DeJa Vu – A lesson for social media

A colleague and friend of mine Martin Howitt has just started blogging outside the comfort of our team blog, where he was the most active blogger. I should blog more over there and will do in the coming weeks about IT/Business Alignment and the benefits of Enterprise Business Architecture in reducing the “lost in translation” effect that often happens when business folk talk to IT and vice versa. I am current fascinated by this issue as it can also help explain some of the issues and negative perceptions that people have about social media.

Anyway, Martin has provided an excellent post on the ROI potential of Social Media and had provided some great seeds for others to hopefully expand  and build on.

Martin states:

it’s probably time someone tried to start mapping out the benefits of SM right across the piece so that a full business case can be made by those who are trying to make the change in their own organisations.

via The social media ROI braindump « Martin Howitt’s blog.

This is the DeJa Vu aspect of the post – haven’t we been here before, with email and council websites and online services?

What we need to remember here though in all this conversation around Social Media ROI is that it wasn’t that long ago, that some councils didn’t even have websites and that officers within councils had to construct a business case for email (yes really a business case for email) – but don’t we all have one ( or even more) now and don’t we all believe even the doubters of social media that email, is a tool that if switched off would have a detrimental effect on how businesses run and function.

The shift and progress around local council websites was helped by the now infamous eGovernment agenda, but credit also needs to go to Socitm who year on year publish Better Connected (whether you like it or not, it provides a snapshot of what is happening) – eGov also did many good things but in my humble opinion failed to address the real issues in technology innovation – again a topic which i will touch on in my IT/Business Alignment post. But we also need to remember that a number of councils had websites before this and were doing some great innovative work on them including online services.

My council (Devon County Council) has had a website (as well as a basic intranet) since around 1998 and it grew organically much like other websites, starting with a strong tourism and visitor information presence into other council services and information resources. I wasn’t involved in the web at that time but i can imagine the type of discussions that were had about developing a County Council website, were quite similar to what people are saying now about social media sites. What is the benefit, how many people will use it, it won’t and doesn’t reach everyone yet….and so on. The key message is, you HAVE to start somewhere and you HAVE to be patient, even more so with social media as we are dealing with relationships and connections with real people, not transaction or visitor statistics.

We (local government) were given targets and timescales to get our websites up to date and up to speed with a set of basic requirements plus a sprinkle of transactions. The ROI that is being used and promoted is that the cost of interacting with people over the web is cheaper and more cost-effective, well it can be if your services are connected to your back office and people are not having to intervene in the process.

BUT where eGovernment failed in my opinion is that instead of focusing on developing online transactions that people actually wanted to use and demonstrated a high volume potential (based on local need and preference) we were mandated to deliver all of them in one way or another. So for most people eGovernment became one very large technology project and it lost the support of people in the business due to the amount of time available.  Plus with so many services developed, the marketing message became diluted with so many services that not many people used. We could be in danger of doing this again unless we start to connect people in the business to the opportunities and technologies out there, whether this is social media tools or not.

OK, so this is where Martin’s post for me gets really interesting. It starts to connect business terms with outputs and opportunities of Social media   – Martin picks out 9 areas, here are a three of them:

  • Infrastructure (administrative management of eg buildings) -> need maintenance and planning (and even strategy) -> SM can streamline maintenance processes, alerts, and educate people in how to get the best out of their investments.
  • technology -> Social media can reduce email, provide mashups, enhance remote, mobile and flexible working. This is a big topic in itself.
  • HR management -> social media tools can be used to provide early warnings of things that are bothering the workforce, ways to access employee resources (like workplace counselling or learning and development); conversely the blocking of social media sites can be demotivating for employees

What WE and i mean everyone who is currently able to work on this stuff proactively, needs to start looking at the metrics and agreeing some consistent ways in which we can demonstrate effectiveness and cost savings. We also need to really start looking at the business issues which our employers have and be flexible enough in our approaches to accept that social media won’t work everywhere.

I think we need to start with opportunities where there is a desire and opportunity to demonstrate value. It sounds obvious but i often here people talking just about twitter or facebook without linking that to a specific business objective. It seems to be more about demonstrating twitter and facebook can work instead of demonstrating that we can improve business outcomes by using a new set of technologies and tools. It is only then we will actually start seeing the ROI of these tools, but it will always become complicated because it will in nearly all cases be part of a wider provision including face to face, telephone, web etc.

For me, all of the tools provide exciting opportunities but that is all they are until i can connect them to a business problem in my council. The new skill for social media people won’t be about the tools but will be about understanding business (people) problems. Which is afterall one of the key features of anything “social”.




#khub – IDeA Knowledge Hub

Yesterday I attended the IDeA Knowledge Hub Advisory Group in London at the IDeA offices.

Before today my only awareness of the hub was based on sporadic conversations with Steve Dale, which sparked enough interest for me to talk to colleagues internally and see the opportunities for the hub to solve a wide range of business issues being raised in my council.

It really has the potential to transform how the public sector and in-particular local government can share learning and collaborate on improving services. It will mean some pretty fundamental challenges to how practitioners get involved in sharing experiences and practices that a peer community can promote as practice worth repeating.

