How to pilot social media tools

Flickr - Map Reading

To navigate social media, you need a champion within HR for internal adoption, recognise the constraints your industry operates within, and actively engage with influencers on external channels.

I recently presented at the J.Boye Conference in Aarhus and had the chance to sit in on some other sessions including three great examples of how to pilot, introduce and adopt social tools for business. Two were focused internally, improving employee engagement. One was external, focused on customer engagement. All had great lessons to share. Here are a few soundbites.


Luis Suarez presented lessons learned by IBM since introducing BlueIQ ten years ago to increase knowledge sharing and collaboration internally. It followed the old adage – happy employees lead to happy customers. Ignore that correlation at your peril in this new connected world we live in. The early adopters of BlueIQ were often the black sheep in their groups, the disrupters upsetting the status quo. BlueIQ gave them a community (and an authentic voice). The initiative has since grown to over 50,000 active participants globally.

There was lots of great advice, but these two quotes particularly stood out:

“You can be appointed a manager but you have to demonstrate leadership, every day.”

When asked if there is anything that could or should have been done differently earlier in the project, Luis gave a great tip:

“To drive adoption of social tools internally, you really need to find a champion in HR. Because they have the power to do anything regarding employees.”

Wise words.

UBS Global

Peter Barnes is the global head of web communication and collaboration IT for UBS. It was great to hear his story as a number of my own clients are challenged with embracing online, mobile and social technologies within the constraints of tightly regulated industries.

UBS deployed Jive three years ago with a specific intent – improve customer service. Working within the confines of the banking sector meant that it is very difficult to be as transparent with information as many people would like. For starters, the solution had to be on-premise. Cloud-based alternatives were not an option. And a vetting process was needed to ensure no client-identifiable information was shared. UBS had 6 developers working on their deployment to tweak Jive to meet their needs.

To give an idea of the challenges, here’s my most re-tweeted soundbite from the conference, posted during the session:

“The four horse riders of the apocalypse just referenced by UBS at JBoye13 – head of legal, head of compliance, head of risk and head of HR”

Sometimes, ‘just do it’ is simply not possible. It’s easy to bash roles such as legal and compliance but it is their livelihoods on the line if something goes wrong and they are accused of being negligent in their duties.

A great tip shared was the introduction of a ‘whistle blower’ account that anyone could contact if they spotted content being shared that they were concerned about.

BNP Paribas Fortis

Benoit Minvielle is head of e-Communication, Social Media and Innovation at BNP Paribas Fortis (BNPPFF). He presented a case study that walked through one of the best run pilots in social media tools I’ve seen. They launched 2 years ago with a very small deployment, initially in Belgium.

The first step taken was to monitor and listen to what customers were saying, and where. They found that most questions were being posted on Facebook. They also analysed the overall market and found that 4 million customers in BNPPFF were logging in twice a day on social networks.

The decision to move from 1-way to 2-way communications was not taken lightly. They recognised that it would require very different business practices. Crisis management is one of the most visibly affected processes – most will now be heard about first on social media channels. Real-time monitoring was implemented and paired with a ’24 x 7′ alerting system to also be able to respond in real-time. Backed up with the more traditional reporting and analytics to study trends on a regular basis and send outputs to appropriate departments.

BNP Paribas Fortis

(Click to view larger image)

BNPPFF implemented a ‘Social Media Command Centre’ integrating with the different business areas. Some required the real-time statistics, others needed structured reports for more organised reactions. The image above shows some of the different departments involved.

To learn from the pilot, they did monitor stats on the sites, such as likes. But were much more interested in quality than quantity. BNPPFF identified influencers and targeted them to become actively involved in the channels. They were considered key to the positive outcomes achieved. But for two-way conversations to work, you have to be good at listening and expect the conversation to not always be about you:

“Be authentic, listen and engage. Don’t control”

When asked what impact engaging on social media channels had had on sales, Benoit responded that this is not yet a Point of Sale. BNPPFF are net attempting to sell any products through social media channels. That may happen later, but for now it is about added value through better customer engagement.

