Friday, December 12, 2014

Tools from #SocialNow 2014

Now that plans are being made for the next edition of SocialNow, it’s a good time to post some of my notes from the previous edition. I’m really looking forward to the next conference and hope to meet you there!

Special conference
As you my know SocialNow is special conference. The structure is very different from other conference. The whole idea is to help you (the audience) listen to and select the right internal social platform for your needs. This is done by asking vendors to present to a fictitious company with real-life needs and convince them that your platform is fit for their needs. The company is supported by ‘consultants’ with expertise in IT, design and business. And of course the audience may ask questions as well. Here we go:

Talks and tools
The vendor presentations are mixed with several keynotes by Tim Walters, Louise McGregor, Luis Suarez and Euan Semple. I’m not going to summarize those talks. I do want to share my notes about the vendor presentations and round up with some closing thoughts.

Hoozin: Does auto-translation of content, runs on top of Sharepoint, wants people to work with Hoozin in the context of their day-to-day business, employees are invited to join communities instead of forcing them to work in one.

Exo: Microblogging, integrated call feature, users can also assign tasks to content, document sharing and collaboration (extensive DMS features). It looked like they also summarizes interactions, but they don’t. It’s open source software and has a multi-lingual interface. They have a plugin for real-time translation of updates. The mood widget gives insight in the sentiment of the feed, page or platform as a whole (to HR). Exo also has an app.

Jive: Very extensive social platform. They provide rich social profiles (with skills, endorsements), inscreen document viewer, recommends people and documents to users, etc. A share widget that can be installed in your browser helps share external stuff you find in Jive. Jive also has an app.

Knowledge Plaza: They have rich profiles, apply facetted search everywhere, wiki functionality, syncs with Dropbox, Skydrive and the like, versioning on all content, light-weight workflow, also responsive design.

TeamGum: Launched at SocialNow. They want to integrate all external platforms so stuff can be shared internally. Searching in Google gives results from TeamGum. They are focused on information and knowledge sharing and discovery. They too provide a widget to share stuff to your network from the browser.

Jamespot: Focused on social action. They provide: approval of updates (workflow), structured collaboration, keeps an overview of your business goals and reports to you on them, can push information to newsletter and narrow casting platform (to connect to people without screens).

Xwiki: They’ve been to all SocialNow conferences. They had a good presentation on use cases like finding experts, peer assist for new employees and sharing news online instead of via email. I love the comment and track changes features on content, they have. Xwiki is responsive, workflow can relate to roles/rights and change based on the phase of the workflow.

BlueKiwi (owned by Atos): Atos is the no email company. They wondered how they could unclog the personal feed. They apply the GTD-methodology to social solutions by using labels. Bluekiwi events is connected to Outlook Calendar. You can also forward an email to Bluekiwi. Updates from other systems can be posted to the application using the api. They are also thinking about moving email to this platform.

HIGHQ: The core is a microblogging stream. You can add/track milestones and Todo’s. There’s support for meetings and projects. A neat feature is that they offers encryption on files so that an employee can’t share files outside of the project space. They can create newsletters automatically (summary of interactions). You can easily invite externals to rooms. HighQ has an app.

SAP Jam: In the presentation they focused on the process of social onboarding, New employees are supported to follow the right people and join the right groups. Their vision is not have social for the sake of social. Core of Jam is the microblogging stream. They also have polls, ranking, broadcasting via video functionality. Jam has an app. Profiles are filled with endorsements. Externals can be added to groups if needed. Unique is the fact they integrate with ERP, CRM and the masterdata of the organization.

Twoodo: The whole application is built around tags. Even priorities of tasks are (managed with) tags. They provide a Zen mode to focus solely on work and tasks. When you marks an update with the tag #question the application categorizes the update as a question and asks people to answer it. You can also send emails from Twoodo,. Every change/edit is logged.

IBM Connections: IBM is working on the integration of email with their internal social and collaboration platform Connections. Connections has an extensive features set. Core is the rich profile and microblogging functionality. Profiles are greyed out if someone doesn’t work for IBM anymore. In this way you still know he contributed and where that person can be found now. Connections integrates with unified communications and SharePoint. The files are managed by Sharepoint but are shown in Connections.

