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

Open Business

Social Network Analysis – Adding Business Value

Last Friday you would remember how I created a weblog post on a recent BusinessWeek article regarding Social Network Analysis and its potential business value, specially for larger organisations where their employees may be rather dispersed in multiple timezones, geographies, etc. etc. Well, just this morning (And it looks like I wasn’t the only one since one of my fellow IBM colleagues, Aneel, also received an e-mail from Noel Cuinane (From Blood and Treasure) and has commented on another weblog post on the subject), I got an e-mail from Noel as well asking for some further feedback comments regarding their weblog post. Since I cannot leave a Trackback there I thought I would create a new weblog and link to it from here in order to add some more into the conversation.

The weblog post is titled Social Network Analysis and you can find a link to it over here. The article itself comes to question the actually business value of SNA for every business and while reading through it I just couldn’t help noticing a couple of paragraphs worth while noting:

Senior management will love it. All the hot buttons are there – hierarchies, web surveys, expertise, software programs, management consulting, resulting charts, hub-and-spoke route maps, internal networks and, finally, innovation

Actually, I wouldn’t think that just senior management would be interested in Social Networking Analysis. We all know how this discipline has been around for a number of decades now and how it has been applied to multiple communities to try to get the best out of them and create some more awareness about the different connections inside of the community. What is actually happening now is that more and more businesses are realising how they could benefit from something that has been there for a long time and which they could leverage with. Pretty much the same thing as what is happening nowadays with weblogs, wikis or Instant Messaging.

Apart from all that it would also be worth while noting that all those elements quoted above are, in my opinion, just a minimal representation of what SNA would be about since we should not forget that it has always been associated with Knowledge Management. And still is, probably.

What Social Network Analysis does, essentially, is identify who is considered popular and who is not. That someone has managed to persuade others to rate their input ‘important’ doesn’t necessarily make their input valuable. You have to take a look at the results they are achieving to judge that. SNA however, does not measure business results. It measures social popularity according to a defined set of ‘collaborative’ behaviors.”

I never thought we would be identifying Social Network Analysis as having to deal with popularity. All the other way around, actually. It is about everything else but popularity. SNA is all about trying to study the different relationships, and their connections, that are taking place within a particular group to try to identify who may have potentially more connections in such a group and try to leverage those. Main reason being ? Well, thinking about how relevant (remote) collaboration and knowledge sharing are becoming nowadays, with the increasing presence of Web 2.0 applications, SNA will be that tipping point that will make it work by helping businesses identify who could act as potential critical mass users in order to help spread the message and get a much tighter collaboration where everyone is encouraged to share their knowledge, their skills and so forth but all of that with the additional help of multiple hubs that would act as catalysts . Nothing to do with popularity I would think. In fact, I can imagine how there would be quite a lot of people well connected but not necessarily popular. However, their collaboration and knowledge sharing skills may be much more meaningful for the business than they themselves being popular.

When “hubsâ€? show up on the informal map, however, you’ll know you’ve found the people who spend all day promoting themselves internally instead of doing their jobs. Now you can annihilate them.

Indeed ! Unfortunately, this is the very same reason why people still do not think that collaborating and knowledge sharing would help them instead of annihilating them ! Thinking that you are indispensable to do your daily job and therefore your reluctance to stand out and share what you know is perhaps one of those factors that companies are realising it is no longer good enough. Actually, more and more that attitude is the one getting you less noticed and in much more trouble. I have yet to see the first person being annihilated for sharing or collaborating too much with other colleagues; however, I can think of many hundreds, if not thousands, of other people who have been annihilated just because of how exclusive they felt their knowledge was that they didn’t share it with others. In the end it is all about how much you would want to collaborate, share and work closer together with others and certainly SNA can be a great helper to find out who those folks may be and how you could get the most out of them to become the engines of your business. Simple.

