How Social Business Software connects and enables distributed teams

In today’s operating environment the ability to bring dispersed teams together is becoming a critical business advantage.

Teams (focused on, for example, software development or support) often operate from scattered locations, their collaboration fittingly facilitated by technology. It is a time-honoured and cost-effective way of sourcing the best talent and input without having to hire for every new requirement or delay development due to a lack of available skills.

A jumble of bug and ticket tracking, communication and collaboration tools supports the intense interactions and vital outcomes of such teams. But do these tools represent the best technology has to offer?

Missing context

In short, they don’t.

While these tools do a great job of connecting teams and managing the flows and processes of projects and tasks, their ‘softer’ shortcomings are apparent in a virtual setting. Essentially, they do not offer a means to replicate the rich collaboration and knowledge transfer that naturally happens in teams that are physically close.

This problem can be overcome by using social business software (SBS) to augment the interactions of technology teams.

How does SBS help?

SBS tools use social media concepts such as newsfeeds, focus groups and messaging to facilitate conversations on topics of shared interest in organisational communities, thus bringing the ambience of physically close teams to virtual teams.

As one would share food, health, travel and shopping discoveries on social media, so developers like to talk shop in a social sphere. Leading SBS tools make it easy to share, document and manage approaches, methods and discoveries, thereby enriching collaboration and knowledge transfer and supporting hard project, or support, deliverables.

By comparison, tools that have a familiar place in the tech department, such as Jira and Basecamp, are highly structured — a digital checklist.

They set out the necessary workflows and ticket items that allow teams to keep track of software project deliverables, but do little to capture and use high-value learnings from conversations, such as fault-finding and trouble-shooting, reflection, user-feedback and retained learning which naturally occur within a development environment.

Talk AND action

This doesn’t mean that SBS is all talk and no action. Conversations can be both structured and spontaneous, and it’s easy to separate the two as important threads naturally prevail. Incorporation of hashtags and @ signs further allow for easy trends analysis and the search of conversations.

Another problem with using only traditional project tools is the limited scope given to users. Tickets are assigned to a limited number of people, which puts the talents of others out of range when seeking solutions to problems.

SBS tools, by contrast, allow questions to be put to a broader audience. It has often been our experience that someone in an organisation comes up with a breakthrough idea without being personally involved in a project.

SBS tools are also immensely useful with ‘on-boarding’ new team members, whether they are new recruits, temporary consultants or on secondment from within the company. A new member can easily go into conversation histories to check team members and their remits, contributions over time and a lot of other facets affording insight into how the team operates.

Someone who inherits an empty email inbox does not have quite the same advantage. (Nor does a ticket-based system give one the opportunity to delve into learnings as and when needed. Induction programmes would do well to adopt SBS as a means to access materials long forgotten as they become relevant to the new recruit again.)

Virtual organisations

These benefits are equally valid for tech teams within and outside organisations, for example working on open source, bespoke or community-based projects.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, even entire technology development firms can benefit from SBS as a business enabler combining onsite and remote working from different locations.

This kind of working arrangement can continue where necessary, not as a defining configuration, but as one that lends flexibility and speed to market responses. This sort of power and flexibility will find resonance with almost any organisation or association of individuals.

The rise of the Chief Collaboration Officer

Already a fixture in leading global companies that have embedded open innovation into their processes, the Chief Collaboration Officer (CCO) is a vital resource that all forward-thinking companies must invest in.

As businesses become more social and begin to open up new communication and collaboration channels, age old business processes and functions are radically being reengineered. As a result, and in order to tap into the collective brainpower of organisational stakeholders to open innovation and drive growth, someone has to run with it and that person is the CCO.

Why do we need a CCO?
The need for a CCO and support staff is especially pronounced at the outset of Social Business Software (SBS) adoption. Without training, SBS tends to spread through the enterprise like wildfire, but often ends up being used for ‘water cooler chats’ rather than its ability to rewire the organisation for productive collaboration and communication.

Establishing a CCO department goes beyond enthusiastic uptake, it can ensure that targeted groups are formed to serve tactical (project-based) and strategic purposes, and that they are maintained and fully utilised – putting the gains of a fully-functioning SBS implementation to work.

Any innovation or revelation harvested from SBS conversations could lead to the business making process improvements, advancing a strategy or embarking on a new direction. These must be highlighted to the proper entity to internalise, adopt and action as well as measure it. In other words, the influence of a CCO and support staff is most pronounced at the start but felt throughout the process, when social collaboration, communication and innovation have yet to be institutionalised. Without that guiding hand, it would be like trying to control the use of Facebook in the organisation.

