The Seven Core Principles of Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation has become a hot buzzword recently, being adopted by Microsoft as the overarching theme for their cloud based business apps and the subject of many studies from McKinsey and company, Gartner and other research firms.

I wanted to share some of our approach and lessons learned working with companies in different industries such as Insurance and Manufacturing on their digital transformation initiatives.

A transformation does not happen overnight. It is a long and sometimes painful process that to be honest, never really ends. The rate of innovation and change is increasing and new business and customer needs will constantly emerge.

Therefore, our approach is very much grounded in the concepts of agility. The right foundation built with change in mind. In such an approach, it is not always beneficial to try and document every future requirement to see how to accommodate it but to have a very strong foundation and an agile, open framework that can be easily adapted.

A good way to judge your current agility level is to perform a Digital Agility Gap test. For small, medium size and large changes business has requested in the last year, what is the gap between when the business would like to see the change made to when your organization was able to deploy? The larger the gap, the more acute the need is for a comprehensive digital transformation.

agility-gap

The following 7 core principles should drive every digital transformation initiative, large or small:

  • Business Driven. This may sound obvious but all digital initiatives need to have a business reasoning and business sponsor. Technology can be a game changer but very often, the digital channel needs to be part of an omni-channel approach. eCommerce can augment retails stores or distribution channels but will not replace them for a long while. Digital must be part of the overall business and market strategy. The new role of Chief Digital Officer is a great example for how organizations integrate the digital as a business channel with broad responsibilities and a chair at the executive table. The Digital aspect needs to be part of every major organizational strategy, not a separate one. For example: you are launching a new product, how will you design it, support the manufacturing/supply chain, market, sale and support the product using Digital means?
  • Data is King. Having enterprise information available in digital format with a single source for the truth is the absolute foundation of a digital transformation. Without “Good data” the effect of garbage in, garbage out will produce inconsistent results and systems people can’t trust. This is usually the hardest part for many companies as organizational data may be residing in many legacy systems and too intimately tied to old business applications. It also is hard work. Hard to understand and hard to put a direct ROI on. It is not glamorous and will not be visible to most people. In lieu of complete data re-architecture, most organizations start with master data management and data warehouse / operational datamarts to get around the limitations of the various systems where data is actually stored. The imperative is to know what the single source of the truth is and abstract the details through data access layer and services. The emerging area of Big Data allows capturing and processing ever larger amounts of data, especially related to customer interactions. Data flows, validation and storage needs to be looked at again with new vision into what and how data is captured, stored, processed and managed.
  • Actionable Analytics. Many organizations invested heavily in Business Intelligence and use decision support systems to run analysis and produce reports. The expanding scope of data capture and processing now allows analytics to serve as actionable triggers for real time decisions and other systems. For example, your website’s ability to make customer specific product recommendation can be a result of real time process that conducts a customer analysis and what similar customers have bought and can execute an RFM analysis to assign a tier to the customer and derive relevant offers. Marketing campaigns can target prospects based on predictive analytics etc. Closed loop analysis is critical for understanding the impact of decisions or campaigns. The ability to see the connection between an offer or search campaign and the revenue it generated is the foundation of future investment decisions.
  • Customer Centricity. One of the main drivers and benefits of the digital transformation is the ability to meet the new world of customer expectations and needs. Customers want access to information and ability to take action and interact anytime, anyplace, from any device. The new Digital Experience maps to the customer lifecycle, journey or buying flow and data is collected at every point of interaction to feed personalization, targeting and marketing. When done correctly, an intelligent user experience will improve engagement, loyalty and conversion. In designing new digital user experience, we usually recommend mapping the user interactions across all touch points and focusing on finding common needs rather than a “Persona” driven approach. Those in our experience are too generic and lead to oversimplification of the model.
  • Agility in Technology and Process. Agility is at the heart of our approach and without it you would go through a transformation every few years. It is broader than just IT and impacts many business and operational processes. Few key concepts of planning for agility:
    • De-coupling. A large part of what makes changes hard, is the intertwined nature of most IT environments. Proprietary databases, older applications without outside interfaces, hard coded database calls in code, heavily customized but dated applications, etc. The solution is to de-couple the elements and create a modular, service oriented architecture. Data should be separated from logic, services, and user interaction allowing each tier to grow and evolve without requiring complete system re-write. For example, the biggest driver of transformation in the last few years has been the user experience and the need to support users in various mobile devices. A de-coupled architecture would allow UX overhaul using the same services and backend.
    • Agile / Rapid application development. Application development needs to be able to create prototypes and test ideas on a regular basis. For that to happen, the process of definition, design, implementation and testing software has to be more responsive to business needs. Whether following Agile Methodology principles or just a more iterative version of traditional models, application development has to be able to quickly show business users what they would get, and adopt a minimal viable product approach to releasing software. An emerging model of continuous delivery allows faster, automated deployment of software when it is ready.
    • Cloud and Infrastructure agility. The emergence of cloud services is making agile environments so much easier to implement. From an infrastructure perspective, you no longer need to invest in hardware resources for your worst-case load scenario. The ability to get just as much computing resources as needed on demand and scale as needed in matter of minutes makes platforms like AWS and Azure very appealing. Many applications now offer only cloud based versions and even the large players like Microsoft and Oracle are now pressuring all customers to get on the cloud versions of their applications. The ability easily to plug a cloud application into the environment is the ideal of agility. With a common security and authentication layer, the modern corporate application landscape is comprised of many different cloud applications being available to each user based on their role and integrated to a degree that makes the user experience as seamless as possible.
    • In addition to the environment, software and infrastructure, organizational processes have to be more flexible too. Change management needs to become a process that enables change, not one the stops it.
  • Process Automation: with the new landscape comprised of so many different and independent application, process automation and leverages the open interfaces of application is becoming critical. Traditional Business Process Management application are now morphing into cloud orchestration and an ability to allow processes to be created across multiple applications and managed / updated by business users without IT involvement.
  • Security. Last but not least, the open, flexible nature of the future landscape we were describing here, requires new levels of security that should be an integral part of all facets of the environment. Data security and encryption. Services security, security in application design, all layers and components have to consider the rising threat of hacking, stealing data and denial of service that are more prevalent than ever. We see this as the primary concern for companies looking to adopt a more digital and agile environment and a large emphasis on risk management, security standards and audits should be a primary component of any digital transformation initiative.