But also the hub sets out a new direction for the IDeA itself from:

The IDeA supports improvement and innovation in local government. We work with local authorities and their partners to develop and share good practice. We do this through networks, online resources, and support from councillor and officer peers – quote directly off the IDeA website

The khub transforms that relations and reverses their whole business model to one which gives control and ownership of the practice, publishing and content creation to the local government sector. A model that in time could signal the end of the IDeA as we know it today. It would essentially reposition the organisation to one which facilitates the knowledge creation and supports practitioners through learning and training programmes. But also the hub in time could be even bigger than that and could lead to being part of a more open, transparent government and foster a real knowledge sharing culture in the sector and wider. All based around story telling and first hand learning.

So I guess you may be asking “what is the knowledge hub?” Well conceptually that is sort of straight forward to explain but at this point in time practically what it takes is some diagrams and some excellent presentations from Steve Dale and Ingrid Koehler.

Steve Dales slides

Ingrid Koehler slides on Social Media Strategy

The Advisory Group itself was quite small but mainly due to other commitments not through interest, although it did have some usual suspects in and around the social media movement.

What i think some of the major challenges will be in relation to the Khub is the change in the underlying culture that restricts or stops people from sharing practice worth repeating and individual learning experiences. This is essentially the challenge to allow conversations and people to connect in new innovative ways without imposing barriers or silos over them to restrict those conversations.

I believe that everyone in all parts of the public sector understand the need for improvement and the challenge in identifying where and how improvement might occur, but if we could create and foster a culture that made learning a natural and fundamental part of our work i believe the Khub would revolutionise the sector as a whole. We also recognise the power of the social networks (offline) we are all part of that help us do our work and contribute to our learning. The opportunity is to widen those networks and to use the technology to connect people to conversations they may not have had access to.

There are also challenges within each council or public sector body, as it isn’t always straight forward and easy to surface the current practice that happens on the front lines, as most practice is often documented by policy officers who then rework policy to try and drive improvement, this process however is flawed because of the time it takes to go through that cycle.

The opportunity the Khub could provide is access to “live” improvement and learning information. We would then need to understand how our processes could and should change to allow progressive change and improvement and the policy aspect needs to be more fluid and dynamic to enable the freedom for front line practitioners to continuously improve their services.

The whole thing is exciting but yet huge and overpowering at this point in time, the great thing about being part of the advisory group is that we can contribute to the development and see this whole thing grow from the bottom up.  It also allows those involved to see things happening and not continually get distracted by the huge opportunities and challenges.

We need to take one step at a time and the next steps are influence the requirements and inform the procurement process.

A continuous task for the group as a whole is the promotion of this project, well in fact this programme of work across the public sector. This truly is a “business project” and not a technology project.

There are so many things going around my head since leaving the advisory group yesterday, and i will write a few more blogs as my thoughts clear and i am able to make sense of them. but in the meantime I’ll leave the final words to Steve and Ingrid who were captured on video by David Wilcox – Social Reporter

Link – FutureGov » Using web 2.0 to safeguard children: an invitation to a round table discussion

Whether or not you can make this or not, i think this is an excellent opportunity for people to share ideas and opportunities around a very sensitive subject.

I hope that after the roundtable, there is an opportunity to open up discussion perhaps via a network, or community as there will no doubt be many people who are simply unable to get to London on the date.

An extract from the blog post…

To start off with, we are looking to bring together multi-disciplinary group of senior managers and practitioners from childrens social services, teachers, police and health workers with social web technologist, public service designer, funders – or even just people who have a personal passion for this area – to help us design and run a small Safeguarding 2.0 pilot. Nothing big in the first instance, more a proof of concept if you like, but with the potential to transform the way in which professionals and non-professionals alike might better share information and form the kinds of relationships that might prevent future tragedies.

via FutureGov » Features » Using web 2.0 to safeguard children: an invitation to a round table discussion.

Google Wave – are we “waving” goodbye to the old school

The much talked about Google Wave will be available later this year and the preview demonstrated at Google I/O event has got me thinking and after watching the video (below) there are a number of opportunities for the public sector, here are three areas where i feel we could gain real benefit, with this type of new functionality.

  • Emergency comms – with email, web publishing and IM all interconnected. Communicating to a wide audience goes beyond your “contacts” list and can essentially reach the world in an instant.
  • Community engagement – comments/conversations on blogs or other sites will be sent to me in my inbox and i can reply via my inbox. This would help those people who want to re-use content on various platforms and enable those people to capture all feedback and collate these and pass the conversations from one platform into another to facilitate wider community or network involvement (this coupled with the conversation playback facility will transform collaboration)
  • Integrated access to colleagues / people on mobile devices (mobile and flexible working) this changes the landscape of mobile and flexible working in my opinion.

I for one am really excited by the prospect of seeing how this can allow people to work, collaborate and communicate more effectively……

It won’t solve everything, but it can teach us a new way in sharing and collaborating together.

Well done Google.