What’s different about enterprise 2.0 social computing tools is the silo bridging. It’s the enterprise-wide awareness, problem-solving, crowd-sourcing, swarming, collaboration, ambient awareness, relationship-building, serendipity…the emergence…which all cascades into good stuff like DIY reputation (answer questions, discuss topics, share experiences), adapting to change, optimisation/effectiveness (the best people working together) cooperation (avoid clashes), opportunities, innovation, agile, employee engagement, finding tasks that suit you, autonomy in initiating tasks and collaborating with the right people to get it done (hopefully resourced and funded…I like this last one in the frontline setting tasks that emerge from their work environment, and managers being enablers) etc….
But it’s also good for coordinating good old group work (Communities of Practice or Teams or Cross-Functional tasks). I’ve talked about this before in a post on Are we doing enterprise 2.0 in reverse. In that post I wanted to stress that if we get benefit out of good old group work and pains in processes (in-the-flow type stuff), then that’s you’re buy-in right there. Thus you needn’t have to worry about having to convince and persuade about the benefits of silo-bridging, awareness, emergence and all that jazz. I know the world is not that black and white, but I’m generally speaking.
Yes social computing is unique in that it’s a platform for awareness and emergence, and enabling swarms to work on what matters. This is a real big deal cause this leads to a big picture of a gradual alteration in organisational design (or perhaps a superimposed informal network over the hierarchy network, only the informal network is now online, and being online means different things happen eg. ambient awareness, silo-bridging and swarming is amplified when it’s online, compared to offline). But it’s also good to enhance processes and regular group work. Heck, it’s almost good for everything….everything is 2.0 these days…which means things are more enabling and co-created in basic speak.
Social computing tools are unstructured which means you can use them for many purposes. Kind of like how email and Microsoft Word is unstructured…people use email a million ways (at the moment a popular email use is to receive notifications from social networks, I can’t remember the last time I wrote an email outside of work). Anyway…I remember Bill Ives saying the user designs how the tool is used, not the vendor.
How true to an extent. The vendor designs the features, and the user decides the purpose.
At work we have group spaces used as troubleshooting spaces, expert knowledge gathering, internal customer spaces, idea gathering, group work, cross-functional work, events, buy and sell, office space, etc…too many to mention, and I know the vendor wasn’t clairvoyant in knowing all these use cases, heck even I wasn’t.
What comes with the turf with unstructured online social tools is that sometimes people are not sure what to do with them. Facilitator’s are necessary to move people away from staring at a blank wiki, and demonstrate how they can be used to write articles/reports, help guides, documentation, lists, etc…same goes with blogs (share experiences, broadcast news, lessons, progress, etc…). They can be used in a flow eg. write up new documentation, then describe it in a blog, or some troubleshooting has been resolved in a forum and a wiki is used to document the new procedure and a blog is then used to announce it. The point is the facilitator is there to listen to the use case and bend the tools around it. There’s also the other bit that these tools are social so you need many people for them to work, this is why facilitation and hosting is important. These tools are certainly not deploy, train, and maintain…they are about adoption.
Anyway, to come to the focus of the post, can we somehow use design another way to increase adoption.
Could we actually move in reverse and make some of the tools a little less unstructured? What, more structured isn’t this what we were moving away from with rigid process tools, where we ended up using email for exceptions to processes?
Let me explain a little…
At work people are now educated that wikis are a blank sheet of paper and they can use them to the extent of their imagination.
But there’s one catch, it takes time to structure your page.
Here’s what I mean. When you open a new MS Powerpoint page it offers you layouts. I’m sure some wikis can do this but the ones we use don’t. Wouldn’t it be good if wikis could offer layouts using tables, this way my page is on the way to be structured how I like in one click.
