Social networking in the enterprise – part 2

Social networking poses plenty of challenges also – we need to focus on why, what we are looking to achieve, how to manage the risks/ downsides.

As we seek to deploy social networking tools in the enterprise plenty of questions arise re potential waste of time and resources.  We set out with a number of positive objectives e.g. improve communication, improve ability to find people and information, support collaboration and team work.  But we also have a key question to address re potential downsides:

Does a facebook or twitter type application become a distraction – another source of interruptions in the day while trying to complete tasks; another temptation to move away from the task at hand?

We talk a great deal about the ability of people to multitask – but what does this really mean?  In many activities the ability to concentrate, focus on the job at hand, is paramount.  Constant interruptions/ distractions are more likely a hindrance than an aid.

In many ways we already have too many distractions at work – phones, mobiles, email, people, memos, noise, etc.  Social networking and ‘presence’ type applications generate additional potential distractions.

So what’s the way forward?  I think time management is back at the centre of the issue.  You have an amount of time to perform your role – within your role you have a range of responsibilities (and these have their own priorities).  Within the context of all of this you have a number of tools and resources (including people, templates, gadgets, software, social networks).  The real challenge is to figure out how to use these to the best possible advantage.  And I don’t think many of us are mastering this.  For instance when I use an application such as Rescue Time it gives me anindication of the amount of time I spend on social networking sites.  As someone trying to understand these environments and figure out how to harness them for productive use I allow myself generous amounts of time – but inevitably I am distracted and exceed my targets.

Interesting this week to read a piece in the Irish Times dealing with the concerns of parents and teachers about the impact of social networking on school children.  There was a time when parents worried about kids who were playing too much competitive sport close to exams to kids who had too active (traditional) social lives.  Now there are very real concerns about the amount of time spend on social networks – where there are unlimited distractions for any participant.

There are plenty of lessons in all of this for those of us rolling out these types of applications across  enterprises.  We need to remember what we are looking to achieve, we need to measure whether we are achieving this and we need to monitor the risks associated with these initiatives e.g. loss to productive time, unexpected bahavioural changes.  Notwithstanding all of this we need to figure out how to realise the potential benefits.

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Traditional media being used to promote tour holidays

Tour operators are using online advertising but still put great store on the traditional brochure.

I see I am now regularly targeted online for specialist holidays aligned with my sports interests – as detailed in my various online presences.  Was interested to read today’s piece in the Irish Times coinciding with the launching of the tour operators‘ brochures for 2011.  Clearly a great deal of marketing spend still goes into the prep and publication of the annual brochure (and these have been upgraded significantly over the years).

I suppose one of the key points is that whether you provide online or hard copy data to potential customers you still have to do the same spade work: property descriptions, photos, stories, pricing.  So,having completed that, the operators still believe that plenty of hard copy is required by the potential buyers.

Interesting comment about difficulty of tracking back on Google search sourced calls: With all her advertisements, Airey uses different phone numbers so she can track the responses. “The one thing we can’t track is if someone sees or hears our ad, then Googles our website and then calls the number on our site. A huge number of calls come from our website, but the problem is we don’t know how that person got to our website. Sunway has to become a household name, and advertising creates that brand awareness.”

Might be interesting to see whether HeyStaks can establish itself as a platform used by many people researching holidays?  Perhaps it will be of greater service to those researching the non packaged option?

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Paperless billing

A Post postbox taken by User:Ludraman with a S...
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This seems to have become a hot topic in Ireland – prompted by the move to electronic billing by mobile phone companies.  We have a number of objectors: the regulator because people had a right to a paper bill, some consumers who want a paper bill and, it seems, An Post who stand to lose out on lots of revenue.  Finally there is the debate about the sharing of the benefits – will all the benefits be retained by the corporations or will they be shared (in part or in whole) with the customers?

Useful catch up on the subject in yesterday’s Irish Times.

Surely this is a ‘non-brainer’ at a basic level?  We must use technology to make things more efficient.  But as in all such projects we must manage the change.   There are benefits in this for the corporations (in terms of cost savings) and there are benefits for customers who are open to receiving electronic bills (or accessing their account information on a portal).  Without doubt there are a group of people who will struggle to deal with an electronic document e.g. those with no internet access or familiarity.  This is a group which is diminishing in relative size – but nonetheless must be accommodated – and it would seem to me should not be disadvantaged over their current position.  This should be the core focus of the change agenda.

Online travel booking seems to have gained widespread acceptance – and it has resulted in major changes for those who previously facilitated the booking process.  Mr O’Leary of Ryanair pushed through the agenda but the Aer Lingus experience is the same.  And we have seen losts of benefits in online travel e.g. the various sites offering best deals across a range of providers – be it flights, cars, hotels, insurance, etc.