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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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Time to Revisit Meetro Again! – Top 5 Features I Enjoy

As I have mentioned earlier on, here you have got the second weblog post around the subject of Meetro, a relatively new beta in the Instant Messaging space and which I mentioned I would be weblogging about it to indicate what are my Top 5 favourite features from this client. As you may have noticed already this is a particular piece of software that I feel would be having its own space within the IM clients already available out there because it provides some unique functionality that other IM clients do not have plus it merges quite nicely with other options already rather popular and available in other related tools.

You may be wondering what this application has got to do with Knowledge Management, collaboration and communities of practice, right ? Well, from my own point of view I think it comes to fill in a gap that all three items above seem to have been missing all along: and that is the fact of facilitating the sharing of knowledge and information, and boosting collaboration, for the mobile workforce, which in some companies, like IBM, it is starting to count for up to 40% of the total population. Which, I think is quite a lot. Yet, there are companies out there where the tools available actually fail to provide that cutting edge advantage of sharing knowledge regardless of where you may be.

I mean, I have been working remotely since 2001 through telecommuting and I have gotten so much to it that I doubt things would ever be the same whenever I need to go back to the office. Yet, I feel that one way or another things could have improved a great deal more in order for those mobile workers to stay connected with the rest of the peers in order to be able to share content in exactly the same fashion as being at the office. So when you have tools like Meetro coming along you just have got to grab them and make extensive use of them in order to go break the tools barrier and just focus on the sharing; again, regardless of where you may be.

So, with all that said, I think it is time now to detail what my Top 5 reasons for using Meetro would be, as a knowledge sharing and collaboration tool for the mobile workforce. I am sure there are others but, at least, these are the ones that I find rather interesting and worth while mentioning:

  • Easy to Setup with an almost non existent memory foot print: Indeed, being used to a number of different IM clients where the memory foot print is rather large it is just great to be able to see how there are some IM clients out there as well with a very intuitive user interface after the initial setup and still very manageable. This is particular important for us, mobile / remote workers, since it would allow us to be connected in almost no time and without having to worry about disrupting the machine while staying in touch. Speed of execution and reliability at its best.
  • Integration with other popular IM clients: Indeed, I have already mentioned this one in the past. With all of the IM clients available out there one of the key items from any new comer is integration with what is already available out there so that you do not lose your buddy list(s). And the fact that Meetro integrated with AIM, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo! quite nicely is a great option. I know that I have mentioned in the recent past that I had already given up on Instant Messaging but just because I may have done it it doesn’t necessarily mean that others may have. So being able to tap into them from a single unified IM client is just a great option. At least, for me, thinking that I have got multiple buddy lists from all over the place.
  • Location Awareness: this is, in my opinion, the one feature that makes Meetro unique. For those people working remotely, or while on the road, it is actually perhaps what will make this particular tool a must-have. Imagine that you are travelling and arriving late at night into a new city to meet up with a customer. You arrived at the hotel because you need to get connected and get the presentations online and you fire up Meetro. Then you find out that two of your colleagues will be in your same town meeting up other customers. So you get together with them and find out that the core presentation materials have changed and you get them from them. You are now ready to go to your customer, do the presentation and enjoy the rest of your evening meeting up your colleagues who helped you before. Amazing, right ? Well, that is what Meetro could do for you from a business perspective!
  • A picture is worth a 1.000 words: Indeed, this is one of the other features from this IM client that I really like. The fact that in your buddy list you can have up front the picture from your buddies next to the distance that separates you from then is a superb addition towards instant location notifications that would make a fantastic addition in the always difficult area of social capital using icebreakers. What a better way of getting yourself introduced to your peers than by showing them how far they are from you and also a picture of what you look like or something that would tell a bit more about your character? And all that in a single window without having to do any additional clicks. Pretty slick, I would think.
  • Chat History: This is another great feature that I really enjoy very much. When being constantly away on the road, at customer sites or working from home it is always really handy to be able to recall previous chat conversations with your colleagues while perhaps you may be talking to them as well so that you have got a little bit more background. But the main reason why I really like this feature is because by allowing me to keep the chat history while I am busy with it I have got a very good opportunity to capture those knowledge snippets that I could then share in a much more sophisticated repository so that others could reuse that same information at some point.