Thoughts on the Future of SharePoint

In a recent event, Microsoft outlined their plans for the future of SharePoint, mostly as part of the office 365 family. It was exciting to see SharePoint coming back to the forefront. After a few years in which Microsoft plans for the product were not very clear (No on-prem future. Oh, sorry, Yes on-prem future but with Hybrid focus. Let’s call it Sites, let’s stop supporting external sites, etc.) the fog is starting to clear.

SharePoint is now being smartly positioned as the place where your office 365 experience should start. It was long positioned as such for company Intranets and users default homepage. It is a portal platform after all. It has a new responsive look and the content highlights sites you’ve recently visited or interacted with, benefits of the office Graph.

SharePoint16NewHomePage

Speaking of the Office Graph, love it or hate being tracked, it is the foundation over which all new office 365 applications are built and new API’s will allow developers to take advantage of it in building applications and should extend in the future into Dynamics 365 as well.

The new homepage is also responsive and using a new overall look and an underlying technology called the SharePoint framework. I’ll touch on all these later but let me just say it about time. Nothing made SharePoint look older and out of pace than the clunky experience on mobile. Now all spiffed up, it will offer a modern and mobile first approach throughout.

The full 2 hour presentation + demos

New Features to get excited about:

As I’ve said, it looks like all of a sudden, the flood gates are opening and after a relatively long time of minor updates, we are to expect a deluge of new things in the next few months. Here are the ones we are eagerly awaiting:

First class mobile experience + apps: some of it, like the new SharePoint homepage and iOS app, are already available. Apps for Android and Windows Mobile are coming soon.

SharePointMobileApp

As part of the new mobile first user experience overhaul, a more modern and responsive look is coming to SharePoint sites, list and libraries

Teamsite

To enable these new interfaces (which until not, required using an external JS framework like Bootstrap) Microsoft is introducing a new SharePoint framework. Built in JS and HTML5, it will support responsive design and allow for the creation of richer user experience and apps that run in the browser. Details are yet to be full released but expect it to be the MS version of the popular Angular.JS framework.

SPFramework

Office 365 Groups will be extended into SharePoint. It has long been a source of confusion as to the different types of groups and where they appear. Microsoft is working to extend the office 365 groups into Yammer and now into SharePoint, so that an office 365 group will have a team site and vice versa. IMO, it is a much better solution for storing files and collaboration than doing it though OneDrive as it is currently done. For more on groups: https://sway.com/G_yV0w-GadIB1aA2

Intelligence and analytics. A new analytics dashboard is available in central admin with much broader and visually appealing interface. Now if only this can be available to every site owner..

