Email or social networking – which is better for business communication

Back in 2011, it was briefly news that a large company had banned email in favour of instant messaging and social networking tools. This decision looked to be an early reaction to the restrictive paradigm, that of the old postal-style communication just transferred to a digital version. Today it seems that decision could be considered rare, even unique. Email is still the predominant communication mechanism in business.

The original idea of social networking at work using digital technologies was proposed by Andrew McAfee in 2006 who introduced the term ‘enterprise 2.0′. He believed the advantage of these new technologies was that:

they can potentially knit together an enterprise and facilitate knowledge work in ways that were simply not possible previously.

Two bloggers have recently had opposing views on the issue of email vs social networking debate. JP Rangaswami, chief scientist at Salesforce.com, commented in favour of social networking, whereas Sameer Patel, whose job at SAP should espouse the same view, actually seemed to promote email over social networking.

Taking Rangaswami’s argurment first, he points out that initially (in the 1990s) email was good, allowing people to send quick, informal, short messages. Then it became more formal and email started to look like standard company memoranda. As email became an enterprise function, it got corrupted further – turning into a broadcast mechanism controlled by the sender, and consensus-by-email became a way of decision-making.

Rangaswami mentions two problems with email.

1. Because threading is often not possible, discussions become fragmented.

the fragmentation caused by email sometimes takes a darker route. Person A sends an email to a group of people. Some of them reply-all, seeing that it is the right thing to do. A few others then corrupt the conversation, by taking a few people off the recipient list and adding a few more, with liberal doses of cc and bc. Before you know it there are now multiple conversations with different carefully-chosen groups of people, with only a few, usually politically-motivated, members playing puppetmaster to all the conversations. Cut-and-paste then comes into play, as segments of one set of conversations get viewed in other, exclusive, environments.

2. How to handle email on vacation

[With social networks] you choose whom you follow. Amongst the people you follow is this class of person called your friend … These friends know you, know what’s important to you. Sometimes they even know what’s important to you despite your not recognising or acknowledging that importance … You no longer have to read every email. When you come back from vacation, whatever has passed in the stream unread can stay unread …  Because you have a network of friends. They will DM you or private message you about the things that are important. They will SMS you or text you or IM you or Whatsapp you about the things that are urgent.

On the other hand, Sameer Patel makes these comments, referring to social networking as a ‘stream’ or ‘feed’.

You can hardly tell your boss that you missed an important update from him because you didn’t happen to be watching the stream.

There is a place for a feed in enterprise as part of a larger tapestry of interaction models. It’s an excellent way to ambiently learn and get wind of many things.

The world of work demands a significantly more decisive design [ie, email] – to facilitate closure of the repeatable tasks … yet with a facility that that helps me manage exceptions that will undoubtedly show up, unannounced.

I find his argument that social networks are not designed to drive closure seems hard to substantiate. Referring to the future of business communication, however, he does make a good point.

Business applications that will ultimately resonate won’t be about transactions or about social feeds but understanding the interplay between data, people, applications and content to get stuff done.

Almost in support of Patel, one of the big promoters of ‘social enterprise’, CEO of Salesforce.com Mark Benioff, is now cooling off on the subject.

In his original paper, McAfee did mention that there would be challenges for the new technology.

1. Employees will be too busy to use the technology, despite training.

2. Management will see it as reducing their ability to control, and opening up avenues for dissent.

It seems that cons of social networking are still working in favour of email. I don’t think that the debate has ended, though.

What are the case studies of companies who have successfully moved from email to an enterprise social network?

Reviewing Gartner’s predictions from 2010

Is it nearly three months since I last updated this blog? I don’t know if other bloggers have the same challenge I find - often issues come up which I want to blog about, but then my thoughts get interrupted, and then the urgency to blog goes away, and that opportunity is lost. Anyway, I now have the issue, the time and the urgency.

I recently found a report by the Gartner analyst organisation from 2010 with some predictions, most interestingly for 2012, but some beyond that. Predictions, like forecasts, are mostly going to be wrong – some in a small way, others in much bigger ways. If your organisation has a sales and operations planning activity, one of the key elements is feeding actual data back into the forecast, so you can see where the forecast was wrong, if incorrect assumptions were made, and most importantly, how you can make more accurate forecasts. I have never seen or heard Gartner do that with their forecasts. So here am I to do it.

