Kelly Drahzal (a.k.a. Kellypuffs), Mark Masterson, Nancy White, LittleLaura, Ryan Boyles, Thomas van der Wal, Ryan Lanham and Jasmin Tragas so far. And before we knew it we had a whole bunch of folks in Twitter interested in the overall event (Plus those who contacted me already offline!)."

Hmm. Now I have decide what I'm going to present on? Something to look forward too in the new year :-)

Monday 17 December 2007

Pre-School of Hacking

Heard a great story today about our youngest members of the Internet generation. Someone I know who works in a pre-school was sold a computer system for the older kids to play with... they were assured that the computer could be configured so that they could only access authorised games and software. No, it didn't take some of them long to figure out what to do to get to what they wanted.

Enterprise computing is more than skin deep

Fellow CSC'er and Twitter friend, Mark Masterson, adds his two cents worth on enterprise sexiness in response to Jevon MacDonald's contribution to the firestorm:

"I think what must happen is that the existing enterprise systems will have to change to accommodate these new modes of discourse. As for the second point, it seems blindingly obvious to me that the existing systems will continue to have a valuable role to play for what Sig and James have taken to calling the "easily repeatable processes". Those exist, Jevon, and they generate value, and many of them are best served by letting them be. What I find interesting about what's on the horizon is the possibility of adding value to all of the "barely repeatable processes". But I suspect you're mistaken if you think that social software is going to provide some significantly better way to do the ERP's. No tool is good for all things -- hammers are only good at nails, and screwdrivers are best for screws. There is no silver bullet, and social software isn't one either."

As I said earlier, "Sexy" is such a poor word to use in this discussion. Not because I'm a prude, but I keep thinking that this keeps us focused on what's on the surface. I mean underneath Twitter, for example, is an easily repeatable process ("ERP") that supports barely repeatable processes ("BRP"). And what do people hate about Twitter - when the ERP bit goes down. So when we get down to it, both the enterprise and Web 2.0 computing environments run on ERP.

The question is, can the Web 2.0 computing cloud provide a better model for ERP than the traditional enterprise computing environment? And can enterprise computing change to make use of that cloud? In the meantime expect to see lots of Web 2.0 inspired enterprise BRP front ends appear that continue to run on unsexy enterprise ERP systems, but don't expect this to be the end of that story - after all, would Twitter be the same if it was running as a traditional enterprise system?

Sunday 16 December 2007

The Search for Application Perfection

Back in 2004 I co-authored an article that asked, does the perfect intranet exist? Now, as the dust mostly settles around the firestorm about "sexy" enterprise applications, I wonder if the problem with enterprise applications is that the enterprise is looking for application perfection?

Of course in some enterprise situations system "perfection" is not only desirable, but essential. However, when we consider the number of large organisations running on uncontrolled spreadsheets, despite the known risks, this suggests that perhaps people are more willing to trade off perfection for practical usefulness than we think. BTW I think "sexy" is a rather poor word choice, perhaps something like "utilitarianism" instead? I mean, like twitter friend Martin Koser I've yet to find a sexy wiki either:

"Are enterprise wikis sexy? Most people don’t think so - but I think they get it wrong...Wikis soon gain “cool tools status” - just because they offer room for flexible emergent uses, coupled with great simplicity."

However, here is the ironic twist with enterprise software... an "enterprise" is really a loose collection of individuals, a complex system if you like. Unfortunately large, heavy and decidedly unsexy enterprise software is produced by large, complex companies to be used by other large, complex companies. And its why right now people in organisations can't help themselves from buying large, heavy enterprise software, yet they know they will also keep using a spreadsheet (or equivalent tool) to fill the gaps. This goes for the vendors too, who often "don't eat their own dogfood".

You can see where this is going, right? If you want sexy enterprise software, look for companies - both vendors and customers - who are prepared to change the rules. And in a long winded way, I find myself back to James Governor, who had a hand in stoking the firestorm that Scoble started, and I'll give him the last word:

"In the 20th century economic success in IT was established by raising barriers to entry. In the 21st it will be about lowering barriers to participation. Economies are networked, and the invisible hand is a great one for random acts of traction."

Just can't stop that mobile social media beat

One of my favourite workshop questions around Web 2.0 is to ask when people first used email - at work, where they were educated, or at home? With the right mix of people in the room, its a good way to highlight how we are in the middle of both a generational and technology change.

From some recent conversations with clients about Web 2.0 and related topics, it occurred to me that mobile Internet access is now following a similar consumerisation path - more people have or will soon have access to mobile Internet through the mobile phone they own than the people with a mobile computing device provided by their employer. Admittedly there are some anomalies, like the Canadian oil field worker who used his mobile as a wireless modem and ran up a huge bills, but for the purposes of an always on, always connected social media lifestyle I would say that consumer mobile Internet access is a generally affordable option right now for early adopters.

However, and more like the impact of Web-based email than email alone, mobile consumer Internet access is an interesting disrupter in the workplace because if an employer chooses not to allow Internet access to certain sites, well for the first time employees have the option to access it themselves using their own technology from within the workplace.

