Saturday, August 28, 2010

God-Emperors of internet ?

I am a bit worried these days seeing Facebook grow (remember the founder's goals ...)

I was always a big fan of Dune, and while I am no expert about internet strategies, both Google and FB make me think about the plot of the last book in the Dune series, God-Emperor of Dune.

In this book, Leto, an expanded human, has mutated so as to understand (and somehow control) all the possible futures of humanity. The idea is to preserve humanity from extinction, but the means to achieve this is just perfect totalitarism ... built to self-destroy so that humanity will not be tempted again by "safety"...

Similarly, FB and Google self-proclaimed missions (organize and make available ALL human information) can be seen as positive goals. I am aware that, from a capitalist point of view, it is just monopoly in the making, but that is not the point I am trying to make ...

My point is that, if I follow Frank Hervert's plot, to really succeed, Facebook or Google (the one that wins the coming battle) will have to die and dissolve itself into the internet ... after it has given it all its assets.

In fact, and if I take Anderson's point of view about the coming death of the web, Google could be seen as the white knight that fights to preserve the WWW , even tough it has to perfectly dominate it to achieve that (Buzz, Wave, Google Friend Connect, ...). And after that, Google has to accept voluntary death ... that is, dissolve itself into the Commons ... Not the most likely outcome ?

Well, otherwise, and from a least poetic point of view, I hope regulators are muscling up, because the game is going to get tough ...

Friday, April 2, 2010

Death of E2.0 and birth of collaboration environment design

These past few weeks, I was back to a very intense consulting period, and was almost invisible in the "2.0" sphere (blogosphere and twitterville, basically).

It was an opportunity to think back on these past few months of E2.0 projects, and on the new developments I see appearing. I wonder whether Enterprise 2.0 is not dead ...

I do not mean that projects have stopped or that companies have lost interest in social technologies. I mean that, these past few weeks, I have been working on business issues in which social technologies and improved collaboration were considered as real options to deal with these issues.

There are three business areas in which social technologies and improved collaboration are considered as key improvement axes : innovation management; HR practices improvement; wide corporate transformation.

Social technologies and collaborative strategies are maturing much quicker than I had anticipated, at least in some companies. This should increase the pace of equipment with social platforms and wider collaborative environments. It should also put some pressure on small players, as corporate transformation does not accept partial solutions: building corporate-wide, comprehensive collaboration environments, is no longer a matter of wikis, blogs or microblogging solutions.

In fact, this "death" of E2.0 is an opportunity for CIOs to really think forward and start imagining what their own corporate collaborative environment could look like (see what Dion has to say about this). I forecast that business is going to put real pressure on state-of-the-art collaborative environments. Obviously, off-the-shelf solutions exist.

But they are not enough. Think about it : would you trust your building company to design your next industrial plant, or would you have your preferred architect meet with your manufacturing, R&D, management and supply-chain guys to design the plant best adapted to your industry challenges ?

This is exactly the challenge with collaborative environments. Use off-the-shelf solutions, and you will get average environments. Now think about what that will mean for your human capital, knowledge management, innovation management and client relationship strategies ... Exactly. Collaboration environment design just became your key strategic move.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Integrating social platforms with legacy systems - Microsoft, Dassault Systèmes or Google ?

I was lucky enough to be invited with one of my clients to Paris MS Campus to have a conversation about Microsoft social platform (Infopedia, AcademyMobile, Mingle, ...). It was the second time I had the opportunity to see a social platform. The first time was when I visited Dassault Systèmes. And when I think about the two approaches, I think we are in front of two major trends. The third one, obviously, is Google's.

I have written elsewhere that we will be quickly finishing the contribution era and entering the time of the builders, a time when employees (builders) will keep adding value through applications and not just through content (no matter how useful or brilliant). Appart from skills and behaviours (and that will take time), builders need an Enterprise Computing Platform (for want of a better name) and such a platform, to my mind, includes legacy systems, vertical systems and social systems.

The way I understand it, Microsoft proposes to integrate your existing systems into its social platform, to build an upgraded computing and social environment. The case of HR is interesting. HR systems (and mainly the job classification systems) is included in the social platform (namely, it appears in an employee social profile). How the social sphere impacts employees' development and appraisal remains every manager's choice.

What I see happening here is that the social platform becomes an upper layer, below which existing processes keep working as they used to. As someone at MS told me, the really useful knowledge, more often than not, is in your legacy systems. So MS will manage to have those legacy systems talk with the social platform, and it will actually try to feed some social data and content into those systems.

