Socializing Microsoft with IBM Connections

The title of this post is one which I borrowed from my colleague and friend, Omar Davison, who has (with some assistance from his colleagues) put together a very compelling and direct little video on how IBM Connections can bring a whole new dimension of collaboration to Microsoft SharePoint and Outlook:

The point he makes here is that the many organisations out there who have SharePoint and Outlook are not getting the return on investment, the sea change in productivity, they would expect.  The reason for this?  Because although SharePoint is where many organisations lodge their documents and expect people to find them, it doesn’t put the people involved in the work in the centre.  The result is that you haven’t really moved past a file server and email which we all had back in the 1990’s.

IBM’s approach is to recognize how people interact with the knowledge and information they are presented with.  We’ve built tools and solutions around that paradigm to support better productivity, smarter decision making and faster access to knowledge:

By adding IBM Connections to your Microsoft environment you unlock your staff's potential.

By adding IBM Connections to your Microsoft environment you unlock your staff’s potential.


Don’t expect to be social with your (closest) colleagues

You might think you’ve read that headline wrongly.  Surely the whole point of social business collaboration is to be social with your colleagues?  Yes, it is, but it depends on how close they are and which tools you are using.  Confused?  Read on.

If you have a Facebook account and several members of your immediate family (spouse children, siblings etc) also have Facebook accounts, I would bet that it is unlikely that you will use Facebook as a major collaboration tool with them.  It doesn’t happen.  We don’t post status updates to find out when dinner is, or to remind each other about some domestic arrangement (I am sure this actually does happen in some families, but I am hoping you see my point).  We use good old fashioned collaboration techniques like, oh I don’t know, speaking to each other.  We might go as far as notes on the refridgerator, or a note under the car keys, but we ordinarily don’t resource to a social collaboration network to remind our spouses to get some milk on the way home.

This is true at work too.  In a situation where you work within about thirty to fifty feet of people in an office old collaboration tools prevail.  We might send the odd email to each other to give them a copy of something or to provide them with a convenient link to something but for the most part we go round and talk to them.  After all we are SOCIAL animals and the primary means of being social is still talking to each other.  Expecting us to widely adopt the many tools and features of our favorite collaboration platform to unite a locally-arranged, close-knit team is therefore going to meet with limited success.  Instead, we should recognize that a product like IBM Connections or SmartCloud for Social Business provides a range of tools which can be used for a variety of purposes.

In 1973, Mark Granovetter published “The Strength of Weak Ties” where he examines the interactions of people who are weakly-connected to each other. Long before the internet was publicly available or social software had ever been thought of, Granovetter showed us that the ways we work or communicate with people who are physically or psychologically distant from us is different from how we work with those around us.


When working with our close-colleagues we predominantly use speech, email and file sharing.  For more advanced teams we might also use something like status updates to help reduce the volume of transactional email we need to send to each other.

strongties1When we have a team of people who need to work together but who are spread through a large building, across a car park or across a continent or ocean then other collaboration tools help.  Blogs, wikis, status updates, communities, bookmarks and so on are useful.

weaktiesMy point here is to highlight that many of the current collaboration tools you use can be social if you want them to be.  By sharing what you know and have, and encouraging engagement with those resources, both your closest colleagues, and those across an ocean from you can benefit from what you know and share.  You should recognize that you can improve your collaboration and improve productivity amongst those you work with most frequently by doing simple things, such as:

  1. Make the files you can share fully available in a central, easily-accessed location.  Don’t just use it to share what someone has asked you to share – share it all – or at least what you can, so that others have the chance to discover what’s there and potentially make use of it.  This will save your colleagues time by not having to hunt around, or worse re-invent, something which “if they had just asked you, you could have given them”.
  2. Consider using status updates instead of emails to inform each other of changes which they might need to know about.  Replace the round-robin emails with status updates and encourage people to check out your messages.  This helps them filter out what they need to know and potentially increases the serendipitous discovery of information.  It also keeps their inbox down to stuff they actually need to deal with, rather than stuff other people think they might like to know.

These are just a couple of ideas which you can easily implement to make collaboration and working together easier for you and your colleagues.  Why not contribute some of your own ideas in the comments?

