Over the course of the last few weeks it’s become a bit of a challenge finding the time to focus and write my next blog post over here. Just like that, March is now gone and April is nearly half way through already. ‘We truly live in extraordinary times’ was a sentence I wrote ages ago and it still feels like we are right at the very beginning of a brave ‘new-normal‘, whatever that may well be. At this point in time there is only one certainty: there will be a Before and an After COVID-19. Where do you get the energy and the optimism?
That has been the question I get asked time and time again in the midst of one of the biggest challenges and threats we have faced as a species in this planet, at least, in the last 100 years. And, frankly, I typically answer that question with just a couple of words: the helpers.
Indeed, over the course of the last month it’s been rather hectic helping and supporting, as much as we possibly could, plenty of other knowledge (Web) workers, who, all of a sudden, and overnight, have been asked to work from home as the confinement to contain the pandemic has unleashed throughout the world in full force.
Quite a daunting task, if you ask me, that one of adjusting and adapting new behaviours and work habits, through social, digital tools, when, at the moment, there are plenty of other thoughts in most people’s heads. Mainly, having to juggle with everything but work!
We need to slow down. We ought to do that to ourselves. We are on this one, together, for the long run, not just an interim patch to get us by while the lock-downs continue during the next few weeks, or perhaps, months! It’s a marathon we are all running now. One a whole bunch of us got started with over 15 to 20 years ago when we decided to go #DigitalFirst, so we are helping everyone catch up as best as we can. It’s been one marathon we all knew when we’d start, but we truly didn’t know (still don’t!) when it would be finished. This is it. This is the journey. Our collective journey.
We are all waking up to the crude reality that for the first time ever, we are all thinking of work as a digital-first, versus just another nice-to-have IT project to buzz around with. We are all, finally, waking up, indeed, to the global reality that work is no longer a physical space, but a mental state. Work happens wherever, or whenever, you are! It’s a mental state, no longer a place we commute to on a daily basis. Times have changed. For the better. Forever. For all of us. No exceptions.
That’s why over the course of the last month and a half I have been relatively quiet over here and in different media tools, as I have spent lots of time with a whole bunch of friends and partners in crime in different Web meetings (whether 1:1s or with multiple participants) helping other folks understand and adjust to what has been our working lives for the last few years for a few of us: distributed work. #DigitalFirst.
This time around though, the conditions and constraints are much different than in the recent past. This time around, while shifting gears and adjusting mindsets towards the digital world, we are all busy learning, and pretty fast!, how to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. But I will get to talk about that more in detail with an upcoming blog post I’m currently working on as well …
I guess you are all wondering by now though what is the main topic of this blog post then, right? Well, after 38 days (and counting!) of confinement, I need a distraction, an opportunity to resume my own blogging mojo, after failing to publish an article over here in the last few weeks. There is something that’s been in my mind for a good few months now. Perhaps the time has come for it to, at long last, see the light …
I know I just need to find a way to re-focus back on my own writing over here in order to keep my own sanity intact with all of what’s going on at the moment. So, how about if I share with you all how I got involved into the space of data analytics for online collaborative environments in the first place? I know a few of you folks have asked me about it in the recent past multiple times, so I guess it’s probably a good time now. After all, we aren’t going anywhere else at the moment, right?
As most of you know already, specially, if you have been following this blog for a good while now, I have been involved in the space of Knowledge Management, Collaboration, Change Management, Learning and Online Communities for over 23 years, having gotten started with Social Networking for Business in early 2000. Over time, I have had the privilege of working with hundreds of organisations helping them get a better understanding of the impact digital technologies would have within the workplace. All along, it’s always been a real treat helping them work smarter, not necessarily harder, through open knowledge sharing with networks and communities as the new operating model. Communityship.
The thing is that throughout all of these years lot of the consulting and advisory work I have done was already pretty much based on my own first-hand experiences, my own trial and error, my own ability to learn from what other peers in different organisations have been working on over the years. Essentially, through my own lessons learned of trying and experimenting what would work and what wouldn’t.
Then a bit over three years ago, and after being in the IT industry for 20 years, I decided it was about time for me to move into the next work adventure, but away from everything I had been doing till then in the IT space. I just felt I needed something else in my life. I just felt it was time for me to go back to basics, to my roots: back to teaching (English).
Alas, life had other plans for me, apparently. Through some mysterious ways, I still can’t quite comprehend of how it all happened, I, eventually, joined panagenda. A global software firm that builds solutions around data analytics for collaborative environments, whether for traditional tools like email, to cloud-based productivity apps like Microsoft Teams, to Enterprise Social Networking platforms like HCL Connections. And I have never walked back ever since.
The transition from big large corporate world (My 17 years at IBM) to going solo (for another three years) to then joining panagenda is something that I’d leave for another blog post coming up shortly, because, somewhere in that transition I think I may have just been experiencing the magic without not knowing it. But more on that later.
Anyway, back to data analytics. As I got more and move heavily involved with our various analytics solutions for different collaborative environments, I realised what I had been missing over the course of the last two decades: data. Like I said, in the past all of my consulting and advisory work was coming through based on what I knew would work from over the years. Essentially, that hands-on experience of learning by doing, understanding that some things would work and some others wouldn’t, when doing lots of work around digital adaptation.
Now, with a number of data analytics tools at my disposal, the excitement grew up inside me, slowly, but steadily, to levels I could have never anticipated before throughout my working life. More than anything else, because, for the first time ever, I realised I could corroborate, through different data entry points and visualisations, what I had been doing all of those 23 years and know I was on the right path. But now, showing it with data, with facts, not just with my own thoughts, opinions and know-how.