There you have them. My top 5 features, amongst many others, like adding the MiniMeetro to your weblog, file transfers, working with groups, etc. etc. that I find quite interesting in order to allow mobile workers to come closer to one another and focus on continuing further with the sharing of knowledge and collaborating than having to worry about which tool would fit in their main needs and that of their buddies. Meetro seems to be fitting that profile quite nicely ! At least, from what I have been able to see myself over the last couple of weeks. Perhaps in another weblog post I will review those same features I indicated above and see how they would come across. Reason why I am saying that is because I do hope they will continue to innovate in this particular space and perhaps bring us the power of VoIP mixed up with the location awareness capabilities of Google Maps. At least, those are two of the main features I am missing from other web offerings, like Skype or Frappr. Let’s see how things will evolve over the next few weeks; for the time being if you are looking for an IM tool where locating your colleagues physically is a must-have then Meetro is your best choice. At least, for now.

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Time to Revisit Meetro Again!

Back in October, and in quite a few posts, I weblogged about the huge potential that a recently started company around the world of Instant Messaging would be having as soon as it would get busy moving away from just being a fun tool to try out and progress into a much more business focused offering. And by the looks of it, a couple of months after, it seems that things are on the right track now. Thanks to my good old friend Vinnie he has just indicated to me a couple of days back that he has joined the Meetro team while he moved to the west coast. Over at his weblog you will be able to find all of the details of the great things that will continue to happen with Meetro in order to take it into new grounds and consolidate it amongst one of the most powerful real-time collaboration tools for one particular audience: mobile workers.

Indeed, if you are one of those people who are constantly on the road, or working remotely, and doing a fair bit of travelling but you would still need to be able to get in touch with your colleagues so that you can continue collaborating and sharing knowledge with them I think that Meetro would probably be very suitable for your needs. Amongst other things, because it is a very light Instant Messaging client that connects you with some of the most popular IM protocols around (AIM, ICQ, Yahoo!, MSN) -I hope one of these days they would add as well both Skype or Google Talk, so you would be able to keep in touch with your colleagues regardless what IM tool they are using. At the same time you would be able to collaborate using all of the rich text features that you can find in pretty much all of the different IM tools out there, but there is a single feature that will make it unique against all of the other different IM tools. And that is its location awareness capabilities.

Indeed, in a world where more and more of the remote workforce needs to be able to still keep in touch with the office in order to be able to access all of the knowledge, resources and subject matter experts and also in a growing need to stay connected regardless where you are, Meetro would allow them to keep in touch with their colleagues while on the road. Thanks to its great integration as a location awareness tool people would be able to connect and collaborate with one another and perhaps meet up if they are in the same city just because this particular tool offers the possiblity of showing your buddy list, not only how many miles / kilometers away from your colleague(s) but also it would allow folks to meet up with one another by being able to share with each other their location details.

Thus Meetro actually introduces something that hardly anybody has looked into: location awareness for the remote workers so that they could get very much connected and hardly ever had that sense that they may be alone. Something, in concept, very similar to what Plazes does, except that perhaps, Meetro improves that real-time flavour just a bit more. There are many other good reasons to perhaps give a try to this particular tool (Maybe I will detail in an upcoming weblog post what my favourites would be), but one thing for sure, if you are looking for a real-time collaboration tool where location awareness is an important item to consider for your mobile workforce I doubt there would be a much better tool than Meetro. If not give it a try yourself and see what you think. In an upcoming weblog post I shall detail what my experience has been with it the last week or so that I have been trying it out since last time I weblogged about it. To say the least, worth while the wait, for sure !

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KM Wikipedia Regression – Time for an Update

Over at Denham Grey’s weblog he has just been sharing a weblog post that all of us, knowledge workers, Knowledge Management advocates and so forth should not be ignoring. In KM Wikipedia Regression he just mentions how the quality of the KM related article in Wikipedia has gone down a bit. Probably quite substantially. Shawn Calahan has also been commented about it on Call to update Wikipedia’s KM entry.

