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5/18/2007
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Getting Over ?Fear-Of-Blogs?

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity talk to clients on a range of topics that include collaboration, unified communications, Web 2.0 and social software. Regarding Web 2.0 and social software, I find that people are often captivated by the use of these concepts and tools in the consumer market. While some technologists are skeptical, there are also a growing number of people that are wondering how such practices and technologies could be applied internally and whether such use could bring about some degree of business transformation – especially in terms of leveraging worker know-how and collective insight. Often, people will use the term “Enterprise 2.0” as shorthand to describe this transfer and application of Web 2.0 concepts and social software tools behind-the-firewall. While the Enterprise 2.0 topic itself is quite broad, I wanted to focus this post on one aspect of some recent conversations concerning the internal use of blogs.

Many of the questions asked by clients concerning social software tools, such as wikis and XML syndication (i.e., RSS/Atom feeds), tend to bring out standard issues regarding business impact, application scenarios, security, integration, compliance and vendor positioning. The tone and emotion levels however get quite passionate however, when the topic of blogs comes up.  There does seem to be agreement that public-facing blogs can have real business value from the perspective of marketing, PR, customer intimacy and community-outreach. That perspective however does not seem to transfer broadly when the conversation shifts to possible internal adoption of blogs. In fact, it is not uncommon to hear a range of opinions that could be represented by the following statements:

  • Risk-related: “We’re afraid of what people will say.”
  • Productivity-related: “We don’t want people wasting their time.”
  • Performance-related: “We don’t see the business value.”

The conversation often swings back to the Internet and how blogs are used as a public soapbox to express personal opinions and how bloggers add fuel to emotionally-charged debates on topics many organizations view as a workplace distraction (e.g., politics, sports, entertainment, religion, breaking news, etc.). A good number of people I’ve talked to feel that blogs introduce risk (e.g., hostile workplace), negatively impacts productivity and hinders overall performance of business processes.

I think part of the problem is due to a lack of examples of how blogs can be applied to solve the types of business challenges organizations face on a daily basis. There are clearly other factors that hinder blog adoption – better examples are not a panacea. For instance, cultural dynamics do play a key role in how blogs will be adopted, but I will not address those aspects in this post.

But I do believe that if people cannot “see themselves in a story”, it makes it difficult for them to understand and visualize what’s possible. In this case, how blogs can be applied to improve situations people face everyday across a variety of business activities. Without more widespread application scenarios, many IT strategists and decision makers will continue to believe that blogs are only useful as a public soap-box. This reinforces the “fear of blogs” mindset. Even if there are practical cases for use of the technology, blogs are unlikely to be well-received by organizations that are concerned about unfettered speech across the workplace.

So what happens next? Perhaps a first step is for strategists to create some type of taxonomy that people can use to sort out possible use case scenarios for blog applications. What I have found so far is that requirements for deployment of blog technology within an enterprise can be generally placed into the categories below:

Internal Communication

There are many situations where organizations need to broadcast information to its workforce without the need for that information to be pushed to its workers in an intrusive manner (e.g., e-mail).

  • A Human Resources department can leverage blog technology to continually keep employees updates on various benefit plans, awareness of enrollment dates and so on.
  • CXO-level management can leverage blogs to informally communicate company issues related to markets, economics and its competition.
  • Organizations can use blogs to communicate information to employees on the various community-outreach and social programs in need of volunteers.

Program / Project Management

Program management offices (PMO) and project management teams often establish operating environments where information may not always be captured and disseminated in a timely manner. The structure of these organizing bodies may challenge its ability to quickly respond, making it difficult to communicate credible and relevant information. 

  • A PMO blog could provide a journal of activities, issues and future actions that could be valuable not only to workers within the PMO but to those monitoring and tracking the PMO elsewhere in the organization
  • A group blog for developers and quality assurance teams could act as a clearinghouse to voice design concerns, for developers to record and report findings or to capture/disseminate software build and fix notifications discovered during development or testing cycles (e.g., shift notes)
  • PMO and project teams create a variety of guidelines, procedures and other types of documentation. While wikis are good vehicles for the collaborative work on the content itself, blogs can provide a platform for individuals to provide deeper personal commentary.

Community-building

Organizations have struggled to find common off-the-shelf tools that allow for the capture, dissemination and augmentation of information while also enabling broad participation and community interaction. Facilitating open communication is a key aspect for organizations interested in sharing know-how and creating effective community-building environments (e.g., knowledge management).

  • Research organizations have long valued the importance of personal journals and lab notebooks to catalog observations and record insight. Blogs within such an environment not only are of benefit to those within such communities but enable others to “look over the shoulders” of those engaged in such activities.  
  • Government organizations can use blog systems to enable first responders to share insight and lessons-learned from on-the-job experiences
  • Specialists in many different professions (e.g., utilization management nurses, fraud investigators, security experts, underwriters, engineers) can use blogs to more easily communicate methods and practices relevant to their work activities

Business process

A multitude of business activities include capture of unstructured information as part of processing a particular task. Many applications do not naturally handle the type of free-form commentary and annotation users would like to add to a transaction or append to a case file. There are other situations where applications need to deal with conversational information that are not well-supported by traditional application models (e.g., issue tracking, exception handling, problem resolution). 

  • A competitive intelligence process is often dependent on capturing field observations, rumors and collating information detected from various news sources. Blog systems can provide the platform the collecting and vetting this type of market monitoring, analysis, and opportunity/threat assessment.  
  • Certain support processes require workers to capture notes as part of their remote activity (e.g., field repair). Offline authoring tools (e.g., Microsoft Windows Live Writer) could be used to compose analysis on a worker’s laptop and then upload to a group blog when network connectivity is available. In other situations, certain work activities might include capture of notes into operational logs. Blog technology can enable capture of task-related notes inline with performance of that operational process.

Now in some instances, these use case scenarios could be implemented via other tools (such as wikis) and some applications might require supporting software to be deployed as well (such as XML syndication). But the idea at this point is to get over the fear-factor associated with blogs and begin the process of re-defining the applied use of blog technology in a manner that has some relevant context to that particular enterprise.

In my next post, I’ll expand on this categorization model for gathering business requirements and use case scenarios and talk about some different frameworks organizations can consider for making blog technology available to users:

  • a “license to blog” deployment model
  • a “gated blog” deployment model
  • a “blog central” deployment model
  • a “structured blog” deployment model

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