And a step further is purpose-based wiki templates. At work people use wikis for minutes of meetings. Problem is each meeting they have to create a table and fill in the headings, what a hassle. Some people create a wikipage called "minutes template" and then copy and paste that into a new page for each meeting. Hmmm, maybe I could make a Wiki with lots of templates that people can use…just a thought. Again, there’s probably wikis on the market that can spoonfeed users this way. I’m certain that if wiki had thematic wikipages then people would use them a lot more, people more often than not want to dump content into a structure, they often don’t have that much time to create the structure. To come back to templates, when we use MS Word to write a report, do our expenses, training, etc…we use the global templates. We expect to quickly choose a pre-formatted page so we can go ahead and fill it with content.
The other day I noticed the CKEditor has a button called "templates". Looking at the demo it provides some layouts, ala MS Powerpoint. If you are technically minded you can customise these or add your own. This is great, if the vendor doesn’t offer templates we can still service our users by using the editor to offer templates like "minutes of meeting".
Here’s what they say:
"With CKEditor content writers can select a template from a list by clicking the…button in the toolbar. A template is a predefined piece of HTML that is inserted into a document. Using this feature, the user does not need to start formatting the text from scratch. Designers can prepare well designed templates which helps avoid user errors before they happen."
When I was looking at IBM Activities I noticed their wikis didn’t have templates, but they use CKEditor which can pick up the pieces. But their other module, IBM Activities, indeed has templates. Activities are a type of task tool which you can customise to a certain extent. Users can offer their Activities as templates eg. if you are organising an event it’s quite handy and time saving to find an Activities template for this exact task. And of course you can do some refining touches for your context.
So from the likes of MS we are used to working with templates, it’s what we want, and as we can see some vendors offer this in wikis and task modules, as well as some editors offering it.
NOTE: When will the day come when wikis can do layering. Don’t you love in MS Powerpoint how you can draw things and put content on top of other content.
Templates are good, I think they are a no brainer…really they are nothing new. I’m thinking further than extending a wiki with pre-formatted pages, I’m thinking apps (ie new modules) for the platform are a unique thing offered by social computing and the Web 2.0 ethos of the user building stuff.
Web 2.0 has been about content, and the emergence of participation, but it also has been about lego building blocks and the emergence of architecture. Just look at Twitter, technical minded people get right into it and build tools like Tweetdeck, or they use Twitter an unexpected way (that is kind of similar to what innovation circles call Exaptation).
Apps are the new black. They can offer a different experience to the website offering (plus you don’t have to launch to the website). Or apps can simply be an application not based on a website. When you get down to it, apps offer an experience, an experience the users wants, they cut through the fluff, and design an experience based on a specific use case, and if done with precision, when you think of doing something, your hand moves to the very link that can make that happen.
I think the next stage of platforms is for regular people to be able to build liteweight apps. But for now this is the work of techies.
And again it’s typical web 2.0 where the users are adding to the value; in this case it’s as deep as you can get as they are actually customising or building modules or products.
So let me explain a little…
At work many people have use purposes eg. Do we have something that we can use as CRM, do we have something to do proposals, do we have something we can use as a support desk, do we have something for the recruitment process, etc…
For some of these use cases eg CRM, perhaps wiki templates can help, for others maybe not.
In each of these use cases you can buy a specific vendor tool to do that exact job. ie you can buy a CRM tool, or a proposal process tool. But the whole idea of social computing is that we use the same platform so we can have enterprise-wide awareness of activity streams. The whole idea is to not have data locked up in multiple tools; I suppose social computing tools these days can suck up data from other tools and present them in the activity stream. The other premise is that it’s cheaper buying one platform that can mildly do all things, rather than lots of focused products.
An example is an online group space at work which Design tools employees use for sharing tips, training and troubleshooting. They are connecting blogs and forums and wikis into process flows, with moderators and mentors. This is cool that they can achieve this, but they have reached a wall in how far they can bend the software…but they are still grateful as a focused product would cost too much to be approved by their lead.
Further to this, there is a need to use a PDF or wikipage to inform people of the assembled process flow. I don’t mind process flows for an overview reminder on how things work, but I don’t like the fact that I need to look it up so I know what to do next. In my mind if you are educating it means your tools could be working harder for you; in this context design always trumps education. This is pretty much the ethos of web 2.0…I have never read a manual to use Facebook,Twitter, LinkedIN.
