Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Using In-House Social Network for Business Apps


Organizations have always considered communication and information, knowledge management key to manage businesses profitably and efficiently. However, despite social media revolution, Enterprise 2.0 and the new web, there has not been enough focus on tapping this new opportunity.
By Sumeet Anand
The social media revolution has led to a completely new set of challenges for organizations today. On the one spectrum are organizations which see social software as a distraction for its people and a threat to information security.
There are also organizations which are not violently averse to it and have put together some such solutions but are struggling to find ideal ways to deal with it.
As for the organizations taking the banning route, it is a huge loss. They not only fail to tap tacit knowledge of the organization but also don’t realize that their employees nevertheless go out there and express themselves in the open web world, ask questions, answer queries and collaborate. Also, they lose out on providing a platform to its people to meaningfully connect.

Organizations which have taken to social software have often offered themselves half-baked solutions while imagining that the problem has been taken care of. There is hardly any case in point that demonstrates understanding of the challenges organizations face in the wake of information overload and changing behavior of the new workforce.
Also, as organizations have generally started with a notion of distrust, there has not been enough unbiased focus on trying to understand these new generation tools and derive immense benefits they offer.
What the CXOs need to appreciate is that if people are allowed to express themselves, it will only enrich their own internal communication situation and knowledge reservoir. It will also help them create a corporate institutional memory in the wake of high attrition rates.

When people collaborate to solve problems, collect relevant material, capture their own tacit knowledge, as well as gather information from the wider world of web and experts, these activities can be turned into a meaningful exercise for the business.
Simply put, organizations need to look for a system that allows people to express in a simple and smart way, help them organize and structure information around concepts or subjects and categories, and let them discover it when they need it or make a serendipitous discovery.
All this is achievable by an agile, comprehensive and low-cost social software solution, commonly known as Enterprise 2.0 solution.

With this solution, all the information and knowledge can be categorized as tacit knowledge of the people and explicit knowledge contained in documents, audio, video files and web pages.
All we need is simple and smart system that simplifies the process of expression while allowing all types of expressions that constitute knowledge.  It should empower people to say what they want to say without restriction of the medium or standards, share what they know exists within organization or outside, and collaborate with all stakeholders to further curate and enhance each contribution relevant to various stakeholders. 
Information that matters may exist internally or in the external world. The ideal social software solutions must enable capturing of both internal as well as external information.

Structuring information as it is being captured in the form of question-answers, quick reflections, polls, discussions or documents and web pages is not difficult to achieve using appropriate social software. There are many ways of doing it and there are enough tools which accomplish this with varying degree of perfection.
The structuring can be embedded in the process of capturing information as well as through a mechanism to do it post-facto. Also, it must allow capturing the context of each expression of knowledge.
For example, it is better to categorize the information shared as good practice, example, news, learning object and so on because people look for information based on context and not the format.  Further, it must help organize each expression by linking it to related concepts/subjects. 

Such an approach enables creation of comprehensive body of knowledge that represents the knowledge of the collective and serves as the basis for automatic and intelligent information discovery.
Moreover, the information should be made available in such a way that it can be easily explored, searched and discovered using intelligent suggestion/recommendation engine. Typing search ‘strings’ or going through the structured body of information should lead the explorer to a comprehensive body of knowledge around specific subjects or concepts.
When something being sought is not available within the system, it should throw up external search and the system should also provide a mechanism to pull the external information into the system. This completes the cycle of discovery and sharing.

If information is captured with the relevant context and is organized with links to related concepts/subjects, it enables efficient discovery and reduces the information discovery challenge.
Now if such a solution is available at a competitive price and can be implemented rather quickly, then where is the occasion for apprehensions and where is the need to have a social software solution just for the sake of it?
Organizations, businesses and institutions will do well to join the bandwagon of this change by having people and stakeholders socially and informally collaborate for a better future. This will prove catalyst for a substantial improvement in communication, information/knowledge management and process improvement within organizations.

Such a solution will not only bring the organization and its stakeholders together, it will also create visibility for people who share and solve problems using the in-house social network. The recognition will lead to greater motivation to contribute.
The contribution of people towards solving problems and building a strong knowledge repository can also be linked to performance management to further build motivation for people to interact more.
There is enough scope to build analytical capability in these tools to capture and present the relevant data from different perspectives to management and people.
For organizations and institutions, more people interact, better it would be. Learning, success of projects and businesses is a function of collective communication, collective will and collective action. And comprehensive, ingenious and well-thought out social software (in-house social network) is the answer. 

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