by Abbie Lundberg

The Evangelist in You

Dec 09, 20074 mins
IT Leadership

Business technology leaders should be all over social networking as a means of creating real value from the intellectual assets of the enterprise. The biggest barriers aren’t technical or even organizational – they’re cultural.

I stumbled upon an interesting presentation last week from Roo Reynolds, a smart and ardent Brit who works in IBM’s Hursley Park Lab in the U.K. and sports one of those crazy titles (metaverse evangelist) that make regular businesspeople feel chronically unhip.

As an aside: I’m happy IBM has a metaverse evangelist because virtual worlds hold tremendous promise for collaboration and work of all kinds, and IBM’s got lots of bright people and plenty of money to put into a) figuring out how to make that work and b) communicating that to the aforementioned chronically unhip businesspeople.

Anyway… Reynolds was giving the presentation, titled “the IBM 2010 CIO Outlook” (which of course caught my attention) in Zurich last week. You can view the slides, complete with speaker notes, on Slideshare.

Now that he’s actually given the talk, he’s added the audio to the preso too. How cool is that?

The presentation identifies critical trends and provides a kind of roadmap for the CIOs’ office at IBM. The fourth slide shows the six trends IBM leaders believe will have the greatest impact on their organization and employees in the next few years.

Here’s the list:

Global integration: Companies of all sizes are now doing business globally. The ability to create new relationships and discover new capabilities will be a critical differentiator.

Participatory internet: Employees increasingly live online. Value is created by capturing and re-using the interactions of loosely connected people. (This aligns with Andrew McAfee’s model of the strength of weak ties.)

Workforce demographics: The boomers are retiring, taking all their knowledge with them unless you capture it somehow – and traditional knowledge management sure didn’t work. At the same time, younger workers expect to be connected to all information and all people anywhere, anytime.

Virtualized data and devices: With applications and data moving online, “the user’s computing platform can be anything that supports a web browser – a car, a cell phone, an airplane backrest or a virtual wall display. In addition, communication devices (and browsers) will be able to jump from wireless to cellular to wireless without dropping a session, thus opening up more flexibility and convenience.”

The list also includes software as a service and siimplicity from design.

Slide six gets to the crux of why social networking is not just relevant but crucial for businesspeople to embrace:

  • “First, to make a lasting transformation, we need to change the paradigm of data access to permit open information discovery and reuse. This is a critical foundation and will require many creative solutions to the challenges of ownership, stewardship, data quality and security management.
  • “Second, employees need to be part of the solution and their critical insights and participation need to be actively captured; too often the employee has no opportunity to correct or supplement data, although almost every aspect of their usage provides business value. This, in essence, is what creates value for Google, eBay and Amazon.
  • “Third, we need to borrow the examples from today’s web innovators and experiment with hosted productivity applications that are open and extensible. Granting permission and actively encouraging extensions to these applications is where we can capture innovation. We need to facilitate the tools, techniques and distribution this innovation.”

Reynolds aludes here to the challenges of social networking in the enterprise. Some of them, like data quality, security management and compliance, can be worked out with technical and policy solutions. The cultural challenges will be harder to address. Social networking is all about openness. The whole thing works by exposing as much as possible. Putting control in the hands of employees. And having those employees want to give up what in the past has been a source of power and job security.

The latter concern can be amerliorated with what Reynolds’ colleague Dave Newbold (the original author of the 2010 CIO Outlook) describes as the TR3 virtuous circle: tagging, rating, reputations and recognition. It’s not a new concept that employees who are rewarded for sharing will share more; the difference is that we now have tools that make this easy to do. So that leaves the final challenge: The idea of exposing as much as possible and putting control in the hands of employees is antithetical to the traditional top-down management structure of command and control. So who’s going to change that? Your company probably doesn’t have an official metaverse evangelist. Even if it does, this is something every business technology leader should make part of their own job.