Does everybody need a blog?

Posted by Brett Young | Friday, March 27, 2009 | , | 0 comments »

We introduced blogging within our enterprise nearly two years ago. It has been an excellent way for senior managers to connect with people at all levels of their organizations. The executive blogs have been extremely popular among individual contributors who enjoy the opportunity to interact directly with their senior leader. They see it as a refreshing move toward transparency and breaking down traditional hierarchy. Based upon the number of comments, these blogs are generate a lot of interest and passion. At this point, there are about a dozen senior leader blogs across the enterprise. However, as we look to the future, we would like to enable any person within the enterprise to publish their own blog. The response from some executives is, "Why does everyone need a blog?"

Given that we have only used blogs for a single purpose to date, namely for senior executives to communicate, share, and interact with their large organizations, it's no wonder they're not familiar with other use cases. Here are some use cases that support the idea of giving everyone a blog:
  • Knowledge Management - Blogs can be used to capture and publish knowledge that someone else can later find and use. A personal blog can replace a paper notebook or diary and contain ideas, best practices, and lessons learned.

  • Personal Branding - Blogs can be a platform that individual use to sell their personal brand. It can highlight skills, accomplishments, and results. This information is searchable to those who are looking for people with particular experience.

  • Meeting Notes - Blogs are a great repository for meeting notes/minutes. People with a wireless laptop can "live-blog" during the meeting and publish their notes in real time, for the benefit of others who will be able to search them later.

  • Status Reports - Status reports for individuals or projects can be stored within a blog. This makes it easy to view a series of status reports in context. Managers can subscribe to the feeds of their employees' or projects' blogs so that they are kept informed, with minimal overhead.

To be successful, blog technology should be accompanied with specific process change that incorporates blogging. These process changes must be driven from the top-down. For example, a manager might mandate that going forward all status reports must be recorded within a personal blog, and not in email. This type of mandate provides the necessary impetus to begin changing the culture. You cannot expect most people to voluntarily adopt new technologies if the technologies are perceived as being separate from their work processes.

In most cases, blogging replaces functions that are performed within email today. However, a blog has tremendous advantages over an email message. A blog has single instance storage. It is sharable and searchable. A blog can be tagged or categorized, to make it easier for people to find content later. A blog is linkable. (Try linking to an email.) You can syndicate blog content using RSS or ATOM. Blogs maintain context and allow people to comment on posts and other comments.

What are some creative ways that you are using or plan to use blogs within your enterprise? What are you doing to encourage blog adoption among the masses?

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There's been a lot of anti-SharePoint buzz in the Enterprise 2.0 blogosphere as of late. Most of the negativity is based on the fact that MOSS 2007 is seriously lacking with respect to social computing features. Not even Microsoft debates that point anymore. The following is an excerpt from a blog post by Oscar Berg of The Content Economy that summarizes this position very well:

"SharePoint / MOSS 2007 is designed for the (Windows) desktop and for collaborating on office documents inside the corporate firewalls. It is not designed for collaboration in broader terms - not even for simple file sharing if it goes across corporate firewalls. Furthermore, it is not designed for the web, it has only rudimentary Web 2.0 features and tools (such as blogs and wikis), it is not built with Web 2.0 technologies, and it lacks core Web 2.0 qualities such as ease-of-use. Despite all this, SharePoint is platform with a lot of capabilities which can be extended and leveraged through customization, third-party tools and complementary products and services. The key problem is just that many of the companies that have bought SharePoint 2007 believe they got more than just the basic capabilities out-of-the-box. They might not be ready for additional investments. This will most likely hold back the value they can get from their original investment in SharePoint."

Oscar's position should not come as a surprise any of us who are familiar with both Enterprise 2.0 and MOSS 2007. Here are my thoughts:
  • MOSS 2007 is not a good choice for an Enterprise 2.0 platform. It is a good choice in meeting much broader collaboration and content management requirements. So if you're looking for the latter, either accept SharePoint as a weak Enterprise 2.0 platform or plan to augment SharePoint with best-of-breed Enterprise 2.0 add-ins and tools.

  • The Enterprise 2.0 features in MOSS 2007 (i.e. blogs, wikis, profiles, etc.) they are infinitely more than what a lot of enterprises have today. Therefore, MOSS 2007 may still represent an important step in the right direction toward Enterprise 2.0.

  • Enterprise 2.0 is really more about a cultural shift in the way we do work than it is about implementing a specific set of technologies. This cultural shift is necessary regardless of the technologies we implement. Based on the maturity level of most companies, SharePoint may adequately support their Enterprise 2.0 cultural shift.

