Unblock Access – ‘Social’ is Key to Improving Performance

The issue of whether an organisation blocks or bans access to social media platforms has always been an interesting area. When speaking to colleagues in other councils who are not able to access, a common reason why access is blocked is due to a perceived fear that staff will simply waste time “messing about” or “chatting online”. It has been a personal desire to look for an approach which directly links the success of an organisation to the use of or at least access to social tools.

Without having any direct evidence – I’ve had to look to theoretical models and frameworks which help to explain the relationships between an organisations performance and the ability of staff to use and engage with social software, social media, enterprise 2.0, social business or whatever the current trend is for naming the variety of tools available.

Last week however a key part of the puzzle presented itself, in the form of a set of slides which I linked to in my previous post by Richard Veryard.

This is my current view is the all public sectors organisations need to unblock access to all social tools (external), and promote the use of social tools (internally) otherwise they restrict and reduce the chance for the organisation to improve its performance.

Given the current financial and organisational pressures facing the whole public sector, improving performance would be a key priority. The very least we would all agree that reducing barriers to improving performance should be a priority. This is where I now firmly believe that Social is the key to improving organisational performance.

I’ll try to give some context to my thinking by referring to some of the slides that Richard posted. I apologise in advance for some of the complexity in the following paragraphs  – believe me I have tried to keep it as simple as possible without losing the meaning 🙂

In “Modelling Intelligence in Complex Organizations”, my observations and interpretation of some of his slides are as follows:

Slide 5 – Cognition only makes sense for individuals
As individuals we seek out data/information, in doing this activity we essentially bring a meaning to that data/information and in turn provide the interpretation  and therefore we create and often share an understanding.
Organisations can not perform the same tasks, as organisations can only aggregates the collective view of all people within the organisation by bringing together  – perception, knowledge, learning and intelligence. This in the past has been restricted either to formal systems which require facts and statistics and would not include people’s views and opinions. The social element to an organisation would be in the informal social networks facilitated by water coolers and coffee machines.

Slide 7 – The illusion of individual performance
Individuals perform tasks which are supported by a variety of systems, the slide highlights 3 examples, but in a public sector context, this is even more relevant. For example an individual local government officer has a complex system environment, which could include Peers, Press and Media, local demographic, local political influence, national political influence, training, policy framework etc.

Essentially an individuals performance is the result of the ‘systems’ own restrictions and ability to achieve and facilitate outcomes.

So what I’m thinking in relation to this is that when an organisation restricts the “social” element within it, it actually restricts the ability of the system and the individual to achieve better outcomes. By providing “social” tools the organisation gains access to a greater organisational intelligence. I believe that the Knowledge Hub would in fact allow the public sector organisational intelligence to grow and in turn help facilitate better outcomes across the whole sector.

Slide 20 – Intelligence Strategy
In my post Move aside Intranet, here comes the super powered Extranet I share the vision for my authorities intranet/extranet and considering this new viewpoint, what that is contributing to is in fact the organisations Intelligence Strategy. The main benefit of integrating the Knowledge Hub into the core infrastructure of the council is the increased connections that it provides for each individual member of staff. It will provide them with a larger organisational intelligence system and my conclusion would be that this contributes directly to better outcomes for citizens and improved services.

In the second set of slides “How Can IT Fix the Problems of Stupid Organizations?” – I have thought about the wider linkages to a range of core business activities and capabilities which are and will become more critical in public sector environments even if they choose to adopt a commissioning agenda.

Slide 23 – Tools for organisational intelligence
The key challenge for publica sector organisations are not related to individual issues such as business intelligence, social networking, knowledge management and even customer relationship management (CRM), but are in fact how you plan and architect the links between these kinds of tools to achieve and facilitate organisational intelligence.

So the main takeaway for me is that ICT can directly improve the performance and intelligence of an organisation – however an organisations architecture needs to be designed with this outcome in mind otherwise you will fail to deliver the benefits.


I would recommend that any public sector organisation who is blocking access rethink that decision and consider how there organisation facilitates organisational intelligence and improved performance.

On a practical level, staff who abuse access should still be subject to existing policies around employee code of conduct – but the potential for a whole organisation to improve its performance and increase its intelligence far outweighs the risk of one individual mis-using an internet connection, which they can also do via their personal mobile phone.


Public Sector Organisation Intelligence

I’ve been following Richard Veryard on twitter for some time and have found his tweets and blog posts very useful and thought provoking in relation to my role here at the council.

Earlier today Richard tweeted two links to some slideshare presentations related to Organisational Intelligence (I’ve embedded both of them below)

The first one “Modelling Intelligence in Complex Organizations” is very good, it is high level and I suggest you take some time to go through this. I particularly like slide 27 which highlights 6 socio-technical capabilities that organisational intelligence needs

The second “How Can IT Fix the Problems of Stupid Organizations?” looks at the IT role in helping achieve organisational intelligence and the new challenges IT people and departments face in supporting this transition. Slide 20 in my view reminds people that IT is about Information “and” Technology.


confused of calcutta >> More on the Facebookisation of the enterprise

Following on from my post last year about intranets and what drivers do local government need for them.