Three great case studies and presenters. Thanks so much to Luis, Peter and Benoit for sharing and to Janus and the team for organising a great conference. If you’re interested in attending a future one, they are currently held annually in Philadelphi, US and Aarhus, Denmark. Visit the J.Boye web site for details.

Flickr image ‘Map reading‘ kindly shared by Zoetnet

Being human trumps technology

Human - Robot

One prediction that divides opinion is the coming technology ‘Singularity’ – the point where computing intelligence is predicted to surpass human intelligence. I’m not a fan of the prediction. Not least because we still don’t fully understand how the organic brain works. To compare with manufactured technology based on raw processing power, speed and storage capacity feels fundamentally flawed.

Such predictions show a tendency to diminish the importance and value of human traits. Do emotions have no role to play? What sort of world would that create?

This was highlighted in an article yesterday – Why new technologies could never replace great teaching:

I cannot think of one single occasion when someone has stopped me to recall fondly about an inspirational and influential piece of computer software. And yet I get letters from former students eulogising over a teacher who changed the direction of their lives and without whom they would not be in the position they are today. That is the result of trust, about a relationship between the teacher and the child.

Nearly 10 years ago, I attended an analyst conference where the following comment was made:

A well implemented Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can help increase sales by 6%. An experienced salesperson will outsell a novice by 40%. Ask a salesperson what features they want in a CRM and they will say, ‘help me sell more stuff’. Ask a manager, and they will come up with a long list of requirements to improve reporting. End result: less customer-facing time and fewer sales…

And yet still organisations will invest untold amounts of money to come up with a system to eliminate the need for people. Why the desire to devalue human abilities? Is it because some people are uncomfortable with the messy chaotic state that is human nature? Or a fear that perhaps luck plays a far bigger part in outcomes than we’d like to admit?

Whatever the reasons, the unpredictability of human emotions define what it is to be alive. Before trying to replicate the human brain, perhaps more technologists should first ask: why do we have a brain?

Back in 2005, I attended a lecture at the Royal Society titled ‘The Puppet Master: How the brain controls the body’, delivered by Professor Daniel Wolpert. The talk was focused on the following:

In the world of organic matter, what differentiates animals and plants? The ones with brains can move.

If the whole point of having a brain is to give us movement, is the predicted technological singularity missing the point? Because the focus seems not to be on making machines move. If anything, it’s to allow us to continue to exist without moving at all. Some progress.

The Puppet Master talk explored the role of our senses in helping make optimal decisions:

Movement is surrounded by uncertainty, noise, that affects and influences our senses. The criteria for making the best decision is not always obvious.

If noise influences and interrupts our senses, and our brains have to adapt to it in order to make optimal decisions about movement, why don’t our senses do a better job of filtering and reducing noise? It is probably because there are times when we need noise… Without it, parents probably wouldn’t wake up when the baby starts crying.

I love digital technology. It has democratised access to knowledge and helped flatten the world. As someone who does not have a trace of blue blood in their heritage, I consider that to be a wholly postive outcome. But it is important to also still appreciate what it is to be human. That there is value way beyond being able to process data.


Related post

Flickr image: ‘Human / Robot’ kindly shared by Emilie Ogez

Aligning investment with reality


An interesting article appeared at the end of last week, highlighting a shift in thinking towards IT projects within the UK government: was launched quickly and iteratively, with a new simplicity that has resulted in a website containing fewer than 10% of previous separately hosted pages and is set to save as much as £70m on previous arrangements.

A new online system for people to apply for Power of Attorney on behalf of others had taken 10 working days to procure, 24 days to build and code a prototype alpha system for live testing and a beta was due to go live in two months, he said. The whole project had been commissioned from a small business using the G-Cloud for around £50,000 a year, compared with a quote obtained from one large existing provider of £4m set up plus £1.8m per year

There are two reasons why the costs to deliver an IT project should drop significantly to the established normal. 1. At the tail-end of a previous disruptive innovation, 2. At the beginning of a new one.


