» Archive for the 'Idea and Innovation Management' Category

In the briefing room: NewsGator Social Sites

Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Cody Burke

With hundreds of millions of regular users, social software has become a part of many knowledge workers’ daily lives – outside of the enterprise.  But the value of such tools doesn’t necessarily end at the firewall.

One vendor recognizing the potential in this space is NewsGator, a company that, in the past, has been synonymous with RSS tools.  NewsGator supports collaboration and social networking in the enterprise through its Social Sites offering, currently in version 2.7.

Social Sites is a social computing layer that is added on to Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007 deployments.  It brings social features such as Ajax-based profiles, activity feeds, community creation, and idea generation functionality to SharePoint.  Social Sites enables the users to build both internal and external communities, increases use of internal portals, and uses social networking to enhance communications within an enterprise.  All of this takes place through SharePoint, which exports data natively in RSS, making it easy for NewsGator to hook on to.

At login, Social Sites provides a personalized start page that collects information based on a variety of factors, including one’s colleagues (the Social Sites version of Facebook friends), groups and communities the user is a member of, content preferences , and projects.  The profile is customizable and during set up the system will recommend colleagues, groups, and communities based on common tags and interests.  From profiles, a user’s details, contact information, ideas that have been generated, votes for ideas, tag cloud, and content subscriptions are visible.  An activity feed appears on a user’s profile, similar to Facebook’s activity stream, which features relevant notifications, such as bookmarking by colleagues, events, community and group activity, document creation and editing, and content from outside Social Sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  This feed can be sent out as an e-mail digest, in full or in a custom version around topics or certain kinds of activity.

Social Sites can create a social network graph linking an individual with colleagues based on common interests and activities such as tagging.  A mini profile of each individual is one click away but it isn’t possible to pivot from one person’s network to another’s at this time.  NewsGator says this may be included in a future release.

Communities can be created easily and quickly around projects, interests, and idea generation.  The idea generation and innovation aspect of Social Sites is a good addition to the social functions; it allows brainstorming to be conducted relativity seamlessly, without having to utilize a separate system or tool.

A key area featured in Social Sites is the idea of surfacing connections between knowledge workers who do not know each other, and may be working on similar projects unbeknownst to one another.  If Joe in Los Angeles is working on a presentation and posts something to that effect on his blog, and Frank in Munich is working on the same type of project and has added a wiki page on it, the system will make that connection and recommend they become colleagues in the system.

Social Sites is not intended to replace direct communication tools such as e-mail and instant messaging; rather, it serves as shared knowledge repository, be it through exposing users to content that may be relevant to them or functioning as a virtual brainstorming session.  It does, however, allow companies to add valuable social networking tools onto their SharePoint deployments without the risks that the use of public social networking tools entails.

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

In the Briefing Room: Brightidea

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009 by Cody Burke

Ideas.  Employees, customers, and business partners have lots of them and companies large and small can be overwhelmed by them.  They do, however, need to be managed.  Most companies still try to manage ideas and suggestions the old-fashioned way, perhaps not with a wall-mounted suggestion box but with tools that have not strayed terribly far from this protocol.

Despite the wealth of idea management tools that exist today, some companies still get it wrong, a recent initiative by Starbucks being a prime example.

An effective idea management environment must support ideation and subsequent review.  Both of these must be done in lockstep, with the goal being to enable what amounts to a Massively Parallel Conference (MPC), defined by Basex as a massively scaled meeting that takes place in a computer mediated environment and facilitates many-to-many collaboration leading to many-to-one gathering of information.  In this case, the goal is to generate and refine ideas through large scale participation and brainstorming and then communicate the best ones to decision makers.

Brightidea, an idea and innovation management company addresses these areas in its WebStorm idea management offering.  WebStorm is a solid ideation environment.  Think of it as a browser-based brainstorming session that supports the large scale generation of ideas, increasing the odds of quality ideas being generated and discovered.  Once submitted, ideas are ranked by session participants; the best ideas float up to the top, ensuring that good ideas do not languish on a manager’s overcrowded desk or inbox.