So when people at my work ask can I use our social computing platform for CRM, recruitment, proposals, I could potentially offer, wiki/task/editor templates or educate them on how to assemble the tools into a flow.
But there’s vendors out there that go full circle ie. they enable you to build modules for the platform. We have status updates, blogs, forums, wikis, but you want a CRM tool, well how about this app. What we are talking here is rather than buying a new product for each of these use cases, you instead have a social computing platform where you can build your own DIY process apps.
I haven’t looked into this too much, but I think it’s the future of adoption…offering people a precise way to execute their work. Really you don’t need to push adoption when the platform can build many types of gloves.
From my quick glance the vendors I have seen so far venturing into this playground are Jive SBS, IBM Connections and Podio. I wouldn’t put Thingamy in the same class as these as it’s not a social computing platform, actually it’s a process building product, which is pretty much the focus of this post.
Podio inspired this post, unlike the others Podio is a true app store. This social computing platform comes with standard modules, and in addition the Podio team and users build and offer apps, and these are all available via gallery browsing. Actually you can install apps or packs (which are a set of apps).
Their webpage simply says:
"Adapt Podio to suit your work needs with free apps from the App Store or create your own."
What this means is that you don’t have to somehow fudge a wiki to do CRM, or fudge together a blog and a wiki for a proposal process. The future is to build apps on the platform that execute your exact use case.
From my quick glance the apps from the other vendors are more about using other sites within the platform eg. Box.net, Rypple, TripIt…or BPM/ERM type enterprise apps, which is all good. But for the focus of this post I think Podio is really filling a gap; the apps on Podio are more about new native modules; just look at all these apps: Proposals, Managing Recruitment, Product Design, Issue Tracking, Deliverables, CRM, Leads, Business Development, Marketing Campaigns, Sales Management, User Experience, Studies, Research Project, UX Testing and lots, I mean lots more. Actually they are packs of apps, here some apps: Document Template, Bulletins, Procedures, Bugs, Milestones, Vacations, Staff Meetings, Specification, Request, Sales, On-boarding, Campaigns, and the list goes on.
So when an employee comes up to you and asks do we have an online tool that I can use for Managing Recruitment. You can cast aside trying to fudge something together using blog, forums and wikis and instead offer them the Managing Recruitment pack ie. give them the perfect fitting glove.
Here’s what the Managing Recruitment page says:
"Allows companies to manage vacancies, agencies, key skills and candidate progression in recruitment.
This pack can be used for companies of all sizes to manage there vacancies, internally resourced candidates as well as agencies they are working with.
You can instantly see which candidates are in the recruitment process, what stage of the process they are in and how they were submitted.
This pack would be ideal for an internal HR team/Recruiters who as well as resourcing there own vacancies also work with a select number of agencies. All candidates can be managed and uploaded to this app pack and at all times the information as to the stage of recruitment will be transparent. Allowing for good communication both internally and with your agencies."
In the past we buy tools to fit a specific need or get someone to build an MS Access database where other MS Office tools don’t go, and now we assemble social computing tools which provides visibility by being online and social features to enable how we really work. I’m thinking all these were over sized mittens, and now with apps we can wear gloves that fit perfectly. Does adoption exist when you have precision!
This is the future of work!
Rawn Shah has more on Podio:
"Podio offers much more beyond interaction with people or groups; it provides real apps and forms-based tools that anyone can build into the service. An activity stream by itself is simply a series of posts of text, photo or video content. You read or watch them and then go off to another application to do something about the content. Most streams-based tools simply allow you to communicate.
What Podio has done is make it possible to integrate our workflows and tasks directly into the streams, not just read about them. So when John in accounting asks you to fill out a field for an expenses form, you don’t need to launch another application; the fields can right there in front of you to fill in and submit in a short message. Considering how many applications out there are based on input forms, this makes it now simple to integrate them into the mode of how more people are working now: in short bursts of communication with many people in their network, multi-tasking as necessary."
Check out Twiki who have offered for users to simply build forms/apps for the last 10 years:
Socialtext wiki templates:
Confluence wiki templates (forms) and apps (macros/plugins):