by Kim S. Nash

Give Middle Managers Better Collaboration Tools

Apr 27, 2011
Consumer ElectronicsInnovationMobile

It’s not enough to share documents, says Geoffrey Moore, the consultant and expert on technology adoption. Daily decisions can be made more quickly if employees, especially middle managers, can use text messaging, video and social-media tools to engage directly with each other.

You say we need to move from systems of record to systems of engagement. What’s the difference?

Systems of record are characterized by having a relational database and applications that feed it. For decades, we were building these systems because they were necessary for running global commerce. It was an enormous undertaking. But it was like building the highway system. Once it’s built, it’s built.

Now, with the globalization of commerce, regions have specialized roles. Customer service in India. Manufacturing in China. RaannddD in Silicon Valley. Marketing in New York. As economies get more complex and ambitious, the need to collaborate and engage has increased dramatically.

Aren’t big companies doing that already?

Oh, iPads consumerize the interface to some systems of record and to email. It’s a beginning. But we should operate like Facebook. We need real-time communications like Twitter. We need to be able to use video aggressively, particularly when we’re talking across cultures. You’re making decisions with people you don’t know as well as you’d like. The more richness you can bring to that interaction, the better.

One goal of better engagement is faster decision making. Are slow decisions holding companies back?

Big decisions get made at whatever pace they need to be made. I’m thinking more of: I want to make an offer to Harry; I need my boss’s approval, but he’s on a plane to Singapore. There’s 24 to 48 hours of latency in routine decisions. Consumers have taken all the latency out of interacting. I want to text you, point you toward the open requisition and have you give your digital signature.

In a global supply chain, allocation issues or parts-substitution issues or a client blowup happen every day. Being able to jump on them without letting them fester will have dramatic returns.

How will video help?

A factory manager can pull out a Flip video and say, “Here’s the problem. I can’t reach under here.” Even if there’s a language barrier, you have a video to show you. The more rapid and natural the cadence of communication, the higher the quality of the collaboration.

And how does social media change ­collaboration?

Collaboration 1.0 was Lotus Notes and the Web. Then we got wikis. All are mediated by a document. We capture ideas in a document. But today’s consumer experience with collaboration is real-time, mediated by voice, text and video, not documents. These are time-based record types—a WebEx conference, a video, a Twitter stream.

What are some ways CIOs can use social media?

Where I would take a risk is with a group of people who I thought could really change the performance of the enterprise. There are moments of engagement with customers or partners where your company’s capabilities are tested. Every time there’s a handoff in your supply chain, that’s a test. Do you complete it? Does something delay it? Take the latency out of all the tiny decisions that happen in a day, such as the open-requisition problem.

I encourage CIOs not to invest in systems on a blanket basis but in those small-but-important junctures. Who are the key people in this moment and what tools have we given them?

The front-line workers have an enormous number of tools. The executive suite has business intelligence. But we haven’t invested much in middle-management layers. Sure, they have laptops and BlackBerrys. But almost none of the IT spend goes to the middle of the organization.

So the middle needs ­collaboration tools, video and ­telepresence?

If you look at how the global economy works, the middle is key. They are the ones who call each other and fly around.

If the CIO brought this conversation about engagement to a line of business, he’d have their total attention and new budget money.

Follow Senior Editor Kim S. Nash on Twitter: @knash99.