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Startup Weekend coming to Sydney in early 2008

Brad Kellett, a Wollongong-based blogger and Twitter friend, is planning to hold a Startup Weekend in Sydney in early 2008. You can register your interest on Brad's blog.

A Startup Weekend is a "54 hour event where a bunch of technologists get together to build a community and company". The part that makes this is a little different from something like a barcamp is that the founders from the weekend own the company that emerges at the end of the weekend... interesting, right?

Monday 10 December 2007

WTF - ThinkFree not so free down under!

Des Walsh alerted me to the fact that ThinkFree's partnership with Telstra's BigPond actually means something else for Aussie and Kiwi users... on his blog the sad details:

"'Only and email addresses will be accepted'. You’re not a paid-up BigPond subscriber, you don’t get to play with ThinkFree."

All I can say is, what on earth are ThinkFree they thinking? Having they heard in the states that Australia deregulated its telecommunicatins industry some time ago now. I really, really hope that this is just a case of someone making a stupid mistake... please Ismael, tell me it isn't so! I mean, what's next, Second Life on Bigpond only? ;-)

UPDATE: More here on ITWire as reported at the beginning of November:

"Existing ThinkFree users can get access, but any attempt by a non-registered user to access the ThinkFree web site from an Australian IP address automatically redirects to the BigPond Office website which only accepts registrations from customers with a BigPond email address. BigPond was non-committal on any plans to make the service available to non-BigPond users. "Wait and see", spokesman Craig Middleton said."

Facebook, LinkedIn and the state of enterprise software

There are too many conversation going on right now about Facebook, LinkedIn and the state of enterprise software... some starting points:

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but the connection here is the question should Web 2.0 replace enterprise software or do we just use it raise the bar of what is expected?

Saturday 8 December 2007

Do users want Facebook as their "intranet"?

Despite Facebook's recent problems with its Beacon social advertising system, it hasn't stopped the blogosphere from continuing to talk about how we can use Facebook for business. Previously Read/WriteWeb looked at the top Facebook applications for business users but the current excitement is around the possibility of using Facebook as an intranet, with Bill Ives reporting how one global 800 employee has already made the move:

"Serena is really replacing its existing intranet with Facebook as a front end linked to a low-cost content management system[*] behind the firewall."

In the light of this example, Andrew McAfee asks "what are the good reasons for continuing to invest in and forge ahead with 1.0 Intranets" and he challenges people to put forward arguments from the enterprise perspective for why not.

Firstly, this is an interesting idea because clearly by moving their existing intranet to Facebook, Serena's intranet it is no longer an intranet or even an extranet (as far as I can tell) - it is something different. Perhaps we should call it a "stratanet", since it is a private entity living in the larger shared space of the Facebook network (just like a block of units)? At a business and technology level, there is no doubt that operating a stratanet introduces a number of potential problems and risks, but nothing that is unsurpassable if Facebook (+ Microsoft) and the business community decided to fix them.

However, I think this is the wrong question - what we should be asking is, do users really want their employers to use Facebook as their intranet?

Lets put this question in the perspective of how people are using Facebook: I was recently a little critical of Charlene Li's double life in Facebook, where she maintains two persona's, a professional and a personal identity because:

"That Facebook account is there for the day when my personal friends finally make it on to Facebook (most are not there today). I post personal photos of my family, recipes -- thing that my professional network of "friends" would find pretty odd."

Certainly, there is much human behaviour that would be found "pretty odd" or unacceptable in the workplace - for example, how would both the act and publicity behind relationship breakups fit on a traditional intranet?

The other issue is that even on a professional level there are things you might want to keep private within your trusted Facebook network, for example as this Guardian piece points out about Facebook's role in recruitment:

"But don't get carried away. Facebook still has its dangers. "I know of people who have been fired because their boss saw profile updates suggesting that they were actively looking for work," says Morrall. Which may prove a good enough reason not to fire up your browser at work - or not if your boss befriends you, at any rate."

The other issue related to this is who own's our online relationships? If an employer uses Facebook as an offical intranet, then is it possible that somewhere down the line when an employee moves on to a new job that the employer will opt to keep those relationships, or even force you to break some of them?

In fact, I'm a little worried that there are only two possible outcomes I can see if companies start using Facebook as their intranet:

  1. People will have to maintain multiple personalities in order to separate their personal and professional lives; or
  2. Working people will stop using Facebook for personal social networking.

In either event this will ultimately devalue Facebook as a business social networking tool.

It is of course possible that Facebook could introduce systems that could more effectively ring-fence personal and business networks - i.e. your boss can only see business-related wall posts. But, is this sterile business networking environment going to end up adding any value? And again, what effort will this require on the part of the user to manage?

While we might not think about it as we are linking up with people at a professional level, a friendship on Facebook requires a great deal trust and maturity as we take the risk of putting our personal lives on display to each other, and this must be a voluntary decision. So, in response to McAfee's question I would suggest that the question of using Facebook as an intranet has nothing to do with technology, rather its about the impact on the relationship between the employee, the employer and the employee's personal and professional social network. In that context I think we have a long way to go before employees (and employers) will really want to use Facebook at an intranet.