So what Denham is asking us all to do is to go out there and start updating the Wikipedia article on KM so that it has got all the good quality it deserves. Thus Denham is suggesting the following sections:

  • Overview
  • History
  • The KM domain
  • Core Theory
  • KM competencies
  • References
  • External links
  • KM bloggers

Then he also suggests that, where possible, we should also be able to update the different sub-themes related to Knowledge Management, like Intellectual Capital, amongst many others. Overall, I think that this is a terrific idea actually and I would very much like to help getting those articles updated. Even more, I think that I would also be very keen on having another section dedicated to Knowledge Management Tools. But instead of just going ahead and update things further I would also be very keen on setting something, perhaps, much more rewarding in the long term.

Some time ago you would remember how I created a weblog post, KMWiki – A Collaborative Persistent ‘Conversation’ on All Matters Related to Knowledge Management, where I mentioned how Denham had created a KMWiki space whose “ultimate aim is to prepare Wikipedia entries on key KM concepts, develop topic and concept maps of this exciting domain“. So what I would like to propose in here is to indeed go ahead and start doing some updates on the KM Wikipedia article but work on those updates first over at KMWiki and then once we all feel comfortable with the level of information and accuracy we can then go ahead and update the Wikipedia entry. That way, once we all reach a consensus on what to add to the main entry, at the same time we can continue working on further updates without disrupting the information already available and establish a period of say monthly or quarterly updates that could constantly keep Wikipedia’s article accurate and relevant throughout time.

Does it make sense to continue making use of KMWiki to prepare those items for the KM Wikipedia article and perhaps help create some other additional resources around KM related topics ? Does it make sense to add another category for KM Tools giving the good amount of Web 2.0 related tools that have certainly given an incredible boost to KM related topics (Content Management, Social Networking, Collaboration, eLearning) over the last few months / years, amongst other traditional KM tools? What do you think ?

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How and When to Respond to Conversations – Managing Your Own Virtual Water Cooler

Over at Micro Persuasion Steve Rubel has been sharing today an interesting weblog post that I thought would be worth while commenting on as well. In How and When to Respond to Conversations he is actually wondering “whether companies needed to address every single comment/question that comes in on their blogs” or not.

I generally tend to agree with the comments mentioned by Steve and others, but I would go and take things even a bit further. As I have mentioned already elsewhere, I have always been saying that weblogging is all about having conversations with other people and as such I have always felt that weblogging is like having your own virtual water cooler where you invite people to participate in different discussions with you on a specific set of topics.

And like in every water cooler whenever you have got few people, therefore few weblog comments, you always have a tendency to engage with them all in the subsequent conversations. Thus in weblogging the same thing would apply. The complicated thing though would be when you have got far too many people talking at the same time over at the water cooler. Normally, you will have the tendency of summarising the different thoughts and add your own to the overall topic of discussion or, on the other hand, you will just pick up a subset of the conversations taking place and engage further with those knowing that everyone else would do the same thing, surely you know that at the same time your conversations are taking place so are others with other participants and therefore everyone is engaged into the discussion(s). No one is left behind.

That multiple level of interactions is in the end what will make the conversations ever so much more enlightening and richful and as such, before you would realise about it, you would be fostering the creation of multiple groups or networks within your own weblog or the (virtual) water cooler that would be able to carry on further the conversations while you may be busy preparing the next set of interactions. At least, that is one of the things that I have been experiencing myself over the last couple of years that I have been weblogging both on the Internet and the Intranet and how I take every single comment that goes into each of the different weblogs that I manage. And so far it seems to be working.

But how about you ? Are you one of those who prefer to manage your virtual water cooler and engage with it as much as you can or rather you prefer to let it go and allow others manage those comments for you ? Is it always good to try to be in control ? It is worth it ?

[tags]Metablogging, Virtual+Water+Cooler, Conversations[/tags]

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