Archive for October, 2008

There have been numerous discussions about how to evaluate social software implementations, and the shortcomings of ROI and reductionist models for illustrating ‘success’ in terms of bottom-line profitability (e.g. Why Bother with Social Software, Musing About the Value of Social Software, Calculating the ROI of Blogging).

Because traditional financial accounting measures like ROI give misleading signals about continuous improvement and innovation, more integrated approaches to performance measurement are needed.  An obvious candidate here is Kaplan & Norton’s Balanced Scorecard (BSC), which assess performance from the perspectives of (i) staff development/learning (ii) internal processes (iii) customer service and satisfaction and (iv) financial effectiveness, efficiency and cash flow.

The different perspectives of the BSC can be linked by outlining a ‘story’ of the social software implementation.  That story also helps test the thinking/assumptions behind a project’s goals and what exactly should be measured or evaluated.  The underlying logic of the story would be along the following lines:

  • If we increase the capability of our staff to connect with information, expertise and colleagues and/or clients
  • Then they will be able to improve and innovate our products, services and processes
  • Then the customer will be delighted and customer loyalty will improve, and
  • We will keep/get more business, which has a positive impact on our finances.

The beauty of the model is that it provides a more visual flexible approach to project evaluation, and moves away from a restrictive quantitative approach.  It allows the focus to shift from time to time depending on the business strategy, and for the nature of measures to change overtime, depending on people’s information/social networking needs and the (adoption) phase of the implementation.

That shifting relationship is the subject of Mark Gould’s post “Measuring Maturity“.   In his post, Mark cites the following scenario by Jonathan Wolff highlighting the relationship between experience, measures and proxies:

Suppose you have applied for a job, any job. You are at one of those macho interviews where the panel members compete to see who can make you sweat the most. And this is the winning question: how do you plan to monitor and evaluate your own performance in the role? …

Suppose your job is in business of some sort and, ultimately, you are employed to make the company money… In the end, the only thing that matters, then, is the profit you bring in. But it may take some time to build up a client base and to gather the dosh. It would be foolish to say that in the short term you should be judged on how much profit you make for the company. Rather you should monitor your activity: how many meetings you have taken, how many letters and emails you have sent, how many briefings you have been to. But, of course, that is only for openers. If the meetings don’t result in business, then you are wasting your time. So in the second phase of monitoring, you stop counting meetings and start counting things like contracts signed, goods shipped, turnover generated, or any other objective sign of real interaction.

But, once more, this is only an interim goal. You are there not to generate turnover, but profit. And once you have been around long enough that is the only thing that matters. In the third and final phase you count how much you make for the company, and stop worrying about meetings, letters or contracts signed. Who cares about how many of these there are if the bottom line stays juicy enough?

There are several messages here about taking account of the right things, and how those things change over time as people, technology and processes mature.  This resonates with Bessant’s Continuous Improvement (CI) Maturity Model (2001), which was based on extensive research exploring how high involvement in continuous improvement can be built and sustained as an organisational capability.  The model facilitates assessment of progress in the evolution of behavioural changes necessary to establish innovation routines in business.  It emphasises that effective management of the process depends upon seeing CI not as a short-term activity “but as the evolution and aggregation of a set of key behavioural routines within the firm”.  As CI practices in firms mature and become more systematic, strategic and autonomous, there are flow-on effects for performance which drive improvements measurable in terms of bottom-line impact, major innovation and incremental problem solving.  But, these improvements accrue incrementally, with co-ordinated management support, and appropriate on-going assessments of the organisation’s structure, systems and processes.

So what’s the upshot of these models for social software implementation evaluation and measures?

Adopting an holistic approach to evaluation, based on the multiple BSC perspectives, will highlight a range of behaviours and outcomes which need to be targeted, not just the financial ones.  Those measures will change overtime depending on the phase (or maturity) of the implementation, and improvements to routines and learning within the organisation.  Taking a staged approach also helps in working through the different phases associated with the adoption of new technologies, and thinking about types of behaviours and outcomes necessary for progress in the future.

