Archive for May, 2009
by Celine Roque
Avoiding the Common Mistakes of a Downturn
Stock markets may be crashing and a few massive corporations crumbling, but Tim Searcy of CRM Daily says the worst thing you can do is panic and make knee-jerk reactions. “Cut investment — This strategy works if you had an ineffective investment plan to begin with. However, if the reason for increasing technology, securing more bandwidth or creating new training was sound before things got tough, it should be sound now. Now is the time to invest. At no other time will you find partners as willing to negotiate price and terms as during this downturn.”
It Takes More Than a Resume to Get a Great Job
College Recruiter’s Liz Handlin gives some advice to job-hunters who cling to the old notions of what it takes to get hired. “A resume isn’t the only tool you need in your arsenal to get a job. In fact, I have known some uber-talented folks who have crummy resumes and who keep landing great jobs because of the strength of their networks, educations, accomplishments, interpersonal skills, and ability to market themselves. Each of these elements is important to job seekers – some more than others depending on the relative strength of some areas of your background. A great resume will help you to get noticed but it is by no means the only thing you need to prepare for a successful job search in an economic downturn.”
The Best Insurance Policy You Could Ever Have … Especially In A Recession
Scott Bradley talks about the importance of having a well-built personal network during tough times on Brazen Careerist. “The individuals who have nothing to fear are those who are highly connected in their niche. Each of these very individuals who are highly connected, and who understand that “Connectivity is the New Currency In This Day And Age,” as my friend Michelle Price says, are those that thrive in their life no matter what the economy is doing.”
Working Smarter Can Help Turn the Economy Around
Bob Picciano, General Manager of IBM Lotus Software, lists nine key factors contributing to a smart transformation in businesses this year on CIO.com. “Universal access to collaboration technology on any device will redefine what it means to be “at work” in an increasingly mobile and globally distributed workforce. Improved applications for mobile devices will offer enterprise office levels of security, flexibility and ease-of-use.”
New business guide has advice for tough economy
Jan Norman of the OC Register highlights the need for managers to examine how they’re running their operations and plan to take advantage of the eventual rebound. “Define your unique value and explore additional revenue streams. Take the time to revisit your position in the marketplace. Be certain that folks understand your unique offering and how to get it. Also, don’t be afraid to diversify into a complimentary business. Don’t retreat into your core business and overlook a chance to leverage your existing infrastructure.”
Overreacting to economic downturn?
Tech Forecasters’ Kathleen Geraghty is calling for restraint and reflection in making important business decisions. “A common overreaction, which can have negative long-term effects on companies, is making across-the-board decisions to reduce investments, compensation, and head count by the same percentage—in all divisions and functions. Our interviews last quarter revealed a number of corporate-wide directives to reduce expenses or headcount without consideration for the performance of a business unit. There is no denying that cost reductions are necessary and this broad-brush tactic may be an expedient way to achieve a corporate target, but they can be damaging to technology roadmaps and employee commitment–both critical to innovation.”
Five Ways to Lead More Effectively in Tough Times
On his blog, Kevin Eikenberry shares his insights on corporate leadership. “Communicate goals and vision. When things seem uncertain or challenging it’s especially important to focus people on the big picture. Does your team see the vision for the future? Do your people know the most important and meaningful organizational goals? As a leader it’s your responsibility to make sure the answer to those questions is YES. Spend more time communicating, sharing and engaging people in your picture of the future and their place in it. Not only will it help people see past today, but it will focus them on something positive and helpful.”
by Bill Ives
Box.net was started in 2005 to provide a way for people to store content on the web and access it from anywhere. Its capabilities have continued to expand along with the maturity of the enterprise 2.0 concept. Last week I spoke with Jen Grant, Amy White, and Sean Lindo from Box.net about their new features.
They have moved the business from its initial vision of online storage for the consumer market as their business users have found the service useful and expressed demands for new capabilities. Jen said they see three main use cases at the moment. First, people in such areas as a firm╒s marketing department, need to store and share large files. For example, Stonewall Kitchen provides visual images to its outlets and partners to use in promotions. They offer access to these large files through Box.net.
Second, some companies do not want to maintain file servers and go paperless. They put all the company files on Box.net with access permission levels to accomplish this objective and provide ease of access. This includes images, audio, video and creative assets, as well as more traditional documents such was Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Third, companies are now going beyond simple storage and access to use Box.net for team collaboration. This third area is the most complex and it has been the focus of their new feature development. They see this as a major growth opportunity and I would agree.
Box.net╒s main goal is providing a cloud solution that is both easy to implement and easy to use. They are using this strategy to address the enterprise 2.0 adoption issues and I agree here, as well. They have also found that teams have gone beyond team collaboration to use Box.net for lightweight project management within the workflow. Much of teamwork within many companies is content centric so Box.net wants to provide collaboration and project management capabilities where the content resides. They have seen good pickup here.