The offering includes collaboration and social networking tools that enable a Community of Reliance to be formed around idea generation initiatives.  A Community of Reliance is formed on an ad hoc basis where members rely upon the participation and input of other members whom they may not actually know or come into direct contact with.  With WebStorm, participants rely on each other to rate and comment on ideas; this is enabled through individual profiles that include social networking functionality.  The ideas an individual has created, as well as the popularity of the ideas, are visible in the profile, allowing management to set up incentives for participation through recognition for the contribution of quality ideas.

Brightidea uses its own product internally to battle what they call “idea overload”.  They had found that their own product managers were being bombarded with and spending significant time responding to suggestions, new feature requests, and other submitted ideas.  Automating through use of its own products steps that ideas, suggestions, and requests take reduced this overload by pulling them out of e-mail and into a better suited system.

For all companies, the creativity and passion of employees and customers can provide an extremely effective and cost efficient source of new thoughts and proposals.  Large-scale brainstorming, à la the MPC concept, could be an excellent model for companies to follow as they seek to generate new ideas, and products such as WebStorm make conducting this sort of event easier and more accessible.  Companies that are considering tapping the potential of large scale brainstorming should give thought as to how they can leverage an idea management solution to automate the workflow of ideas, provide incentives, and enable social and collaboration capabilities.

[For an in-depth look at the topic of idea and innovation management, you can also read our report Improving Profits Through Idea Management: How America's Smartest Companies Embrace Innovation]

Cody Burke is a senior analyst at Basex.

Tell Starbucks What You Think – But Not So Fast!

Friday, March 21st, 2008 by Jonathan Spira

The coffeehouse has always been a kind of gathering place.  Since the late 1980s, in cities in the United States and many other countries, Starbucks has provided Italian-style coffee bars that serve as places to meet, work, chat, read, socialize, linger and are a work-friendly (read Wi-Fi-enabled) environment to millions of customers.  But Starbucks, whose stock has declined almost 50% in the past year, found itself straying from its roots and sorely in need of a makeover.

In January, Starbucks ousted CEO Jim Donald, replacing him with Howard Schultz, the company’s chairman, who built the chain from four locations to over 15,000.

Starbucks needs more than Howard Schultz however, and has decided to enlist its customers in its makeover.

To this end, Starbucks announced My Starbucks Idea, an online community dedicated to sharing and discussing ideas about Starbucks’ operations.

A little background on idea management: with a few notable exceptions (ones we covered in our 2002 report Improving Profits Through Idea Management , idea management has been little more than a suggestion box (or its online equivalent) in most organizations.

An effective idea management system will record all ideas, discussions relating thereto, and provide a mechanism for acting on and expanding up on ideas.  Companies have also found that finding a way to recognize and/or compensate those contributing valuable ideas is key to ensuring the success of a program.

By and large, most idea management programs have been internally focused.  There are significant legal implications surrounding the acceptance of an idea – and these are of paramount importance when the developer of an idea is not an employee of the company receiving the idea.

Herein lies the rub.

Starbucks requires anyone contributing an idea or other intellectual property to grant it a nonexclusive, worldwide license to publish the idea and contributors must also agree that “no compensation is due to you or anyone else for any inadvertent or intentional use of that idea…”  Indeed, Starbucks suggests you might wish to get a patent on your idea, ostensibly before you post it online.

The site’s FAQ clearly states “[I]f we implement your idea, we may give you credit on the site, but we won’t be compensating customers if their ideas are chosen.”

Now, back to Starbucks and idea management.  Starbucks is clearly seeking the vox populi and using the concept of idea management to build enthusiasm around the brand.  An extensive examination of the “ideas” and issues being discussed failed to reveal anything earth shattering.  Starbucks could have saved itself a lot of effort and expense and simply handed out a customer feedback card at the point of service.

Unfortunately, the kind of out-of-the-box thinking Starbucks needs is unlikely to come from MyStarbucksIdea.com unless Starbucks follows what everyone else who has attempted idea management has learnt: create real incentives for idea submission and they will come.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

How Airbus Lost €4.8 Billion: Part II

Friday, December 14th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

With the release last week of our report  Airbus Hits Turbulence: How Knowledge Sharing Failures Cost Airbus €4.8 Billion,  we are presenting the report’s executive study in two parts.  Part I was presented in last week’s edition of Basex:TechWatch and here on the blog.  We now continue now with Part II.

