Creativity and Collaboration

Creative Commons Attribution by flickr user

There is an unseemly hubris in content and collaboration software.

It is the assumption that knowledge and innovation can come out of them.  As if our companies were some sort of orange to be squeezed into a pitcher and served up as a healthy and tasty accompaniment to breakfast.  The trend has a long history that is still being played out today though we see some hints of change.  ERP, MRP & Supply Chain systems took the principles of the assembly line and applied them to business processes – from how things are made to how they’re transported from here to there.  These gave rise to HCM systems which took the same fundamental approach and applied it to how people – human beings – are managed and placed and categorized and “quality assured” in an organization (that last part being your annual review).

The fundamental assumption and fatal flaw in all of these software “systems” is that process – those recipes of business – are actually what make the product, bring in the revenue, and service the customer.  They rely on a terribly thin lie; that the process is understood, the recipe is known and all that is left to do is find more efficient ways of executing it.  It is shake and bake business.  If we just automate our phone help desk with push-button easiness and route exception calls overseas we’ll increase success in business.

In many ways we’re the victims of our own technological success.   We’ve succumbed to “Small Earth Syndrome”.  The industrial and information revolutions are said to have shrunk the planet.  That’s a lie.  They extended our reach but they did not shrink and they did not simplify.

Complexity has increased magnificently and terribly in order to access our large planet.  Sophistication of our systems increased to handle the complexity.  Each new permutation of observer-induced cybernetic feedback was identified as the last bug to fix, rolled into our software systems and re-re-re-released with great fanfare.  And all the while the information was coming in – a tsunami made of 8 billion individual spigots left running and our collective sinks overflowing.  We see huge potential in this ocean of information.  Our flaw is in thinking that our old assembly-line thinking and linear systems can classify, index and handle it if only it gets just a bit more efficient.

This is not what brought us the revolutions in industry and information.  Intentional collaboration – directed, focused and goal oriented – gave us superior suspension in horse buggies, line-cook short-order restaurants and enterprise content management software systems. Accidental collaboration – interaction with information and insight regardless of original intent – gave us the GPS system from people listening to Sputnik and doodling calculations that determined its location in the sky, then reversing those to calculate positions on earth.  Accidental collaboration gave us Big Data, Big Insight and will drive the next phase of innovation.

This article originally appeared on on July 11

Why Your Company Wont Adopt Social Business Technology

BloomThink - Legacy Technology
Creative Commons Attribution by Flickr user   Pavel Lunkin

There are those who claim “email is dead”, “search is dead”, “ECM is dead”  and so on.  I’ve been guilty of that too.  We’re right but it doesn’t matter.  Technology is always superseded by better, faster, more disruptive technology.  But few businesses are in the business of spending money on the latest and greatest tech.

risk matrix
Image via from Ben Kepes’ post

We can decry the risks of not adopting.  We can outline the worst-case scenarios for not moving.  But the presence of risk, alone, does not motivate action.  Many of us drive to work in a car every day.  Yet there is a .02% chance we’ll be involved in a fatal car accident (PDF).  The risk is there.  It is real.  It is insignificant to most of us and doesn’t prevent us from engaging in “business as usual”.  We tend to operate in a risk evaluation matrix like the one to the right.

In all likelihood,  the risk of not adopting new tech and the business practices that come along with it is too low to warrant changing from established “traditional” business practice. In the absence of certain harm for not adopting, the “old proven ways” are seen as preferred. They can even be acknowledged as sub-optimal without such an acknowledgement triggering some sort of process improvement or remediation activity.

That is why obtaining “executive buy-in” and finding a champion is so important in these, the early days of social business (yes, we’re still in the early days of social business).

Look at places where there was rapid adoption of new technology and business process. I can think of one: Sarbanes-Oxley software. In the wake of Enron & Worldcom, the risks of *not* adopting SOX technology and workflow and audit practices was seen as too great a risk with harms all too certain for non-compliance (even accidental).

When looking at it from the side of the advocate, the invested, the social business champion, we can (rightfully) decry the lack of progress, the opportunity missed and the potential wasted in failing to change culture, practice and technology to leverage all the wonders new social tech has to offer. But the business community is reticent to change behavior unless the risks of not changing are too high and immediate to ignore OR the benefits are so immediate and great as to outweigh the inevitable pain of retooling, retraining and re-engineering process.

So we continue to work to demonstrate massive and immediate value.  We work to mitigate the pain of retooling.  We offer up best practices like this flow chart (PDF) and this step by step guide (PDF) to assist with retraining. So we work to demonstrate massive and immediate value. We work to mitigate the pain of retooling. We offer up blogs and best practices like this to assist with the retraining.

Meanwhile, we can take heart that we’re on the right path.  Business will progress at the pace of business and sometimes fortune favors the bold.  But, by definition, the bold are few.  So keep at it.  Social business has definite and demonstrable value.  Keep grinding.  The change will come.

Social Changes Everything About Workflow

The Easy Path
Creative Commons Attribution: Flickr user nattu

Those of us who come from the ECM world have been “business process sensitive” for a long time.  We have written, designed and implemented process centric content systems for many clients around the world even if they were covered under different names.  This is because we realized early on that business content is always the input to or the output from a formal or informal business process.  This is true even if it doesn’t have an encoded SOA, BPM or JMS structure behind it.

We called it workflow.  We called it integration.  That’s because it was. (tweet this)

The big challenge is that business processes are as complex as human interactions.  Business processes documented in Visio or some other workbench tool represent the optimal flow of information and tasks from one point to another.  But exceptions to these rules are rampant.  This is because humans are complex creatures and we will often do either whatever it takes or whatever is easiest to achieve a goal.  The path we pick depends on a massive amount of external factors – our mood, our interest in the task, how deep is our stake in the outcome, if we’ve had our morning coffee… This has given rise to complex event processing (CEP) and similar systems that acknowledge this complexity.  They attempt to brute-force their way through millions of contextual premises in order to work through to a single conclusive result.  That result is often the answer to the question, “what is our next step?”  Consequently, encoding processes for content / context centricity is often an exercise in triage and attrition rather than total state awareness with full exception handling.

The social revolution has taught us that people create the process they need at the time. (Tweet This!)  They figure out the path they need or want to achieve their goal.  This path is often not the most efficient but it is often the one that enjoys the most adoption.  This continues to pose challenges to systems inherently based on predicting and improving human efficiency by assuming that we can become more machine-like.

I suspect that this same concept explains (in part) why legacy ECM is having its lunch eaten by the much simpler and less sophisticated cloud systems like Box, Google Docs, slideshare, Dropbox and even facebook.  They focus on the goal – sharing information with others.  They leave the “how to make it happen” up to the people who figure it out.  It might be emailing a link.  It might be a social invite via the service itself.  It might be via web based plugins (e.g. via wordpress or linked in).  The point is that the services leave that responsibility up to you.

This is not to say that the way the legacy ECM systems integrate and share information with processes is wrong.  It works, but it’s restrictive and often cumbersome.  And let’s face it, we chafe at things that were not our idea.  We hate being told that there is only one way we have to do something.  This is why systems such as cloud ECM are enjoying a heyday: they let the humans be human and simply make the content easily available.  (tweet this!)