The CCO will also constantly ensure alignment of SBS activities with strategic objectives, thus fuelling renewed energy in the business, encouraging a far more proactive approach to communication, and ensuring process transparency. In short, a CCO is charged with creating an open, connected business culture.

Who’d make a good CCO?
It is clear that a CCO is a catalyst for change but we’ve never had CCOs, and CCO courses aren’t yet taught in institutions of higher learning. So how do you know if someone is qualified to do the job?

Like any change management process, the job takes effort and drive to deliver the success that social business software is known for, and to instil a new way of doing things. In my view, senior professionals with a competency in technology, communications or marketing, coupled with a strong operational sense of the business, should find themselves in the running for a leadership position in your fledgling CCO department.

However to transform the organisation into an innovation powerhouse, the position of CCO is a board-level post. They must be able to develop and drive the execution of an enterprise social strategy, train and guide the team supporting social collaboration, monitor and measure social activities to achieve business and programme objectives. All this while working effectively across the organisation and liaising directly with C-level executives, strategists, market development and insight, brand development, communications, IT and Web teams.

One size does not fit all – but the promise of integrating the enterprise has unlimited potential continues Kappers. What is interesting is how few companies have actually embraced the idea and gone on to create a CCO role so it will be fascinating to see how the different roles play out over time and in different industries, as companies’ strategies mature.

There are great and diverse collaboration technologies out there today and collaboration itself has become increasingly important to businesses and as they find themselves increasingly surrounded with the ‘social-ness’ that the changing business environment demands, having a C-Suite executive that brings it all together to access the truly transformative possibilities of SBS and deliver results will become critical. Welcome to the team CCO.

Gys Kappers is the Co-founder and CEO of Wyzetalk, Africa’s leading Social Business Software Platform. Gys’s Masters thesis on ‘the delay of social business software adoption in the enterprise and its effects” have won him international acclaim.

Social Business Software: A time capsule for business ideas

Innovation plays an integral role in the longevity and existence of any startup or company, irrespective of which line of work you are in. Customers today are always looking for what their service providers can do for them. And they want you, as the service provider, to provide them with solutions to problems before they even realise there is an issue.
Companies are also struggling to retain important knowledge and intellectual value, as key skills are sometimes lost to competitors looking to get ahead in a highly complex and competitive marketplace.
And then there are external factors; due to a unique mix of economic and political variables, South Africa continues to suffer the devastating consequences of a seemingly unstoppable brain drain. As we bleed skills and knowledge to other countries, organisations’ output and competitiveness continues to suffer, and the cost of re-seeding lost competence and specialisation is both prohibitive and completely unnecessary.
In an effort to fight the brain drain that may exist within a company, it’s important to take note of, and address, what the concept of ‘knowledge’ is. Underlying the problem of knowledge retention in the face of high staff turnover are a few common misperceptions about knowledge itself.
Knowledge, according to Davenport and Prusak (1998), is “a fluid mix of … experiences, values, contextual information and expert insight.”
Don’t get side-tracked — the point is that all of these are transferable and can be made accessible to anyone in a company. Whereas dealing in specialised or privileged knowledge is necessarily role-based in companies, its creation (a process known as innovation) does not happen solely within the realm of job specialisation, talent or inspiration. Knowledge can be created and amplified, over and over again, by merely practising well-institutionalised innovation processes and not limiting processes to a select few.
With the attainment of knowledge thus demystified, it follows that the more participation in its creation, the better. The potential for innovation is everywhere in companies. It exists outside of R&D, tech departments and even the executive team — it does, however, exist with everyone from your staff, business partners, customers, shareholders and the general public.
The more people that participate in the creation of your innovation process, the merrier your output is likely to be. The creativity process shouldn’t be restricted or boxed, and once channels are put in place to allow overall participation, it allows companies to maximise the sharing of knowledge and the building of seeded ideas.
Many strategies have emerged on multiple fronts to plug the knowledge sink-holes that appear with the on-going skills crisis, but few have asked: how can we capture the knowledge people contribute and possess tacitly? And how can capturing it be made integral to our company’s processes?
Those who have asked these questions have relied on knowledge management and communication tools, but all these technologies have, so far, failed to capture and make knowledge easily accessible within a company:
• Email, is not a collaborative technology at heart, it doesn’t lend itself to mass participation or information management. It’s also largely based on assumption (that someone will receive it and respond) and accuracy (that it’ll get to the right person).
• Most intranets are digital notice boards or document storage facilities with little opportunity for interactive discussion.
• Knowledge management platforms have failed to inspire mass uptake in companies due to their complexity.
Technologies that truly assist in the capture, creation, sharing and documentation of knowledge have therefore yet to be deployed en masse, but with the emergence of social business software (SBS) we’re starting to get the right answers.
SBS is a compelling, intuitive way of communicating that ignites participation and lets companies conduct all their conversations in one place. It gives organisational stakeholders a collective — or group-based — platform within which to contribute to the corporate conversation, safely and equally. It is private, it’s secure, it can be aligned to different audiences, different stakeholders and your different objectives.
As SBS is fundamentally based on the principles of collaboration, it allows for the amplification of knowledge. And in sharing knowledge, SBS also aids the creation of knowledge. Although ideas are formed in the minds of individuals, interactions between individuals play a critical role in developing these ideas. Social business communities can span geographical, departmental or indeed organisational boundaries. It also acts as a searchable knowledge repository for documents and best practices, even once someone has moved on.
In the face of rampant skills losses and erosion of knowledge, SBS can help companies retain the value created by individuals and groups and capture their tacit knowledge. Hopefully that captured knowledge may guide and inspire others long after they’re gone, and even get new recruits up to speed before they join.
Sometimes an idea isn’t ready to be implemented today, but could be a great idea/business model in years to come, however if this knowledge isn’t captured and restored it may never flourish.