Early measures may include simple activities like number of pages created or edited, number of posts, comments or views, or number of (different) users contributing content, reduction in email volume and associated time savings (e.g. fewer distracting blanket emails).  However those measures only give part of the picture – they do not indicate why people are doing what they are doing or what the effect of the behaviour is on organisational structure, culture and profitability.  So, as the implementation matures, it would be useful to assess changes (if any) to organisational routines, levels and structure of communications, and workflows, as well as asking people about the attitudes and behaviours behind their activities.

But, connecting these qualitative (‘soft’) measures to any improvements on the balance sheet is key.  That’s a reasonably complex question best left for a future post. For now, let me close with a thought from Mark Clare (2002 ) (cited in Anthony Rhem’s blog: Realizing ROI in KM Initiatives) about the way to estimate the value of intangible benefits and related them back to cashflow:

The value created from managing knowledge [or other social/information networking programmes] is a function of the costs, benefits and risks of the … initiative. Thus mathematically stated: Initaitive Value = F (cost, benefit, risk), which equals Total Discounted Cash Flow (DCF) created over the life of the … investment.

This is just one formula which could be used to enhance the BSC – let me know if you have any others!


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Yesterday, I mentioned how Cleary Gottlieb had borrowed knowledge engineering techniques from the military, to capture the expertise of senior staff, embed it in a computer system and pass it on to junior lawyers online, in the form intelligent online textbooks and knowledge maps. But I was left wondering about the system’s interactivity, intelligence, and the currency of information therein.

Today, having read about iLink – another military-funded project – I’m now wondering if the Cleary Gottlieb system incorporates any of the social-networking ‘AI’ features mentioned in that article (given the military connection!)?

iLink was developed as a part of the SRI-led CALO (Cognitive Agent that Learns and Organizes) programme and was funded and managed under DARPA’s PAL (Personalized Assistant that Learns) programme.  Mark Rutherford reports that:

iLink is a machine learning-based system that models users and content in a social network and then points the user to relevant content, discussions, and other network members with shared interests and goals across a broad range of scenarios.

To do this, the system uses message-matching technologies for finding related information, and algorithms for gathering data from multiple sources and compiling it together, whilst differentiating private information from that which is safe to share.

Now certain of those technology features/capabilities don’t sound too removed from some social software tools currently on (or almost ready for) the market.  For instance there’s:

  • Newsgator ES – has smart feeds and recommendations.
  • PagesPlus – allows content to be pushed out to the categories and pages corresponding to the tags, and to the users who are subscribing to feeds from those categories.
  • IBM’s Beehive – currently in the research phase – with the capability to ‘recommend’ connections based on activities, tags, bookmarking, etc.
  • Zemanta – blog posts, articles or web pages are directly “read” by Zemanta, which recognizes all contextual content. It then combs the web for the most relevant images, smart links, keywords and text, instantly serving these results to the user to enrich and inform their content.

Nevertheless, it is iLink’s learning capabilities, and SRI’s work in modeling how real-time, dynamic social networks communicate and cooperate to solve problems, that really spark the imagination.  Sarah Perez indicates that the technology:

[has been] used to develop a system for FAQ generation within a network – they call this technology “FAQtory”. With this technology implemented on a social network, FAQs are continuously generated and revised by the community using a Wikipedia-like model, as opposed to being static creations made by the site’s authors. [But it’s no ordinary user-generated FAQ system] – instead, iLink’s FAQtory technology allows for incremental bits of information [to be added] – even those that don’t qualify as answers to the question. As the members contribute these bits of information, the learning system in iLink monitors how users are [attempting] to resolve queries and is then capable of drafting off the social network’s learning.

Potential commercial benefits and applications of such learning technology abound in business. Like expertise identification, comprehensive client information aggregation and delivery, FAQ generation and smart RSS filtering.  As members of, and information in, social networks increase exponentially, there is a growing need to move away from search and retrieval models of information and expertise location.  This is where smarter social technologies will help to streamline the process of recommending, and delivering, information and expertise (as well as filling-in information gaps as they go) to help people get their jobs done more effectively and efficiently.

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The Financial Times collates and commends a variety law firm ‘innovations’ in its latest annual report on “Innovative Lawyers”.  But ‘innovation’ is now being used so loosely and frequently that it seems any old initiative is tagged as ‘innovative’.  So what is ‘innovation’ and how do firms generate it?

