Corporate users turn to consumer-oriented applications for business reasons. Also, working toward N = 1, and efficiency goes head-to-head with innovation.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

June 6, 2008

3 Min Read

In our book, we make a subtle but important point: "Firms need to treat their employees as N = 1 to gain a consumer focus of N = 1." The enterprise employee is a consumer, and both need N = 1 attention, where N = 1 means the ability, provided by the Internet, to interact with customers on an individual basis.

The consumer-oriented Facebook application is one of the fastest-growing third- party applications on corporate BlackBerrys. Corporate users aren't just connecting with their friends; many of them are forming communities of their colleagues. It's a new enabler of collaboration, a fuller characterization of employees based on their interests and skills.

We should expect these applications to be tied together soon with corporate HR systems. For this new age of business-model innovation, we need a new approach to talent management with an N = 1 focus on employees. This approach will demand new HR systems that connect the traditional HR information on employees with their corporate social networking sites, their performance, and their skills. Hence, when a manager needs a new team to deliver the N = 1 experience for a customer, he or she should be able to search dynamically through such a system for the right talent and skills.

Naturally, this demands innovation in how we manage projects and people--innovation along the lines of N = 1.

-- M.S. Krishnan

Baby Steps Toward N = 1
Our first online poll posed the question: How closely does your company work with its end customers? Here are the results:

  • Our end customers are integrally involved in helping us design our products and/or services: 18%


  • We informally solicit ideas and feedback from them through many avenues (online, e-mail, phone, in person, etc.): 31%


  • We solicit ideas and feedback from our end customers through focus groups: 22%


  • We formally survey them on a regular basis: 20%


  • We're too far removed from them to generate usable feedback: 9%

The right answer, in the N = 1 world, is the first one--involving customers in product and services design. Unfortunately, less than a fifth of our respondents have gone that far in working with their customers. But the good news is that a significant number interact with their customers in a variety of ways. That's a big step in the right direction: Customer interaction should be a constant and evolving process.

Most respondents say their companies still use the tried-and-true customer feedback mechanisms: focus groups and surveys. That's good--like publicity, there's no such thing as bad customer interaction--but it's also bad because N = 1 tells us that customer interaction has to be so much more than simple feedback. Feedback suggests a wall between the customer and the company, a wall made manifest in the typical focus group. The N = 1 formula demands that that wall be removed for the sake of direct interaction, leading to value being co-created between the customer and the company.

-- John Soat

Efficiency Vs. Innovation
Typically, large organizations are process-driven or project-driven. Innovation, in my opinion, should be path-breaking, and hence process-breaking. This doesn't mean that large organizations don't innovate. Typically, the smaller the organization, the more necessity forces members of the project to do things differently. But the quality processes in large organizations help them to successfully package and roll out incremental innovations. Small companies come up with innovative ideas but lack the process to apply or package them nicely.

Read InformationWeek's New Age Of Innovation blog at: newageofinnovation.com

Incremental innovations in projects are achieved day in and day out by project members because of the situation in which they're forced to operate and the constraints they have in terms of resources. After all, necessity is the mother of innovation.

-- Suresh Rajagopalan

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