  • While MOSS 2007 is a weak Enterprise 2.0 platform, I hold out hope that future versions of MOSS improve significantly. While I don't expect MOSS 14 to be perfect, I do expect that it will meet our Enterprise 2.0 requirements for the next few years.

  • Although my preference is to use MOSS 2007 out-of-the-box, there are times when 3rd-party add-ins make sense. The MOSS wiki, for example, is particularly bad. The Kwizcom WikiPlus add-in is a good example of what Microsoft partners are doing to take advantage of MOSS's current shortcomings.

Are you concerned about MOSS 2007's social computing limitations? Or do you agree with me that it is good enough for where most of us are at right now?

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Is Software-as-a-Service Ready for You?

Posted by Brett Young | Tuesday, March 10, 2009 | | 0 comments »

Gartner predicts that by 2012, 20% of the commercial email market will shift from premise-based to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). This is up from only 1% in 2007. Of course, email is only the beginning. Instant messaging/ presence, team workspace, productivity tools, and more are starting to be offered as SaaS from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, Google, and others. If you talk to the vendors, they're ready for you today. They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into new data centers. They have tweaked their software to support an SaaS model. And, they are actively recruiting customers to make the switch from on premise to SaaS. Are you ready to go? How will you know when the timing is right?

While I am convinced that SaaS is real trend that will eventually pay-off. I'm not convinced that it is right for everyone, not yet. Beyond the hype, each SaaS opportunity must be evaluated on its ability to reduce long-term expense while sustaining quality and compliance. Every company must define what quality and compliance is for them. SaaS is not fully prepared to meet everyone's definition of quality and compliance for a price that is less that what they are paying today.

Here are five actions we can begin now to help us prepare for SaaS in the future:
  1. Transition to "Out-of-the-Box" - The reason that SaaS vendors can offer communciation and collaboration services at a lower cost than many premise-based solutions is that they can recognize massive scalability. This can only be accomplished through shared, multi-tenent infrastructures. It also assumes that all of these tenents are using the same "out-of-the-box" software. If you have customized your on premise solutions to meet your company's special business requirements, it will be difficult to upgrade, let alone migrate to SaaS. Make "out-of-the-box" a design principle going forward. It may require altering some business processes. However, it will ultimately position your company for future cost-cutting options such as SaaS.

  2. Know your cost - It is impossible to know whether SaaS provides value unless you understand your current cost structure. SaaS vendors can assist you in developing a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) model that incorporates all of your platforms costs. Remember, that acquisition and implementation are usually a fraction of the cost of ongoing support and maintenance. As you track your costs against that of SaaS, you will be able to forecast the point at which SaaS may be viable, from a cost perspective. However, cost is only part of the consideration.
  3. Understand Your Requirements - Besides cost, you must know what requirements must be met to consider SaaS viable. Here are some questions you should ask: How will you integrate your applications? Do you need encryption? Do you need directory/security integration? How will you manage single sign-on? Do you have legal hold and discovery requirements? Do you have records retention requirements? What are your message hygiene requirements? Do you have special regulatory requirements? Are you able to use a shared infrastructure? How will you manage storage limits? What are your service level requirements? How will the support structure work? How will you coexist between on-premise and SaaS solutions? There are probably many more. Devote plenty of time to understanding the minimum requirements that SaaS must deliver to be viable.
  4. Monitor the Marketplace - The SaaS vendors will provide you with an impressive list of customers already using their services. However, you will quickly notice that there are few if any government agencies or financial services firms represented. Most of the large early adopters have been from the manufacturing industry, which is often early at realizing cost benefits. Manufacturing is also less regulated than government and finance. Keep a close eye on the marketplace and when you start to notice the regulated industries jumping aboard it will signal that SaaS vendors have reached an appropriate level of maturity for most industries.
  5. Start a Small Pilot - The best way to start to experience the benefits and drawbacks of SaaS is to start using it. Ideally you could identify a small number of people who could switch completely to a SaaS-based solution. However, there are some potential challenges for these people. For example, will they be able to access your corporate directory? Will they be able to do a free-time search? Will they be able to IM people on the on-premise platform? If the pilot people are separated too much from everyone else, they will not be able to effective evaluate it. The lessons learned around coexistance will be directly applicable to your future rollout. Coexistance may even be your long-term strategy if you opt for a hybrid approach where some users connect to premise-based services and others to SaaS solutions. You may need to do a small pilot every year to get a sense for how SaaS is evolving to meet your needs.

Although we're starting to see some companies make the leap to SaaS, it is still relatively immature. By following the guidelines above, you will be better positioned for making the SaaS decision when it truly benefits your company. For some of you, that could be many years from now.

Are you considering SaaS? What have you done to start preparing?

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