Breaking Down Silos with — Who? SAP? Seriously?

Yes, I am serious.

Of course, as everything else – it is all in context.  Hear me out…

I was in Mexico last week for SAP Forum (a well attended event where over 5,000 people went to discuss the current and future state of SAP and Enterprise Software in Latin America).  As in Madrid for SAPPHIRE last November, SAP was showcasing Customer 360 (I hope I got that name right, I am not the best at remembering branding-driven names) using HANA.

One of the things I saw was the same demo of HANA for segmentation (part of the second day keynote) – and no matter how many times you see it still seems very cool – go from 20 million records to barely 7,000 by just clicking a few buttons on your iPad – in real-time… if you ever had to do that in non-real-time using a web interface (or worse, a client-server application) you know how cool that is.

Alas, more interesting to me was some of the other examples that SAP was showcasing for HANA and 360 – which did not make it to the demo but were very, very cool.  There was one that I found sufficiently intriguing where any task or action you do on your computer device can be automatically (rules-driven, of course) added to your CRM system as a task.  This is very interesting, as it basically becomes a silo-buster (as the title says) where any system can automatically (via rules and analytics) be added as data to any other system – versus the current model where you have to enter the task manually (once in each silo) after you completed it.

There were some indications the last couple of years that something like that was coming – one of the CRM Idol competitors from year 1 (AddressTwo) had an automated email attendant that did something like this, but they did not improve it from a simple mailbox attendant.  Other vendors did something similar, but no one took it to the point of full automation.

And that is what I like the most about this (there were a few other case studies where information entered into CRM was immediately vetted and cross-reference with social and other data for MDM (Master Data Management) functions – but not a lot of work done on that yet, or a clear case of automating connectivity and functionality yet.

And therein lies the silo-busting features I mentioned in the title: automation via rules-processing (tied to analytics – vis-a-vis HANA – to make sure we are looking at the latest, greatest, and relevant data and information) has the ability to bring, “automagically”, disparate systems together and make two into one.  Cloud-based infrastructure makes it ever easier – by making the systems that are remote easily (and safely) accessible as well.

All in all, a good move forward.

I am not going to say SAP is the only vendor doing this, but they certainly are one of the early innovators in this world — of course, the dreaded SAP Dichotomy can still kick in and ruin it… but I am encouraged and an optimist.

What says you? Agree that silos are breaking? Can SAP make it happen? Otherwise, who?

disclaimer – SAP is a client of thinkJar and they paid for my travel, hotel, provided me some meals, and the crappiest, worse-ever WiFi while at the event – but since it was in Mexico won’t fault them for the WiFi.

Ruminations on ROI Versus TTV

Last few weeks I have had some very interesting meetings and discussions.

If you follow my writings, presentations, etc. you know that I don’t believe in the need for ROI (Return on Investment) calculations for — well, most of the stuff we buy for Enterprise Software.  In my view, ROI is something that is either:

  1. Asked by an overly careful CFO that does not care what you are buying, as long as there is a return somewhere of something
  2. Asked by Sr. Management that does not understand what you are buying and want to make sure that if it explodes somewhere down the line they are covered and can say it was not their fault – it was supposed to work.

Neither one of those statements consider the strategic nature of acquiring and implementing Enterprise Software (hardware is a different animal, and a different post).  Besides, any vendor worth their salt will have a variety of models you can use, including great historical data from other implementations, to help you show there is an ROI.

There are two problems with using ROI: first, calculations are very simple, for example saying it is the costs minus the benefits while ignoring time-value of money or lost-opportunity costs, and tend to be very wrong.  Just because it can be proven on paper does not mean that it will be the same in real-life — too many assumptions go into those calculations to make sense.

Second problem with ROI is that is void of value.  Calculations are never made counting for value accumulated or generated, only on the potential costs and benefits that may be created from implementing the software.  This is because the calculation of value has been almost impossible to do.

Until now, we did not really understand what Value meant – but that is starting to change.

I will no embark on that discussion right now, I had some posts in the past on the definition of value and it truly gets nowhere very fast, but I will definitely use it – by any definition you want.  The change we are seeing: we are moving into a fair-value market where both (organization and consumer) value what they get from each other.  Whether its timely feedback to improve a product, help with support, or anything else organizations are starting to recognize there is value in the contributions from users and consumers that goes beyond the traditional ROI model.

On the other hand, consumers and users don’t conduct ROI calculations to give you their business, but they do know value when they see it.  Although you could say this is not new, the information and communication evolution we are experiencing makes it very, very different – for both parties.