Over the last number of months I have availed of the new service from Irish start-up  GetItKeepIt which enables me to receive and a range of electronic bills from various suppliers.  For me this application addresses the specific point made by CAI Chairman James Doorley ‘people were “more likely to check their bills if they get them in the post”’.  I am now more inclined to review bills when gathered in one portal.

Ultimately we will complete a period of transformation – and the electronic bill will be the only option.  And this will be the de facto situation across the board.  And this will be a good thing.  We do not want to continue to have people doing things which have no value add – cutting down trees to create unnecessary paper, printing bills and putting them in envelopes, criss-crossing the country to deliver paper bills which can be sent electronically (or, more correctly, accessed electronically).  As for the benefits – they will be absorbed into the operating budgets of the service providers.

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Where now for newspapers?

Challenges are just becoming more serious for the traditional newspaper industry

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Mr Murdoch has succeeded in getting me to buy his newspaper on a number of occasions since he made it unavailable online.  The downside is that this is really causing me to compare the quality and relevance of his Sunday newspaper with the vast amount of data available to me online.  And I do not enjoy having to deal with the piles of paper.

On the other hand the Irish Times provides an excellent online service – which inclines me to cross reference articles from the newspaper in my various blogging/ tweeting activities.

On Sundays I now find myself checking out the Independent online early in the day – potentially overlooking The Business Post and the Sunday Times.

One other key development – I am now an avid user of a smartphone – seems easier than ever to keep up to date e.g. using various news services which are constantly being updated.

Was interested in this piece by Ross Dawson.  I think he may be right -give or take a couple of years.  When you combine all of this with a youth growing up using social networks and smart phones – not looking great on the newspaper front.  And that’s not something that pleases me – as someone who has enjoyed reading newspapers for over 30 years.

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Ongoing commentary re privacy and social networks

Threat to privacy posed by social networks

The editorial in this morning’s Irish Times returns to the subject of privacy an the threat posed by social networks:

For some, new technologies raise troubling questions about Orwellian surveillance and the dangerous blurring of the public and private spheres. Most of these businesses, after all, are based on the premise that you, the user, are the product, with your personal data mined for the benefit of advertisers and other commercial interests. Such concerns are legitimate, but they are not the whole story; new technologies also offer potential for positive social change, greater accountability and transparency. They require governments and organisations to engage in more meaningful ways with their citizens and clients, and they can harness the power of the crowd to make sure that this actually happens.

I am reminded of comments previously made by analysts in this sector:  No personalisation without transparency.  It is a question of balance between what you are willing to share in order to receive relevant content/ suggestions.  Unfortunately ‘willing to share’ is often replaced by ‘inadvertent sharing’.

Interesting to see the editor balancing the threats posed with the potential benefits in terms of greater transparency and accountability.  I think the most practical step the Irish Government could take in this respect would be to participate actively in the growing movement of publishing data using linked open data formats.

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Social networking in the corporation

Embrace social networking in the workplace

Great piece in today’s Irish Times – interview with Lucian Tarnowski.

I’ve been committed to the social networking paradigm for the last three years – because I do not believe I can stay in touch with the innovators and the new thinkers in any other effective way. Social networking is part of the way we work – in particular how generation Y works.

Tarnowski has demonstrated a clear understanding of the paradigm and has now developed a business around this. He’s one of many.

I would strongly recommend to corporates who are not embracing the technology to get on board – if you want to be relevant for new recruits. Why should people use products like facebook and twitter to organise their own lives and then come to work to be locked down in a traditional ERP solution? It’s not the fault of the ERP solutions or vendors – there are plenty of ways to integrate. But I would suggest that many of those in middle on senior management now need to get involved in a two way process – learning from the new joiners may be every bit as important as what they learn from the veterans. Challenging but the way forward.

Ireland – continuing to play our part on the world stage

In my working life (25 years since graduating from engineering school in Trinity College) I have never before experienced the challenges now seen in Ireland. At the time I commenced my training contract in KPMG (then SKC) in 1984 I recall many recently qualified accountants being very concerned for their future. In 2000/2001 – three years into running our own consulting company (www.ciall.com) we faced real challenges in the post ‘.com’ dip. Today’s challenges are on a different scale.

During those 25 years Irish people have been to the fore in international affairs – be it commerce, arts, politics, education, charity. And by Irish people I refer to the 70 million or so who make up the global Irish population – including the 5 million or so on this island.

There must be a temptation within the international community to look at us – on the island of Ireland – as having had the benefit of major inward investment and squandered it. Part of facing our challenge now is to continue to take our place on the world stage. Those of us living and operating within the island of Ireland need to continue to play our part. There is a quid pro quo for looking to the greater diaspora and to Europe for further assistance and investment – we must play our part. We cannot simply get out the begging bowl. We are an established country and we’ve made some major mistakes, much of them rooted in greed. The most recent budget was the first step in convincing the international community that we are going to address our issues. The next budget must show real conviction about getting our cost base sorted.