SPnewanalytics

https://blogs.office.com/2016/03/15/new-reporting-portal-in-the-office-365-admin-center/

Feature-packs: for on-prem customers, Microsoft will be issuing regular feature packs that will add functionality previously released for office 365.

One more thing we are excited about is the upcoming release of Dynamics 365 and the promised common data model and services across all 365 environments. That will allow new levels of integration and automation of processes across the o365 platform from end to end.

Can’t wait!

What’s new in SharePoint 2016

SharePoint 2016 is finally here and we wanted to share some of the highlights. There are a few major improvements over SharePoint 2013, and some caveats to watch out for.

General Direction:

Microsoft has good reason to want everyone to get on the Office365 cloud bandwagon:

  • No more upgrade cycle
  • Ongoing fixes and improvements
  • Integration with other Microsoft tools
  • And of course, per user monthly subscription revenue

In reality, we see two hurdles for a large number of companies waiting to get onto the cloud version – the ability to control your environment, and having your data  at someone else’s mercy – not everyone is comfortable with either of these.

SharePoint 2016 is aimed at exactly this audience and provides 3 major areas of improvement:

  1. Catch-up with many platform improvements released to the cloud in the last 3 years
  2. Improvements in hybrid environment support, allowing companies that have some cloud footprint and legacy on-prem farm a way to provide a more seamless user experience
  3. Mobile friendly user interface
  4. Improved encryption standards

The full list of new features from Microsoft

Key features worth highlighting:

Hybrid environment support:

hybrid

While the Hybrid option does officially exist in SP2013 it has quite a few limitations that made it difficult to use. SharePoint 2016 adds the ability to follow SharePoint Server and SharePoint Online sites, and see them consolidated in a single list. Users will now have a single profile in Office 365, where all of their profile information is stored (although it is not a 2 way sync).

Most importantly, search can now include both on-prem and Office 365 sites.

Microsoft’s view is still assuming Office 365 is your primary environment and the on-prem is legacy that has to be supported for now, but these new features make a hybrid solution much better for users.

Mobile user interface:

mobile

A new and improved mobile interface is a very welcome upgrade. While it is not a completely responsive experience, the OOTB use is much better and can be more easily customized using Bootstrap to be responsive.

Improved Security

SharePoint 2016 now supports TLS 1.2 by default. SP13 required TLS1.0 to work properly and we have many customers who wanted to turn that off but could not. https://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/mt346121(v=office.16).aspx#encrypted

 Deprecated features

A few important notes about deprecated features:

  • There is no longer a free version. The WSS/Foundation free version has been around for a very long time and enabled small companies or teams to use SharePoint for free. There will not be an equivalent for SP16 so companies that currently use SP Foundation will need to migrate either to a Standard version of SP16 or to office 365.
  • Some 3rd party integrations will no longer be available. The SAP module (Duet) will not be supported. SalesForce also has shared with us that they have no intention of upgrading their SP2013 integration. They clearly see the direction Microsoft is taking in moving everyone to the cloud and do not see a future in supporting future on-prem installs.
  • Excel services will require an online office server in order to work.
  • Lastly, the seldom used Notes and Tags are formally gone.

Final thoughts

Microsoft is very clear about SP16 being a transitional product in the path towards cloud. It will support customers who are not yet ready to make the leap but will emphasize the hybrid options. More and more capabilities will start to depend on the cloud (like Excel services) and 3rd parties will stop supporting the on-prem installation. The future is clearly in the cloud so if you are on an older on-prem version and thinking about an upgrade, check the cloud version first and only if it is not a viable option for your organization consider the on-prem/hybrid options.

5 Highlights from SharePoint Conference 2014

SharePoint Conference 2014 wrapped up last week. Microsoft used the big stage to announce some exciting new capabilities and paint a clear picture as to how they see the future of SharePoint.

It starts with their view of the future of work. Not farm labor but information work of course. That future is networked. It consists of individuals and groups collaborating using documents, discussions, chat and video in a fluid setting. People may be working from their office, home, on the road or all of the above and using a variety of devices. They need access and an ability to interact. They need to be productive.

I have to subscribe to this vision as this is exactly how we work at Edgewater today. The future is here.

