Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Next wave of tech-driven productivity = Enterprise 2.0

This is an essay I recently wrote for a local publication on the potential benefits of the Enterprise 2.0 movement, especially to boost U.S. productivity from recently lackluster levels. And, of course, OpenTeams is the perfect tool to drive these sorts of benefits in any organization.


American business is facing a productivity crisis. Last year, U.S. productivity increased an anemic 1.6% – half the 3-4% annual rates of the previous decade, driven by technologies like business process automation and the Internet. Those technologies have reached saturation, and if the next tech wave doesn’t arrive soon, our economic growth and the quality-of-life improvements it affords will suffer.

This crisis is particularly acute in Houston, where the new energy boom has run up against a tight labor market, and talent constraints prevent companies from fully seizing new opportunities. The renewed focus is productivity: how can we get more out of our organization? Especially when it comes to what McKinsey calls “tacit interactions” – complex collaborative problem-solving – the type of work that has traditionally been resistant to productivity-increasing technological process automation like manufacturing and many services.

Almost everyone feels the primary symptom of this failure: email overload. Collaboration is more important than ever, but email is showing its inadequacy to the task, with overflowing inboxes, the spiraling “Cc: CYA” problem, out-of-sync file attachments, and the lack of any organized, up-to-date, persistent, transparent institutional memory or knowledgebase.

The technological answer is slowly migrating over from the consumer side of the Internet, collectively known as “Web 2.0”. If “Web 1.0” was static web sites, “Web 2.0” is all about interactivity and communities: blogs (short, frequent, easy publishing), tags (community-driven categorization of information), social networking (like MySpace, Facebook, or LinkedIn), and wikis (web-sites easily editable by anyone, such as Wikipedia, the rapidly growing global encyclopedia).

The application of these Web 2.0 technologies in businesses has been termed, naturally, “Enterprise 2.0”. Dr. Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School defines Enterprise 2.0 as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.” He further clarifies two key words in that definition:
  1. “Platforms are digital environments in which contributions and interactions are globally visible and persistent over time.” (as opposed to email)
  2. “Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contains mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people’s interactions become visible over time.” (like with tags or links; and freeform, as opposed to process-oriented workflow, traditional pre-structured knowledge management software, or narrow project-oriented groupware)
These technologies are just starting to be piloted inside companies, but the impact can be dramatic. Some groups using wikis for collaboration have reported email reductions of one-third, meetings and conference calls cut by half, project cycles accelerated by 25%, and even an overall doubling of group productivity. These results make Enterprise 2.0 a prime candidate for the next great tech-driven productivity boom, finally “cracking the code” on accelerating and improving tacit interactions.

The benefits go beyond productivity, impacting areas like innovation, knowledge management, and telework.

In a globalizing economy of fierce competition, commoditization, and cost pressures, innovation has become the new mantra to stay ahead of China and India. And not just product innovation, but bottom-up innovation in processes, costs, service, quality, speed, sales, supply chains, and even business models. Enterprise 2.0 tools create the perfect incubator environment for ad hoc global teams to collaborate on innovative ideas.

In addition to increasing productivity and fostering innovation, Enterprise 2.0 tools are even reviving the field of knowledge management from a decade of high-profile failure (“Knowledge Management 2.0,” anyone?). The lack of incentives and rapidly stale information hobbled such efforts in the past, but because tools like blogs and wikis are integrated into daily work, they overcome these problems and emerge into the “collective intelligence” knowledgebase companies always knew they wanted, but couldn’t quite achieve.

Finally, Enterprise 2.0 software is a great enabler of telework by our newly virtual workforce, whether on the road “living out of a laptop” or working from home. Today companies like Sun and Agilent report that their virtual workforces are 60% less expensive while being 15% more productive. Some experts believe we are at a “tipping point” in the rise of this phenomena, and 40% of the workforce may work this way by 2012.

Collaboration. Productivity. Innovation. Knowledge management. Telework. The benefits of the Enterprise 2.0 movement are both broad and deep, enabling the flexible, adaptive corporation of the 21st century. Make sure yours doesn’t get left behind.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Hinchcliffe on Enterprise 2.0 as a corporate culture catalyst

Dion Hinchcliffe writes and Enterprise 2.0 blog I follow closely, and he recently posted on corporate culture changes driven by Web 2.0 technologies - obviously an exact fit with OpenTeams driving the Entrepreneurial Organization. Some relevant excerpts:
Those of you tracking the Enterprise 2.0 story know the drill, namely that applying Web 2.0 tools and platforms inside organization may or may not — depending on who you are talking to — improve the way we collaborate, run our businesses, and even potentially tap major new veins of previously unexploitable worker productivity. (I have a future post on this)
Clearly the exciting things happening on the Web today from the explosion of user-generated content, ad hoc collaboration in the large, rapid self-service global information discovery via Web search, and collective intelligence stories like Wikipedia are outcomes that many would like to replicate inside our enterprises.
Because they are highly democratic and egalatarian; anyone can deploy these tools, anyone can quickly learn to use and benefit from them, and they can be used to communicate and collaborate openly with anyone else inside (and often outside) the organization, are inherently viral, they literally tear down the barriers that would normally impede their forward movement and adoption inside the organization.