This fair exchange of value is what is driving this new evolution of business (and what powers the collaborative enterprise).  In view of this, making a ROI calculation be responsible for implementing (or not) enterprise software seems silly. No?

This is why I have been having plenty of conversations lately about a “new” concept – time-to-value (yes, I know it is not new – but the way it is being used is).

Time to value (again, without going into a war of definitions) is how long it would take an organization to reach a specific milestone: maybe it is getting feedback from 20% of their customers who tried the new product, maybe is increasing the readership for their blog by 25%.  Maybe it is getting new users for their freemium product.  The specific milestone does not matter, nor does it have a simple financial calculation attached to it.  Whereas it could be used to compute tangible benefits, it works far better for intangible ones.  There are too many unknowns and variables that change too rapidly for a financial value to be easily calculated.

In the face of an impossible ROI calculation (at least an accurate one) but a certain value that can be delivered to the  business (and that will eventually be easier to calculate in financial terms, once more variables and assumptions are known) we use Time To Value.

I must confess, this is probably still a metric mostly driven by vendors in enterprise software conversations.  At the same time, the users i talked to about this metric are very encouraged.  In their words (and paraphrasing several conversations into one soundbite):

“With implementations times down to 3-4 months with cloud-based solutions, I can always prove an ROI within 12 months as my CFO demands – but what does it mean? how do we benefit? the concept of time to value is intriguing”

Beyond the infomercial-sounding-paraphrase above — what do you think? Something to consider?

Exploring the New Knowledge Paradigm: Use it or Loose it

As I said in my previous post discussing shifts in Knowledge Management, most everything is changing in regards to what we call KM.  In continuing to explore the changes that are happening I wanted to focus on how the way we are finding knowledge is changing.

In the old days knowledge was equivalent to how much we could find and store.  We “forced” everyone to take what they knew, write it down, and store it.  We indexed the stored information and we used a plethora of search methods (semantics, keywords, phrases, natural language, etc.) to find it.  Still today, the wide vast majority of Knowledge and Collaboration projects are done this way.

We considered that knowledge management, when in reality it was just storage management – how much we could create, store, and (hopefully) find.

The way we can now tap into subject matter experts and collective knowledge is changing a few things: what we call knowledge, how we generate it or collect it, how we “store” it, and how we use it.

Simple changes really.

Or are they that simple?

Let’s look into this further.  Continuing the exploration of how this is changing I started with my friends at Stone Cobra, I recently wrote another post on how we are changing the way we use knowledge, from knowledge in storage to knowledge in use.

Would love to get your comments – what do you think?

May I Recruit Your Help in a Knowledge Management Research Project?

Late in 2011 I conducted my first market research project on Knowledge Management.

I wanted to get an idea of what was going on in the world, what projects you (royal you, not you personally) were working on, what projects you were going to invest money in, and (more than anything) what was affecting your decisions.

Some or the “pearls of wisdom” I collected were fascinating:

  • Nearly one-third of respondents were making changes to their KM initiatives (seemed too low, but then I remembered the recession was just beginning to let up)
  • More than two-thirds were starting community-generated knowledge management projects (alas, when I followed up they did not know what that meant)
  • Almost one-third of them were considering deploying knowledge in the cloud (I am dying to find out the new numbers), and
  • just six percent of the respondents were sharing their knowledge initiative between agents and users (via self-service) — definitely one of my favorite stats.

Well, twelve-ish months went by and its time, once again, to take the pulse of the market.  I want to learn what has happened since then, and what is happening going forward in the KM market.

Would you help me?

I have updated and deployed the survey.  Eight questions, ten-to-fifteen minutes of your time – and you get a great report in exchange.  We are collecting data through the 22nd of February, and writing through the last week in March.  At the end of March you will receive a copy of the report — but only if you contribute your — well, knowledge.

Please click here to take the survey and help me collect the data.

Questions? Contact me.

Otherwise, thank you very much for helping me figure out how KM has evolved in the past two years and how it will continue to evolve going forward.

disclaimer: this research project, as the one before, are sponsored by Moxie Software.  Even then, I am solely responsible for the questions, the content, and the data is mine and not shared with anyone else.  Don’t worry, your answers are confidential and will never be shared with anyone.
this post has been cross-posted at Moxie Software’s Blog.

IBM Heralds The Mainstreaming of (Not Social) Business in Orlando

I was at IBM Connect 2013 last week in Orlando.  A wonderful experience where IBM brought together partners, customers, suppliers (also known as consultants and system integrator  and analysts.