Microsoft’s vision for the technology that should empower this future of work is a natural extension of their mission of supporting information workers, and with Office 365 it all comes together rather nicely. Your office apps and files, email, chat, video, meetings, groups, calendars, people, social interactions all available and integrated. Available from anywhere and on any device.

It’s not all there yet and as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few gaps to fill but they are rapidly working on closing it and the speed of cloud deployments will allow them to make it a reality pretty quickly. Unless they find a way to derail things again.

A few things that were introduced this week build on and extend these concepts.

officegraphThe Office Graph: Not a new concept in social networks and a core capability of Yammer, extended to the full Office 365 suite, this is at once exciting and scary. All my activities, connections, interactions are tracked and put into a graph format that allows applications to use this data for a more relevant and personalized experience. It has some great potential applications, some we’ll talk about next with the Oslo interface. On the other hand, not that there is any real privacy in the workplace but any semblance of it will be officially gone. “Did you read my memo from last week”? well, no more white lies as your manager can easily get a report of who exactly read the memo.

OsloOslo: a new tool / interface concept from the FAST search team combines search and the social graph to give you a FlipBoard like experience, bubbling up things you should know. If your close colleagues are all reading the same document, maybe you should too? If a specific blog post is generating a lot of comments, what discussions are very active? Natural language search across multiple data sources. Can definitely be very useful.

GroupsGroups: yes, interesting to think of groups as a new concept. In this incarnation (lovers of public folders rejoice) groups are a cross application construct for discussions. Integrated across Yammer, SharePoint, Outlook and office, the idea is that in many instances, group discussions are a better way to interact than email. The only concern I would have is the proliferation of groups. It may be good for people who are only part of a handful of groups and teams but many of us are part of dozens if not more groups and teams and the interface I’ve seen only included about 6. I hope it scales.

inlinesocialInline social experiences: in short, this recreates a way to have a Yammer conversation on files and other Office, SharePoint and even Dynamics entities. I love this feature. It is such a natural way to interact instead of emailing and allows all people with access to see the discussion.

Cloud Only? Finally, I think the big question on everyone’s mind was what will happen to the on-premise version of SharePoint. With so much focus on the integrative aspect of Office 365 and rolling new features on a weekly basis, will the local server be phased out? The official answer is that the on prem version will continue to be important and get a new version in 2015 and beyond. With such a huge existing installed base they have to. But the future is clear and it is definitely in the cloud.

The Invincible Adolescent Corporation

In my last post, I talked about the importance of being prepared for potential product recall disasters. With recalls so much in the news, I can’t stop thinking about it. Today’s question is:

Who is most at risk for failing to prepare a rapid recall response plan?

Young-entrepreneurIt’s the adolescent companies! They are like teenagers who think an auto accident can never happen to them. You can neither sell them prudence and preparation, nor can you convince them that they are at risk–Because their brand has become the brand of the cool kids (social media savvy hipsters) they believe nothing bad can happen to their company, their product or their relationship with their consumer fanbase.

Take a look at two popular brands that have suffered recalls , and how vastly different the responses have been:

  • Lululemon is now reselling refurbished not so sheer yoga pants at a generous 6% off their original price! Seriously?
  • Earthbound Farms never thought their healthy spinach would actually sicken people, yet it was linked to an E. coli outbreak that sickened 200 people and three people died. Unlike Lululemon’s attempt to minimize their losses by re-imaging their refurbished see through pants, Earthbound made a significant effort to reduce risk.

This type of risk reduction is of course the first and best line of defense.  But  recalls still abound. Of course, there are now recall watching apps available, such as:

but the producers should be responsible from preventing dangerous products from reaching the marketplace.

I don’t know about you, but I am hesitant to resume purchasing after a recall, because so many companies seem to handle them so badly.  It doesn’t have to be this way.

So kids, listen up.  Yes, I mean you, the well loved brands of the cool crowd.

Planning is mandatory. A comprehensive approach needs to include well planned recall incident response, and this plan must be exercised with mock drills periodically.

Are you ready? Take the first step and find out. Take a short self-assessment, and see how you score across the key readiness categories.

Project Management Resolutions for 2014

resolutions-catIt’s that time again folks.  New Year’s Resolutions. Been a few years since we did project management new year’s resolutions, so here’s what I am offering up based on this year’s project experiences.

1Make change management integral to your project management methodology. If it’s considered a separate discipline, it can often get left by the wayside with disastrous results. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to make sure that there are tasks in the plan that pertain to the people-readiness for the go-live of any project.