The hype curve of innovation applies to just about any industry. A new concept is invented. It starts small and is highly specialised but creates demonstrable value to customers. Such success never goes unnoticed and demand begins to grow. That brings competition and rival proprietary solutions. To begin with, more value is created, usually at an increasing pace as different companies come up with more innovative features to compete with one another. But then a tipping point is reached and, for a short while, everything gets a bit chaotic and messy. Hidden costs emerge, problems arise, competitors get acquired and solutions are suddenly discontinued or dramatically altered. Out of the disruption comes a new demand – standardisation that allows for continuity and economies of scale. And so the market settles down into slow growth, cheaper solutions and small incremental improvements. Until a new disruption comes along.

Building traditional web sites for publishing content are at the end of 15-year innovation cycle. The standards for design and formatting of web content have become so well established that even Microsoft has just about embraced them within the latest versions of the Internet Explorer web browser. Most popular public-facing web sites now follow familiar conventions regarding navigation and page layouts. To consolidate multiple different government departmental web sites under a single umbrella web site makes absolute sense and should save a lot of money.

Using agile approaches to software development has grown in popularity in recent years. The goal being to do ‘just enough’ design to build a working solution, and quickly tweak and iterate based on actual usage patterns rather than predicted requirements. It requires far less ‘up-front’ investment due to much shorter planning cycles and usually results in far better user adoption rates. But it doesn’t guarantee a cheaper solution over time. That will depend on the iterations and ongoing development.

Applying an agile approach to business systems is at the early stages of the innovation hype cycle. Some solutions are simply brilliant, but growth in competition means some are not. The disruption and hidden costs are yet to emerge and it’s a little early to be celebrating dramatic savings in annual operating costs. I have already seen one government project that I know is so under-costed, it will take the supplier in question into bankruptcy unless they are able to renegotiate down the line. Yes, the bigger systems integrators were insanely expensive in their quote for what was needed. But insanely cheap is a short-lived improvement.

A comment was made by Tom Loosemore, deputy director of the Government Digital Service (GDS) responsible for the projects quoted above:

“We don’t talk to IT departments other than to ask what legacy can offer”

That’s not a healthy comment and was not well received at the conference where it was made. Today’s IT legacy is just yesterday’s innovations gone stale. I think the GDS could look to the automotive industry for how to better embrace IT as part of doing business. The current approach may be saving a lot of money in the short term (and that’s an understandable driver in the current economic climate) but there are going to be consequences.

Seeking innovative ways to use technology to solve business problems is a good approach. But assuming it is a panacea for all IT projects is not.


Beware Dumb Smart Objectives

The Centre for Possible Studies

It seems that the S.M.A.R.T statement is back in fashion, at least in some circles I participate in. For those who have yet to come across this little gem, it has various definitions but all are along the same lines:

A good objective is Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, and Timely

In other words, if your proposal doesn’t have a specific goal, can’t be measured, might not be achievable, can’t be tied to a specific business benefit and you don’t know how long it will take, don’t do it!

In theory, that’s quite reasonable.

In practice, when applied to systems that people interact with, it can lead to poor decisions and mediocre outcomes – ticks the boxes in terms of specific, measurable and timely but with a huge question mark about the value delivered versus what could have been.

And it gets worse. There’s also a bit of a trend to try and estimate the likely return on investment (RoI) to help prioritise projects competing for limited resources.

Simple RoI calculation

Most people would acknowledge that the above calculation is an unrealistic over-simplification. But that doesn’t seem to stop it from being used.

Systems involving human interaction contain a hugely unpredictable element: the organic material found between the chair and keyboard (or floor and tablet). Those interactions impact both the cost to implement systems and the value created (or not), in ways that can never be fully predicted in advance.

Even if humans aren’t involved, cost and value often have non-monetary elements. How do you calculate them? Scores out of 10? Good luck with that. When the government introduces new legislation that your company has to comply with, the value and RoI do not matter. It will override all current projects if a legal liability and deadline are included.