No more hunches; no more gut feelings; no more ‘Let’s try this now and see if it works this time around‘;, no more ‘Look at what these other folks are doing successfully, let’s give a shot and see how things would work out‘. No, no more any of that. Now I have data that can help me prove all of that hard working experience accumulated throughout the years. Now, I have facts.
Essentially, as years have gone by, I understood how my own value proposition to customers I’m currently working with is no longer just based on my extensive working exprience from the last two plus decades, but also the combination of how I make sense of powerful stories through the different data entry points I may get exposed to. All in all, to help build a particular case that has always been my mantra: transform, at long last, the way we work challenging the current status quo by asking the tougher questions. The questions that no-one seems to be very keen on asking, never mind answering.
Eventually, it’s all about changing the nature of how people connect, relate to one another, share, collaborate and learn through the extensive use of social, digital tools, with both social networks and online communities as the new operating models. In the end, helping a particular working culture shift accordingly leaving behind over 150 years of a poignant legacy and enter the XXI century. Hello, COVID-19, how are you doing?
I am pretty certain though, by now, you all may be wondering about what I am seeing through data analytics for collaborative tools, or what trends have I seen taking place over the course of the last couple of years, right? Well, I can see how sharing those thoughts across with you all over here may well turn itself into a series of blog posts over the course of time. That’s definitely an idea I have been toying with already for a good while, but perhaps, and in anticipation of those upcoming posts, I could share some glimpses ahead of time, don’t you think? Let’s have a look then …
There is currently a deviation from the good old Social Business & Enterprise Social Networking realms from 2006 (That typically thrive around default to open), into cloud-based productivity tools (that live on default to close). So I have been seeing how for the last 4 or 5 years we are moving away slowly from open knowledge sharing environments into prettier silos, either through file sharing, private chats or small, fast paced, intimate team project related (closed) spaces. Still silos and, all in all, with a minimum set of interactions happening: email, file sharing and instant messaging. Oh, and virtual meetings galore, too!
Yet, there is hope, folks, don’t worry. Ever since COVID-19 kicked in as a pandemic impacting the global business world as we know it, I have seen a comeback (Although it never went away in the first place!) of ESNs. Mainly, because of a couple of rather important and relevant reasons: pace and scale. I’m pretty excited and thrilled beyond belief at the moment in this regard, which is why, in another upcoming blog post, I will expand further on that resurgence of ESNs and the impact they are having, already today, within the overall digital workplace.
It’s why, while going through different data entry points, I keep reminding people that such kinds of interactions where we were deviating into default to close are not enough within an organisation. There needs to be a social layer on top, that defaults to open, to help support enterprise wide communities of practice that can scale and slow down the interactions and conversations to work on the critical knowledge to the organisation beyond just project work. Have you done your homework yet?
The current obsession with Microsoft Teams, for instance, is the same obsession we had with Slack about 4 or 5 years ago (Remember how it was going to kill *cough* email *cough* once and for all?), but that’s now gone for Slack. People are starting to feel that fatigue based on the overwhelming frenzy to keep up with everyone’s busyness. So, through the data, I am seeing the need for that reemergence of ESNs to help us slow down, focus on more meaningful, purposeful conversations and not just for a team or two, but for the entire organisation. But, like I said, I’ll be expanding plenty more on this in an upcoming blog post.
Eventually, what I have realised over the course of the last three years is that, through those different data entry points, I can find emerging patterns of interactions; discovering experts from within closed systems; building hybrid models of adapting to old and new tools, behaviours, habits, business pratices; identifying potential data leaks, or unnecessary costs incurred; or, my favourite one, the final frontier: how are you collaborating with your customers and business partners, perhaps even your competitors, beyond just email and the odd phone call or Web meeting?
I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much what excites me the most at the moment from the current collaboration and knowledge sharing landscape through social, digital tools. Essentially, understand how data analytics can help me identify, evaluate and assess how healthy, mature and sustainable different digital workplace initiatives are across the board. Just in the recent past, for instance, I gave a couple of presentations on this very same topic.
My good friend, and long time KM blogger, Stan Garfield invited me, back in February, to participate in the SIKM Month Gathering to talk exactly about this very same subject: i.e. The Impact of Data Analytics in Digital Transformation Programmes. If you would be interested, you could grab a copy of the presentation over here and then perhaps listen to the recording below (embedded) while flipping through the slides:
Or, you could also take a look into this other presentation I did in early March at IntraTeam 2020 where I expanded some more on different data visualisations that can help you challenge that status quo of how work happens that I referenced above by asking the tough questions no-one seems to want to ask anymore around the health and maturity, or the overall long-term sustainability, of the Digital Workplace:
If you have been reading this far, I would like to thank you all for your patience and for your perseverance. I know you may well say I am a fool, or maybe a dreamer. I mean, who does believe in data, or facts, nowadays anyway, right? The world has moved on from effective fact-based decision making and more into gut-feeling or, usually, negative emotions (i.e. rage, fear, uncertainty, you name it), as the main triggers of how we make today’s critical decisions.
You are probably right. But then again, if I were to justify my own working experience (and life for that matter!) from over the course of the last 23 years (and still going strong!) around Collaboration and the Digital Workplace, I’m quite happy to say I now count on data analytics to help me prove my own worth and added value to the customers I’ve worked with throughout the years. Having a better understanding of their needs and wants based on the data they themselves produce on a daily basis while they collaborate is probably as good as it gets. Observable work through data analytics, anyone?
Funny enough I know now how I was right in plenty of what I have been working on all along, but also on what I was wrong. And throughout all of that learning journey, it’s now those very same facts and data analysis that guide me through building incredibly powerful stories everyone can relate to, and embrace, while embarking themselves on their own Digital Transformation journey. On their terms. No longer just mine.