2. Document meetings in project artifacts, then link or copy into minimalist meeting notes. Back in 2010, we talked about limiting meeting attendance, let’s talk today about eliminating or minimizing meeting minutes. The way to do this is to parse the meeting content directly into project artifacts. Actions go in an action log and issues go in an issues log or register or whatever your flavor of project management calls it.

3. Simplify. Simplify ruthlessly.  Instead of adding to your methodology, look for ways to streamline it and cut it back. You may find that you get better adoption of your pm methodology when less is more. The trick is in knowing where and when less is appropriate.

4. Broaden your knowledge base. Read new and different blogs and books, delve into business journals, neoroscience, leadership, psychology, sociology and other seemingly peripheral topics. You would be surprised at the creativity it sparks in your thinking and approach to your projects.  My favorite ways to do this include:

5. Embrace new tools.  The rumble from the trenches is starting to include disatisfaction with MS Project as the be-all and end-all of project management tools. Have you looked into alternatives yet? Sometimes it’s actually simpler to manage projects with Excel.   Are you using social media effectively to manage, motivate and communicate with your project teams? Be especially alert for tools that can help you simplify to achieve resolution #3.

Let’s grow this list:

  • How are you looking to change the way you manage projects in 2014?
  • What new tools are you going to explore?
  • What’s on your reading list?

Yammer or SharePoint 2013 for the Social Enterprise?

In buying Yammer last year, Microsoft pretty much acknowledged that it dropped the ball on social and needed to bring in external reinforcements. Acquiring Yammer also fits well with the new cloud services approach of office 365. The vision according to Microsoft is cloud first. They love the ability to roll out changes and fixes on a faster pace, but mostly, they love the business model.

At the same time SharePoint 2013 includes a much improved set of tools for social collaboration including a brand new activity stream app. So what should you use? Yammer or SharePoint 2013 built in social tools?

Here is the timeline and guidance as provided by Microsoft:

If you are a SharePoint cloud user – go with Yammer. There is a basic integration available now with the promise of single signon in the fall. They also promise updates every 90 days.

If you are an on-premise user (and most companies are since SharePoint 2010 online was not very good..) and moving to SharePoint 2013, the decision is a bit more complicated.

Yammer offers an existing app for SharePoint 2010 that can be integrated in if you are a paying Yammer customer, but nothing yet announced for SharePoint 2013.

So the only option really is to deploy the SharePoint social services unless you are already using Yammer Enterprise and can wait if/until they support 2013.

The longer term roadmap beyond 2014 is cloudy as well. Yammer is a cloud offering and will clearly be tightly integrated into office 365 but as much as Microsoft would like to, not everyone will get on their cloud platform that quickly. In all likelihood, Microsoft will continue to support and even release new version of SharePoint on premise but certain aspects will likely not be improved much and Social seems one of them. Yammer will become a selling point and an incentive to go cloud.

Another interesting point is how will this work for Hybrid Deployments and how migration to the cloud will handle the social data or be able to migrate it into Yammer. We’ll have to wait and see..

For more details see the official blog post from Microsoft and an interesting post on ZDNET on how Microsoft approached social for their internal Intranet, apparently using both models and giving users the choice when creating a collaboration site based on their primary need – document based (SharePoint) or activity stream (Yammer). Now, if only one site could do both..

10 Best New Features of SharePoint 2013

The new SharePoint 2013 was just reached “Release To Manufacturing” stage! It is available for download now to MSDN subscribers and slated to be officially released in Q1 2013.

To celebrate, we thought to share some of the highlights in this upcoming release. While SP13 builds nicely on the foundation of previous versions, it does offer plenty of cool new features / improvements for business users to get excited about.

So here are the top 10 in no specific order.

