Tom Dubois was distraught over the prospect that his wife might be cheating on him…with the pop star Usher. To get him out of his funk, his neighbor enlisted the aid of a relationship consultant—A Pimp Named Slickback. Slickback? No. A Pimp Named Slickback. You say the whole thing…like A Tribe Called Quest. His name […]
I recently saw The Social Network. It was a fascinating look at the story of the founders of Facebook. I found it to be thoroughly entertaining and I recommend it if you haven’t seen it.
It is truly amazing that the events in the movie took place such a short time ago given Facebook’s current popularity. A report earlier this year revealed 6.8% of business internet traffic goes to Facebook and by now that figure could be higher. As you can imagine, all this Facebook use at work has employers concerned about loss of productivity and security risks. As a result, some have chosen to restrict access to Facebook or block the site altogether.
So what? What if your employer blocks access to Facebook? I mean, you are using company resources, and those resources should be used in a way that benefits the company. Why shouldn’t they restrict or block access to a site that just sucks up bandwidth and wastes time?
But is Facebook a waste of time? Sure, it can be. But does it have to be? More specifically, is there any business value in allowing employees access to personal Facebook accounts from work?
At one point in the movie, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) discuss whether it’s time to monetize their creation. Zuckerberg responds with “we don’t know what it is yet” as an objection. Later in the movie, Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) echos the same sentiment. In the same way the characters in the movie needed to understand what Facebook “is” before figuring out how to capitalize on it, organizations need to figure out what it is in order to understand how it might benefit or harm the business.
So what is Facebook?
First of all, Facebook is not a social network despite the movie title. Rather, Facebook is a website, service, and software platform that helps people build and interact with their social networks. So in a larger sense, in order to understand the business value of Facebook, we have to understand the value inherent in the activity of employees building and maintaining their social networks.
So what is a social network?
A social network is social structure where people or organizations are referred to as nodes, and they are connected by interpersonal ties . These ties can be either weak or strong, and they represent the amount of information that is transmitted between the nodes. A strong tie carries more information and a weak tie carries less information.
It’s all about information
So a social network is really all about people and the information that passes between them. Understanding this flow of information is key to understanding and evaluating the value of a social network. So in terms of information, can you guess which ties (strong or weak) are most valuable within any given social network? Keep reading to find the answer.
This is where the lights came on for me. I did not inherently “get” Facebook. In fact, I remember the first time someone suggested to me that I should sign up for an account. The conversation went something like:
Julius, you should sign up for Facebook. It’s more grown-up than MySpace. I was able to reconnect with a friend from middle school through it. It’s really great!
I think I smiled and was polite and all, but I really had no interest at that point. My personality and perhaps my generation made me disinclined to see any inherent value in establishing digital ties to people I may have known long ago but now are practically strangers.
My attitude changed two years ago when I attended my 20 year high school reunion. (I know, I’m dating myself) That reunion was a blast! Through that experience, I understood how much fun it can be to reunite and catch up. One of the first things I did when I got back to San Antonio was sign up for Facebook.
Ok, so two years ago I went from believing Facebook had no value, to believing Facebook was fun. Like the person who suggested I sign up, I became an advocate and encouraged other people to sign up. Why? Because it’s fun! If anyone had asked me then if there was any business value to being on Facebook I would have responded “that’s what LinkedIn is for”. However, after learning of the relationship between social networks and information, I began to change my tune.
Social network value
I credit Andrew McAfee with helping me see Facebook and other social software platforms in a different light. Because of him, I learned the shocking truth about the value of weak ties. Yes, weak ties! If you guessed (like I did at first) that strong ties are most valuable then you would be wrong.
The theory, first introduced by American sociologist Mark Granovetter in his appropriately named paper The Strength of Weak Ties , goes something like this (paraphrased):
Strong ties carry lots of information, therefore the people who share strong ties also share a lot of common or overlapping knowledge. Weak ties carry little information, so people who share weak ties have less knowledge overlap. What this means is, the biggest potential to receive novel information (something you didn’t already know) is through a weak tie.
So being connected to people with whom I share little common knowledge gives me access to novel information. This was a huge revelation by itself, but McAfee helped me recognize something else about the value of Facebook. He pointed out a specific innovation built into Facebook and other emerging social software platforms that makes it possible to get value from social networks in a way that was not possible with previous forms of communication – the status update.
With a status update, you can post information you want to push out to your network. You can also receive information from your network by reading their status updates. In this way, you can share things with your network they probably didn’t know and you can learn things that you didn’t know. Hopefully, some of the things you learn will be useful to you.
