Is 2009 the year of social media & return on investment?

I am now officially bored with web 2.0 and so on. The hype over the past year has been ridiculous. But the whole area of social computing, including social media and social networking will continue to grow.

However, it is likely that the economic crisis will precipitate a focus on some real value (for a change) in the area of social computing and social media.

The real challenge is going to be demonstration of ROI from social computing in a down market.

From a business perspective this ROI will need to be real bottom line costs out or increased direct revenue. This is going to be a big challenge for some social media companies. It also means that the consumer end of the market might not be the place to look for growth. Instead there will be more competition for the enterprise market.

I suspect that in the area of social computing the enterprise market is where the established companies that have a compelling enterprise social computing platform, integration capability and deep pockets will have an advantage.

But all the best innovation seems to come out of difficult times. So we can expect to see new ideas developed in ways we don’t yet understand, new business models and new ways of approaching old problems.

[Cartoon source: Geek & Poke]

The Ripple Effects of Assholes: When Women Are Treated Badly, Everyone Suffers

Just came across this old post from Bob Sutton (well known anti-asshole activist) is worth noting – in summary according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology:

“Witnessing the harassment or uncivil treatment of women at work is bad not only for female employees, but for the productivity of the whole organisation.”

Read more here…

This in turn let me to ponder the interconnectedness of humans and reminded me of Donne’s famous verse:

“…No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”

How much power do our IT staff really have?

There was a tale in the news in 2008 of a disgruntled city IT worker who effectively blocked all access to the city network. Apparently the network continued to function but he refused to hand over the passwords to management so they could administer it. The story first first came to my notice in September’s Cnet News; but it also had good analysis in July by CIO here and here during July 2008.

This is an interesting power struggle. We do not often consider the power entrusted to the IT folks in our organizations. Terry Childs was a network engineer who had created and nurtured the city’s wide area network (WAN). Due to resource constraints he was on call 24 x 7 x 365, and he had come to mistrust the ability of others to effectively support the network. Thus other workers in department just left administration of the WAN to Terry. He appears to have been a highly dedicated network administrator who worked very hard but who had a cranky persona and an intolerance for incompetence. It appears that the crisis was precipitated by management changes and actions. It is worth reading the CIO analysis of the case.

Most people do not realise that most IT departments concentrate key information like this in the hands of very few people. They do not realise how vulnerable their organization is to incompetent or malicious acts by those few. And they are often not particularly grateful for the work that those few do.

It is not uncommon for IT workers to work a full 5 day week and then to be asked turn up on weekends or after hours to undertake essential works. In many cases they are not paid overtime for that extra work. Many IT workers are also required to be on call 24 x 7.

The role of IT can often be challenging. If things are working and all is going well nobody is grateful, it is just their job after all. But often it is hard to obtain the necessary resources – like redundancy – to ensure that all go well without interruption.

In the event of a breakdown or service interruption IT staff work until it is fixed (sometimes for several days in a row). Afterwards there is usually the ritual search for the guilty. Rarely is the guilt ascribed to the initial lack of resources that could have avoided the event.

Rarely are IT departments rewarded for problem avoidance. Instead resources are focused problem rectification rather than avoidance, thus causing a predictable cycle of failure and fixing.

We should be very grateful to our IT staff. Given the power they hold over our systems and our businesses, and how badly they are often treated, it is amazing that they do not take this power and use it against us.
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Can the Banks Really Change?

Back in November 2008, before the real seriousness of the global financial situation had become apparent, I attended a Retail Financial Services Panel Discussion & Luncheon in Sydney. The topics proposed for the panel includes:

  • Competition and customer acquisition amid the credit crisis
  • Group strategy post-credit crisis – what will consolidation of the sector mean?
  • Life after the 100-point check: The business opportunity and customer experience
  • Innovation in the retail banking sector – how are you going to engage customers moving forward?
  • What is going to positively and negatively impact your customers?
  • Effective and efficient processing via various channels
  • Positive and comprehensive reporting
  • Outsourcing of back-end processing by the major banks

An insight hit me during the panel discussion. Never before had I heard bankers say the words “responsible lending” so many times.

