I had the good fortune of heading to the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston last week. For me, the word “enterprise” has always been one of those slippery words that can mean many of a thing, but in this case it specifically refers to innovative large companies. Enterprise 2.0 is the term used for the various suites of tools being developed to help with knowledge management, collaboration, and efficiency within corporations. The suites of tools have varying ranges of social media, document management, and governance. Most Fortune 500 companies have Sharepoint or some other giant software (Documentum, Lotus) already in place. This presents a challenging but interesting dilemma for start ups (Thoughtfarmer, Box.net, SocialText) whose software is more nimble and arguably more adept. They claim there is no point in trying to “dance with the elephant” when it’s possible for more people to use cheaper and better software than at any point in history. Still at the end of the day, the challenge remains for executives and managers to figure out how to leverage more of the desirable parts of technology.
The good news was apparent- the execs and managers don’t have to figure it out alone. The common factor of all the winning software tools was usability. I heard this over and over, from Gentry Underwood of IDEO discussing their internal collaboration software to Amy Vickers of Razorfish discussing how she customized Sharepoint. The Executives who spoke would often refer to the need for people-centric software, and the need for level of granularity between a completely shut system (think banning Facebook, Twitter, and other informal ways to communicate), and one that is completely open. So how can companies can keep the desirable aspects of technology, like building a participatory culture, receiving information when and where you need it, connecting people and sharing knowledge, while deterring the undesirable like data leaks and security issues? I saw this as a challenge for designers, developers, usability experts- how can we better design the front end of these software tools to create social space and collaboration around knowledge topics, while also promoting the level of efficiency and security prioritized by the enterprise?
A few solutions came up around the front-end design. The first from Gentry Underwood of IDEO. He walked through IDEO’s internal collaboration website. He mentioned they had tried at least 25 different tools before landing on the right one. Here’s the five principles for designing collaborative tools that work:
• Build pointers to people
Connect people, because most of the valuable information doesn’t get shared in digital space. It’s often too contextual and tacit. Focus on the people the people, not rote knowledge. Earlier at the conference I heard that 80% of a company’s knowledge is in people’s heads. This number is likely inflated because it’s truly impossible to gauge, but the point is well taken.
• Reward individual participation
It’s simple, offer recognition of good work, let other employees know what their peers are working on, and encourage the next step up. What are they working towards? HR needs to be included in this discussion.
• Demand intuitive interfaces
There is a lot of talk about adoption vs friction, and some of the things that IDEO found that increased friction was the need for specific programming languages (like the wiki), navigation was not automatic or intuitive, too much training is required. Basically an integrated system has to be created that brings content together. And most importantly, designers have to make something that fits into the organization, not something the organization has to fit into.
• Take the road more traveled
The software should be part of a habit, and feed into other habitual areas (email, for example). Experiment with putting up screens showing employee’s faces, comments, and thoughts in spaces where all employees can see (lobby, kitchen, etc.). Integrate social media in to workflows.
• Iterate early and often
I’ve definitely heard this a lot lately. The point is to try an iterative cycle, try out new things, put them out there and build out the ones that take off. He gives the example of Pocket God, an iPhone app that’s been successful for some time now because it iterates every week, there’s a new feature all the time. It’s an example of a game that’s tuned into something more.
The software they developed was on the Thoughtfarmer platform, and for reference looks like this (It’s the only public screengrab I could find):
A public example of IDEO's wiki, supported by Thoughtfarmer
Another set of solutions was offered in a workshop by Dion Hinchcliffe, Founder & CTO, Editor-in-Chief of the Web 2.0 Journal, Hinchcliffe & Company. He had his SLATES advice to offer:
• Search is very important. You need to discover information. (The failure of intranets is that they do not make it easier to find information.)
• Links are need to put information in context. They allow you to move back and forth between content.
• Authorship is important to allow everyone with access to the platform and identify them when they contribute content.
• Tags allow us to apply our perspective to the content. You should also be able to see what other people thinks about that item of content.
• Extensions mine patterns and user activity. “You may also be interested in . . . .” Amazon is one of the best examples of this. The cure for too much information is more information.
• Signals make information easier to consume. Signals push out updates of new information. It shows you the flow and not just the artifact.
There seemed to be hundreds of speakers, and the most interesting of them discussed the challenges their organizations faced and the steps they’re taking to tackle and solve them. In short, the topics I heard most about or found most interesting I’ve bulleted out here:
• Bottom up, not Top Down
• The enterprise needs to recognize the 360º person
• The tools we use should be like a rearview mirror, you don’t need to slow down to use them
• 80% of a company’s knowledge is in people’s heads
• 1/3 of our time is spent looking for relevant information
• People need to know, and want to know what their colleagues are working on
• Let natural selection take place, there are lots of options, but we need to understand what’s surviving (Facebook, not Friendster)
• People are broadcast stations. We need to work with that.
Also I have attached the Enterprise 2.0 tag clouds to share the other hot topics.