Mobilizing the network
But you don’t just have to hope. A status update also allows you to post a question as well. By posting a question in a status update, you can mobilize your network of weak ties to provide you with information – specific information that can help you resolve a variety of problems. Just because Facebook is social, doesn’t mean the problem can’t be work related.
So maybe you are faced with the dilemma of what to do about all that traffic at your organization going to Facebook. Maybe you have considered blocking access. Maybe you have already blocked it. In either case, make sure you consider the potential benefit of keeping access open. Make sure you don’t make the same mistake I did of believing Facebook has no business value or it’s only about fun. It’s really about information, and blocking access will cut you off from the potential benefit of that information.
So instead of a complete ban on Facebook at work, consider the following strategies:
Remind employees that work resources are primarily for work purposes and that they should limit social activities to reasonable levels
Have clear conversations about what information is ok to share and what is not ok
Train yourself and your employees about the potential business value of social network activity – they may be like I was and think it is only useful for entertainment
Encourage employees to share updates about company events – new products and services, web seminars, promotions, job openings, etc
Encourage employees to mobilize their networks to help solve company non-sensitive problems they may be stuck on by posting questions as status updates
Ask your employees for their ideas on using Facebook for business – especially the younger ones
What do you think? What is your company’s stance on personal Facebook access from work? Are you convinced like I am that there is potential business benefit to keeping Facebook access open at work or do you think it’s hogwash? Please feel free to weigh in with comments below.
I recently read a discussion from the CIOs.com: Chief Information Officer Network group on LinkedIn called What’s missing from Business Intelligence? (Please note you will need to have a LinkedIn account and be a member of this group to view the discussion for yourself)
The conversation was kicked off with a claim that 54% of organizations do not realize the desired benefits from the Business Intelligence (BI) solutions they have implemented. The community was polled for their plans to overcome the common business and technical challenges of BI implementation and their thoughts on what’s missing from BI.
Having been a part of several large IT initiatives that have both succeeded and failed, I had my own ideas about the cause of BI failures. I have found it is easy for people to get so caught up in the features and functionality of the system being implemented, that they lose sight of the purpose for which the system is being implemented in the first place.
What Are You Trying to Accomplish?
A perfect example of this can be seen in this blog post where the author was approached by several different people at a conference asking for his advice on choosing a vendor for a Master Data Management (MDM) solution. In his words (paraphrased a bit), each request went something like this:
Which MDM vendor should I choose?
What are you trying to accomplish?
<Some conversation about features and functionality>
So, what are your priorities?
We know we need MDM, but our company hasn’t really decided what MDM is. Since we’re already a [Microsoft/IBM/SAP/Oracle/SAS] shop, we just thought we’d buy their product…so what do you think of their product?
This scenario perfectly illustrates what I have seen in IT failures. There seems to be a sincere belief that success can be achieved with the right vendor or set of technological features without first figuring out what you’re doing or why you’re doing it or what it really means to the company’s mission, purpose, and strategy.
Now, back to our LinkedIn discussion.
I felt the topic of “What’s Missing From Business Intelligence” was a perfect opportunity for a technology-centric conversation. I was sure there would be lots of comments about the must-have features and cutting-edge technology. I wondered how many comments there would be before anyone spoke to the business purpose and strategy side.
To my surprise (and much to my pleasure I might add) it wasn’t long before I saw comments that spoke about the need to understand what you’re trying to accomplish from a business perspective before you can hope to be successful with BI technology. One comment by Carol Rizzo came early in the discussion and really set the tone for future comments. Here is what she had to say:
In my opinion, there are no tools that can provide insight if you do not know which questions to ask, and cannot identify which information/data is relevant to getting you the answers, or what you might do differently if you had the information. This may today be called BI, but the same issues exist in CRM and previously in EIS (Executive Information Systems).
Call me old fashioned, but I have built realtime information systems for traders. They don’t know the answer but they generally have a good idea of what data is in the mix and what patterns or ranges or contrarian behavior they need to see in order to make good decisions and change their strategy or know when their strategy is beginning to fail.
Sometimes, I think we fail to look at the obvious. If you don’t know the question and which data is key, how can you possibly get the benefit of any business information system. As anyone who has built an expert system will tell you, you model how people make decisions… what information they use and what are the triggers for either gathering additional information or making a decision. YOU NEED THE INTELLIGENCE FIRST!
“Intelligence first”…I like that!
It’s BI…not AI
Another excellent comment came from Patrick Walker , who explained how some business users may have unrealistic expectations of what BI is and what it can do. Here is what he had to say:
I have worked fairly intensely with corporations on creating “Business Intelligence” systems from the old DSS environments through ERP and CRM into Knowledge Management and differing hybrids.