Peter Drucker succinctly described ‘innovation’ as “change that creates a new dimension of performance”.  Such change can occur on a spectrum of incremental -> radical innovation.  The former tends to be less costly, risky and dramatic, and the latter shifts us to a whole new paradigm in the way things are done or the products/services that are offered.  In each case, “innovation” drives businesses forward into producing new products and services, new markets, new ways of doing things, and, in particular, new ways of making money.

But the ‘change to something new’ isn’t just about coming up with good ideas, or technology pushing innovation.  John Soat records Ram Charan’s thoughts on innovation, which are right on point here:

“1. [It is a myth that a]nybody who comes up with a good idea — [is innovative]
2. [T]echnology for technology’s sake doesn’t work.  It must intersect with the consumer to fulfill a need or demand.

Charan’s other tips for transforming business (reported by Mitch Wagner) include:

  • Participating in true innovative growth projects for business, which means a change to the cost-cutting mentality to a mindset that goes after revenue growth
  • Enhancing the brand
  • Increasing customer consumption of the company’s product not just market share.

Those points echo the position expressed by DeMarco & Lister (1987) in Peopleware 20 years ago:

“Organisations that build products [or services] with the most value to their customers win.  Those that build products [or services] that make the world yawn lose, even though they build them very, very efficiently.  Even those who stumble while building products [or services] of high value win over the efficient yawners.”

Those views pitch ‘innovation’ as a social activity, which requires the development of appropriate competencies and resources for creativity, to encourage learning, growth and delivery of high value products/services.

The FT report, however, commends numerous out-sourcing, off-shoring and cost-cutting initiatives in the sections about ‘Thought Leadership’ (!), ‘Client Service’ and ‘In-house Lawyer’.  Apart from the obvious drivers in the current economic climate to tighten budget-belts, those initiatives focus only on the efficient performance (or production) of commoditised processes (or products/services).  Whilst demystifying, simplifying, or simply outsourcing, legal processes can help in reducing the cost of delivering legal products/services, those activities don’t assist in building/renewing capabilities overtime via an environment of learning and creativity.

Consequently, the types of knowledge-creating and diffusion activities leading to innovation capabilities I was looking for in the FT report involved experimenting, importing knowledge, problem solving and implementing and integrating (Leonard-Barton Model of Technology Capability (1992)).  Which is why I chose the following examples from the report (of Client Services, Marketing and Technology/Knowhow) to illustrate elements of the foregoing activities, as well as the approaches to innovation advocated by Charan and DeMarco/Lister.

In particular, the examples emphasise the importance of relationships/social networking, autonomy, knowledge sharing and information personalisation. They provide some insight into how firms are trying to get closer to their clients so as to provide them with the highest value products and services, as well as development of robust knowledge-bases.  And whilst the initiatives may be common or obvious to companies in other sectors, they are creating new dimensions of performance within the legal sector.  As such, there seems to be tremendous potential for firms who are capable (and willing) to experiment and import knowledge from a variety of sources and industry sectors.

Client Services (“Pleasing Results”)
Clifford Chance introduced what is essentially a social networking programme connecting its more junior lawyers with their peers in Citigroup.  A structured programme of events has been designed “to give its more junior lawyers a broader understanding of Citi’s core product areas, strategic objectives and, most importantly, the client’s concerns”.  The hope is that the scheme will develop long-lasting connections with Citi by cementing peer-level contacts and “even [form] a basis for succession planning in managing the Citi relationship”.  The approach was welcomed as “a common-sense move and a first-of-its-kind among [Citi’s] law firms”.

Comment:  There are signs here of organisational learning about ‘control’ and power of networks (i.e. client relationship building no longer ring-fenced to partners).  Given that this initiative involves junior lawyers and their peers (i.e. Gen Y), I wonder if it is also, or will be, supported by online social networking, which enables people to ‘friend’ and ‘follow’ others, create communities of interest, post photos, events and status updates, and generally connect in ways they have become accustomed to on the internet?