It is yet another layer that gets built.

I was impressed by Dassault Systèmes as much as I was by Microsoft, and yet their approach is fundamentally different. Dassault Social Platform, so far, is closer to an intranet to my mind; it is their vision that I find really amazing : Dassault proposes to rebuild your business through their modelling approach. Instead of just trying to link a social platform with existing legacy systems, I understand Dassault will propose to review your whole operation: starting from the service you plan to deliver to your customer, actually starting by modeling the entire customer experience and then modeling the processes, and the support systems around it.

It is basically a Toyota-like approach: dont build plants and then adapt them to several car models. Instead, design a model and build a plant around.

Those are two fundamentally different views of corporations, one that sees corporation as rather static beings and the other that sees them as continuously evolving organizations. The interesting point is that both approaches see value in fostering innovation through improved collaboration (which is what the social platform is all about, I think).

The third approach is represented by Google. When the GoogleStore opens up, you will have all resources you need to build an entire Enterprise Computing System, including ERP and social platform, and probably also the technology needed to develop your own internal applications.

So what will we have ? My take is:
  • Microsoft approach for incumbant corporations in slow growth markets, where price is an issue, and where reinventing the trade seems too difficult;
  • Dassault Systèmes approach for mid-sized to large corporations in growth markets, with complex industrial / knowledge processes, and where reinventing oneself is not an option but a survival strategy.
  • Google approach for extremely quick firms, probably operating in the social field, where there is little value in organization, and much more value in "network first, profit later". Useful probably for firms that do not plan to survive after their goal has been reached (a new species I see appearing quite soon).
What will be your choice ? Business, after all, starts with making bold choices ...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Why how your company thinks is important - the need for governance change

Some thoughts on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission

I have been all but floaded with posts and tweets on the above subject in the past few hours. It is an interesting issue, hotly debated in the United States, and it covers two issues, that I have first discussed in Robert Paterson's blog:
- How you treat corporations from a legal standpoint : treating corporations as legal persons (see corporate personhood) would almost naturally bring you to the decision taken by the Supreme Court;
- How corporations think and act internally, given the (overlooked) fact that they are legal persons that employ scores of natural persons, and yet, are not democracies. 

I discussed in my latest post why it was important to change the way a corporation thinks, using the OS analogy. The basic idea was that the increasing complexity of the economic, social and technological environment stretches the limits of the corporation's old industrial OS (taylorism, hierarchy, monolitic culture), and that social technologies provide an opportunity to reengineer this OS. 

If I push this idea a bit further (which is anyway where I want to go), what we also see is that, by working on ideas more than on products (intangible assets more than on tangible assets), corporations are slowly but firmly changing the human dimension they target. Let me be clear : industrial corporations helped increase the general well-being by developping utilities, infrastructures, basic products and services and (even though this is also often overlooked) by making hunger (in industrial countries) a sad exception. Corporations in the now-ending knowledge economy increased the part of intangibles in their operations.

I think this is fundamentally changing. Today, as most markets are mature and saturated (who would want to market cars, today ?), companies will compete for a share of attention, which is also a share of mind, of talent, of influence of each one of us. The human dimension that some of these new type corporations target is not physical well-being nor general consumption but values, beliefs, meaning. It's having all information flowing freely in the world within a "do no evil" philosophy; it's providing the people a technology so that they can invent new usages (see what Umair Haque has to say about ideals beating strategy in the 21st century).

So we have some corporations working on the very fabrics of society. And, oh, by the way, banks have taken on the business of creating money (and then using it to pay themselves bonus, that they can use in the real economy).

Another point. I will not speak here of SMEs, entrepreneurs or your average Mom & Pop business. Some corporations, though, are huge. Really impressive. I think McKinsey published something on mega-corporations being a key trend for this century. I do believe that is true. Some corporations are really too big to fail (from a social point of view). 

It is because such corporations have been given the legal person status that we have an issue to think about. Such corporations, today, try to have an influence on the landscape they compete in (business is business) and, with this Supreme Court decision, they have no real limit on what they can do.

Here, what we basically have then, are social structures (huge corporations ARE social structures) with influence in government affairs that are NOT democracies. Given the power that corporations will be gaining in the coming decades, when they work on ideals and attention, this will be entirely different from having industrial conglomerates that can lobby for the price of raw materials ... These corporations already behave as small societies, and some have for years already replaced the state or society for basic public services such as health, insurance, ...

I might be pushing this, but how different is this from having one of the 50 states not being a democracy ?