With significant orders from some of the largest names in the airline industry, including Emirates, Virgin and Lufthansa before A380 production delays set in, Airbus seemed well on its way to establishing itself as the leader in the wide-body jet market. But Airbus’ lack of foresight in project management led to significant multi-national knowledge sharing and collaboration failures.

Far from being a unified company, Airbus’ management and production teams span many European companies. Although Airbus technically unified under the auspices of EADS, Airbus still operates as multiple semi-autonomous companies. The merger did not include significant advancements in how the production was carried out across national borders. Instead the production processes remained fragmented and split, with no significant efforts made to improve the collaboration among the factories. This is a significant problem and the company is being destroyed by a lack of corporate collaboration. Former CEO of Airbus, Christian Streiff, admitted that Airbus was a “juxtaposition of four companies.”

Faced with few alternatives, Airbus announced a massive restructuring plan designed to fix management and production problems, but also help with losses associated with other problems such as the weakness of the US dollar. Termed Power8, the plan hopes to increase profits in spite of the company’s projected losses for the year 2007 due to the costs associated with the program and the A380 disaster.

For years, Airbus was considered an innovator and technology leader. But in a short period of time the company went from darling of the industry to pariah. Airbus S.A.S. can learn from its mistakes and regain its title as a leader in the field. But significant challenges must be overcome. The company has been working on improving how its different national groups collaborate with one another. Ensuring that Airbus operates as a unified concern, where the sharing of knowledge and best practices across borders is the norm rather than the exception, however, is a battle still to be fought, and the outcome is far from certain.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

How Airbus Lost €4.8 Billion: A Cautionary Tale of What Happens When Knowledge Sharing and Collaboration Strategies Fail

Friday, December 7th, 2007 by Jonathan Spira

With the release this week of our report  Airbus Hits Turbulence: How Knowledge Sharing Failures Cost Airbus €4.8 Billion,  we are presenting the report’s executive study in two parts.  It will conclude in next week’s edition of Basex:TechWatch and here in the blog.

In the coming decade, as companies move from the industrial age into the knowledge economy, more and more organizations will find that the cost of not knowing how to manage knowledge work and knowledge workers will have a significant impact on the bottom line.

What is the cost of failing to share knowledge? For years, pundits have suggested that there is a hard currency cost to organizations when there is a knowledge sharing failure, but it was virtually impossible to come up with a hard figure.

Today we have that number.

Airbus has provided us with a clear-cut example of a company’s failure to implement proper knowledge sharing and collaboration tools and techniques costing them dearly.  Moreover, this failure severely impacted the company’s bottom line, enough to threaten its very existence.

The figure: €4.8 billion or $7 billion.

In October 2006, Airbus’ former CEO, Christian Streiff, announced that the production of their highly awaited A380 would be delayed another year, pushing the jumbo jet’s production two years beyond its original schedule.  Airbus has already announced to the financial community that this delay will cost €4.8 billion in lost profit over the next four years. The consequence of ignoring the inherent friction in their knowledge sharing and collaboration processes could be fatal for Airbus, especially in conjunction with the problem of a weakening dollar.

With significant orders from some of the largest names in the airline industry, including Emirates, Virgin and Lufthansa before A380 production delays set in, Airbus seemed well on its way to establishing itself as the leader in the wide-body jet market. But Airbus’ lack of foresight in project management led to significant multinational knowledge sharing and collaboration failures.

But that impression was illusory at best.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.

IBM’s WorldJam

Tuesday, May 29th, 2001 by Jonathan Spira

Invited: 320,000 of your closest friends.

Over the past few weeks, I was one of the very few outsiders to be briefed on – and view in action – WorldJam, a 72-hour-long online community event hosted by IBM to which all of its 320,000 employees were invited.  Although I will be writing about this in greater depth in an upcoming research report, I wanted to share some initial observations and insights with you.