Striking
There are some things that really strike me when listening to and thinking about these vendor presentations. First of all, not very many vendors are good at presenting based on a concrete company case. Most of the presentations start with a short summary of what the company needs and then goes right into talking about all the features the vendor has. The one’s that do really relate to the needs of the company are loved by the audience, the one’s that don’t relate to the company are almost thrown out of the room… I think there’s a huge opportunity for vendors here.

Enterprise solutions vs startups
Secondly, there’s a big difference between presentations from enterprise solutions and start-ups. The start-ups have more visionary presentations and come up with new features, the enterprise vendors have what all the other enterprise vendors have. Most enterprises will go with the latter anyway. For that reason I’m surprised they don’t relate more to the issues (large) companies have, like security, outside-in collaboration, etc. Related to this: enterprise vendors are very vague about pricing, even though that question is asked to them every time. Why not provide a clear pricing outline? At least this leads to the fact that the audience will trust you a bit more.

Innovation on the edges
Finally, it is clear that innovation happens on the edges. All new ideas, concepts and features are presented by the new vendors. The enterprise vendors is all about completeness of the feature set and ‘me too’. With all the development power large vendors have, you would think it would be the other way around…

Asking the right questions
And final finally, SocialNow clearly helps the people who are looking for a new internal social platform or are looking for ways to solve real problems in their company to ask the right questions to vendors. It helps you drill through the marketing talk and really understand what they are about.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Is intranet personalization of no value?

Personalization of intranet homepages has been a big topic for years now. Recently some results from a survey were shared and analyzed by Andy Jankowski, I was most surprised by the data about personalization (and left a comment there). According to the research from the Worldwide Intranet Challenge personalization has a negative impact on the way employees value their intranet.

My intranet
I know there is research that says only 20% of the employees personalize their intranet when they can. But the above-mentioned conclusion is contrary to all my experiences. When we do intranet strategy and design work for companies, almost all ask for some form of personalization. This doesn't have to mean they will use it, I think. I think employees says this when they ask for personalization: the intranet is fundamentally mine, so I want to be able to tweak it in such a way that it fits my daily needs, not Communication's or IT's needs.

Levels of personalization
What kind of personalization are we talking about here? It’s nog clear from the survey results. Is the personalization we're talking about here comparable with iGoogle-type personalization?

In my experience there are 3 levels of personalization:

1. the system does it for you based on your profile, location, etc.
This is also called personification. In most organizations this has failed horribly. Employees hate when the systems decides for them. But there seems to be a subtle balance here: some automatic personalization is good, but too much is irritating. In any case: users want to understand why they automatically get to see certain content and functionality (to be able to correct the system if necessary). Currently work is being done on learning intranets. I think this is interesting, but employees will still want to understand how the learning algorithm (artificial intelligence) learns, concludes, infers, etc.

2. the homepage design is fixed but you can personalize the content of some of the widgets/boxes
So the elements on a homepage are predefined, but employees can select 4 out of 10 news categories, they can decide who to follow, they decide which updates from projects they want to see, etc.

3. the homepage is not fixed, every user can 'design' his/her own homepage, no two homepages look alike
This is usually a combination of 1 and 2 plus an iGoogle kind of interface. We have several customers with this type of intranet. About 80% personalize in the iGoogle way.

Personalization and design
Another thought: there are also design considerations here. The fact that some users don't value personalization can also have to do with the way they've experienced it. I've seen many horribly complex implementations of personalization with ditto design... In those cases I would want to personalize my intranet either.

Personalization and the web
And finally: why do we personalized so heavily on the Internet? The Internet and intranet are different things. But how we use the web teaches us that we love ‘pull’ and ‘personalization’. Just look at the way many build personalized feeds based on RSS, following, hashtags, etc. And also think about all the different apps we use. A quick peek at someone’s smartphone homescreen teaches us we personalize heavily. I’m sure this goes for internal as well if we give it to employees in the right way.

Share your experiences
I’m really curious what your experiences are with personalization. Whether you work with your company’s intranet or you develop intranet platforms for customers. Please leave a comment and will continue the discussion.