Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Observations From Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2011 Santa Clara

I have long had an interest in the intersection of knowledge management and business intelligence.  I attended the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Santa Clara this week to find out what, if anything, those two areas had to do with social media.  I went for the free Expo-only pass because I'm far too cheap to pay for special access programs.  I'll be speaking at those seminars anyway someday.  It is my destiny. 

The Tuesday keynotes were full of practical tips from people who walk the enterprise collaboration talk in the real world.  Paige Finkelman introduced two themes with imagery borrowed from Dr. Seuss: unlocking internal value that can be expressed in business metrics, and technical aspects of software and infrastructure that would appeal to a geek IT architect.

Adam Graff and Andy Wang of Genentech talked about how difficult it is to see technology vendors' plans more than a few months out because the speed of innovation simply destroys any long range enterprise IT strategy.  I take that as a warning to product developers at these 2.0-type conferences not to burden their corporate customers with bulky legacy systems.  These guys mentioned how off-the-shelf applications from Ning and Yammer eventually displaced the blogs and wikis developed in-house.  Their Genentech IT developers had built those initial platforms and walked away without considering the lifecycle of the technology.  I surmise that the off-the-shelf solutions added value when the original custom stuff couldn't adapt to changes.  I also learned about a new career field called "enterprise anthropologist."  This must be a fancy term for the Groupaya consultants who mapped out Genentech's social dynamics to figure out why some groups excelled at collaborating.  I wonder how an enterprise anthropologist spends their days . . . deciphering Dilbert cartoons posted in cubicles . . . digging through piles of year-old meeting announcements . . . ah, what an enriched life.  Their final admonition against treating cute new tech solutions as a field of dreams is worth remembering.  If you build it (a platform), they (users) won't necessarily come without a strategy and the dedicated attention of change agents.  It also means that ghost baseball players won't understand IT. 

Rachel Happe of The Community Roundtable said continuing adaptation is required just to stay in place.  That made me think of the old adage that a shark always has to keep swimming or it will die.  That in turn made me think about YouTube clips from cheesy shark horror movies so I had to snap my brain back to the lecture hall before I missed something else important.  Ms. Happe said people are the weakest link because they (and the culture they create) change more slowly than tech, so gap analysis should figure out how people can be strategic differentiators.  You said it.  Some of the people I've worked with at large investment firms must have fallen through those gaps, so gap analysis may not find those fools unless it looks all the way to the volcanic vents on the ocean floor. 

Ms. Happe's other insights came in rapid fire.  Customer forgiveness is a "Web PR disaster avoidance" phenomenon that raises margins (and all this time I thought it was just the result of customers not paying attention to extra fees a sales force is charging).  Strong relationships with internal peers and external customers give rise to their offers of help (which I think is preferable to screaming "I've fallen and I can't get up!").  "Competitive lockout" adds revenue . . . uh, pardon me, what is that?  Is that when you get first mover advantage?  Or is that something that happens when you rush to the restroom stall before everyone else after the coffee break at Enterprise 2.0?  I guess that's another newfangled term but I have no idea what it means.  She finished by saying that social media can sustain a relationship but building one requires direct engagement.  I can only think of one way that a remote relationship can be initiated without meeting someone physically:  prison pen pals.  Anything else means you have to shake hands first. 

Next up on Tuesday's keynote lineup was Tim Young, who sold his firm to VMware and became their VP for Social Enterprise.  Good for you, Tim!  Guys like him tend to get restless at a big company, so I'll be interested in hearing about any future startup he has planned.  Mr. Young's insight was that a single-page hi-res photo was a simple way to communicate personal identity.  His message of simplicity will be lost on Facebook.  I've noticed the increasing frequency of changes Facebook's engineers make to the ways people tag, like, and share stuff.  All of those bells and whistles require constant engineering attention, and constant tinkering will eventually frustrate users.  Tim's grew its user base much faster than Facebook because it was so much simpler to use.  Twitter works the same way.  Tim's lesson is that all of the additional investment that firms put into tools for larger communities will lead to decreasing marginal returns because more complex tools are less attractive to users. 