Box.net also support social networking in the context of content. You can see content related profiles, discussions, tags, and comments. However, in keeping with the simplicity goal, these features are offered in a side bar so they do not clutter up the workspace. There were also options for each content folder such as share, comment, and star (make it a favorite).
A page listing a collection of content files displayed a number of features off to the side such as a listing of the collaborators, recently updated files, latest comments and folder options. You can add to content such things as bookmarks, a related website link, description, and comments. You can also see the latest activity across all shared content. Here is sample page containing folders.
There is a profile page for each employee that includes information about their role and current projects as well as contact information (email, phone number, and a picture). Their latest activities are also covered: what content they’ve most recently edited, commented, or discussed. This status is updated automatically and is based on the activities around content within Box. In addition, there is full text search and you can FAX from within Box. Here is a sample profile page.
Box.net also offers a Web Documents feature to create a new document within Box. If you create that document inside a shared folder with people you want to collaborate with, collaborators in that folder can receive updates when the document is updated and, depending on the settings you choose, you can let them edit the document, as well. You can also start discussions around the document.
They provide open APIs and an open platform for third party developers and IT departments that want to add functionality. It is also integrated with Zoho that offers a suite of productivity applications (see Zoho: A Suite of Many Online Apps for Small to Midsize Business and Zoho Apps Go Mobile).
Jen said that as a SaaS provider they are doing well in this down economy. They continue to exceed their revenue targets. She attributed this to pressure on IT departments and business units to keep expenses down. With Box you can test it for free and choose from several low cost options. It is easy to get started and there are no implementation or systems integration costs. Employees still needs to do work and Box provides a lower cost way to accomplish many content related tasks.
I would agree here as many SaaS vendors are told me their revenues are up now. I would add that Box provides a very intuitive, easy-to-use system. This will be one of their competitive advantages to help overcome adoption issues in enterprise 2.0. Box recognizes this and Jen said that they plan to continue to keep their simplicity and ease of use as they add more features. Here is a post from their blog on more new features: Workflow and branding tools come to Box.
by Jim Ware
Yesterday was a national holiday in the United States: Memorial Day. We were all reminded of, and thinking of, our military veterans and active-duty soldiers, sailors, pilots, and marines (and all the others serving our country). We have to be incredibly grateful for their service.
I have always taken some comfort in knowing that technology enabled distant warriors to stay much closer to their loved ones than ever before. The combination of email, instant messaging, web cams, and all those social networking sites just had to be bridging the gaps and shortening those miles of separation. After all, overseas military service is the ultimate form of “distributed work.”
Well, it turns out it’s not that simple. There was a very poignant and candid first-person account in Monday’s New York Times of what it’s really like to try to maintain a marriage and a family with one spouse in harm’s way half way around the world (“One Husband, Two Kids, Three Deployments,” by Melissa Seligman).
Turns out that real-time video communication may not be the best way to maintain a distant relationship; Ms. Seligman and her military husband have come to rely on old-fashioned letters (snail mail!) to stay in meaningful touch with each other.
Please read the op-ed column; it’s a powerful statement about the stresses we put military families through. And it’s also a thought-provoking insight into the very real inadequacies of web-cams and real-time global communication.
What’s your reaction? Are we overenthusiastic about how technology “connects” us? How should we be assessing when and how to use which collaborative technologies?
by Bill Ives
I have written about GroupSwim before (see for example, GroupSwim Moves Deeper into Enterprise Collaboration). Last week I had a chance to catch up with Jason Rothbart, their VP of Customer Success. He covered how they have expanded their product line in response to market demands to provide three offerings, all built on enhanced versions of their original platform. There is now GroupSwim Collaboration, GroupSwim Community, and GroupSwim Workbench.
GroupSwim Collaboration is aimed at internal organizations and teams as a productivity tool. You can create a series of groups that map to your organizational structure, geographies, roles, or other factors. It is highly configurable so you can dynamically create and change groups as your business or project grows and evolves. There are many permissions levels so you can have groups that are totally open or ones that are hidden for complete privacy and security. You can set up wiki pages, store and share files, and have internal discussion forums. The wiki has WYSWYG editing and you can easily insert links, images or video. The Collaboration product is priced based on registered users. Here is an example of a collaboration screen.
GroupSwim Community software is designed to support external, customer-facing sites to provide a way for your customers to collaborate with you and each other. It has the same flexibility and ability to set multiple permission levels as the Collaboration product but is optimized for community use. You can set up discussion forums so customers and partners can ask questions, share experiences, and get work done. This process dynamically also creates a knowledge repository. The software automatically rates every single discussion, which helps you see what people are interested in or concerned about. The Community product is priced based on page views. Here is an example of a community page.
