The Urgency of Now

The news about Sarah Palin broke today while I was working.  Where did I see the news?   Twitter (of course).  Seconds turned to minutes, and I found myself impatient with not knowing the inside scoop on the why behind the resignation.  What was the target of my impatience?  The Twitter community.  Seems ridiculous, but it’s just expected these days that you’ll get to the heart of a breaking story within seconds.

To that end, it reminded me I wanted to write a post about the “unbearable heaviness of not-being” current.  Way, way back around the Christmas holidays, I was flattered to be one of only three reviewers for Andrew McAfee’s book on Enterprise  2.0 by Harvard Business Press.    They asked me to review the manuscript, and I accepted (for a small stipend).  They gave me a couple weeks to review it, and I submitted my comments in mid-January.

At the back of mind, however, and something I probably should have included in the review and regret now that I didn’t was a lingering doubt.  “This book will be obsolete before it’s published for the community of folks who track this sector.”

When Andy and I caught up at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, he told me that he too is really troubled by the delay on the publishing schedule.  He had hoped the book would have been published by the conference deadline (June), but it is now pushed back until December.  December?   You’re kidding me.

The demand for Andy’s book is today, not six months from now.  I’m wondering if, as a community, we can lobby Harvard Business Press to move the publication date up as its value is inextricably tied to its timeliness– especially in this fast-moving space.  The Editorial Director in charge of the publication timeline is Jacqueline Murphy .   I urge you to contact her and express your support for moving the book up in Harvard Business Press’ publishing queue.  I also started a Facebook group with the same goal.

Cognizant Global Experiment in the Collaborosphere Pays Off

As many of you know, I spent the first half of my career in the IT space tracking the IT services sector. The business of large-scale systems integrators and outsourcers wasn’t always thrilling, but boy-oh-boy, did those firms rake in the big bucks. Contracts weren’t even worth mentioning if they didn’t register in the hundreds of millions. At one point in the “megadeal” market for IT outsourcing, a contract would have to be in the billions to earn that designation.

Sigh.

I often wonder how my old friends in the SI/Outsourcer space are doing, and if in fact, any are adopting 2.0 technologies or practices internally or recommending them to their large customer bases. So, it was a pleasant surprise to reconnect with an old friend, Alan Alper, who is now working for another old friend, Malcolm Frank, both now at Cognizant— a large-scale integrator/outsourcer.

It turns out Cognizant is making productive use of 2.0 technologies and practices, and has realized some identifiable business results already. The company began an initiative about two years ago called, “Cognizant 2.0.” Essentially, the Cognizant 2.0 platform is a combination knowledge management/project workflow tool that incorporates 2.0 technology to leverage the combined intelligence and skills across Cognizant’s entire 60K workforce. What’s interesting about Cognizant 2.0 is that employees use the same tools they’re used to using in the workplace: Microsoft Project, Office, SharePoint, as well as their ERP systems. The platform integrates these enterprise “native” tools into a unique view that crosses time zones and geographic boundaries to glue the company’s expertise together. Dashboards now monitor critical project tasks and provide project teams with detailed, real-time access to workflow activities, information, targets, and deliverables. Internal blogging for the company has produced some surprising results. It grew essentially organically within the company as a means of communication and sharing and now includes non-related work content such as discussing charitable causes, movies reviews, weather, photography, and affinity-based professional interests.

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Cognizant estimates the new collaborative platform improves project cycle times on average about 20%. With more than a third (37%) of the company’s application development projects running through the platform, it encompasses over 4,000 projects at what will soon span more than 600 customers. One of the greatest gains has been a 70% productivity improvement for project managers who formerly used the company’s previous project management tool. About 20% of the workforce (over 10K), including the company CEO Francisco d’Souza, are blogging internally on the platform with over 3-5 million page views a month.

Customer satisfaction numbers for Cognizant have always been high (near 90% in recent years), but the advantages of working collaboratively and socially has given Cognizant a distinctive advantage vis-a-vis its competitors in a hotly contested space. In essence, the company has moved from “labor arbitrage” to what it now refers to as “intellectual arbitrage.” The Cognizant example is an excellent one that truly demonstrates business advantage to a large enterprise. The company intends on extending the platform to include suppliers and customers in upcoming releases.

If I had to point out a deficiency for Cognizant 2.0, like its enterprise software components, it’s not sexy. It could use a trendy 2.0 UI/UX makeover to make it more appealing to users. But considering most of Cognizant’s workforce is comfortable with plain-old-vanilla enterprise software for everyday use, there is probably no urgent need to doll up the platform. Moreover, as Cognizant is a public company with nearly $3B in revenue and an $8B market cap, the company’s priorities might well be more focused on business results than design awards. I give it a thumbs up for innovation, adoption, and an impressive approach to integrating the old with the new– which is what I’d hope to see from a world-class systems integrator.

Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!* Boston is Home Base for e20 Evangelists this Month.

picture-4Well, it’s that time of year again. The Enterprise 2.0 Conference is once again gearing up for an interesting week in Boston. All e20-loving fans and friends will be coming from all parts unknown to proselytize, share war stories, and re-energize for the year ahead.

The keynotes are exceptional this year. I’m really pleased we were able attract Matthew Fraser, co-author of one of my favorite 2.0 business books this year, “Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom: How Online Social Networking will Transform Your Life, Work, and World.” We also have favorites from last year include Evening in the Cloud, OpenEnterprise09, and one of the stars of last year’s event: the Lockheed-Martin case study duo.

I’m particularly interested in a few sessions. (In fact, I gave up all my speaking slots so I could attend other sessions!) One that I don’t want to miss is Lee Bryant’s “Transition Strategies for e20 Adoption.” Headshift is one of the really innovative boutique consultancies out there focusing nearly exclusively on introducing 2.0 to the enterprise. Another one I’m interested in is Amy Vicker’s “The Sharepoint Factor.” I helped Amy get this on the program, and I’m sure she won’t disappoint. If y’all don’t have a Sharepoint strategy, you’re going to be in for a rude awakening if you’re serious about large enterprise. I think Mr. tell-it-like-it-is, Peter Kim, is going to surprise with his “Does Social Media and Marketing Matter?” panel. That one will probably break Twitter. To be honest, there are so many great sessions this year, it’s difficult to narrow down my must-attend events. I asked Steve Wylie how the registration is going. Surprisingly, the conference is holding up very well against the economic downturn. Steve said the numbers of customers are consistent with last year’s attendance too.

Once again, I will be pitching in on Enterprise2Open. This is a barcamp-style event where everyone gets a chance to present or share their own experiences. Brian Magierski, my former colleague at nGenera will be there, along with Ross Mayfield of Socialtext. Both companies are sponsoring the barcamp and have serious street cred in discussing the challenges and opportunities with making 2.0 in-roads in large enterprises. Last year’s sessions were well-attended, and I think everyone got a lot out of the group discussions. If you have something you’d like to present, sign up at the Enterprise2Open wiki and promote your event.

I’m still waiting on details for the social calendar (parties, dinners, etc.). But, I saw the first tweetup today. About two dozen people have already signed up. You may want to sign up early for the social network associated with the conference at MyE2. This is also where you’ll access the back channel that was very useful last year.

*”Ollie Ollie Oxen Free!” is from the children’s game of hide and seek where the “it” player summons everyone back to base (essentially because they’ve given up, which is kinda how I feel this year…) 🙂

ITSinsider is mashing up with RWW

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I am pleased to announce that I am joining the ReadWriteWeb team effective today. I’ve been in conversations with Bernard Lunn about how opportune a time it is for ReadWriteWeb to seriously layer on enterprise coverage to the already phenomenal job ReadWriteWeb does in covering various web 2.0 startups and the industry. We concluded those conversations shortly after SXSW, and I’ve decided to accept their gracious offer to join the team. ReadWriteWeb’s Enterprise channel will focus exclusively on how the evolving Internet and its ecosystem of related products coupled with the 2.0 philosophies of openness, collaboration, transparency, and sharing are disrupting markets and revamping business processes all over the globe. We’ll cover large enterprises, medium and small businesses, vendors, and all sorts of consultants and ecosystem participants. If you’re conducting commerce and relying on Internet technology to make a buck, we’ll be watching.

Of course, because of my background, I’ll be focusing especially on Enterprise 2.0 developments which will include most of what you’ve come to find here on the ITSinsider blog. But through my affiliation with the Enterprise Irregulars and many of the consultants and gurus I’ve met on the social web who specialize in different aspects of Enterprise expertise, I’ll be broadening my reach beyond simply wikis, blogs, RSS, and mashups. I will be depending on my “friends” to help shape the relevance and meaning of new developments in the Enterprise space by going back to my roots as a journalist and seeking expert sources for commentary.

Additionally, because of the flexibility we have as a management team to experiment with business models and new channels for income generation, we will be rolling out a host of products and services that will add tremendous value to our readers and sponsors. Stay tuned for announcements there.

In the meantime, look for Richard‘s announcement later today. If you wish me well (and I hope you do!), please get me off to a good start by leaving a comment on the ReadWriteWeb site. Thanks for reading ITSinsider. I look forward to many years ahead of quality reporting and “community” service.

4/14 UPDATE: Screeeech. Stay Tuned.