So, my opinion on all this ? Having corporations being able to influence political life is a real issue and I quite agree with people thinking about constructive capitalism, or with people trying to bring new, more collaborative ways and structures into the corporation. It's what I do. I also think the court decision did not really delve into what a corporation really is.

And that is what we need to think about now. I feel it is high time corporations governance included some references to democracy in the way key orientations are taken.  Once they reach a certain size, I certainly do not see why they should be governed by shareholders. And that seems a really tough political question to tackle

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Has the web changed the way your corporation thinks ?

 The year 2010 has but started and the web seems brand new to me these days as I read blog after blog : is it becoming a predictive, squared, intention web ? And as the persons polled  by Edge underline, will it change the way each of us thinks, individually ? Will it make this thinking shallower (or deeper) ? Will it push people from thinking to searching ? Will it allow rediscovering ways long ago forgotten ?

All of this and probably much more the web has accomplished or will accomplish shortly. Deeper, though, what the web is empowering is a new, key infrastructure in our society, a human infrastructure that changes the reach of our individual and collective thinking - and acting. This is, I believe, just a fact: the millions of people connected through social networks, the communities emerging, pursuing a purpose and dying in the social web, they have become a new human infrastructure. Look at what Brian Solis has to say about contextual networks.

How our individual thinking evolves is a question that will be debated for a long time, as it touches fundamental questions about what we are and what we are becoming. People like Ollivier Dyens or Ray Kurzweil have thought deeply about it.

To me, a more pressing and actionable question is, has the web changed the way your company thinks ? We all know that the web, along with this emerging human infastructure, is an environment for which the traditional, industrial company, is not ready. Young start-ups, the Googles and Facebooks of this world, were born in this environment. Not so for older companies, that still make the wast majority of an economy's players.

So, have you thought lately about your company's brain ?

From corporate OS ...

Because companies think, right ?

If we take some time to look back, companies, "enterprises" were at the beginning just that, enterprises born of the individual initiative, that is so cherised by neoliberal economists. Did they actually think ? It is likely that the question did not have a meaning for a long time. Companies accomplished  things, almost naturally (build, sell, ...). People in these companies had their thoughts, for sure, but if any thought was to be said to be a "company thought" that was the thought of the boss, the owner, the leader.

With industrialization, corporations began to think. Their thinking was like that of our first computers : limited and slow. But then, so was the economy. This thinking was based on what can be thought of as the first «corporate OS» : taylorism, hierarchy, corporate culture. If you think about it, one of the objectives of taylorism was to avoid shop-floor employees making decisions, in fact doing anything that had not been predicted by the management system, whether it was mechanical work, problem solving or even learning. Some people have defended that the very objective of all this was to be able to make predictions on profit (see André Gorz), and you cannot make (economic) predictions without accounting. It would not be that difficult to jump to the conclusion that accounting was the basic, unevolved thinking of the industrial corporation. We should also add some ideas about marketing and demand, and, more recently, TRS. Not quite poetry.

Complexity, in markets and in the economy at large, fostered a response from the corporation. As complexity grew, corporations began doing things that were not in their original genetic code. They began their mutation. Their environnement was hitting them hard with an accelerated stream of demands, social, economic, as the infrastructured that linked them to other companies, to the society, to the economy, began to grow and become more efficient.

We started thinking about the knowledge worker when the key issue was probably the knowledge corporation, this really being of a different kind than the industrial corporation. I think off the knowledge corporation as an evolved industrial corporation, still using the same OS, but adapted, stretched to its limits, to be able to manage relations in an evolved environment. Windows XP or Vista, if you want an analogy.

Just push that analogy a bit further and you will understand why, today, it is time to change that first corporate OS and help our corporations grow the brain they need to enter the conversation.

... to "deep brain"

Let me come back to that idea of corporate OS (I talked about it first in the French blog of Talent Club). We could look at the industrial corporation as a system with:
  • Ressources - raw materials, capital, people, ...
  • Users - basically, management, employees, clients
  • Applications - the practices and machines that allow users to make the system work
  • An OS - the principles that allow coordinating the activities of the different applications and allocating resources to them. In the industrial corporation, this OS included the org chart, hierarchy and some basic principles of corporate culture (management practices, ways of working).
What do we see happening (or should we see happening) in our corporations ?
  • Organization charts are being challenged (or complemented) by corporate social networks. A corporate social graph is surely better suited to identify and involve ressources in companies that compete in a market gone realtime;
  • Hierarchy as the only organizing principle is being challenged (Jon Husband explains this better than me) and new ways are being developed. I, for one, work most of my time at helping my clients develop their own collaborative ways;
  • Finally, the old, windows-based ways of working are being replaced with the new, more open, dynamic and collaborative ways of working that come from adopting and adapting web 2.0 tools.
Yet, this is all so more complex than just adopting Enterprise 2.0 tools... As a new human infrastructure has developed thanks to the web, so can it develop within the corporations that adopt Enterprise 2.0 tools. A new human infrastructure ...