Marketing (“Sweetening the Deal”)
Malcolm Cannon, chief executive of Hunter Boot, the boot maker, indicated in the report that he is bombarded with information from other firms. “KnowlEDGE is extremely simple to use and lets you tailor it.  …  Maclay Murray & Spens is so different from other law firms in simplifying things and giving a much more human touch. The branding is strong and consistent and the marketing is reassuring, so you feel you are buying into something that is special to them and so is special to you.”

Comment: This is a great example of the enormous strategic value of technology, which coincides well with Charan’s point about technology intersecting with the consumer to fulfill a consumer need or demand”.  It also illustrates innovation in the form of law firm ‘brand enhancement’.

Technology/Knowhow (“Use IT or lose it”)
Cleary Gottlieb features for “knowledge engineering techniques to capture the expertise of senior staff, embed it in a computer system and pass it on to junior lawyers online.”  The report goes on to state that “this collective experience is distributed on the firm’s intranet as knowledge maps – graphic presentations of how to perform key transactional processes, with each stage backed up by extensive documentation … [described] as intelligent online textbooks”.

Latham & Watkins was also highly commended for its creation of “structured” wikis or “twikis”, which enable the firm’s lawyers to create their own applications without involving the firm’s software developers.

Comment: The knowledge capture and codification idea in the Cleary Gottlieb imports technology/knowhow form the military arena.  However, it does leave me wondering about how:

  • information flows through the knowledge maps (and documentation) to keep them current,
  • they are linked to expertise, networks and new projects, and
  • people interact with them – tagging what’s relevant, leaving comments or asking questions about ambiguities?

Unfortunately, there was no further detail on the types of mash-ups at Latham & Watkins.  I’m speculating here, but the innovation could provide the firm’s lawyers with personalised dashboard (Netvibes style), promotes the usability and efficiency of the wiki.  Mash-ups are a key tool in user adoption of the technology, allowing each user to easily select and organise his/her information flows, social networks, activity streams, and tools depending on individual preferences and work needs.  They can also push to the fore important content, specific to the person, based on that person’s activity and preferences.

In light of the examples of innovation (and technology cross-over) outline above, I’d like to finish with a thought from Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith Esq. – 13 June 2008) about the role of technology in innovation, empowering people and binding a firm together.  After relaying almost-forgotten aspects of the personal computer revolution in the 1980s, and the enormous strategic value of the shift, he suggests that:

“[T]oday the goal is … to embrace the range of Web 2.0 technologies–social networking software in general, which enables people to collaborate at a distance.  Because, after all, what do lawyers do?  They collaborate.  And in today’s economy, they are almost surely collaborating “at a distance”–in space or in time or both.”

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The 13th annual technology survey of AM Law 200 firms makes for a disappointing read from a social software/organisational change perspective.  The report suggests that firms are grappling with issues like “what emerging technologies are worth investing in – and which aren’t ready for prime time”.  However, in respect of ‘collaborative’ technologies respondees were asked only whether their firms use web conference software, blogs or wikis.  What!  No mention of RSS, feed readers or aggregators, let alone micro-blogging, friendfeeds, personalised pages, social tagging or content filtering.

The report blandly states that:

“While some firms have dipped their toes in the water — 43 percent run one or more blogs; 24 percent use intranet wikis (Web pages that let users contribute or modify content) — it’s been fairly ho-hum stuff by Internet standards. Blogs with lawyer posts on happenings in a practice area and wikis to collaborate on interoffice documents are the norm. It’s still unclear what sort of future these technologies have in a law office. But seemingly everyone is thinking about it.”

Of course firms are thinking about it!  Else they will find themselves sitting on the wrong end of the technology commoditisation process which turns yesterday’s shiny innovation (*email*) into today’s ubiquitous baseline or even legacy tool.  Not only do such tools offer no competitive advantage, they also trigger negative consequences, like information overload and silos of out-of-date content.

