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.

Conclusion

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.

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Death of the Local Authority Intranet

I’ve checked my twitter timeline but can’t find who posted a link to this article on Intranets – It didn’t really offer anything new in terms of definition or uses in my view, in fact I had to check the date of publication just to be sure that I wasn’t reading something from a few years ago. In all fairness I’m focused on Local Government and I’m not for a minute saying that businesses shouldn’t consider them. :o)

The reason I say that is because I believe there is no longer a need for Intranets in Local Government and I for one would be happy to see them all go. I did blog about this before but now I am utterly convinced there is simply no future in them.

They all seem to have common problems around user engagement and usefulness, the promotion and talk of Social Software components for intranets did for some time breathe a bit of life back into them, but times moves on and the cost of replicating this failure across all organisations isn’t efficient (we should fail once and big time :o) ) Seriously though, the shape of councils will change and the concept of what is internal and what is external and what is partnership and what is for suppliers etc will increasingly get more complex that we will simply have no need for a behind the firewall website.

If we are moving towards a strategic commissioning model then we will need to develop effective extranets which can support collaboration across organisations and sectors as well as providing a platform for policy and standards. With Open Government what is really sensitive about all these policies and existing content on Intranets that couldn’t be requested under FOI anyway? In my experience people who do have access to intranets don’t bother looking and it is seen as an after thought.

We would be delivering applications via the web into a web platform – dare I say portal of some kind – I do hate the word portal, but as I type nothing else springs to mind! We would need to ensure security of sensitive data and this will be facilitated through access controls and not simply a giant firewall around a poor web platform which is generally a place where internal information goes to die.

I’ve said it before but the Knowledge Hub project will offer a huge opportunity and although some people have said to me that councils will need Intranets – I can’t think of a single reason why we would need one of our own, instead of using a sector wide extranet which allows staff to connect with each other regardless.

The Knowledge Hub as I see it could be integrated with local technology solutions to provide a proactive destination for information – a place you go to “do” your work and collaborate with colleagues. This is the complete opposite of most Intranets which are a place we “store” policies and documents….

Ok there are some good examples out there – well I’ve heard that there are, the thing is I can’t see them….another thing the knowledge resolves we all see the same platform and only access information which we are allowed to see.

I have been called optimistic before and maybe this is exactly that….but in these tough financial times, can we really afford not to join up….I for one am looking forward to February 2011 when the Knowledge Hub is launched.

No more excuses – A commitment to be better at what i do

For reasons i will keep to myself at this point in time I am entering a period of personal reflection and learning. I have started to look back more proactively and make sure that i take notice of my observations and thinking as i go along. The reason is, quite frankly, to help me improve the way i do my job. Part of me feels that i am failing to do my job properly and part of me thinks i do a good, no great job. The truth is i do both at the same time.

I found myself humming a song the other day when i thought about how we might mainstream the wider use of web based technologies including social software. I noticed that i was humming: Rufus Wainwright – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother.

The particular part i started to sing was the start:

The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows when

It pretty much sums up the mood around social media “professionals” in government at present, but i think the issue for this is partly down to the people who are promoting it and becoming by default social media gurus. I am sadly one of those people so before anyone shouts me down i am taking responsibility myself here as well for a failure to really engage the people in my own organisation who can actually help enact change at an organisational level. This stuff really needs to go deeper into organisations. It simply isn’t just about Communications and Marketing.

BUT isn’t this what the social media gurus are all about, new ways to communicate and engage with people, social connecting and reaching out beyond traditional boundaries etc? So why are we not very good at doing it in our own organisations and becoming frustrated at the lack of progress. If this is you, i would suggest you also take some time to reflect about how you have or have not engaged with people and what value you have presented to them?

Well the fundamental flaw in this approach is that –  what change and value am i adding into my organisation if i all i do is network and influence people outside the walls and boundaries of my own organisation?

Now i know am being overly critical of others and myself and there have been some amazing examples of good practice and learning that needs to start getting deeper inside our own organisations to really make that learning valuable.

I do have to acknowledge some major successes here in Devon that i have been involved in: Chief Executive as Social Media/Social Networking Champion, Youth Participation using Facebook and Bebo (this was mainly Katie Bacon), Social Media Policy and Guidelines developed and agreed by key business stakeholders (we have just updated these, so i must post them up to share) and an Internal Social Networking pilot using Blue Kiwi.

But i have failed to realise the benefits of the above and i want to change that. So i am creating a personal charter for business change and i’d like to extend it to others as well.