And, anecdotally at least, this seems to be happening. I now routinely collect stories of firms large and small encountering these tools sprouting up within their organization, both via internally installation of these platform to employees just putting their favorite externally hosted Enterprise 2.0 tool subscription on their corporate credit card. In other words, because they appear to so easily cross organizational boundaries, can be adopted so easily, require virtually no training, are highly social, and so on, Enterprise 2.0 apps appear to have their very own "change agent" by their fundamental nature.
But what I really liked most was his graphic, which hits a lot of the concepts and keywords we built OpenTeams around:
(Blogger sometimes fuzzs up the graphics - click it to see a sharper version)

Thursday, May 24, 2007

OpenTeams as a fourth sector "for-benefit" corporation

The New York Times recently had an article exploring a new "fourth sector" of organizations besides the usual business, nonprofit, and government - what they call "for-benefit" corporations that have a nonprofit type of social mission, but are organized as for-profits for flexibility (because nonprofits are tightly regulated in what they can do).

This is the model I've always wanted for OpenTeams, but I didn't know there were so many others trying to do something similar, or that they had such a name/label. I specifically founded OpenTeams because I've seen so much dysfunction in so many organizations, and I felt software was the best way to promote The Entrepreneurial Organization alternative to really liberate peoples' talent and potential. A more traditional route would have been to earn a Ph.D. in business, write a book, and then start a consulting practice - a la Hammer & Champy, Christensen, or Collins fame (Reengineering the Corporation, Innovator's Dilemma, and Good to Great, respectively). I believe web-based software-as-a-service can facilitate more change more quickly than a book and some consulting.

Here are some excerpts from the article that caught my eye:
“I think what people are increasingly looking for, whether in the for-profit or nonprofit sector, is how you harness the vitality and promise of capitalism in a way that’s more fair to everyone,”...

“There’s a big movement out there that is not yet recognized as a movement,” said R. Todd Johnson, a lawyer in San Francisco who is working to create an online wiki to engage in the give and take of information for what he calls “for-benefit
corporations,” another name for fourth-sector activities.

Consumers, employees, managers and — perhaps most important — investors are driving the phenomenon.

“Young M.B.A. students are not satisfied with going to work for a normal corporation because they are passionate to do good in the world and do it in business,” Mr. Johnson said...

Still, whatever participants call it, the fourth sector faces challenges. Current legal and tax structures draw strict lines between for-profits and nonprofits, and fiduciary obligations prevent asset managers from making investments with any aim other than maximizing profit. The social benefits that fourth sector firms seek to unlock are not easily quantified and often take decades, not quarters, to attain.

“You run into fundamental problems in trying to grow good because neither for-profit nor nonprofit is set up to do what new entrepreneurs and others are trying to do — namely, harness the power of private enterprise to create social benefit,” ...

“Companies like us have no conventional road map to follow in building our businesses and thus are greeted with a lot of skepticism,” (check!)
The article goes on to give examples of some organizations, and talks about the many complications, especially financing. It's definitely worth reading the whole thing. But even with the obstacles, it still felt good to find out there are others with similar aspirations to mine.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Customer testimonial

Today's post is a testimonial from one of our private beta testers, Dr. Chris Bronk at Rice University, which just goes to show that OpenTeams is a broadly applicable collaboration tool, not just for corporations or Entrepreneurial Organizations:
Starting a new research program from scratch at Rice University's Baker Institute came with many challenges, but unexpected were the difficulty in finding physical space to house my three student researchers. Fortunately students come equipped with laptops these days, so we agreed to skip office space and work wherever wifi went. With one running Linux, another a Mac and the last a Windows die-hard, this soon led to a document nightmare and email overload.

With hectic schedules and my students' propensity to work at times when most other people are asleep, a collaboration suite was in need. Having held the "collaboration guru" portfolio in my job at the U.S. State Department's Office of eDiplomacy, I thought I had a solution in the bag, but was stymied by each new collaborator's computing preferences and the problem of client installations, licensing and all of the other administrative overhead I loath. I returned to my three rules of collaboration: (1) No client installation/browser only; (2) Minimal learning curve and administrative overhead; and (3) Cheap, i.e. no big upfront investments in servers or software.

Open Teams hit the mark on all three, and most impressively, ran reliably during beta. While the students probably got tired of me repeating "Put it in Open Teams!" I now have all of their work for the semester in one location and can bring new team members aboard able to see from day one where things started and access our team's knowledge repository: versioned, time-stamped and attributed.

Chris Bronk, Ph.D.
Fellow, Technology, Society & Public Policy
Baker Institute | Rice University

Friday, May 11, 2007

Our first review!