Tim's latest work adheres to the simplicity meme.  He creates simple metrics about how employees feel about their day so managers can be better coaches; they can compare this data across work groups for insights into groups' relative health.  In the U.S. Army, we call this a Command Climate Survey but all the Army units I've served in only measured this metric once every year.  I truly believe the Army could benefit from a simple metric, measured daily, that commanders could use to evaluate how effective a unit is performing under the stress of combat.  Yes, folks, the Army does knowledge management too.  The Army is also trying to find ways to field smartphones with apps tailored to combat operations.  Hmm . . . a soldier logs on to his squad's smartphone in Kandahar province . . . launches the app tracking his patrol's effectiveness . . . rates it plus or minus (a Six Sigma method) for that day . . . the battalion TOC collates the data and the S-3 briefs the commander on the unit's daily self-assessment.  Now the commander finally has some situational awareness on how quickly he's moving along a logical line of operation toward an objective.  Folks, I think I'm on to something here.  Tim Young, your lecture may save American lives someday. 

Kevin Jones, a consultant, was another keynote speaker.  In case you're wondering, I really did take notes on all of them because I take knowledge acquisition pretty seriously.  According to Kevin, failures can be pandemic, catastrophic, or intrinsic.  The intrinsic failures are the ones you want to have because they enable growth.  I'll remember that the next time I lose at poker in Las Vegas; my failure wasn't pandemic (Las Vegas odds favor the house) or catastrophic (I bet my life savings and lost my shirt) but intrinsic (I need to develop a poker face instead of grinning like an idiot when I pull a royal flush). 

The end of the Tuesday keynote series was heralded by a panel moderated by Sameer Patel with guests Tom Kelly and Jonathan Schwartz.  I don't know any of those dudes but they must be pretty renowned in tech to be on this panel.  Stream of consciousness highlights follow . . . social media content isn't limited to a traditional audience . . . CEOs are slow to participate but those who do can become rock stars . . . a big pharma maker drove down its supply chain costs by using social tools to rapidly discover and broadcast solutions.  Good job, guys.  Put that stuff into an e-book and sell it. 

I made a beeline for the expo floor after I ate a sandwich that was too expensive but readily available.  One of the first people I met was a Benedictine priest.  What was he doing at a tech conference?  God only knows.  I should also mention that attractive women were typical staffers at the well-attended booths.  Vendors absolutely must have a stable of attractive-looking employees staffing their booths at trade shows, along with copious amounts of free pens and candy, to have any hope of getting attendees to stop by long enough to hear a sales pitch.  The only booth that had none of those things was a booth for the human resource community staffed by two frumpy old maids with no candy, pens, electronic displays, or even personality.  It was times like these that reminded me just how my utterly worthless bachelor's degree in HR from Notre Dame was the single biggest mistake I had ever made in my life.  I'm only grateful that I made this mistake early in my career so that I never had the misfortune to work with frumpy old maids in HR.  I gravitated to finance, where the women are much hotter.

Speaking of hot, the hottest booth at the show belonged to Spigit.  These guys went nuts with a mascot dressed like a giant green eraser and a display case full of cold, hard cash (my favorite thing in the world besides booze and chicks).  Photographic proof is below.

In case you need a reminder, the remarkably handsome fellow giving the thumbs up with the Spigit mascot is yours truly, Tony Alfidi.  I know how to party.  I party like a rock star with giant green erasers. 

The vendors I liked most were ionGrid for their Nexus secure document access platform, Actiance for their apps that enable financial services compliance departments to review social media content, Bunchball for their gamefication (another new term to learn!) of social media usage, and NationalField for their recap of how social media plugged into KM played a role in the 2008 presidential election.  The seminar (okay, it was really a disguised product pitch session) from Bunchball's Steve Patrizi revealed that tapping basic human motivators for achievement, status, and rewards can incentivize social media users.  I had no idea that LinkedIn's profile completion progress bar was the single most important factor driving users to adopt that platform.  I came away convinced that simple blog widgets that incorporate game mechanics can help build a blog following.  I'm going to test that theory ASAP. 

I noticed that many of the vendors' platforms looked a whole lot like some melding of Facebook and Microsoft SharePoint.  That's the whole point.  Collaboration tools like Facebook's walls and news feeds motivate people to find and share the work products displayed in SharePoint.  How about that.  The products all seemed to be plug-and-play solutions that could easily be grafted onto an existing enterprise-wide IT architecture, irrespective of whether the host is an all-encompassing behemoth like SAP or a mix of smaller tools. 

Thanks Enterprise 2.0!  I couldn't make it back for the Wednesday sessions but what I learned Tuesday made it worth my while.  I want UBM TechWeb to invite me to be a keynote speaker next year.  I promise I'll make the experience memorable.  ;-) 

Full disclosure, 08/11/2015:  I edited this article to remove several sentences and one photo that were irrelevant to the content of the event.  The removed content did not add value to my discussion.  My editing streamlined the paragraph that mentioned the priest and the HR community.