It was a good event from many perspectives, but I want to highlight three things I noticed in the time I was there:

(Social) Business is Now Mainstream

Back in the old days we would define mainstream as ~30% adoption in the overall market (which means across verticals, industries, functions, and company sizes).  If you don’t have market numbers to quantify adoption, you can refer to mainstream as the inflection point where early adopters are not the exceptional users and most organization have taken to understand, adopt, and implement a technology or concept.

IBM gave us some great case studies on stage during the event (starting with a community-driven art project called hitrecord.org that was a great example of how to leverage an online community to build a business) across industries and sizes.  I also talked to a whole slew of organizations, different sizes and different industries, that shared with me their work and their plans.  I can honestly say that the concept of leveraging online communities for business has gotten to be mainstream – even though understanding the use cases needs some time to get better.

You probably notice that I am not using the word Social; that is correct.  There was not a single mention of “Facebook for the Enterprise” or “Twitter as a Solution”.  Nor was there an emphasis on social channel management tools as most other vendors have been touting as their social layer.  This was one of the first times where demos, case studies, and conversations did not include the words social (although a fair number of people were using them, not really to mention social channels as much as online communities).

Social, as I have been saying from the beginning, is not a good term.  It does not really talk to the value the social channels contribute and instead focuses on the “engagement” the interaction between stakeholders (partners, suppliers, employees, customers, etc.).  There is no use for the word Social in the enterprise, but there is a fair amount of value in using online communities (as I have said repeatedly in writing and presentations).

We shall continue to use the word social for another 12-18 months, I am afraid, at which point it will become the same as saying “i-something” in the early days of the internet. (update: I realized after I pushed publish that this prediction had been discussed before with a colleague; I want to be fair and give credit where due.  Brian Vellmure,this is your prediction as well as mine).

This is not about social, nor about kumbayah or focus on humanity.  This is about business with KPI (key performance indicators) and metrics that correspond to that.  The conversations I had and the show IBM put on stage was about the same.

Online Communities Come of Age

Back in the early days of the social evolution we are ending, most people noticed that communities were becoming more commonplace.  Few organizations understood well enough how to use them, what value they contributed, or how to leverage them appropriately in this “new” world.  Many, if not all, of the organizations i talked to about them wanted to learn more, to explore, to see what they could do with them.  And they did – in the form of pilots, test projects, and “skunkworks” projects.

The results? what we are beginning to see.  In addition to the early, limited use-cases we had (knowledge management, feedback, ideation) we have discovered many more use cases where communities play a pivotal role – and we have shared most of these lessons with the rest of the world.  As a result, we have seen amazing projects emerge with a focus on leveraging online communities (in addition to the hitrecord.org I mentioned before, look at what the City of Dubuque is doing with their communities).

Alas, a large number of organizations have not either embraced nor understood well enough the value of online communities, but they are making progress towards it.  We are going to see a lot more different uses for them in the next 6-9 months, and we are going to assume they are a part of the infrastructure (as access to social channels is already assumed today) in the next 12-18 months.  If you don’t yet have something “cooking” for communities you better start looking for recipes.

One more quip.  Do you know why online communities are flourishing while social channels are decaying rapidly (in the enterprise, that is)? As i said before, the only purpose of this social evolution was to enhance collaboration (easier and better than before), and for that to flourish you definitely need an online community as the central connecting point.

Anyone Can Make This Work

The city of Dubuque, Iowa.

A manufacturer of heavy equipment (Caterpillar).

A ragtag group of musicians, videographers, poets and writers.

All these people proved a critical point about this, rather two.  First, this is not about technology changing the way we communicate or the way we work – it is about technology letting us do things differently and collaborate better.  Second, this is not about being social – it is about business done at the intersection with collaboration, in a way like never before: leveraging online communities.

I am not dismissing their accomplishments, far from it – they are the pioneers that are showing the way.  Alas, they are also the ones that a showing that anyone who can gather a purposeful online community and tie it to a business need, can make this work.  This is not rocket science, this is about continuing to evolve businesses by leveraging online communities.

If a 100+ year old company can show the way without the “right” social software (read, no hyped up  activity stream or complex architecture), and a group of users in not-the-swankiest, most-celebrated “avant garde” organizations can make it work – then anyone can make it work.

And that is when a concept becomes mainstream. Right?

disclaimer: IBM invited me to this event, paid for my expenses and entrance fee, treated me to some of the meals and arranged for meetings with some of their executives.  I was free to roam the show and talk to anyone I wanted as well.