For my sins I have spent most of my adult life working in banking & financial services, so there has been plenty of opportunity for me to hear the words “responsible lending“. But in fact, this was the first time ever that I had heard those words fall so liberally from a banker’s lips.

Usually the term “responsible lending” falls only from the lips of a banking regulators (ASIC or APRA in Australia).

In addition, the panellists talked a lot about “proper pricing and assessment of risks” … whatever the ‘new’ normal is” (Jim Cock, GE). This does not bode well for borrowers. It sounds like banks are not sure how to properly assess risk anymore. For Cock the key message was about the importance of good data so that risk can be effectively priced, he also spoke glowingly of the need for positive credit reporting (which IMHO is a bane in the US and will do us no good as consumers).

Bostock, from the NAB and newly arrived from the UK, noted that the UK had already moved into a phase of asset deflation and that this was having a flow on effect to jobs and mortgage repayments.

Each panellist expressed hope in various forms for the future. Each talked about how they were going to differentiate from their competitors on customer service.

The quote of the day was from Bostock: “There is not a lot of product innovation in retail banking products, so it is all about customer service”. Have to admit, as a bank customer & ex-employee, I was LMAO at that comment.

Given that product innovation in retail banking is one of the factors behind the current financial crisis we can all be thankful that the banks are moving away from it. Instead they claim to be focusing on customer service.

I do wonder how much we will feel the joy of this re-found focus on the customer? Especially when it is coupled with a renewed focus on risk and effective pricing of risk. I suspect bank customers are in for rough days ahead as banks try to maintain their profits in a changed world economic landscape.

For the record the panellists were:
Peter Hanlon, Group Executive, Retail and Business Banking, Westpac
Jim Cock, Managing Director GE Money Direct, GE Money Australia & New Zealand
Graham Heunis, Head of Personal Financial Services, HSBC Australia
Tim Bostock, State General Manager Retail Financial Services NSW & ACT, National Australia Bank

Kevin Kelly & the Evolution of Technology

Here in this TED talk Kevin Kelly talks about the evolution of technology. Kevin is one of my favourite thinkers about technology and our relationship to us. Here he asks “what does technology want from us?”

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf
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HR Futures Conference Melbourne 26 Feb

For anyone who’s into human resources, social media and technology issues you need to know that my buddy, Michael Specht, is running the HR Futures Conference in Melbourne on 26 February 2009.

It’s a one day event that will bring together speakers covering HR, Recruiting and Technology to discuss how social media, innovation, culture and technology empower, attract, engage and evolve employees.

Sounds like some really interesting speakers & panellists: e.g. Thomas Shaw CEO of Recruitment Directory, Riges Younan CEO of 2Vouch, Geoff Jennings Director & Founder of Online Recruitment and David Talamelli Senior Recruiter from Oracle Corporation.

As Michael says:

“The day will feature ten different speakers across seven presentations and two panel discussions with topics covering recruitment, learning, professional development, and legal issues as they related to Web 2.0”

For more info check out the website

Safety and Western Society

I have been cogitating – always a dangerous thing to do. The subject is safety. In the past safety was a rare and precious commodity. For example, until the advent of the police force in England it was not safe to travel on the highways without armed guards & people could not walk the streets safely at night.

We take very lightly the privilege of driving kilometres without worrying about highwaymen, or being robbed by footpads. But we are very lucky that we can walk out of our houses without much thought for our safety.

In other parts of the world life is unsafe and everyone is vulnerable to attack. We owe these feelings of safety to such foundations as a civil society, a police force, standing army, and stable society & economy.

It seems that our world is changing. With the unfolding of the global financial crisis we might not be able to rely upon those foundations of safety in western society. Are we moving into a time where we will be unable to rely on a stable economy and society for our safety? Will we be able to afford a police force and standing army to guard our safety?

It is interesting to consider how we might manage in a post-western world?

Resilience

The question of whether or not people of our time are resilient enough to deal with adversity like previous generations was a topic of discussion at one of the Girl Geek Dinner’s last year. It reminded me to dig out these favourite quotations.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” – Confucius

“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not… nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not… unrewarded genius is almost legendary. Education will not…. the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” President Calvin Coolidge

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” -Reinhold Niebuhr