Using S.M.A.R.T to sanity check a business case can be a useful exercise. It makes you focus on knowing why the project is worth doing compared to alternative activities that would take place instead. All projects face some level of constraint be it time, money or resources. Just relax a little on the approach and don’t be too quick to dismiss proposals that don’t comfortably fit a ‘smart’ objective:

  • Is there a specific reason for the project? If not, it’s a vision. Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done (or rather, attempted) but be realistic about the knowns versus unknowns involved – executive sponsorship will be highly influential
  • Does the project have measurable outcomes? If yes, great! Just don’t try and estimate the end result. Instead, have robust data about the base line – the current position that needs improving – and the underlying causes
  • How does this project compare to other options in the time and resources required: 1. Doing nothing; 2. Doing something else; 3. Doing this project differently? This is where resource constraints may force some difficult decisions and political factors man skew priorities

Here are two case studies involving systems with a high element of human interaction. One ‘smart’ and one not. Both delivered positive outcomes. Neither needed to calculate an estimated RoI in advance or could have predicted what those outcomes would lead to.

Example 1

In 2009, there were 850,000 recorded incidents in the UK documenting poor clinical handover of patient care that resulted in, directly or indirectly, to 3,500 deaths

Doctors in general medicine ranked Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT) 31st out of 34 London hospitals

That’s a target to improve!

BHRUT identified that many issues with the clinical handover process were occurring on Fridays and weekend mortality rates were significantly worse than during the week. They targeted filling in the communications gaps between the systems: teams working on different shifts, with different IT systems, and at different locations.

They decided to leverage existing systems rather than introduce new ones. SharePoint 2010 was already deployed, but only as a basic document management system. It became the central portal connecting the different line-of-business (LoB) systems, making it easier to submit updates and providing a single consolidated view of patient care history.

Early results achieved:

  • 98% completion rate of tasks using the new approach
  • Speed of the ‘end of shift’ handover meeting reduced from 45 minutes to 20 minutes
  • Weekend mortality rates began to fall

Just 12 months after being placed third from bottom, doctors ranked BHRUT 1st out of 34 hospitals across London

That outcome could never have been accurately estimated in advance. The project does satisfy the basics of the SMART statement. It had a specific remit, a design that was achievable, outcomes that were measurable and results-oriented, and a project delivered in a timely fashion. But above all else, it had a clear target to focus on.

Source: Microsoft case study, October 2012

Example 2

“At companies, especially technology companies, the most brilliant insights tend to come from people other than senior management. So we created a marketplace to harvest collective genius.”

The above quote is from the CEO of Rite Solutions. They decided to implement an internal prediction market where anyone can submit a proposal that is converted into stocks. Employees can buy and sell the stocks as a vote of approval or not. Changes in the prices reflect the sentiments of the organisation, regardless of role or seniority.

Every employee gets $10,000 in “opinion money” to allocate among the offerings, and employees signal their enthusiasm by investing in a stock and, better yet, volunteering to work on the project. Volunteers share in the proceeds, in the form of real money, if the stock becomes a product or delivers savings.

This example flies in the face of SMART twice. The idea doesn’t meet the criteria. It’s specific – let’s create a prediction market and see what happens. But that’s about as far as the business case goes. Really it’s a vision, seeking out new innovative ways to grow the business.  And the system is all about prioritising projects without any consideration for calculating potential RoI before starting on them.

And it worked.

One of the most popular early stocks was a proposal based on video gaming. It was not popular with senior management who weren’t interested in playing games, “I’m not a joystick jockey.” But support among employees was overwhelming. The product was launched and became responsible for 30% of annual sales!

“Would this have happened if it were just up to the guys at the top?” Mr. Marino asked. “Absolutely not. But we could not ignore the fact that so many people were rallying around the idea. This system removes the terrible burden of us always having to be right.”

What a refreshing approach to management, and not a ‘smart’ statement in sight.

Source: New York Times article, March 2006

Image: I took that photo walking through London last Summer – Possible studies? Answers on a postcard, please