This post by Confused of Calcutta starts to not only articulate what people need internally in “facebook terms” but also pulls out the fundamental changes that IT departments need to go through.

It will be important for IT departments to get the basics right and to offer real value to staff. This also means that IT will need to truly understand the business it sits within.

Can we say that IT departments in the public sector really understand the nature of the business they are a part of. Probably not, but then again can anyone really understand the true breadth of public services.

If the IT department was made to behave like Facebook, what would an enterprise look like?

via More on the Facebookisation of the enterprise – confused of calcutta.

I like the question, it starts to make you think about what your IT offering should be and how you can align that with the business. This also requires IT to change from just being a “Provider” of services to an “Advisor”, helping and understanding the business achieve its business goals and strategies. I have recently commented on a post by Todd Biske which also highlights the shift IT has to go through.

Are Local Authority Intranets lacking external benchmarking?

A short post really, but it had occurred to me that one of the biggest opportunities for cost savings within organisations is the intranet.

However in the local government world – perhaps even the wider public sector, i would guess that nearly all of them lack any real interaction, functionality, transaction etc. Compared to the level of external benchmarking and rating that our public sites go through it is no wonder that intranets are probably still in 1996.

Maybe what we need is and i’m not sure how we would facilitate this at the moment but if we could at least be subjected to a similar style benchmarking exercise to Better Connected (Socitm). If this could happen then i believe that councils might be more inclined to drive forward the intranet to offer the kind of business value it promises.

I will post again in the new year as i think we also need to understand what we all mean by Intranet. In my experience the Intranet can be anything from just an internal website with information to pretty much the whole of the desktop aswell.

To me the intranet is now just part of what many people are referring to as Enterprise 2.0 – however i think this needs some explanation as well.

In the meantime, If you know of any really dynamic intranet sites in the public sector i’d be keen to hear the story.

Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

I suspect most will receive the AlertBox update anyway (Social Networking on Intranets (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox).  But i just thought i would support the findings highlighted by their study based on the experience we have had here with our pilot.


Perhaps more than any other corporate intranet innovation, social software technologies are exposing the holes in corporate communication and collaboration — and at times filling them before the (usually slow-moving) enterprise can fully grasp (and control) the flow.

Here are some things that might surprise you about the social media initiatives we studied:

  • Underground efforts yield big results. Companies are turning a blind eye to underground social software efforts until they prove their worth, and then sanctioning them within the enterprise.
  • Frontline workers are driving the vision. Often, senior managers aren’t open to the possibilities for enterprise 2.0 innovation because they’re not actively using these tools outside of work. Indeed, many senior managers still consider such tools as something their kids do. One of the dirty secrets of enterprise 2.0 is that you don’t have to teach or convince younger workers to use these tools; they expect them and integrate them as easily into their work lives as they do in their personal lives.
  • Communities are self-policing. When left to their own devices, communities police themselves, leaving very little need for tight organizational control. And such peer-to-peer policing is often more effective than a big brother approach. Companies that we studied said abuse was rare in their communities.
  • Business need is the big driver. Although our report discusses specific tools (blogs, wikis, and such), enterprise 2.0’s power is not about tools, it’s about the communication shift that those tools enable.
  • Organizations must cede power. Using Web 2.0 technologies to communicate with customers has taught many companies that they can no longer control the message. This also rings true when using Web 2.0 tools for internal communication. Companies that once held to a command-and-control paradigm for corporate messaging are finding it hard to maintain that stance.

I think one of the biggest lesson we ahve learned so far in what is essentially a 6 month pilot is things take time to build and grow across a large organisation.

… particularly on an enterprise level. Most of the people we interviewed during our initial research said, “come back next year” if we wanted a case study of their company’s use of social features. It’s easier on the Web where the proverbial two guys in a garage can seemingly create and launch a hugely successful site in an instant. Of course, we never hear about all the people who try this and fail to get any traction. In the enterprise, it’s a bad idea to throw features at the wall “to see what sticks” because the spaghetti that fails and falls disrupts employee productivity.When you consider that successful adaptation of Enterprise 2.0 tools requires the organization to change its ways, it becomes clear why these projects don’t happen overnight. Yes, pilot implementations can go live in a matter of days, but the political and cultural changes needed for useful and widespread use take longer.

Although there’s no single answer, across our case studies, 3–5 years seems to be a common timeline for social intranet projects. This is a good time to remind you of the French general: when told that it would take a hundred years for newly planted trees to grow big, he said, “better get started now.”