From this understanding, the problem that I most often face is that the Business seems to have a differing perspective to BI than the technology industry. The business user’s perspective is closer to the perception of “Artificial Intelligence” being BI than just the ability of a system to crunch numbers, scenarios and what-if statements.
Quote from Dr. Mark Humphrys, University of Edinburgh
What is AI? In some sense it is engineering inspired by biology. We look at animals, we look at humans and we want to be able to build machines that do what they do. We want machines to be able to learn in the way that they learn, to speak, to reason and eventually to have consciousness.
Therefore the business user is looking for BI to be informative about what does the business need to know, rather than the business asking the question.
BI for the business seems to mean “Tell me something”, I shouldn’t have to ask, where my profit losers are, and the systems should tell me when it happens and why.
The business seems to want a system where it, the business, doesn’t have to programme the information or knowledge, just the raw data and the knowledge and information and how to use them are magically produced by the system. We dot think, the machine does it for us.
Therefore, until we can explain to the business that BI is a co-operative, symbiotic relationship where business needs to provide as much intelligence and the system will produce improved intelligence,there will never be a happy understanding of BI and it will always fall short from a business perspective.
So, how do you succeed at Business Intelligence? Start with the business (purpose, mission, strategy, etch.), add intelligence and stir. Seriously though, if you are considering implementing BI, consider the following before discussing tools and technology:
Define your questions – What are the strategic decisions in your business that you need to be smarter about? What questions, if answered, would make those decisions better?
Define your action – What would you do differently if you had the answer to your question? You can’t expect to gain business value from a BI initiative if you don’t plan to take action based on the knowledge you gain.
Identify the data needed to answer questions – Resist the temptation to begin a BI initiative data-first. Start with the questions and then identify the data that will be helpful in finding the answers because…
“Business Intelligence” is not “Artificial Intelligence” – Don’t expect to simply throw raw data at BI tools and have them “tell me something”. Manage business user expectations accordingly.
Now it’s your turn. What has been your experience in implementing Business Intelligence? What helped your success? What was the cause of failure? What would you do differently if you had to do it over? Please share your experience and reactions in the comments area.
Do you consider the role of the CIO as focusing on creating value through technology, or first and foremost running an efficient IT shop?
This is the question that was posed to a CIO discussion group on LinkedIn. The discussion was extremely lively and there were tons of insightful, intelligent responses favoring both sides of the question. Below is my take on these responses and my reaction to them.
Core IT First, Add Value Second
Many replied that a CIO must focus on running an efficient IT shop FIRST, or else he/she will never have the credibility and trust with the other C-Suite executives and board members to get approval for “value add” activities. There is some truth to this statement. Certainly credibility can be damaged if users are constantly frustrated with unreliable systems and poor support. However, generating business value through technology is not some lofty goal that can only be achieved AFTER core IT processes are perfected. On the contrary, business value should be the driver for all IT activities. For example, suppose some IT systems supporting complex, unique back-office functionality are not running smoothly. A lot of time and energy can be expended focusing on getting these systems to run smoothly. A focus on business value allows a CIO to evaluate the business processes themselves and not just the IT systems that support them. If these unique processes are not differentiators for the business, business value can be generated by simplifying and standardizing these complex processes instead of supporting them with complex IT solutions. Of course, that same CIO will need to be equipped with some good communication and persuasion skills in order to convince some IT consumers within the business to part ways with these pet processes.
CIO Is Strategic, Managers Are Operational
Many comments stressed generating business value through technology as the most important job of the CIO. Many commenters agreed that the business value-focused CIO should delegate operational aspects of IT to a capable operations manager. In other words, the “real” job of the CIO is to generate value for the business through technology while day-to-day operations are a distraction. While I agree the “real” job of the CIO is to generate value for the business, I disagree that the CIO gets to have all the fun! Generating value for the business is everyone’s job – not just C-Suite executives. The next great innovative idea to reach new customers, offer new products, or expand to new geographies may exist in the mind of someone lower in the organization than the executive level. It would be a shame for the business to lose out on these great ideas because the CIO is a “business value hog”.
The Conflict Resolved
Because of the way the question was posed, many of the responses favored one side or the other. Some commenters recognized this fact and pointed out that the question is really a false dichotomy. Many agreed that running an efficient IT shop and generating value for the business through technology are harmonious goals that need not be placed at odds with each other. Running an efficient IT shop generates value. If you truly focus on business value, you will not ignore running your IT shop smoothly. Although the question may not have been perfect, it was good to see so many willing to take a step back and exchange ideas on IT leadership.
Now it’s your turn.
What do you think should be the primary focus of a CIO?