How to move from Email to Social without moving at all

At work virtually all of us work with email. At present it is the default and defacto method of communication. We probably also all recognize its shortcomings when it comes to working together with other people. It is intended as a means of messaging primarily between two individuals but over time, of course, we get emails copied to us for various purposes.

Being on the receiving end of an email which is copied to you, or blind copied is a decision which (it’s likely) the sender has made – not you. You may well be grateful to receive such an email but in my experience my inbox gets filled with the information other people think I will want to know about.

Moving to a more socially-collaborative working environment allows me to be more selective about the information I want to receive. By “following” a person, a community, a document or some other aspect of an enterprise social network I can choose to be updated about something I care about, rather than be on the receiving end of a firehose of information sent by other people.

Moving into this social nirvana can be a difficult process for many people. Email, after all, is really just the electronic manifestation of the paper office – electronic memos have replaced the paper memos we would receive. Folders in our mailboxes have replaced the filing cabinets which populated our offices. This deeply-embedded habit is something which we digital immigrants, those who were born before the internet arrived, are struggling to change these habits.

I have written a lot in this blog and elsewhere about methods of adoption – ways you can organise projects and your working groups to ease the transition to being more co-operative, collaborative and open in your day to day work. Some people, however, still see this as too big a step to take. They are not prepared to take the extra effort of changing to get the benefit. So how can we help these individuals move into a better working situation in smaller and more easily digestible bites?

One way is to make use of the social extensions available for IBM Notes and Microsoft Outlook. These extend social capabilities offered by IBM Connections into the email software to enhance the experience and start to introduce more “social” features the users might benefit from. If you are a Notes user you most likely have free entitlement to use the Files and Profiles features of Connections inside Notes as part of your Notes software subscription.

The diagram below illustrates the concept of socializing the email environment in small, but deliberate steps:Slide1

Starting with the centre of the diagram, people are working with Email.

The next move outward introduces the concept of Status Updates and File Sharing.

Status Updates IBM Notes

Next out is “Embedded Experience” where users can access social features of IBM Connections from within IBM Notes:

Files Hans Erik Ballangrud has shared WinPlan DSD Q2 2014 doc with you IBM Notes

With Embedded Experiences the user interface of IBM Connections is brought into the email experience of IBM Notes.  Notice that I can comment, like and perform other “social” tasks right within the email I’ve received, without leaving IBM Notes.

Finally, Communities and Social Tools can be presented using the embedded browser of Notes, so the user remains in the Notes client, or you can move to a fully browser-based experience:

Activities IBM Notes

Don’t forget that IBM Connections also has “Connections Mail” which connects the Connections environment back to the email world (Domino or Exchange):



How to remain compliant while becoming a social business

One of the best things about working for the market leader in social business is that you get to work with some very smart people. My colleague in the SWAT team, George Brichacek, has prepared this useful video showing how compliance, such as the marking of particular content (like financial records or personal information), can be handled correctly and appropriately using IBM Connections.

Thanks for sharing this, George. And, please check out George’s other excellent videos on YouTube.

Experton put IBM as the leader in Social Business in 8 out of 9 Quadrants

With a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 50% by 2016, the market for social business for communication & collaboration (SB4CC) even outpaces cloud computing as IT and business driver.  (Experton, 2013)

Experton, a European Analyst organisation, has recently posted one of their first in-depth analyses of the social enterprise market.  Their findings?  IBM is the leader in social in 8 out of 9 of their categories:


What the Experton study highlights is that the term “social” covers not just collaboration, but also “socialytics” and talent management.  It’s about the complete concept of social in an organisation to gain fresh insight on what people know, how they work, how they interact and how best to uncover their expertise for the benefit of the organisation and for the staff member themselves.

To quote their study:

IBM has a strong, consistent social business history, covering nearly all market segments benchmarked for this study, including services.

If you are interested in obtaining a closer look at Experton’s study, my colleague, Stefan Pfeiffer, will be more than happy to help you.

It’s great to see such a broad and rounded examination of the marketplace and, for me at least, a European one at that.

BP403 – Driving Business Opportunity with Social Business Patterns

At IBM Connect 2014, Scott Smith & I presented at Business Partner development day how to generate business opportunities with the Social Business Patterns.  Here is the deck via Slideshare

Supercharged IBM Connections Activities

IBM Connect is the place to be when it comes to understanding all that’s happening in the world’s leading social business platform.   There is a large exhibition center where the large services and application market for the Platform can be explored.  Australian business partner, ISW is there as they have been for most years and are demonstrating something which I believe moves the paradigm of using Activities in Connections as a tool for managing projects to a whole new level.

