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

From the blog

Collaborating Externally with Your Customers: The Final Frontier of Enterprise 2.0

Gran Canaria - Andén Verde and Surroundings in the Spring...I have been working in the areas of Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Online Communities and Social Computing for over a decade and I do still remember the main concerns people had back then when wanting to collaborate with customers and business partners in an effective manner, or other people outside a company’s firewall, for that matter. Back then, in my role as an advocate, and an ambassador, on collaboration and knowledge sharing tools, the main issues we were encountering were, mostly, the lack of new emerging capabilities to help improve an already existing experience that was relying far too much on traditional options like email or Instant Messaging. So that provoked that a whole bunch of interactions with customers were being buried, for good, in email or IM conversations that were rather difficult to track and too cumbersome to engage with at times. 10 years later one keeps hearing that very same inhibitor (Or excuse, who knows), when trying to collaborate and share their knowledge with external parties. Thus both email and IM still remain *the* main collaboration tools suite as back then. But, is that today’s reality really? Do we have choices now? Have we made some progress in this area? Or are we still relying far too much on those traditional tools? Have you, actually, made an effort to look out there for other options? I am sure you folks would have plenty of answers to those questions. I, too, have one I would want to share with you all: now we *do* have choices! Now it’s time to move on to them and change the way we work!

What’s our excuse this time around? I mean, 10 years have gone by and if you would look into the landscape of the hundreds, if not thousands, of knowledge sharing, collaboration and social networking tools that we have today one would probably be capable of questioning why do we still rely so much on those traditional tools, instead of perhaps looking for better, more innovative ways of sharing our knowledge across with those who we would need to work together with in the first place. I guess we could accept that argument 10 years ago when the options weren’t that many. But today? In 2010? Do we still have an excuse? Probably not. Actually, hopefully not!

It’s interesting though to see how this whole game has started shifting gears without us, knowledge (Web) workers, having much of a choice to keep ignoring it nor neglecting it. I have been seeing this very same thing with some colleagues at work, who keep saying that the only way they have got to communicate, collaborate and innovate with their customers is through email, or Instant Messaging. Something that, back then, perhaps, I probably wouldn’t venture into questioning further, but today? Boy, today I am ready to question it and big time! Specially, given the recent announcements that we have seen going by earlier on this week…

I am pretty sure that this very same situation I am describing of how things are happening in such a large corporation as IBM, would probably be the same, or rather similar, for most enterprises out there. If people have been using email for decades, why change, right? If they have been getting by with not too much trouble altogether, why bother, right? If I am just too comfortable within my own comfort zone, why change, why bother? Well, those may be well be very good reasons, but I have got one for folks out there as well: your customers (and business partners!) are the first ones who want to look for much more effective and efficient ways of collaborating, of participating from the co-creation process, of innovating together. Email just doesn’t cut it anymore! It may well have 10 years ago, but not in today’s corporate environment. And this is something that, deep inside, we all realise about, but keep ignoring / neglecting it. Well, maybe it’s time that we start paying attention…

Because what happens when your customers and business partners start working together, without you, on a collaborative business environment you provide? Yes, I know! Before you know it they are off to build stronger personal business relationships that go beyond that odd email exchange every now and then… without you! How does it feel being left out? I bet that’s not much of a comfortable feeling altogether, don’t you think?

You know, there are a bunch of us out there who keep saying that the final frontier of Enterprise 2.0 does not lie behind the firewall. Quite the opposite… The ultimate goal for Enterprise 2.0 is to reach further and beyond the corporate firewall and go where your customers are, and not necessarily on social tools like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, amongst several others. I am sure that plenty of businesses and organisations out there are currently working on providing such kind of infrastructure out there on their Extranets, as a method to prepare the way for knowledge workers to start thinking outside the inbox and get ready for what’s to come, if not already here!

IBM, in this particular case is no different than any other business or organisation out there. A few years back fellow colleagues would be providing extensive feedback on how limiting it actually was communicating with customers using just email or IM. However, and thank goodness for that!, things have been changing dramatically in this space over the course of the years and when before there was a scarcity of choices, nowadays there are a bunch of rather interesting options available to everyone out there. These have also been part of our focus on our internal efforts of evangelising on collaborative, knowledge sharing and social software tools, more than anything else with that mindset of helping knowledge workers understand that collaboration and true co-creation will also need to happen outside the firewall, and the sooner people prepare for it, the better. You can only hide inside for up to so long, before you are left behind without remedy. Time to move on with the times …

That’s why when fellow colleagues ask us about what options do we have available out there for them to collaborate and share their knowledge with their clients outside of the beaten track of the well known Web 2.0 tools, we provide them with a quick glimpse of what’s available and how they can engage with that particular audience. That’s when we start talking about how they could make use of Lotus Connections on the ibm.com Web site, or My developerWorks, or the Lotus Greenhouse. Or, finally, one of those rather interesting environments, sitting up in the cloud, which, just recently, went through a new major release with a bunch of nifty enhanced features: IBM LotusLive.

Yes, indeed, pretty much like for any other business out there, there is probably no longer an excuse to stay inside of the firewall. In the case of IBM, LotusLive proves this very same point time and time again. Here we have got the best of both worlds: a cloud offering that combines offline and real-time interactions; a cloud offering that combines both traditional communication and collaboration tools (Like email or IM) with the new emerging social networking tools (Social File Sharing, Activities, Communities, tagging, social calendaring, social bookmarking, etc. etc.), that we have all grown to be rather fond of with Web 2.0, and that are now part of the new upgrade that took place earlier on this week…

To be honest, a lot has been written about it already on such announcement, so I probably won’t be adding much more to it, other than perhaps point you folks to the wonderfully insightful blog entries that folks like ReadWriteWeb have done over at ”IBM Lotus Notes Takes a New Turn in its Long Historical Run“, or my good friends Ed Brill, Todd (Turbo) Watson or, one other of my favourite reviews, actually, the one coming from Sameer Patel. Too much stuff to comment on in a single blog post!! I would encourage you all to go and read through those as time goes by…

Finally, that’s why we may start witnessing how plenty of businesses and organisations will start thinking, if not busy already with it all, that perhaps once they have moved into the Enterprise 2.0 space, i.e. internal collaboration and knowledge sharing through internal social software tools, perhaps the next stage, the next level of interactions, the next frontier to cross, right about the time when knowledge (Web) workers would be feeling comfortable with that new way of interacting, would be to go where their customers may well be already… waiting for them. And, somehow, I know this may be rather silly, but I am incredibly excited that when our colleagues are ready to make that move, there will no longer be any inhibitor to help them dive in right away! Even for something so relatively simple like conducting a LotusLive Meeting with screen sharing on the Mac, something that wasn’t available before and that’s now part of the new release of LotusLive. You see? Now, I no longer have an excuse myself either!

Will you be joining us there soon?


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  1. Hello Luis,

    great site. I have been reading and reading 🙂
    I am writing a thesis regarding how organizations can use enterprise 2.0 as a facilitator to share tacit knowledge. The case company I use, is IBM in Denmark and I have had some very interesting interviews there but heard in the interviews that you were the main expert in this matter.

    So I decided to give it a try to hear if you could give me 15-20 min. of your time in December, January or February. I would love to hear your view on how people socialize, share information and experience and build trust in virtual communities of practice.

    Thanks, Dora

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