And the examples in the report of how blogs, wikis and social networking tools are being used in firms certainly are ‘ho-hum’.  From adoption and knowledge sharing perspectives, the Allen & Overy use of group blogs (integrated into wiki spaces) for knowledge networking is far more instructive.  As for wikis, they can be used to capture ideas, questions and comments in respect of groups or projects, and then to aggregate all interactions with content, so as to highlight recent activities, popular and/or salient items (from an individual or group perspective).  All these collaboration activities are quite distinctive, yet supplementary to, document management activities supported by other systems, as these articles illustrate:

Those are just a few examples of how firms are endeavouring to adapt and apply new techologies to help people work in smarter more social ways.  And there are even greater opportunities for the ‘re-engineering’ of knowledge intensive processes in business through technology.  As Simon Wardley has emphasised, unlike previous generations of technology, which essentially offered the opportunity of ‘substitution innovation’ (doing what had always been done a little better), new technologies like RSS, micro-blogging, social tagging and networking tools, offer possibilities for radical change in the way in which things are done.

These are some changes we are seeing or expect to see very shortly through the use of integrated platforms incorporating a range of social tools:

  • Reducing information retrieval costs by encouraging users to employ monitoring and delivery modes of information retrieval rather than searching for information or navigating to static destinations (like external sites).  The former modes rely on RSS feeds delivered to feed readers, blackberries or mail accounts.
  • Helping people to get out of their inboxes by offering alternatives to email.
  • Using micro-blogging to spark quick reaction to breaking news, increase awareness of on-going work and to strengthen social ties across the firm
  • Eradicating the static expertise directory and instead pulling information from the user’s activities, including blog posts, comments, tags, feeds and favourites into a dynamic ‘public’ profile which provides a rich picture of the user’s status, work, professional network, expertise and interests.
  • Providing personal dashboards to allow people to design and control his/her interactions and information flows to best suit their changing needs.  That means allowing people to easily add, organise and view activities, discussions, news, feeds, communities, colleagues, etc,
  • Delivering more targeted relevant information by recommending and filtering information based on the individual’s tags, subscriptions, or activity with content, communities, projects or individuals.

All examples of how firms need to continuously adapt just to stand still.

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If I created a tag cloud of the presentations and ensuing discussions from last week’s Unicom Web 2.0 conference, the ‘email‘ and ‘twitter‘ tags would dwarf all others.  Not surprising really, since email is for most businesses a pivotal communication channel, which is systemically (over) used across all organisational levels.  Twitter, on the other hand, is a fresh technology offering some genuine improvements to communications and networking behind the firewall.

But, as Clay Shirky pointed out in his recent interview with Dave Cushman, stuff doesn’t get socially interesting until it gets technologically boring.  And that’s precisely the situation we face with email and Twitter.

It’s annoyingly effortless to inundate people with blanket emails, cc’d information, repeated queries or requests for information.  The cycle of overuse is perpetuated because it’s too easy to hit ‘send’ without considering other options for engaging people or the impact of sending the email.  Of course, existing ‘options’ may vary depending on the technologies available in the organisation and the extent to which people are actually using them.  Like Twitter, for example, which is still being tested as part of the business social media landscape and use cases being established (see these posts by Lee Bryant, Chris Brogan and Jay Cross).

So in that context, Luis Suarez shared with us at the conference some insight into ‘giving-up’ work email based on his own efforts in that regard, and his use of alternative technologies to help him work more effectively.

Since ‘giving up’ email, Luis explained that if people want to communicate with him, they now do so through any and every mechanism other than email.  It’s up to the individual to find the medium which best suits the task at hand.  And for Luis, his kit is now replete with ‘elective’ tools – meaning he can dip in and out of conversations at the best time.  He constantly updates his ‘status’ (using twitter) so that everybody’s aware when he’s available for calls, for IM exchanges, or to meet up.  This means he doesn’t waste anytime in his inbox, nor is he bothered by IM or other alerts when he’s trying to work.  It also means that people’s expectations are well-managed, for example in respect of Luis’s availability and response times.  Amongst other things, this approach makes for less interruptions and greater productivity/effectiveness.

The clear message here is that email is just one channel, and it’s a really bad tool for connecting to people and finding out what’s in their heads!   But people use it like it’s the only tool.  They close down many opportunities for improvement simply because they don’t take the time to think and unlearn some bad behaviour.  Since his abstention from email, Luis reports that getting the job done is all about his network and ideas.  He knows what he wants to tune into, and uses his community (and social tools) to help him filter the masses of information, so he receives only the choice cuts and doesn’t waste time on bogged down in the inbox.