  1. Cloud First: while SharePoint was part of Office 365 for some time now, it was a limited experience. SP13 is promising the full experience in the cloud + regular release of improvements and enhancements.
  2. The Newsfeed: taking the best from Facebook and Twitter, the new Newsfeed is the centerpiece of SP13 social push. The foundation was there in SP10 but you needed an external component like NewsGator to make it work. Now you’ll be able to build your network, follow colleagues and post / search the newsfeed at different organizational levels. #hashtags for all! For more…
  3. Communities: the other new social feature is the ability to create communities. A community (as separated from a project team) is for getting a group of people to collaborate more freely around a topic and share expertise. Built around Discussions, it expands them into seeing members, their contributions and allows easy formation of expert communities. For more…
  4. Cross site publishing allows for the first time to share content across sites, site collections, applications and even farms. We built a custom solution for this for an insurance company that wanted to post new forms to the public site, Agent portal and Intranet in a single action. Now it is built in. For more….
  5. Search had received a major upgrade. The acquisition of FAST was finally integrated into the main SharePoint search resulting in a long list of great improvements such as: Search for conversations, videos and reports, visual results and in-page previews, context sensitive sorting, advanced filters and of course, better performance, API’s etc. For more…
  6. SharePoint Apps!: one of the major changes to SP13 is the concept of apps. Apps are just like they sound, web applications that can be packaged so users can add them to pages or use them from within SharePoint. Not that different from the concept of solution packs before (line the Famous Fab 40 that were discontinued in SP10..) of packaging your web app in a web part. The new model does have a few advantages. It gives users more control on apps to use and while IT can still approve apps, they do not need to install them for users. It can also make internal applications easier to find and reduce redundancy. For more on apps see the Microsoft SharePoint apps blog.
  7. Simple project / task management: for complex project management you still have project server but it is an overkill for most simple projects. The new team site template includes the ability to manage tasks, deadlines and a simple work breakdown structure for a project team. It generates a personal and a group view of tasks and timelines perfect for keeping everyone on time. For more.,..
  8. Enterprise eDiscovery: one of the essential requirements for ECM in this age is a good eDiscovery mechanism to ensure content related to litigation or information requests can be executed efficiently and across all information repositories. SP13 is adding a new eDiscovery center that would make this a lot easier. For more…
  9. New Usage Analytics and useful views: Microsoft is replacing the SharePoint analytics with 2 new tools: search analytics and usage analytics. Usage analytics provide more detailed view of how SharePoint is used and even better, adds up to 12 cutom events to be added and tracked without custom tagging. You can also use the data collected from these tools for useful views such as Most Popular, Popular Searches ect. For more ..
  10. Better support for digital assets: there is no longer a need to create a special media library for digital assets. Once enabled, audio, video and other rich media can be added to any library. For more…

Time to Remodel the Kitchen?

Although determining full and realistic corporate valuation is a task I’ll leave to people of sterner stuff than I (since Facebook went public, not many could begin to speculate on the bigger picture of even small enterprise valuation), I’ve recently been working with a few clients whom have reminded me of why one sometimes needs to remodel.

Nowadays, information technology is often seen as a means to an end. It’s a necessary evil. It’s overhead to your real business. You joined the technological revolution, and your competitors who didn’t, well… sunk. Or… you entered the market with the proper technology in place, and, seatbelt fastened, have taken your place in the market. Good for you. You’ve got this… right?

I’m a software system architect. I envision and build out information technology. I often like to model ideas around analogies to communicate them, because it takes the tech jargon out of it. Now that I’ve painted the picture, let’s think about what’s cooking behind the office doors.

It’s been said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. When it comes to the enterprise (big and small) your company’s production might get done in the shop, but sooner or later, everyone gets fed business processes, which are often cooked in the kitchen of technology. In fact, technology is often so integral to what many companies do nowadays that it’s usually hard to tell where, in your technology stack, business and production processes begin. Indeed, processes all cycle back around, and they almost certainly end with information technology again.

Truly, we’ve come a long way since the ’70s, when implementing any form of “revolutionary” information technology was the basis of a competitive advantage. Nowadays, if you don’t have information technology in the process somewhere, you’re probably only toying with a hobby. It’s not news. Technology graduated from a revolutionary competitive advantage to the realm of commoditized overhead well over a decade ago.

Ok… ok… You have the obligatory kitchen in your home. So what?

If you think of the kitchen in your home as commoditized overhead, you probably are missing out on the even bigger value an update could bring you at appraisal time. Like a home assessment, due diligence as part of corporate valuation will turn up the rusty mouse traps behind the avocado refridgerator and under the porcelain sink:

  • Still rocking 2000 Server with ActiveX?
  • Cold Fusion skills are becoming a specialty, probably not a good talent pool in the area, might be expensive to find resources to maintain those components.
  • Did you say you can spell iSeries? Great, can you administer it?
  • No one’s even touched the SharePoint Team Services server since it was installed by folks from overseas.
  • The community that supported your Open Source components… dried up?
  • Cloud SLAs, Serviceability?
  • Compliance?
  • Disaster Management?
  • Scalability?
  • Security?
  • Documentation…?
    • Don’t even go there.