WorldJam is a set of tools and an environment that were integrated to support a 72-hour online community brainstorming session.  The goals were threefold:

1.)    To tackle ten “thorny” business problems
2.)    To report to colleagues on best practices
3.)    To “jam” with friends and colleagues

For the past nine months, IBM, under the direction of Mike Wing, IBM’s Director, Worldwide Intranet Strategy and Programs, has been planning and rehearsing this marathon community event. Wing’s Corporate Intranet Team worked in conjunction with several other areas of IBM, namely Corporate Marketing, IBM Research, and Strategic Web Application and Technology (SWAT).

There are several levels at which one can view WorldJam.  First, the technology itself.  Second, the issues which were at the heart of the WorldJam discussions.  Third, the collective knowledge and wisdom of the company which WorldJam brings together for 72 hours.  And fourth, as an extraordinary scientific experiment in online collaboration, and the ramifications which it raises.  Today I concentrate largely on the first.

At the core of WorldJam were ten asynchronous discussion databases, or forums, each led by a moderator/expert in the field, assisted by trained staffers.  Each forum had a topic and a question, e.g. “Supplying the Glue: More than 25% of IBMers are ‘mobile’ – telecommuting, working on customer premises, teaming with geographically dispersed colleagues.  What do you do to avoid ‘IBM’ = ‘I’m By Myself’?”.

The next logical issue to tackle was how people might participate in WorldJam.  By the end of WorldJam, over individual 50,000 employees had stopped by; it will take a while to study the statistics in greater detail, but, even in a group of 50,000 people, participation runs along the lines which one might expect.  Some IBMers would stop by and  mine a few nuggets.  Others came to impart and share their knowledge.  Others hunkered down and jammed, and still others formed breakout groups which launched real-time (synchronous) discussions relating to one of the ten topics.

The WorldJam project can be viewed in four phases:
- Preparatory/planning (9 months)
- Live (72 hours)
- Immediate Follow-up (several weeks)
- Long-term resource (infinite going forward)

WorldJam also offered diversions, including “branded” music, and games, which were two applets in the Thinking Tools section called “Words” (a kind of online refrigerator magnet game) and “Music” (a nod to WorldJam’s musical heritage?).

One of my favorites pieces of technology was the WorldJam Activity Map, which uses IBM Gryphon Server technology [which is based on Java Messaging service (JMS)].  IBM describes Gryphon as a publish/subscribe message broker system, the type which could be used for real-time online sports score distribution.  Here Gryphon tracked visitors on the WorldJam site.  The Activity Map also used a custom-statistics server and a JDBC Data Access API.  The statistics themselves were stored in DB2.  Activity Map created a geographic record (i.e., a real-time view of the world) of participants’ activities, and a forum-by-forum record (created by connecting to the Gryphon server and subscribing to the statistics channel) which fed real-time activity, then displayed a geographic record of participants’ activity and a forum-by-forum participant record.

Another personal favorite was a  tool developed for WorldJam, the “JamBroker,” which uses XML and XML Parser to create and match groups of people for a random jam.

The discussion forums used Lotus Notes and servlets, which integrated Notes content together with HTML all on one Web page.  The discussion functionality (comments, replies, voting, etc.) was all managed through Notes, which stored the information in a Notes database.  Servlets generated and managed the moderator’s comments which appeared on each of the ten forums.  Every discussion forum page contained an applet referred to as a “digital heartbeat,” which tracked user activity in real time.  This sent its information back to Gryphon.

Although time will tell how WorldJam and its wealth of intellectual activity and knowledge will be both viewed and utilized in future, the WorldJam team was already making notes for WorldJam’s progeny.  A few ideas I would add would be to add foreign language support (after all, it’s WORLDJam), and to consider having a specific opening and closing activity, both to warm participants up, and to give an appropriate ending to such a landmark event.

The scope and magnitude of a WorldJam-like event is an investment that very few companies could undertake.  Of those that are in fact able, none except for IBM has undertaken an online community/knowledge management event on this scale.  IBM effectively invited all of its 320,000+ employees to not only participate in pragmatic discussions with the possibility of immediate impact, but opened the door for all to partake in embarking upon significant cultural change, with all IBMers taking an active role in their own destinies.

Jonathan B. Spira is CEO and Chief Analyst at Basex.