Gartner’s top end user predictions in 2010 were:

  • by 2012:
    1. 20% of businesses will own not IT assets
    2. India-centric IT service companies will represent 20% of the leading cloud aggregators
    3. Facebook will become the hub for social network integration and web socialization
    4. 60% of a new PC’s total life greenhouse gas emissions will have occurred before the user first turns on the machine
  • for 2013:
    1. mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common web access device
  • by 2014:
    1. most IT business cases will include carbon remediation costs
    2. more than 3 billion of the world’s adult population will be able to transact electronically via mobile and Internet technology
  • by 2015:
    1. internet marketing will be regulated
    2. context will be as influential to mobile consumer services and relationships as search engines are to the web

How are those forecasts looking? For their 2012 predictions, the only one that might be argued as being accurate is number 3 – Facebook. However, even that could be questioned; consider that Saleforce is pushing Chatter as its social network, and Microsoft recently bought Yammer to beef up SharePoint in the social space. Number 1, the cloud prediction, was clearly driven by analyst hype, and is wrong at the moment, so why doesn’t Gartner review this and give another (maybe more realistic) forecast?

The 2013 prediction is interesting because it is definitely coming, I’m just not sure that it will be by next year.

A lot can happen in two years, ask anyone who thought Groupon would be big. So for 2014 I am prepared to accept the second prediction about how many people will be transacting electronically. I doubt the prediction though regarding carbon remediation.

The predictions for 2015 still seem to be extravagant, but who knows what will happen in three years where the Internet is concerned.

Am I being unnecesarily harsh on Gartner about their prediction accuracy? I would be interested to hear what others think.

My previous blog archived here

I started blogging on a South Africa site in 2005, but moved here to WordPress after about a year. That South African site is going to be terminated soon so I decided to copy over a number of my blogs to a page on this blog – see the Archive page.

It was interesting for me to see some of the observations I made back then – some of them were quite presceient, others actually came true or show things haven’t changed at all.

Microsoft Partner Summit and the new economic landscape

Mteto NyatiI attended the Microsoft Partner Summit Africa, and heard some interesting points in the keynote address made by the two executives who run Microsoft’s business for most of Africa – Nteto Nyati, Managing Director of Microsoft South Africa, and Hennie Loubser, Regional General Manager for Microsoft WECA (West, East and Central Africa).

HennieLoubser

  • The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) are now areas where most growth is projected;
  • 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies are in Africa;
  • a number of Microsoft employees from Africa who have been working abroad are repatriating from Europe and the US back to Africa;
  • there are 1300 large and mid-market companies in Africa from which Microsoft gets 75% of its revenue in this region;
  • Africa has become a continent of hope and opportunity;
  • on the African continent, the community expects companies to become an integrated part of the society – profitable returns to company owners must also accompany returns to society.

This led me to these thoughts:

  1. the focus of economic growth in the world has moved from developed economies (the so-called North) to the emerging and developing economies (the South);
  2. this change should have some impact on the issues and location of technology innovation;
  3. a good deal of technology innovation focuses on mostly ‘northern’ business, consumer and societal issues;
  4. there is an expectation, particularly in the North, that the source of technology innovation should still occur in certain ‘northern’ locations;
  5. Points 1 and 2 do not agree with Points 3 and 4

It makes me proud therefore to say that SYSPRO is an African company that supports the real issues of small and medium businesses throughout the world. Comments of “how can innovation come from Africa?” should now be discarded for the irrelevant and arrogant rubbish that they are.


Some other information from the keynote

Microsoft SA’s FY2011 growth areas:

Public sector 43%
Entertainment and devices 32%
Enterprise services 28%
Enterprise group 22%
Small & medium business group 20%

Microsoft SA’s FY2011 market share changes:

Web browser + 11 pts
Email, calendaring + 17 pts
Unified communications + 7 pts
Database server - 2 pts
Smartphone - 7 pts

Some Microsoft Africa stats (via IDC):

PC shipment growth 15%
Serve shipment growth 6%
Software piracy rate > 80% (US $785 mill) in 2010

End of a gargantuan

This morning we heard of the death of Steve Jobs. The man could be described as a gargantuan – someone who is gigantic, wonderful, prodigious. The fact that he was personally instrumental in so many technological innovations is astounding:

  • first consumer computer, Apple
  • popularised the graphical user interface, Mac
  • technical innovation in film animation, Pixar
  • personal music player, iPod
  • first smart phone, iPhone
  • first touch-oriented consumer computer, iPad

He is probably the first ‘well-known’ figure in the modern computer industry to have died. Other significant personalities in the industry have already passed away – e.g., Thomas Watson, founder of IBM – but none had achieved Jobs’ level of worldwide recognition.