Innovation and the Importance of Culture

Why is it that 80% of business leaders feel that innovation is vital to survival yet only 4% feel that they are doing anything about it?

Organisations and their leadership teams typically view innovation at another level… something abstract. Imagine viewing it as a ‘what to do?’; how can we, as an organisation, behave differently?

Too often executives may think that they are coming up with really good and novel ideas – where in fact they are simply variations on an old theme. Whenever one comes to a make an important management decision it is imperative that considerable attention in given to defining the problem correctly.

The rapid change in the business environment brought about by technological innovation, socio-cultural development, economic fluctuations and other factors means that there needs to be an overall understanding of what is going on.

Decision-making and problem solving both rely on the supply of information in order to make logical choices. Oftentimes defining the problem itself and coming up with ideas that represent viable alternatives for consideration pose considerable difficulties. This leads me to suggest that leaders need to foster a culture of Divergent Thinking.

During our consultations and during our implementations of Social Business Software within organizations, we typically see a number of standout issues:

  • Organisations, on the whole, are terrible and communicating;
  • People compete rather than co-operate with each other;
  • People fail to work as cross-functional teams preferring to stay in organisational silos;
  • Meetings are unproductive and lack any formal innovation programmes and techniques;
  • Organisations, typically, are unwilling to consider external and fresh perspectives.

If you believe that there is a fresh way to look at things, that real change can and will lead to more innovations within your businesses through the implementation of Social Business Software then consider doing the following:

  • Institute an innovation programme that is framed as part of a marketing plan or a corporate strategy;
  • Implement a reward system for innovation;
  • Create a budget for innovation to build an ecosystem that drives creative problem solving;
  • Seek ideas from outside the organisation through the creation of external Social Business Communities that engages your customers and suppliers;
  • Getting the leadership teams to clarify the mission, vision, core purposes and core values to the enterprise on the Social Business Software Platform;
  • The leadership teams need to communicate frequently with the rest of the enterprise;
  • Share skills and knowledge within the Social Business community.
  • Make meetings more productive:
    • Meetings are necessary and if done properly can be productive and energetic. By having discussions through event creations on a social business software platform, one gets to be more prepared.
    • You get to set goals and make decisions
    • Start and finish on time
    • Introduce a disciplined approach and keep to it.

Gys is the Co-founder and CEO of WyseTalk (Pty) Ltd. Africa’s leading social business software platform. Gys’s Masters thesis entitled ‘The delay of Social business Software in the Enterprise and its effects’ has won him international acclaim.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enterprise Social Network Trends 2014

Welcome to 2014 and my first blog of the year. I thought I would start by writing a short piece on my predictions for 2014.

Bring your own device (BYOD) will become integrated fully within the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) ecosystems and will become mainstream.

With this, smaller, real time networks will explode. ESN will allow information to be shared amongst employees and its customers.

The asynchronisation of mobile and ESN will enhance collaboration to increased levels of shared knowledge. If coupled with open innovation, organisations can significantly enhance their performance. The top ESN platforms allow for seamless integration with existing internal systems as well as external social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN.

By aligning the analytics and statistics from existing systems with social networks through the top level ESN platforms organisations are enabled to apply these learnings, take real action, solve problems and predict trends.

gys is the co-founder and CEO of Wyzetalk, Africa’s leading Social business software platform. His 2012 masters thesis on: ‘the delay of social business software adoption in the enterprise and its effects’ have received global acclaim.