Luis’s story provides a great example of how a twittering-style technology can be used in the flow of daily work providing tangible benefits to the individual (status updates signaling work levels or availability) and others (who’s doing what and when).  It’s this need for greater transparency that Jay Cross referred to as a key use case for Twitter to improve learning in the enterprise:

“When I draw a blueprint of an ideal enterprise learning environment, it always includes an expertise location function. You see, lots of corporate learning comes from asking other people how to do things. The trouble is, we ask the person closest to us rather than someone likely to have the right answer. Getting blank looks instead of viable answers or, worst yet, getting the wrong answer, is a prime means of frittering away time on the job.  A corporate [“twitter”] network could overcome some of these difficulties. For one thing, Twitter grows a self-organizing social network. Nothing to fill out. When a question is thrown out to the network, people with time and energy can volunteer at answer. No more inundating the expert.”

It may yet take a little time for this to become the reality of mainstream business communication and networking landscape.  However, that shouldn’t stop people reflecting on the effectiveness and efficiency of their present processes, behaviour and use of technology.  And for those who do make some simple shifts toward a more informed use of technology to better support business practice, they can expect to be at the front of the disruptive change (i.e. innovation) in the way business gets done!

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This is what Dominic Campbell, MD of FutureGov, shared with us today at Unicom Web 2.0 about the Future Shape of the (Barnet) Council.  Incredibly interesting for both private and public sector organisations alike!

There is a steady shift from systems thinking to life-world thinking. Systems thinking has resulted in value/performance indicator reports or satisfaction surveys, which indicate nothing because everything falls in the generic 40-60% bracket. Traditional communications like newsletters, bus shelter broadcasts, electronic bulletin boards, leaflets and council branded publications, don’t adequately reach their targets. For instance, a bus shelter broadcast about reducing traffic congestion is unlikely to be read by a petrol head speeding past the bus stop in their souped-up Honda.

Engagement, in the past, included civic network, citizens panels, service user groups, area forums, councillor surgeries. But now it’s not enough to expect people to come to the council.  Instead, the council has to have a better strategy for going out to community and customers.

Because if you do what you’ve always done – you’ll get what you’ve always got!

Whilst there’s still a role for newsletters and traditional engagement, the audience needs to be properly targeted. Importantly, steps are being made to improve the Council’s interactions with people, and towards a mixed-model of communications and interactions. Which includes cracking clips like this:

In the ideal world, the council would seek to understand the climate of community emotion through a “We Feel Fine” style site developed by Jonathan Harris. This is essentially a search engine of emotions on the internet. Aspiring to this type of user engagement can help the council to be more proactive rather than reactive.

Other steps towards more democratic engagement includes leaderlistens.com. By videoing leaderlisten events, and then posting those clips on Youtube, that brings the conversation to people’s homes. Just because people couldn’t make it from 6-8pm on a Tuesday night doesn’t mean the conversation is over.

It also means reaching out into existing networks and embedding the council in those networks, rather than constantly trying to bring people to the council’s site (which is something of a cognitive overload!). That approach involves the use of a variety of social tools like Youtube, Flickr and Twitter.

And there’s Fix my street – which pings email to that service centre responsible for the area where the problem has occurred like graffiti, fly tipping, broken paving slabs, or street lighting.  In fact this mechanism for interacting with councils caused a flood of approximately 1000 emails a day (previously around 100 issues logged by phone or other means).  That indicates an enormous latent demand for service, and that previously people simply didn’t have the mechanism to communicate directly or effectively with the council.

So what are the implications for this approach?

  • Everything is far more open and transparent (they are filming meetings and posting them on Youtube – because someone else will anyway).
  • Accepting and working with the complexity.
  • Working with social tools and getting a handle on the distruptive types of innovation and interactions they bring.
  • Reaching out and embedding Barnet in existing networks.  Dominic gave a great example of how he joined a community on Facebook: Barnet ain’t no shit hole.  He just wanted to have a look around and see what people were saying – very transparently.  The group then picked up on the fact that Barnet Council joined and it caused a huge stir in the group. They couldn’t believe the council was on Facebook.  But they were happy to engage in a conversation and the fact that a the council had effectively come to them.

Great presentation – thanks Dominic!

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