GroupSwim Workbench provides APIs and widgets to extend the base functionality. It is open to third party developers and IT departments who can produce customized white label versions of GroupSwim. The APIs are grouped by three levels of functionality: site, group, and user. You can also embed these widgets into other existing products and web sites. Creating a new widget is easy. The software generates html code based on your configuration choices so no coding is required by the user. Here is a screen showing a number of the widgets.
I like these moves as they have recognized the difference in enterprise and Web use and optimized both the features and pricing for both functions. GroupSwim has also moved the product completely to the cloud and has done away with their own servers. They now use virtual servers rather than a data center so they can scale indefinitely. More servers can now be added with the click of a button. Jason said their customer base has been doubling every few months so this capability is important.
Future plans include a question and answer capability. When users ask a question, the system can detect if the same question or a similar one has already been asked to avoid repetition. As a user is typing in a question, similar ones are displayed on the fly. The feature includes natural language processing to clarify issues. This feature will be especially relevant for discussion forums in both products. It is enabled by the GroupSwim auto-tagging capability.
It is nice to see the product line continue to evolve to meet market needs. Jason said that GroupSwim was named a Cool Software Vendor for 2009 by Gartner. Other new features include expanded search capability, an improved watchlist, and expanded ability for content moderation. Check out their blog, The GroupSwim Diving Board, for further release information.
by Shiv Singh
At the Razorfish 9th Annual Client Summit, I presented five big ideas for social influence marketing. These were ideas that I felt would matter in the next two years. The audience for the presentation was 600 senior marketers but the ideas I emphasized have relevance to all decision makers within an organization. Here’s the presentation with the five ideas. Let me know what you think.
by Matthew Hodgson
The phrase ‘radical trust‘ used to be banded around to encourage corporations to virtually close their eyes and throw open their communications to the public, trusting that they should take the good with the bad when engaging in blogging, collaboration through wikis, and similar social computing activities.
An investigation of trust, though, Mark E. Warren’s book on Democracy and Trust  suggests that, simply, institutions do not generate interpersonal trust. This is reminiscent of an Australian government paper on Citizen Centred Governance :
“Trust and confidence in politicians and Governments at all levels and in all countries has been on the decline for some time. This phenomena is not limited to politicians but also encompasses professions, businesses and brands.” (p 6)
The report highlights a ritualised negativity amongst the general public toward corporations and government institutions. It suggests that the level of trust is directly related to a number of factors:
1. Degree of Relevance: There is a direct connection between trust and personal interaction. Importantly, people trust people, not institutions. This notion is supported by the recent Edelman Trust Barometer report  noting that people trust people ‘like themselves’ and that trust in both corporate and government entities has decreased significantly over the last few years.
Source: Edelman, 2009.
2. Expectations & Performance: A gap between the level and quality of service and the expected level will mean a drop in trust in the service provider. The development and maintenance of trust and confidence is a personal value proposition between each individual and the organisation concerned and is often expressed as basic expectations such as quality, consistency, timeliness, and responsiveness.
This is supported by research by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO)  who report that 41% of Australians preferred to use the internet to communicate but are dissatisfied with the time it takes for government to respond and less satisfied with the amount of time it takes to receive a reply to an inquiry (84%).
3. Transparency: The power-distance between organisations and their clients results in a feeling of remoteness from decision-making processes. The degree of openness around reporting of results, availability of information impact on trust and confidence.
4. Scope and privacy: Powerful institutions are often perceived to be too intrusive into people’s lives.
5. Ritualised negativity: Skepticism of organisations is applauded and reinforced via jokes, advertising and even political slogans.
The path to trust
Web 2.0 technologies, though, can improve trust relationships because they focus on building interpersonal relationships. Specifically, if the distance between people and elements of corporations and government are brought closer through person-to-person communication through Web 2.0 technologies a direct and proportional increase in trust will be displayed.
Identity through establishing personal profiles, Laurel Papworth suggests, is the first step to engender trust. As one of the core components of Web 2.0 technologies, profiles enables individuals to identify with the writer. Drawing on elements of social psychology, Papworth illustrates that interpersonal interaction and consistency of responsive communication with that individual builds rapport and reputation through which trust is achieved.
Ultimately, this indicates a need to move away from large, faceless, anonymous information distribution websites toward more personal, targeted communications. Web strategist, Jeremiah Owyang, reinforces this approach by reminding us that “the corporate website is an unbelievable collection of hyperbole, artificial branding, and pro-corporate content. As a result, trusted decisions are being made on other locations on the internet”.
On trust and the path to embracing Web 2.0 as the core facilitator, Owynag points us to the following actions:
“…do you [know how to] build the most trust? By being open, authentic, and transparent. We know from research that the highest degree of trust comes from those ‘like me’, a savvy marketer will allow content to appear from peers, customers, and the market. These will not always be a product rave, in fact it may be downright criticism, the goal? To take that feedback, and demonstrate in public how you will improve your offerings in plain view.