BigPond's private label version of ThinkFree

You might remember that I reviewed a portable version of hosted office application suite ThinkFree earlier in the year, however I don't remember hearing much in the media about this new service from Australian ISP, Bigpond, who have a launched a private label version of ThinkFree in November:

"BigPond® Office lets you create, edit and share word processing, spreadsheet and presentation documents from anywhere you can use the Internet, any time. Simply login and start working. BigPond Office is BigPond's alternative office suite. And best of all, it's all free* for most BigPond members."

BigPond Office is currently only available to BigPond users, however the service is also un-metered for BigPond users, so it has no impact on typically restrictive broadband limits here. But it looks like a premium version is in the works:


BigPond Office DocBoss offers all the features of BigPond Office, plus you can also access it when you’re not on the internet. So you’ll be able to create all your documentation and save it to your PCs, without having to go online. You’ll have the same anywhere, anytime access as the current online service with added features and a higher level of technical support."

I wonder if the reason I didn't hear about this before is because they are trying to fly under the radar of Google and co? :-)

Friday 7 December 2007

Is RSS undervalued by the big portal vendors, or their customers?

A subject close to my heart, RSS, and Mike Gotta raises some important points about Microsoft (and the other big vendors) support for standards and enterprise feed management:

"SharePoint exposes a lot of information via RSS feeds but apparently has no support for Atom - in fact, Microsoft seems to be very unclear on its support for Atom and perhaps might prefer to play with RSS extensions that muddy the waters given RSS is essentially an architectural dead-end. SharePoint is not a feed syndication platform - it's just another application that exposes feeds. This gap forced Microsoft to partner with NewsGator (i.e., Social Sites), but even that integration does not eliminate the need for enterprise IT organizations to look at what Attensa, KnowNow and NewsGator offer themselves as complete feed syndication platforms.

Surprisingly, IBM is also completely absent regarding a feed syndication platform. I find it amazing (in an underwhelming manner), that a company touting social computing (e.g., Lotus Connections) and "Info 2.0" has not articulated a strategic vision related to XML feeds outside a simplistic client implementation in Notes 8 and surfacing XML feeds in its related back-end products (e.g., Domino, QuickR, etc). For now - Attensa, KnowNow and NewsGator remain the only credible options with perhaps Oracle as perhaps the only large vendor that could make a move here."

I agree, Mike - but is it also a failure in the enterprise IT camp itself for failing to recognise why this important piece of messaging and computing architecture is so important? i.e. if they don't ask for, they won't build it?

Ektron WCMS' new social computing features

A few years ago I came across Ektron, who offer a popular and cost effective Web content management system (WCMS). I just found out that version 7.5 of CMS400.NET now offers Web 2.0 inspired social software-like capabilities including tagging, ratings, networking and blogging, etc. On the social networking side they describe it as follows:

"The new Social Networking Framework in Ektron CMS400.NET has been built from the ground up giving you, and your members, the most powerful toolkit of community-themed features making your site the place for people to meet, interact, and discover a new way to collaborate, find information and work together. Social networking is not just for your teenager anymore!"

Your very own Facebook? I really can't pass comment on the latest version of Ektron as I haven't looked at this latest version in detail (especially in such a crowded market of content management), but it might be worth considering if you're looking to quickly inject social computing features into your intranet or Internet site.

Thursday 6 December 2007

Out on the SharePoint Frontier

According to CMS Watch:

"although Microsoft Office SharePoint Server (MOSS) 2007 brings improved collaboration facilities over previous editions, it comes at the cost of a dearth of enterprise management services, leading to rampant, viral proliferation and instances of uncontrolled content, as well as major compliancy risks."

Hmm. It all sounds very familiar - if you've been around intranets long enough, you'll remember people like Gartner warning us about "wild west intranets" back in the late 1990s.

But are they really wild or is just a matter of perspective? More on this another time...

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Ross Dawson's Enterprise 2.0 Lessons

Other than Stephen Collins giving away his ticket to the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Sydney this week, the only thing I've heard from the event so far is about Ross' key note. As well as sharing his slides, Ross shares six lessons:

  1. Make governance an enabler.
  2. Start from business applications, not tools.
  3. Make work easier.
  4. Build strategies at the architecture level.
  5. Allow users to experiment.
  6. Create pilots that yield useful lessons.

Read the rest of his post for the details.

BTW Ross is running an executive forum on Enterprise 2.0 in Sydney in this coming February. If you're trying to convince the higher powers in your organisation to get on board Enterprise 2.0, encourage them to get along to this event!

And if you're out there having blogged or are blogging about the event, let me know!

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Monday 3 December 2007

CSC and the 2007 'Sydney to the Gong' bike ride

CSC have shared a record of their involvement in this year's Sydney to Gong ride for the MS Society via YouTube:

The internal communications people actually used YouTube as the internal distribution method too.