Jobs was a year older than me when he died. The other person with a similar claim to fame is Bill Gates, but as he is the same age as me, I hope it’s somewhat longer before we hear of his passing.

RIP Steve Jobs, 1955 – 2011

A more in-depth analysis and apprecation by Richard Poplak at http://dailymaverick.co.za/article/2011-10-06-jobs-vacancy-apples-genius-dies-at-56

Hospital information systems

Part 1 of a series on enterprise information systems

This is the start of a series of blogs looking at various ways enterprise information systems are used

Hospital systems are not an area I thought much about – until I had the chance to experience them when my son was admitted to a private hospital in Johannesburg for an operation.

To start, the process of admission took a long time with multiple forms to sign and authorise, and foolishly I thought the process after that would be straight-forward. When we got to the ward, however, there was even more paperwork to complete, some of it involving duplication of other paperwork, and this took even longer than the admission process did.

I am aware that hospital information systems are a major drive by some advocates of improving information management and flow in hospitals. But I am married to a doctor and when I have asked her why there is so much paper in hospitals, her response is that doctors need the information in that way. What is provided on paper has evolved over time so that the information doctors and nurses need is in a way that is easy and quick to understand and interpret.

The other aspect of the medical world that is now apparent to me is how expensive a relatively minor operation has become. Fortunately my medical insurance covered the operation but they provided reports on the various costs, and I was amazed at the expense.

If new information systems are to be introduced into hospitals, they cannot be a factor that increases costs further, or give doctors and hospitals a reason to charge more. Eli Goldratt argues in the Theory of Constraints, and in his seminal book, The Goal, that a business benefit is only real if it does at least one of three things:

  1. increases throughput (the rate at which revenue is generated);
  2. reduces inventory;
  3. reduces operating expenses.

In a hospital, Item 1 is constrained by regulation and medical practice. Item 2 is one area for improvement considering the cost of medical material these days, but it would be Item 3 that new systems would have to be focused on.

Where in the hospital process chain can operating expenses be reduced? One area might be administration-related costs – all that paper pushing. So could hospital information systems reduce operating expenses by focusing on information delivery, its content and context? If information on a form was captured once, then other forms could be generated from that information.

It did occur to me that all the paper forms that I saw had to cost the hospital something, and storing it must have a cost. However, I could not personally justify a new system that, say, used tablet computers (like the Apple iPad) to record and display information if that cost was more than the paper processing and storage cost.

The same applies to enterprise systems in other businesses: what are the real business benefits of a new system. I will be getting to that issue in a later article.

For benefits that are less easy to quantify – such as improving risk or governance, information visibility, or alignment of operations and strategy – the difficulty is to collectively decide and agree on the assumptions that make up these benefits.

What is your experience of assessing business value of an enterprise system? Specifically for hospitals, I would be very interested to learn how new systems have performed in terms of the Goldratt measures.

US technology neo-imperialism

I admit the title is dramatic, but I used to make a point – for some time there has been a view from the US that whatever technology they think is the best or coolest is automatically going to be used elsewhere.

I first saw this in the late 1990s at Digital Equipment when it was assumed that the benefits of 64-bit technology, used by a few US mega-corporations, could be easily transferred to and understood by smaller businesses in South Africa. It happened again in early 2000s at JD Edwards (JDE), when a few US companies began to use SOA (service oriented architecture), so it became a mantra at JDE that all businesses internationally should be looking at application integration, even if the processes, infrastructure and skills could not support it. It came up again recently with the hype around the Apple iPhone and iPad – many US-based (and some European-based) commentators took the view that everyone should using the iPhone, and ignored the fact that “the North American market has zero predictive value for the rest of the world“, which is dominated by Nokia. Now I’ve seen it again in a post coming via a CRM conference, that businesses should scaled back traditional customer management processes and approaches, and get on the social CRM bandwagon.