As you can see… “Everything but the kitchen sink” no longer applies. The kitchen sink is transparently accounted for as well. A well designed information technology infrastructure needs to go beyond hardware and software. It considers redundancy/disaster management, security, operating conditions, such as room to operate and grow, and of course, if there are any undue risks or burdens placed on particular technologies, vendors, or even employees. Full valuation goes further, looking outside the walls to cloud providers and social media outlets. Finally, no inspection would be complete without a look at compliance, of course.

If your information technology does not serve your investors’ needs, your CEO’s needs, your VP of Marketing and Sales’ needs, as well as production’s… but most importantly your customers’, your information technology is detracting from the valuation of your company.

If the work has been done, due diligence will show off the working utility, maintainability, security, scalability, and superior added value of the well-designed enterprise IT infrastructure refresh.

To elaborate on that, a good information technology infrastructure provides a superior customer experience no matter how a customer chooses to interact with your company. Whether it’s at the concierge’s counter, in the drive-through, at a kiosk, on the phone, at your reseller’s office, in a browser or mobile app, your customers should be satisfied with their experience.

Don’t stop with simply tossing dated appliances and replacing them. Really think about how the technologies work together, and how people work with them. This is key… if you take replacement appliances off the shelf and simply plug them in, you are (at best) merely keeping up with your competitors. If you want the full value add, you need to specialize. You need to bend the components to your processes. It’s not just what you’ve got.  It’s how you use it.  It’s the critical difference between overhead and advantage.

Maybe the Augmented Reality Kitchen won’t provide a good return on investment (yet), but… there’s probably a lot that will.

Is the 1-9-90 rule for social participation dead?

It has long been an axiom that getting people to participate in online communities is hard, and the 1/9/90 rule helped explain why. 1% will be die-hard content creators, 9% will participate and 90% will be passive consumers and sit on the sidelines.

A recent BBC study claims the old rules are dead and that a whopping 77% of adults should be considered participators in some capacity. Interestingly, GigaOm pounced and claimed the old rules still apply.

I think the BBC research is on to something and that the online participation patterns have changed. Few of the things may have contributed:

  • Consolidation: social networks such as Facebook and Twitter consolidate for us updates and posts from multiple communities and allow us to respond directly from there. You no longer need to go and check on 7 different communities to see what is going on.
  • Ease of content creation and sharing especially from mobile devices. Probably too easy if you ask me. if you allow it, your phone will post your location, the pictures you take and more without even asking. The success of Instagram is just one example. Being connected 100% of the time allows us to interact 100% of the day.
  • We are not anonymous anymore. It has been a slow change but if the late 90’s were about virtual identities and avatars, now we interact as real people. It may look like a small change but the whole nature of online interaction shifted from an outlet to interactions we wanted to have outside of our normal (and sometimes restrictive) social circle to where now most of the online interaction is with our social circle. More and more the online communities and social networks augment and extend our real relationships with people and brands.
  • While some people who came to the party felt a bit out of place and stayed close to the wall for a while. After some time you realize that keeping to yourself in a social setting is not very nice and that people actually notice. If you are part of the community, participation is now expected.

So if the BBC is right and we should be expecting more participation what does it mean for businesses?

Business social participation may still be closer to the old rules because they do not reflect a close knit social group but as more people become comfortable in sharing it will start to have an impact.

Internally, collaboration and social networking with colleagues will eventually follow the same pattern of heightened participation if you allow the same enablers. Aggregate and consolidate activities and updates so they are easy to access, make it easy to respond to them and embed interaction and sharing everywhere in internal web applications, sites, tools etc. Making sharing a social norm may not be too far off.

Externally, in addition to the brand enthusiasts and deal seekers there is now a potential in making a lot more people participants

  • Think about creating content that people would want to share. Too many websites and social media sites focus on the marketing side “what we have to sell”. Cool or useful things to do with the product or that are just related to the category will more easily be viral.
  • Many websites have added sharing and likes to their pages but few take it to the level of actually allowing specific questions or comments through social networks on content or products.
  • Think mobile sharing. From QR codes in trade show booths to special coupons for scanning or photographing in the store. Even my dentist has a promotion for getting free whitening pen if you scan a code and like him on Facebook. Brilliant.