It's not about intranet 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 or Social Networks, stupid ! It's not about challenging hierarchy ! It's about building the system (brain, organization, call it what you wish) that allows the corporation to adapt to the new competitive environnement by making its internal human infrastructure better than the existing, web based, human infrastructure. It's about reaching your corporate objectives (oh, you will need to revisit those, by the way) - satisfying your clients (oh, you also need to think again about client satisfaction) - rewarding your stakeholders (oh, you really need to know better who your stakeholders are).

Building your company’s deep brain and getting ready for the enhanced web in 2010

I wrote before that a deep brain was what a company needed to exist in this new, realtime web environment. And by exist, I mean business and meaning. It is the new, people-centered, corporate working environment that leverages both the strengths of the organization and of the social networks and technologies. I also wrote that the main difference between a company's brain and the internet-based, free, human infrastructure (quick brain) lied in how and why people made connections and what those connections were intended for.

My work in 2009 has allowed me to push those ideas just a bit further. If you want to build a deep brain (or, plainly speaking, if you plan to adopt social technologies in the interest of your company - and I mean interest in the context of constructive capitalism), here are a number of ideas you might look into.

  • First, technology. You do not buy technology anymore, you develop several platform strategies. Internalize key skills and leadership. Build a prototyping mode. Look first into your employees and clients future challenges. If your idea is just to have "collaboration technologies", stick to old MS Office;
  • Some examples here : do not buy a search engine, why not try developing the algorythm that fits you ?
  • Do not buy a social network, why not think about your own people-centered HR strategy ? And if that is not enough, involve the marketing and PR guys and make them think about client / partner collaboration;
  • You are all about idea generation software, folksonomy and social bookmarking ? First, why not try some evolution of your internal ways of working ?
  • And finally, management ... big question, what happens with management ? In my experience, nothing much, unless you give them a mission : make "social collaboration" (or whatever you want to call it) happen. I am lucky enough to have a client that has done just that. Obviously, you have understood also, that how he set people out on the mission was critical.
Leadership. It's all about governance. By governance, I mean that you need to go beyond what the board asks you to do. Beyond. Higher. It's about loosing micromanagement frenzies, quaterly objective pressures, alignment ideas, management engagement and all that stuff. Reinventing your job (earn that bonus, what the hell!) to reinvent your company.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Changing the way I think

I was not among the people that were asked "How is the Internet changing the way YOU think?" by Edge.  I just found out about this initiative as I was getting ready for a lecture on New Ways of Working.

Reading through the answers and reflecting on the question, I have to say that the internet has indeed changed the way I think.

First, I now relate differently to my sources. I rely less on names and official sources, on known bloggers or writters, and allow myself to search without precise direction for some time, relying on luck - in fact, believing in serindipity. Where I was used to reading I know have conversations with those sources, even though it takes me forever to finish a presentation or a post.

I spend much more time thiniking, in fact, than I used to, and thinking has become a structured activity, with different steps (deciding, looking for ideas, discussing the ideas, going back to the initial thought, formalizing, challenging, engaging in conversations). It's as if thinking today was not the same activity as it was some time ago.

Then, when I think, I now read, look and listen (to Ted, for instance), that is, I use more senses than I was used to.

And, more importantly, I am totally connected, with my reader, twitter, communities, all becoming available resources to help me deepen an issue. I prepare for non-connected periods, where I know I will do two things : some final deep thinking (but it rarely works well) or some easy, low value tasks (that I have to call thinking, because without them, I will not remember my own production).

So yes, definitily, the internet has changed the way I think. What I believe, though, is that my intellectual structure was already there, and probably because of that I am able today to manage these different sources, trends of thoughts, ideas, pieces of information, manage them and add my own little input.

After all, it's probably obvious the internet has changed the way we think. The important question is how the internet will change the way future generations think if it becomes the main element structuring their thoughts (as books ad teachers used to be for us). I am rather optimistic, not sharing what Maryssa Mayer thinks in the Edge piece, much more what Anderson writes. And in the end, being rather happy to participate in this new era that could deliver some collective wisdom.