Tools & Technologies

Response to Rod Boothby on "How to Use Blogs in the Workplace", Jan 26

Earlier this week, Rod Boothby (who recently left Ernst & Young to take a role at the startup Teqlo) published a lengthy article for CEOs on How to use Blogs in the Workplace. Given my interest in aligning business and enterprise collaboration needs with appropriate collaboration technologies, this is my (lengthy) response.

Asserted Carry-over of Motivations from Private to Professional Lives
Rod begins by asking a set of questions that no CEO is going to say “no” to. Of course CEOs want all those things, although they may not personally think about them as a primary concern … they’ve usually delegated the day-to-day thinking about Rod’s list to other senior executives. Rod then asks:

Has anything in your company taken off half as aggressively as blogs and social media have taken off in the open Internet?

Obviously Rod’s underlying frame of reference is that whatever takes off aggressively in the “open Internet” will equally take off aggressively in “the company”. That’s a highly questionable thesis, especially given that the motivations and incentives that drive people to adopt blogs and social media on the open Internet are different in a corporate setting. The first is about personal expression, meeting and keeping friends, finding love, and more. The second would be driven from a productivity and efficiency point of view. Just as with a journey starting from a single point, if you’re starting coordinates are different, your final destination will be too.

I really question whether this motivation will carry over. Does Rod have evidence to back this up, more than merely asserting it to be the case?

Blogs Only Deliver Part of the “Activity-Centric Worksite” Needs of Project Teams
I did a lot of work during 2005 writing up my ruminations on a decade of IT analyst and consulting work in the messaging and collaboration space. My 7 Pillars of IT-Enabled Team Productivity series outlined the key technology underpinnings of an IT environment that enhances team productivity. As I’ve said before during public speaking engagements (see here and here), blogs only deliver part of what a team needs, not the whole enchilada. As in:

  1. Shared Access to Team Data … yes, blogs do this, but only to a specific item type of team data. It doesn’t do a very admirable job of providing shared access to documents in progress, files and business applications, and more. Score: 20-50%
  2. Location-Independent Access to Team Data, People and Applications … yes and no. Yes if you have Internet connectivity and your “activity-centric worksites” are open for access outside of the firewall. No if not. Score: 0-100%, depending on policy.
  3. Real-Time Joint Editing and Review … no, there’s no ability to jointly edit a post with another. Score: 0%
  4. Coordinate Schedules with Team Aware Scheduling Software … no, there’s no way of finding free-and-busy time with a blog. Wrong solution. Score: 0%
  5. Build Social Engagement through Presence, Blogs and IM … it depends whether people can write personal blogs on the new corporate blogging platform. Yes if so, no if not. And blogs don’t give presence and IM without additional infrastructure. Score: 0-33%, depending on policy.
  6. Enterprise Action Management … not really, unless you fake it by force-fitting blogging technology to do to-do lists via a tagging scheme. Score: 0-20%
  7. Broaden the Network through Automatic Discovery Services … blogs are definitely an input into this, but not the whole thing. Score: 20-40%

So in summary, if you take the mid-point value of my scores above and adjust for the fact that there’s seven items, blogs get a resounding 20.2% fit between technology and task. Is that enough to base a business case on? I wouldn’t be recommending it.

The “Activity-Centric” Nomenclature is Incorrect
I’ve already sparred with Rod about the term “worksites” and his list of asserted benefits (see comments), but I passionately believe that the use of “activity-centric” is incorrect. In my view of the world, an activity that we engage with at work involves a number of tasks and interactions with others (meetings, hallway chats, IM sessions, email messages, documents, and more) and that thus an “activity-centric” toolset must (a) be agnostic of the applications in which those tasks and interactions are done through, and (b) provide an overall summary or dashboard of that activity. Given that Rod mentions it, yes, IBM Activity Explorer does that (as will Foldera–which is where I currently work–once it launches).

Rod’s proposal, on the other hand, is to force all of this activity into a single tool that provides a subject line, a text body and a set of tags related to a post. It can be done, but it is far less than ideal. For example, in the IBM Activity Explorer case, an IM chat that’s added to an activity thread is still a live object … you can go in after the fact and keep the chat alive (it’s another take on Parlano’s “persistent messaging”). If you were having to force everything into a blog, you’d have to copy-and-paste the transcript into a post … which would kill it for future communication. What about email messages related to the activity? Are they ignored in Rod’s proposed solution architecture? What about calendared events? Don’t they matter?

Let’s be consistent with language, otherwise we’ll just confuse everyone.

You Could Have Done This With Lotus Products Since the 1990s
Let’s say that you are interested in “creating (and profiting from) innovation” at your company. If you’re a new guy on the block, you’ll be very open to the range of IT options available for supporting that innovation, but if you are an established firm, are you willing to go with every latest fad and fashion to do so? Let’s say … just for a moment … and ignoring the fact that Rod is a publicly sworn hater of Lotus Notes … that your company uses Lotus Notes and Domino. You have it installed. Your people use it for email. You have people on staff to manage and administer it (just as with any enterprise system). Everything that Rod’s outlined in his post can equally be done either with (a) Lotus Domino Discussion Databases or (b) Quickplace. And you could have been creating innovation (per Rod’s argument) since the 1990s. And if I run a Discussion Database (no customization) through the same matrix as I did for blogs above, we get a higher score … 24.2% fit (20% more than the fit for blogs). Quickplace would be higher, but then you’d also have to spend the extra to get it (just as with Rod’s proposed solution).

As I’ve said before in public presentations (as above), when you’re betting your company on a product to help it collaborate (or innovate), the features of the technology are only ONE of the decision criteria. Others are (a) fit with your enterprise IT architecture, (b) directory integration, (c) vendor viability, and more. No offense intended, but the CEO of a company is less likely to punt on a blogging platform from a vendor with a couple of million of revenue and no worldwide support infrastructure than it is to go with an established player who’s been around the block for a few years, has built an ecosystem around its products, and who has proved its sticking power through thick and thin. Some people might label such decision makers as less than “smart” (or the put-down of “conversative”) … others recognize it for what it really is: risk management and appropriate corporate governance.

And BTW, on the topic of innovation, you’ve got to read Nicholas Carr’s article entitled The dubious links between IT and innovation. Does this mean we’ve got a blog re-branding coming up, to www.dubiousinnovationcreators.com? đŸ˜‰

So … what am I trying to say? Whilst Rod espouses “the creation of innovation” he is fixated on well-structured enterprise blogs (see #3) as the only / exclusive way to do so. I believe there are many other technology architectures that can help with creating innovation; CEOs and others need to be aware of the different in naming (“innovationcreators.com”) and actual intent (“blogbigot.com”).

And … secondly … whilst the new platforms have cool features, they’re not necessarily better than the existing infrastructure you already have in place if those were used in “well-structured” and “correct” ways.

Conclusion
Yes, you can use “activity-centric worksite” blogs in the business environment. Yes, Rod’s done an admirable job of outlining how they could be used. But I am in no way convinced that blogs are sufficient to the task to the level that Rod advocates. Time will tell.

Categories: Tools & Technologies