If you follow my blog you’ll probably know that I have been an advocate for using Activities as a mechanism for managing the progress of your projects.  Combining the tasks to be performed with the documentation you collect so that the activity is both a system of record and system of engagement is something which bridges the gap in many collaboration environments.

Walking around the exhibition space at Connect I spotted ISW’s Kudos Boards product which drives this paradigm forward in a whole new way.  In IBM Connections, Activities are presented like a structured list of documents, tasks, and other information which can be grouped under headings:


Kudos Boards helps turn this concept on its head by presenting the contents of the Activity like a work-breakdown structure:

The major sections of your project are presented in columns with each of the tasks, entries, to-do’s and so on, shown below.  To my eyes this is a huge leap forward for group and personal productivity and something which, if you are at Connect, I would strongly encourage you to go and check out at the ISW stand.

Have a look at it in action:

Disclosure: I am presenting this topic because I genuinely believe it will be of interest to the readers of this blog.  I am not receiving or have received any compensation from the vendor or anyone else.  Basically, I think it’s great and I’d encourage you to check it out.

Expertise Location and Knowledge Sharing Drive Better Outcomes Through Social Business

In the last article in my series about the role of social collaboration in knowledge and document management, I set the scene for positioning social as the glue which brings the tacit knowledge we humans have but which these systems don’t harness. I promised another article about the role of Expertise Location and Expertise Sharing Practices so thought, with the new year upon us, the time was right.

Expertise is an interesting concept. To me it is different from experience and different from knowledge. To my understanding, experience is what we gain as we go through life carrying out tasks and doing our work. We may not necessarily understand the task we’re doing but we know that if we do it one way or another we might get different results. As an example I worked in a lab in a production plant which made vitamin products, like vitamin c, vitamin e, etc. I was in the middle of working towards a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and so therefore found the opportunity to get some practical experience of what it’s like to apply my knowledge. In the lab were a number of very experienced lab workers who knew every aspect of loading samples into the analysis equipment, handling an error and reporting the results. They didn’t have any, or at least very much, chemistry knowledge. They didn’t know what the machine they were working was doing – they just knew what they had to do with the machine to get it to produce a number which one of the chemists would understand and be able to action. In my understanding, those lab workers had a great deal of experience but not a lot of knowledge in chemical analysis. I, on the other hand had knowledge but not much experience.

In a safety-critical situation or where the stakes are high you need to find people who have both knowledge and experience. You need to locate who can apply correct knowledge in the right way. Traditional Knowledge Management and Document Management solutions don’t go anywhere near this issue. Social Collaboration systems act as the building blocks to draw the inference between the knowledge and its application through experience.

Encouraging your staff to share their experience through blog posts, status updates, wiki articles, questions and answers, forum discussions and all the other collaborative solutions a system such as IBM Connections has gives you the foundation to build expertise location into your business processes and hence, perhaps, to improve a critical situation.

Expertise Location is much more than biographical information in a profile, however. I am sure virtually all of you reading this document have a profile on LinkedIn and probably on Facebook, Google+ and who knows what else. Each of these systems encourage you to say something about yourself. LinkedIn, in particular, structures that information to give you places to describe projects you’ve worked on, publications you’ve made, etc. In other words, LinkedIn is going some way towards giving you the facility to describe the knowledge and experience you have.

The reader of your LinkedIn profile has, to a large extent, only got your word for it that you have this knowledge and experience. That’s one of the reasons why we saw endorsements appear in LinkedIn. This is a kind of crowd-sourced experience index for your knowledge. If lots of other people endorse you as being an expert in social business, then the chance are you know something about it. It’s not fool-proof, of course. Neither was the recommendation engine they have. It’s easy to get all your friends to write glowing recommendations to give the impression that you are the best employee in the world. To a complete stranger these recommendations are useful, but not a decider, in my opinion.

So let’s say I work for an airline and that airline has a social collaboration solution which contains profiles of all the staff in the airline. I can find anyone by searching for their name, their job title, their department, etc. That’s great and solves a problem for lots of organizations. What is doesn’t tell me is who to call on if I have a plane grounded in Atlanta with faulty engine.