  1. I commit to engaging and involving key Council stakeholders internally and externally in the design, development and implementation of innovative solutions including the use of social software and social media for increased business value and business change.
  2. I will only do so where a clear connection to business outcomes and objectives can be demonstrated.
  3. I will ensure that a plan for realising the value and benefits is in place.
  4. I will ensure that appropriate risks are acknowledged and mitigated and any successes and failures are shared so that others can learn from the experience.
  5. I accept that technology on its own offers no value and that i must ensure that there is clear ownership of the business change.
  6. Value is a set of measures and is whatever the organisations strategies and operating plans say it is.
  7. I must not refer to myself as a guru of any kind, my role is to guide, support and influence.

None of the above is rocket science and you will probably find similar ones around the web, but i feel that i have to revisit my purpose and question what value i am creating in the organisation. The moment i stop creating and adding value, is the moment i decide to leave. (I hope that is some time in the future if i’m honest, but you never know)

I hope that those of you who are engaged in this agenda are doing and demonstrating some of the above, as that is the only way we can stop seeing social media as a “special set of tools” and mainstream the opportunities and innovation into the heart of Government (Local and National)

The Three Business Opportunities of Social Media/Software

I’ve been attending the Gartner Symposium Event in Cannes this week and my brain has been bombarded with so much information on so many topics and I won’t be using this post to share all I learnt but instead i’ll share some snippets around social media and in particular the Business Use of Social Media/Software.

It wasn’t a surprise to me to hear so much about the benefits of social media at a technology event, but what did surprise me was that there wasn’t many people there who actually used it.  There was a symposium tweet-up arranged via twitter for the Wednesday and only 6 people attended  –  yes i was one of them, so a lot of work to do in terms of awareness and understanding if anyone thinks this stuff will impact the business model. You can follow or catch up on the tweets from the Gartner Symposium events on twitter.

So on that note i thought it would be a good idea to start to bring the issue of business use into some context for people based on a number of Gartner sessions i attended and one in particular facilitated by a very good analyst Ed Thompson, who as it happened gave another excellent presentation on Customer Experience (more to follow on this one in a separate post).

Gartner highlight three separate and logical areas to guide thinking and implementation approaches to these tools and technologies within organisations.

I’m going to share my perspective on these areas:

1) Internal –  “your people, your place”
Essentially this area is about looking at the internal opportunities that are there for you. This is an area which I personally feel will deliver great benefits not just around the learning but in supporting a wide range of internal business issues.

It is important to remember that unless your organisation has articulated business issues you will struggle to get buy in or support.
Some potential business issues you might hear which you could link to these tools are as follows: NB this list is an example and is not comprehensive. It also doesn’t imply any particular approach.

– people finder or skills finder (internal staff directory)
– project spaces and business collaboration
– real-time or near real-time internal communications (yes email is an option but that isn’t always collaborative)
– learning communities and peer support groups

2) External – “your people, other people, your place”

The second area that Gartner referred to was external but a platform that was managed by the organisation. An example of this would be where you host a community function for people to discuss and or support each other like a helpdesk community support function. In local government terms this is a challenge as we need to be careful about trying to create communities that we intend to be organic. So the difference here is that we are clear and open about what we would expect such a community to do or what broad outcomes we would expect.
Again some potential business issues you might here to link to would be as follows:

–  service improvement function
– service user support community
– shared communities of practice
– project spaces and collaboration with partners and other organisations

3) Public – “your people, other people, their place”

This aspect is the area that to be honest most people focus on, it includes facebook environments, twitter, youtube etc. This is where stuff (for most social media people) get interesting. However this is also where most fear resides and organisations are low in awareness around the possibilities, case studies, return on investment figures. BUT this is where the MOST VALUE will be gained to all.

Again some possible business issues (not comprehensive) you might come across which could be linked into these solutions or approaches – however i stress and i say this all the time now. Don’t focus on a single technology, do your homework, work out what will actually deliver the value in any given circumstance.

– connecting and engaging with communities
– civic debate and discussion
– trend spotting, listening to the social web community or as Gartner refer to it “the collective” can provide insights into what might be the next big opportunity or next big issue developing.
– people to people connections
– building relationships

All of the above requires a different viewpoint on the traditional way of looking at things. The social space is ALL about the relationships between people and the benefits that spin-off from those interactions. We are now moving into a more focused look at people to people relationships (P2P) – In these difficult times, the potential to interact with people becomes even more important, for all of the issues i have given as examples.

What is interesting about this is that it has always been about P2P but dressed up and disguised as business to business or business to consumer – what drives those agenda = People.

The challenge for anyone wanting to explore the world of social media and social software is to learn more about how people interact and the connections and networks people have. I for one am very excited by this prospect and look forward to learning more over the coming months and years.