E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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IBM: Untangling Office Connections

Over at BusinessWeek I have just been reading a very interesting article around the world of Social Network Analysis and how more and more companies are paying attention to such discipline in order to help identify those informal networks (Based on social ties and bonds of communication and trust amongst group members) that are, as we all know, “[…] responsible for bridging silos, cutting through bureaucracy, and sharing good ideas”. The news article itself is titled IBM: Untangling Office Connections and it is actually an interview with one of my fellow IBM colleagues who has done a huge amount of work around SNA: Kate Ehrlich.

The article itself mentions a number of excerpts from that particular interview and I thought I would share a couple of comments on the conversation itself to try to add my two cents worth of comments into the discussion. So I will try to add a few comments for each of the questions and see how that would go:

  • Why do you think the use of social-network analysis has been stepping up lately?: Yes, indeed, I totally agree with Kate when she states that social networks used to be an area of interest for KM and HR folks alone, but not any longer. I feel that the main reason why that is happening is, like she says, the proliferation of different software products that foster a much tighter collaboration and which everyone acknowledges cannot be ignored if they would want to take collaboration as serious as they should in order to become much more efficient and effective while performing certain tasks. I have mentioned this already elsewhere, but I feel that one of the main guilty parties about this renaissance from social networks is mainly due to the emergence of the so called Web 2.0 and the hundreds, if not thousands, of its related software applications. And with them that urging need to connect to people through their trusted networks so that the use of the tools actually facilitates the creation of those connections regardless where you may be.
  • Do you think, as we enter a period where growth and innovation are so essential, that there will be even more interest in mapping these social networks? I agree with Kate’s comments as well on this one, specially since she establishes a very relevant connection between social networks, collaboration and innovation as part of the path to follow in order to continue providing business value to customers. Companies can no longer ignore the fact that social networking is an integral part of collaboration and Knowledge Management and therefore they might as well make good use of it. And not always staying in their own silos or smaller teams. They would need to look beyond and engage with other groups who may be doing something totally different but which would still help quite a bit each other’s innovations move forward.
  • What else can social-network maps tell managers? Interesting description from Kate as to how social networks can define the way people connect and collaborate with one another. Perhaps the main aspect from all this is the fact that social networks are the ones that would actually facilitate the creation of those connections between people so that they can then collaborate with one another knowing that they belong to a larger group. A group of members that trusts each other to do what they know best: sharing their knowledge and learning from one another.
  • If I was looking at social-network maps of two similar organisations, what would be an innovative one look like ? What would a non-innovative one look like? In this particular question Kate indicates how crucial it is for every single social network to try to expand and reach out to as many people as possible within the organisation and again I would think that both collaboration and Knowledge Management could help quite a lot on that. Maybe collaboration could be the fundamental aspect that could make it all work. However, again we would need to ensure that people are willing to break their barriers and expand beyond their own comfort zones and forget about remaining in their silos without looking any further.
  • How can managers think about innovation and collaboration differently? Kate mentions how innovation is not just about products and design but also about processes and business models and I feel that this is where we could establish a strong connection between social networks and KM, since the latter has got very strong components related to process, apart from tools and the people. So perhaps establishing a connection between the two we would be able to provide a much more convenient environment to foster that innovation and in addition to that we would be able as well to see how both disciplines would be benefiting from one another.
  • I have heard him talk about that. He asks respondents in his social-network surveys about how interactions with certain colleagues raise or deplete their energy levels. Why do you think energy is important? I am sure that after you read Kate’s answer to this particular question you would be able to identify something that I have been mentioning myself for some time and which I think is quite accurate from whatever you would get yourself with, whether it is social networks, collaboration, KM, etc. etc. And that is the passion that you may put in whatever the task you try to achieve. There is no doubt than being passionate about what you do, whether that has got to do with KM, social networks, and so forth, is going to help you achieve the desired results but then again if you can do that while collaborating with a group of colleagues all the better.

That is indeed the power from social networks in every organisation. The fact that they can trigger passionate communities to come together, collaborate, innovate, share knowledge and expertise in order to achieve whatever goals they may have been set up from the beginning is something that managers from whatever the business can no longer ignore. It is no longer about reducing costs but more about innovating and improving employees’ productivity through your social networks and whatever KM strategies that may be already in place or in the making.

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