The company might compel everyone to create some form of biography in their profile – like LinkedIn. This helps to some extent with my problem, but is not a complete solution for the same reasons LinkedIn has a problem. I might search for a jet engine expert and might get a cast of hundreds of apparent experts. Who do I pick?

Next up I could perhaps filter my search to be jet engine experts in Atlanta. I might not get any results. I might get a few, but I might find that their biography doesn’t specifically mention the Rolls-Royce RB211 engine I have a problem with. Traditionally I might be left with asking around about specific people or calling them to see if they can help.

Social Collaboration helps me narrow in on the best person for my issue by blending the user’s contributions, referrals, comments, etc, with their biography. Let’s say my search in Connections produces three experts I might want to consider:

  1. Mike Doe – Biography says he services jet engines and he is based on the East Coast.
  2. Jane Smith – Biography says she’s experience in Rolls-Royce maintenance, and I can see see she is a regular contributor to the Rolls-Royce community on our system.
  3. Ian Jones – Biography doesn’t explicitly say anything about Rolls-Royce engines, but he has a regular blog on engine maintenance and he has a ton of recommended and liked contributions that other people have re-posted and fed-back on.

Who is the best expert? Ian Jones surely?

While this isn’t an exact science the inference here is that Ian would have more EXPERTISE, i.e. knowledge and experience, and hence might be the person to contact.

I am of course applying subjective judgement in this situation and to some extent I am using my own expertise to judge the most appropriate expert for my problem.

So, if Knowledge Management and Document Management don’t cut it when it comes to capturing the tacit knowledge – the experience – your staff have, surely the case for implementing a social collaboration system becomes clear. However, if you want to remove the last obstacle – your own experience and judgement – from the expert location scenario, you need to turn to some smart technology that can analyze the results.

IBM recently launched its Expertise Locator application which is an add-on product for IBM Connections. It sports both a web-browser interface and an extremely groovy mobile app for both Android and iOS. The Expertise Locator does deep analysis of the biographical and experiencial information your social collaboration system has and offers reasoned suggestions for experts you might be searching for.

Let me illustrate this with an example.  In IBM’s own Expertise Locator I did a search for Knowledge Management Airlines to find people in IBM who might know how to apply knowledge management to the airline industry.  The results were as follows:


From a constituency of 450,000 employees, the Expertise Locator has found 3395 who potentially match my requirements.  OK, so that’s not a bad start, but its a very long list to have to wade through, especially if I am in a hurry.  Over on the left hand side of the example above, however, I can quickly zoom-in on the search results by being a little more prescriptive:

In three clicks, I choose that I need a consultant, someone who works for the Collaboration Solutions area of IBM and is a specialist in Collaboration.  The 3395 results get reduced to 3:

IBM_Expertise-5So I’ve got a much more honed list of people to speak to.  Notice also, however, that Expertise Locator is indicating if I know the person or not.  The top hit is a second degree connection (I know someone who knows them).  The middle person I don’t know and is out of my network.  The bottom person is one of my connections.

For me, though, one of the most important aspects about the results is the “Why Cook, James?” section:

IBM_Expertise-4I can see that James Cook has been highlighted not only because of his job title, and other information in his profile, but also for the Forum post he’s made.

I am still needing to apply some level of judgement about which of the three experts I could work with, but by providing the “Why” like this, Expertise Locator is making my life a whole lot easier simply by pulling together and analyzing the biographical information and the contributions of users in the system.

Put this into the hands of a turn-around manager at a busy airport when he has an aircraft that’s not going anywhere and you suddenly bring a huge level of corporate intelligence and improved decision making to everyone wherever they are:



Knowledge Management

We started this discussion identifying that social collaboration solutions are one of the key aspects of gluing together the information silos and encouraging the unlocking of the tacit experience people have and combining it with the explicit knowledge in knowledge and document management systems.  In this article I’ve described how Expertise Sharing and Location can add important dimensions to your organization by applying the combination of tacit and explicit.  The key for your organization is to embed social collaboration into the business processes you run and then applying those social interactions to help drive better business outcomes.  Expertise Location is just one of many tools to help unlock that potential.