There was a spike in traffic to the blog yesterday, and a bunch of new users. A little investigating uncovered a great review of OpenTeams by Mike Gunderloy on the Web Worker Daily blog. A few of my favorite excerpts:
Web Worker Daily - OpenTeams Offers Wikis With Structure

With their tagline of “work doesn’t have to suck” how can you not want to like OpenTeams? This new entrant in the Ajax application space has taken an idea that will already be familiar to most web workers - the now-venerable wiki - and reinvented with a more structured, drag-and-drop user interface.
The traditional wiki makes good sense to the sort of person who is at home with the command line, but I’ve heard the same objections over and over again from people whose main job does not revolve around technology:
  • You want me to edit this markup soup?
  • How do I tell what’s new?
  • How can I find anything in this mess?
OpenTeams addresses these objections by wrapping a GUI around the wiki. Individual wiki pages are still there, but they’re pushed into the right-hand pane of a three-pane user interface, and edited through a rich text interface instead of via a markup language.
For distributed teams that include non-programmers working on projects with a lot of moving parts it looks worth a serious evaluation.
By all means, please read the whole thing, which includes more details about how OpenTeams works, and a nice screenshot.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

McKinsey says buy SaaS

Phil Wainewright's blog on Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) on ZDNet has a post on McKinsey Consulting's endorsement of SaaS, and I'm partial to their opinion as a McKinsey alum myself (well, that, and the fact that OpenTeams is SaaS). They make some good arguments:
Several of their most compelling arguments come down to simple economics: they say that SaaS has less financial risk for buyers, is cheaper to use and yet just as profitable for vendors.
"… many customers are eager for the shift because they're frustrated by the traditional cycle of buying a software license, paying for a service contract and then having to buy upgrades. Many customers believe they would have more control over the relationship if they simply paid monthly fees that could be switched to another vendor if the first failed to perform."
"Ownership costs are typically less — as much as 30% lower for a typical CRM installation, according to McKinsey & Co analysis."
"Even more important to enterprise customers is that they can expect better service, since developers can’t sell a license and lose interest, but must continue to improve and upgrade the service in order to prevent customers on a monthly subscription from migrating to a competitor."
The biggest remaining concern is security and getting comfortable with corporate data residing outside the firewall. OpenTeams has a pretty straightforward response to this: where do you keep that other precious corporate asset, cash? In a giant safe in your offices? I doubt it. More likely a bank, eh? You trust the bank to know what it's doing when it comes to protecting your money - certainly more than you know (or want to know) about protecting office vaults.

More and more companies are realizing IT data access and security are not their core competencies, as the steady stream of stolen data stories in the media makes all too clear. It's also gotten much more complicated with distributed workforces and partners outside the firewall. Better to leave it to SaaS companies who focus on security as an integral part of everything they do. Just think of us as banks for your data.

An overview vision for the Entrepreneurial Organization

Our launch press release last week contained a high-level vision for the Entrepreneurial Organization. I added a couple permanent links to it in the right-side column, but thought I should go ahead and mention it in an official post. I made it two links to the same thing so people could find it whether they're looking for the launch press release or a description of the vision.

You may have seen a "rated-G" edited version of the press release, which Business Wire required us to substitute so as not to offend any sensitive journalists with the word "sucks". It, unfortunately, lost a lot of its punch in the process. Fortunately, they did allow us to release the original "rated-PG" version on their EON site, where it should permanently reside - and that's the one we're linking to.

Over time on this blog, I expect to try and flesh out more of the details of the Entrepreneurial Organization behind the vision.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Work doesn’t have to suck

That, in a rather blunt nutshell, describes our mission at OpenTeams. Surveys say up to 70% (!) of workers are burned-out and disengaged at work. Most are looking for a new job. How many happy colleagues do you know? I’ll bet a whole lot fewer than the unhappy ones. Something’s wrong with the way we run our organizations. Wasted talent and potential on a staggering scale.

Startups are a noticeable exception though. Almost everybody seems engaged and excited at a startup. Is it possible to bring that innovative and entrepreneurial culture to larger organizations? Google seems to have done it (they have thousands of employees now), but are they a new model or just an odd anomaly?

We believe it can be done, and the right collaborative software can drive that cultural transformation. OpenTeams is an experiment in translating this vision into software that propels real, practical change throughout organizations to be more innovative, entrepreneurial, and empowering for all employees. All the Web/Enterprise 2.0 excitement is an indicator we’re at a “technological tipping point” that could fundamentally revolutionize how people work together.

We do have a starting framework we’re working from - what we academically call The Open Model Entrepreneurial Organization (OMEO), or really just The Entrepreneurial Organization for short. We’ll explore that framework in this blog, as well as discuss tips, lessons learned, and best practices from both our members and our own internal experiences.

We’re looking for a few pioneering leaders to help shape that vision and the software to make it happen – an authentic community that’s as dissatisfied with the status quo as we are (if Dilbert hits a little too close to home, then you qualify). To that end, all OpenTeams users are automatically granted access to the OpenTeams User Community space, where we’re very interested to hear your feedback, experiences, and ideas.

It’ll be quite the adventure. Hope to have you along for the ride.
Warmest regards,
-Tory Gattis
OpenTeams Founder and Social Systems Architect