Dan O’Brien’s article in the Irish Times is pretty hard hitting. He questions the calibre of the people representing Ireland in international affairs. He questions the effort made by the main political parties in the run up to the first referendum and their current effort in the runup to the second referendum. It does not make for pretty reading – but is deserving of reflection.

The next few years are going to witness more largescale emigration of talent from Ireland – without a doubt. Just for now the emigration options look limited – but given the changes we are beginning to see in overseas locations those opportunities will arise again. Many young talented Irish will choose to work and live overseas – not interested in staying to pay high taxes to pay off the sins of the past. A political system which is unwilling to cut overhead to match income will not provide the economic and social opportunites for many of our young talented people. Depressing though this may be, it will happen.

So let us at least recognise that this will happen – and that we need to play our part. Let’s make an effort to make it easier for international companies and individuals to interact with us. I had recent experience of an overseas student (seond generation Irish – US based) relocating here for 1 term of his undergraduate degree. He contacted the university – they advised him to come 4 weeks early and sort out his own accomodation. Given the level of fees we charge overseas students for this privilege I think this is a simple example of what’s wrong with this country at present.

Let’s make sure that the talent that goes abroad wants to continue to be part of Ireland – although they may never actually relocate to live here again. Let’s figure out a way to have them continue to be involved in the development of this country. Some of them may never contribute to our income tax revenues – but some of them may, down the line, bring the next Dell, Intel or Boston Scientific to Ireland. I, for one, would like to have them continue to have a direct role in electing our government.

I would not underestimate the challenges faced by our political leaders at present. (Nor should they underestimate the challenges faced by those of us trying to drive the economy forward). It’s not an easy time to be striding the world stage and advising the rest of the world how to do it. Nevertheless we must have a voice, have a view and play ourt part. The future for Irish business is the world stage – building international and global businesses out of Ireland, building products and delivering services to the global business community. Our innovators and our future business leaders need Irish political leadership which participates and contributes on an international level.

The first step – ensure Lisbon success.

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case study – social networking in travel industry

Contributed to a case study in the Innovation section (pp42 – 44, Experts’ Advice – P44) of  today’s Irish Times  – looking at how a ski adventure company could use social networking to market their business.

Text of my advice in the case study:

BlackRun: Online for off piste

This is a typical 2009 scenario in Irish business – someone from the Facebook generation (‘gen f’) bringing ideas about social networking to the owners. The concerns are classic: fad or not, geeky or not? Simone is right – at least half BackRun’s target audience is social network friendly. So it’s a ‘no brainer’ – need to get on board. The good news: with some upfront planning this can be achieved, without swamping the team.

BlackRun needs a basic web site, optimised for search – integrated with a blog (could use software such as WordPress). Ruth & Simone need to set targets for blog posting frequency e.g. 3 times per week. Team members should be profiled in the blog and encouraged to post. Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook accounts should be established – using auto notification of postings on the BlackRun blog. Worthwhile Twitter accounts should be identified and ‘followed’. BlackRun should aim to tweat daily – ask questions, answer queries, use hashtags. Facebook advertising should be considered.

There are great tools available to assist in managing online presence e.g. google webmaster, WordPress utilities, Tweetdeck, Nexus (Facebook). BlackRun needs to avail of these.

Finally, management should commit to measuring the effectivess of these initiatives on a weekly basis.

Barry O’Gorman consults in social networking, collaboration and semantic web.

Irish firm delivering cloud based accounting solutions

Great report in the Irish Times today of Tony Connolly’s success in Australia in conjunction with Deloittes.  This is the type of entrepreneur activity which can get this country back on its feet.  Well done Tony!

RSI and the Cloud

Repetitive Strain Injury

Have been struggling myself for the last number of weeks with onset of Repetitive Strain Injuries (associated with prolonged use of keyboards).  I see Karlin Lillington writing on the subject in today’s Irish Times – I can identify with her actual experience.

I have experimented with a number of steps in my office environment to address the issue – in terms of monitor, mouse, keyboard, height of screen.  And this has made a difference. However I almost need to take my office environment with me!  The benefit of the cloud to me has been that I can keep whatever I am working on somewhere in the cloud.  Therefore I can work from anywhere so long as I have internet access.  This includes using my own laptop, other PCs at home or at client sites, using a mobile device on public transport (to check mail), etc.

Obviously  not practical to bring the perfect ergonomic environment with me.  But what I must do – and try to do – is to think sensibly about the type of activity I am happy to engage in – given the particular ergonomic environment.  It’s a matter of common sense – avoid the heavy duty lifting when you don’t have the right equipment.