ITSinsider is looking for love not work… :-)

humptydumptyI read an old-fashioned user-generated column in Newsweek this week where a young woman quoted her mother as saying, “…finding a job you love means never working a day in your life.” For the past nearly two years, I’ve had the special privilege to cover the Enterprise 2.0 sector as an employee of nGenera. Hands down, I have had the best job in the business. I’ve met extremely bright people and have had the opportunity to listen to real Enterprise customers as they struggle with the choices related to introducing 2.0 into their large enterprise environments.

I will continue to work with nGenera, as the company continues on its journey. But I will continue as an independent, not an employee. Although, admittedly, it’s scary facing the prospect of not having a salary during oh, say, the worst economic crisis ever in my adult life time, I remain optimistic. Let’s just say I’m taking a huge leap of faith that dictates when I jump off this ledge, there will be a large, strong net– the social web– ready to catch me. I’ve been inspired by so many in the 2.0 community to trust, to share, to work together to achieve common goals. Now I’m putting my own rhetoric to the test. Is there a market here or not?

I hope you’ll help me prove there is. If you’re interested in speaking to me about any way I can help your organization grapple with 2.0, or if you’re a vendor who feels misunderstood and under-appreciated, you know where to find me– I’ll be home, here on the social web. I look forward to having a conversation.

And, if you really want to help, but don’t have a budget (lol), do me a social networking solid and leave me a recommendation on LinkedIn.

Reality Check 2.0

Over the past month, I’ve been wrestling with blogger’s block. A number of items have kept me from blogging, but the key agitator is the current economic crisis. I’ve attended conferences; I’ve participated in discussions on social media; I continue to Yammer and Twitter, but in the back of my mind a blaring alarm is sounding off. It seems so many in the 2.0 community (who still have a job or have clients) is either in denial or is missing the bleak macro picture here.

This weekend I was watching the Sunday morning news roundups, Former Secretary of State James Baker, speaking on “Meet the Press” reiterated what we’ve been hearing for weeks now, “…it is very serious. It’s far worse than the downturn that we saw back in the 1987 when we had a stock market collapse when I was Treasury secretary. That one was much less broad and severe, but even that took us two years to come out of.”

Now, no disrespect to my late GenX and GenY readers and friends, but Boomers have some experience here that may prove helpful. Those of us who were engaged in the technology workforce in the late 80s and early 90s had to move fast to help our customers cut costs and work smarter. For me, that meant the birth of Business Process Reengineering and Outsourcing. For others, it meant the birth of Enterprise Resource Planning or ERP. Now, you could argue whether any or all of these initiatives actually delivered the results intended, but the fact remains: lots of software developers and consultants made a huge market in downtime adversity.

This recession/depression is poised to eclipse any downturn we’ve seen in our lifetimes. As I canvas the Enterprise 2.0 landscape, I find myself wondering: what is our killer economic crisis app/movement? Twitter? Facebook? Will we save the U.S auto industry by social networking?

Really?

I can assure you, there will be no Federal bail outs for 2.0 startups. Some startups will stretch their life expectancy with VC funds, but at the end of the day, it’s show time. How will you help your customers and future customers grow or at least sustain their business through this economic downturn?

The Enterprise 2.0 Advisory Board is convening in an online forum to discuss themes for this year’s conference. The conversation quickly migrated beyond the soft benefits of social collaboration to the hard, measurable benefits businesses need when navigating through tough times.

Mike Gotta of analyst firm Burton Group contributed this remark:

“Some of the phrases I keep hearing: 1. Efficiency (cost containment/avoidance, streamlining, etc.) 2. Execution (all-things-lean, process refinement) 3. Effectiveness (process and people performance, measurable productivity) 4. Rationalization (of budgets, of projects, of platforms) 5. Governance and metrics to support the above. Operations (run the business) and investment to protect top/bottom line engines (grow the business) are still ok – transformation unless it maps into some of the above areas is more discretionary – a good strategist will not cut to the bone… but overall – it’s a run/grow the business more than transformation. Business transformation (at least in my head) is more than just changing a process. Anything “soft” is getting a hard look – sure – some savvy execs will keep a portfolio perspective and still invest in some long-term areas and not slash things to the point that when the economy rights itself they are strategically behind but they (1) may not have any choice and (2) may not get broad agreement from their peers.”

Even Stowe Boyd, who coined the term “social tools” back in 1999 had this to say:

I am one of the biggest advocates for ‘social’ in the world, but I think it is too limiting for E2.0, and perhaps off message in the econolyptic times we are in.

I think the right theme is something more around ‘making the web work for business’—some blendo idea that allows E2.0 to mean
a/ the adoption of web tools and culture within the enterprise,
b/ the use of the web to better connect the enterprise to the greater world, and
c/ most specifically, the use of web 2.0 IT principles to reinvent enterprise IT, (like cloud computing, AJAX, web services, and so on).

The bottom line is: focus on the bottom line. We are collaborating for survival.

Update 12/01/08:  McAfee blogs on ideas for saving Big Auto.