I think its worth reminding the US that trends and attitudes that start in New York or California do not translate across the world as quickly as they think and may not be adopted in the same way. As was mentioned to me by contacts in Canada, Australia and the UK, there are many mid-size company directors who have never used Facebook or Twitter and whose customers and suppliers don’t use them either. So a business trying to market to those directors would be foolish to focus too much of its marketing effort on social media.

The fact that I have this blog, and participate on other social media platforms, should show that I have got into the social networking culture, but I am realistic that the vast majority of people (including many of our customers or prospects) don’t turn to social media for any major business purpose. I would be interested in other perspectives, especially from people in developing countries – does the US have a mis-belief in the value and spread of its technology?

Update: if you want to see how social media is used around the world, the maps from Ignite Social Media show how localised social media really is to specific areas of the world.

Home Affairs IT project failure

Michael Krigsman makes a living from the subject of of IT project failure. There are a number of issues he discusses on project failures:

There was report in the South African Sunday Independent on 18 April 2010 which highlighted a number of the issues Michael has covered. The report concerned the bungling of the multi-billion rand contract awarded by the South African Department of Home Affairs to black-empowered IT company Gijima AST. (Note: The Sunday Independent only gives access to articles online for subscribers of its print version).

In a memo by the consultant whom Home Affairs contracted to manage the project, some typical IT failure issues were mentioned.

  1. Lack of project ownership by the client (Home Affairs), leaving Gijima to determine and drive the project deliverables, and making project governance difficult.
  2. Lack of involvement and support from the client executive sponsor.
  3. Poorly defined business case, little budget commitment and continually changing project priorities. Points 1 and 2 create this situation.
  4. Low level of capability in the client making it difficult at the IT level to get agreement on technical architecture and design specifications, as well as at other levels.
  5. Lack of end-user skills in the client to enable the project to achieve objectives.

Reading the article made me sympathise with the project manager, who I once worked with at one of South Africa’s big banks.

The question some South Africans are asking is how and if Home Affairs and Gijima can patch things up and get the project going again. From this South African’s perspective, however, one question is how would you go about reviving this project. A place to get ideas would be from Glen Alleman’s  discussion on Project Disentanglement. The other question would be, for such a high profile and high risk project, who would be prepared to take on the project management role.

How would you go about getting such a big government project back on track? And would you even want to?

What business hates about IT

I would recommend that anyone involved in ERP projects or support read Susan Cramm’s insights into why business gets frustrated with IT – Eight Things Executives Hate About IT. In summary, here they are:

  1. IT limits managers’ authority
  2. Consists of condescending techies who don’t listen
  3. Doesn’t understand the true needs of the business
  4. Proposes “deluxe” when “good enough” will do
  5. IT projects never end
  6. Is reactive rather than proactive
  7. Doesn’t support innovation
  8. IT never has good news

One of the concluding comments is:

… companies can no longer afford to waste precious resources on IT “investments” sponsored by business leaders who believe IT is not their job – or wish it weren’t.

What’s your experience in IT working with business, or vice versa?

More on the new decade – Facebookisation

After my previous blog, I re-discovered JP Rangaswami’s Confused of Calcutta blog (although he should consider using the newer name, Kolkata). What got my interest was the series of blogs on the ‘Facebookisation of the enterprise’.

In the first part – The Facebookisation of the enterprise – he describes how a business

“needs to look a bit like Facebook. Responsible for identifying, authenticating and permissioning people, making sure that appropriate controls are in place from a privacy and confidentiality perspective. Responsible for providing an environment, a platform, for people to congregate electronically. A marketplace, a bazaar. A place where people converse with each other, share their interests, identify inventories, discover prices, negotiate, trade. A place where the things that need to be recorded get recorded, as in everyday life.

This is reflects the world that Generation M, or Millennials experience through technology and social interaction (read this to learn about generational theory). As they move into the enterprise, how will they change the world of work to match their attitudes and expectations?

In the new world, the worker would have the choice of device, platform, and applications. It would also mean that IT and HR would lose their traditional control over the employee.

In the second part – More on the Facebookisation of the enterprise – he discusses how IT would need to operate to support this work environment by providing:

  • simple self-service signup
  • a set of directories and tools to classify and filter them
  • a range of communication and scheduling tools
  • a platform for development

I think something else should be added – access to a library of in-house and external applications which the worker could use to do get their job done.

While the Facebook analogy is a bit far-fetched, if not revolutionary, it’s a good place to start thinking about the direction in which IT should be moving.