From these actions trust will grow.
- – - -
1. By Mark E. Warren, M. E. 1999. Democracy and trust. Published by Cambridge University Press, 1999
2. Chief Minister’s Department, 2008. Citizen Centred Governance. ACT Government, July.
3. Edelman, 2009. Trust Barometer
4. Australian Government Information Management Office, 2008. Interacting with Government. Australians’ use and satisfaction with e-government services
by Celine Roque
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In order to make a good impression, one has to be polite. So, I typed in a friendly, “Hi”, and to my surprise, it replied, “Hello, human.” Next, I asked it where it is located. “I live on the Internet.” Fair enough, I suppose. Lastly, I inquired about its nature and it told me, “I am a computational knowledge engine.”
I would’ve liked to carry on a “conversation” with it, but Wolfram|Alpha’s human discourse module has not yet been fully developed. However, I was able to get great information on constellations, compare the GDP of various countries, create a timeline of famous Roman emperors, and get up-to-date weather information, automatically localized to my area. I’m sure that its linguistic abilities will be improved in the near future, though, along with a host of upgrades in keeping with its lofty ideals:
“Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term goal is to make all systematic knowledge immediately computable and accessible to everyone. We aim to collect and curate all objective data; implement every known model, method, and algorithm; and make it possible to compute whatever can be computed about anything. Our goal is to build on the achievements of science and other systematizations of knowledge to provide a single source that can be relied on by everyone for definitive answers to factual queries.”
If you haven’t heard of it yet, this ambitious new tool is the brainchild of scientist Stephen Wolfram, and is unfortunately being touted as the next Google-killer. Unfortunate, because the two have different methods for accomplishing different goals, and therefore shouldn’t be compared as if they were mortal enemies. Google is used to find other websites pertinent to a search term among its enormous index. Meanwhile, Wolfram|Alpha generates new answers based on inquiries, computed real-time from relevant public data. One has a web crawler to broaden its reach, the other has a centralized curation process to comb through data. Both can be very useful in their own ways.
The first thing you’ll notice about Wolfram|Alpha is its clean, minimalist design. It has a text box on top of the page to type your queries in, be it a question or a mathematical formula. It offered fast answers for almost every inquiry I made, and as a data geek I appreciate the graphs what would sometimes accompany the results. In a video on their blog, they said that they are currently averaging at 70% satisfaction rate in terms of giving meaningful answers to queries. The fact that it did not crash during launch last May 18 – even after all the hype it generated – is a testament to their preparedness and awesome infrastructure.
Wolfram|Alpha is great for comparisons: stock fluctuations, box office grosses, demographics by country, timelines of famous people, chemical properties, etc. The technology behind it has an immense potential for custom business applications, enabling managers to pull up and compare sales trends, fiscal reports, and employee retention in a snap. In this sense, I’m not worried about Wolfram|Alpha’s long-term financial viability. I think it can find a way to sustain itself with its focus towards providing a valuable tool for businesses, engineers, college students, scientists, economists, and the like.
Wolfram|Alpha, striking as it is, is not new or unique (see sCloud), but it’s the first of its kind to create mainstream buzz and its approach is quite promising. The results it churns out are informative, though a bit lacking in depth. At the moment, only US data are abundant while those for most other countries are scarce. Unlike Wikipedia, it has no specific attribution of source per statement/datum. Instead, there is a link at the bottom which shows a general list of all the references for the inquiry. This makes it hard to do quick checks on accuracy.
This tool is best for objective analysis, so you won’t find film reviews, news & opinions, historical accounts, and similar articles here. Neither is it suited for entertainment and other consumer purposes. As of this time, Wolfram|Alpha is said to contains 10+ trillion of pieces of data, 50,000+ types of algorithms and models, and linguistic capabilities for 1000+ domains. This may seem a lot, but it’s really barely scratching the surface of recorded information. I’m not quite sure if they use a form of crawler to automate data gathering, but the curation process being centralized and needing human supervision severely limits the speed of data acquisition. With only less than 100 people in their staff, I wonder how timely and accurate they can add new information, with lots more being generated all the time.
Wolfram|Alpha is an incredible resource for quickly getting organized, factual information, but it’s not for everyone. It’s tag line alone (“computational knowledge engine”) will be enough to make some people scratch their heads. In time, it will find its niche, which will likely be a profitable one if they can manage to keep a high quality of service. Although Wolfram|Alpha has a blog and a community, it’s not open to the general public for editing unlike Web 2.0 sites. This is a walled garden, with experts in every field trying to maintain the purity of their data.
If you haven’t tried Wolfram|Alpha, I’d advise you watch Stephen Wolfram’s helpful video primer. It’s hard not to be blown away by the possibilities.
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