All posts by Bill Porter

Tidy up your coils of unstructured process

 

How improved collaboration reduces complexity and enhances user experience

In my last post, I mentioned that “User Experience” was one the topics that delegates at digital transformation conferences name as one of their areas of focus when it came to seeking out help and advice.

What do people mean by “User Experience”? Here’s a definition I like from the Nielsen Norman Group:

“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.

Let’s consider this in the context of digital transformation where organisations are seeking to make themselves fitter and more adaptable to market disruption.

In a white paper “The Agile Enterprise”, PWC explain that organisations have a propensity to become too complex, especially following periods of rapid growth or acquisition. The basic aim of achieving agility is to reduce this complexity.

We are all customers, and we all see the effects of organisational complexity in the dealings we have with organisations. How many times have you chased up an issue with your phone supplier, electricity company, or any other supplier, and found yourself becoming increasingly exasperated repeating the same information over again in different channels? Not great for the customer, but how expensive must all those interactions be for the supplier? And how soon will an innovative competitor jump in with a new service model and take market share?

Living with complexity is not good for the employee experience either, especially for Generation Y. In their paper, “The digitisation of everything”, EY found that,

“Generation Y display the same lack of patience as employees as they show as consumers, and companies must address their evolving expectations to avoid high recruitment and churn costs.”

They go on to say,

“What is more, this generation have significant ideas and are willing to share them company-wide, they represent a useful resource every company”.

So the risk is not only in disenchanting your staff, but the opportunity cost of losing valuable new ideas.

Most digital transformation efforts focus on core processes and those operations that are repeatable and can be automated by BPM, PLM, ERP, CRM, or HRM/HCM software. Companies seek to be more agile by simplifying existing processes, and ensuring that new processes can be quickly and easily created as the business seeks to adapt to new threats and opportunities.

But around these structured and repeatable core processes, there is usually a large “coil” of supporting unstructured activity in the form of conversation, collaboration and the exchange of information and knowledge. In this “coil”, there can be a great deal of complexity because this exchange of information is almost always fragmented across many different tools and methods of communication. So what’s the user experience in the “coil”? Often very confused :

“Does this email have the latest document version attached?”

“Where did I see that information? In a chat, an email, a shared document, or in the enterprise social network?”

“I am just looking at this issue now. How many emails do I need to read to catch up?”

“Haven’t we dealt with a similar issue before?”

“Sorry, this got lost in my inbox”

“Sorry, I turned my chat notifications off. They’re constantly interrupting me with stuff that’s of no interest to me.”

So complexity creates confusion and a poor user experience, both for customers and employees. Reducing complexity is also the aim of becoming agile. So are these two sides of the same digital transformation coin?

How can we address the complexity in the coil, and in doing so, improve the overall user experience for customers and employees? Here are some suggestions:

1. Consolidate collaboration tools. Instead of using many incompatible tools for chat, file sharing, social collaboration, tasks, etc., use an integrated platform that combines all these methods of collaboration and engagement, so users only have one inbox, and one place to find information.

2. Eliminate the use of consumer tools internally. Many people prefer the experience of consumer chat and sharing tools over email (sometimes even when it risks breaching compliance or privacy rules). So offer the same methods of collaboration but using tools that are managed in the business. Your employees will be better connected, and the ideas and knowledge they are creating and sharing will not be lost to the organisation.

3. Have a plan to reduce or eliminate the use of email for internal communication and collaboration. It is not feasible to just “turn email off” by executive order, but email is a very poor tool for collaboration, and provides no accountability. So plan for transition and choose a tool and an approach that allows for a bridge between old and new ways of working.

4. Use your mobile digital channels to bring the (consumer) customer closer. Customers resort to social media channels to raise issues often because it is just easier than emailing or picking up the phone. So why not make it even easier by offering a private, persistent chat channel to each of your customers? They just pick up their mobile, post their question, at any time in the chat. When they do so, if all the context (previous discussions, links to their account, statements, contracted documents, etc) is directly linked to the chat, there will be no need for additional explanations. They do not need to wait for a call centre person to answer, and you can get issues resolved in less time and with less resource. And the episode is not aired in public.

5. Ensure there is an automated process for capturing and organising the knowledge in all collaboration and engagement activities. To avoid confusion, try to ensure there is only one copy of everything (a “Single Source of Truth”). Make sure that the cross-references between activities, content, topics and people are embedded so as to make knowledge re-use, audit, discovery and analysis easy later on.

If an object of your digital transformation initiatives is to make life less complicated for your employees and your customers, you could do a lot worse than look at how your organisation copes (or doesn’t cope) with its unstructured coils of communication, collaboration and engagement activities.

The Collective Intelligence of People Networks

 

I have attended a few conferences recently on Digital Transformation, and it’s interesting to hear what people and their organisations are doing and thinking about under that very broad banner.

Two things struck me as common at these events. One is that they all start (and sometimes continue) with doom-saying thought leaders warning established businesses against complacency; that they are all threatened by Uberization.

The argument goes “Who knows who might be lurking round the corner with the next great idea borne in the crucible of technology that will eat the lunch of Global Enterprise Corp?” The corporate Titanic versus the disruptive iceberg. Well, yes, we all get that now.

The second thing is that the delegates often start from a perspective of asking, “What can I do with…(name one or two current trending topics)… to get our company into better condition to compete against some as yet unknown or little known start-up who is going to disrupt my business model in ways as yet unforeseen?”

In those conferences I attended, three trending topics were especially popular: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Agile Enterprise, and User Experience. Many get very excited about (and often frightened by) AI with expectations of ground-breaking insight into new opportunities as well as identifying where disruptors might threaten.  Often bracketed with culture change, the Agile Enterprise wish appears to be a kind of appeal to the people in the business to be ready for whatever comes; the need to adapt through learning new ways, new skills, new jobs, new ways of dealing with each other, with suppliers, and with customers. And then User Experience which is about ensuring employees and customers both enjoy interactions with the organisation that are consistent, frictionless, friendly, attractive, enjoyable, accessible – in essence, fulfilling that magic adjective, engaging. Obviously important for customer relationships, but also important for employees if they are to welcome what is to come with culture change and Agile Enterprise.

All good so far. But these are Big Ideas and while technologies like AI have unimaginably huge potential, it is noticeable that delegates to these Digital Transformation events struggle with working out where to start, other than by hiring very expensive strategic consultants to advise them. What are the small steps that can be taken first? Can these first steps deliver benefits by themselves, and encourage their executive sponsors to stay onside to support the changes and actions that will come after?

So here’s an idea. Maybe it is not new, but even if that is so, it is worth repeating. As already intimated, digital transformation is about cultural and attitudinal change as much as technology. But it is also about fully leveraging the resources available – especially your people. Organisations have hundreds or thousands of eyes and ears observing and hearing how customers behave, how processes work/don’t work/could be improved, hundreds or thousands of minds assimilating observations and sparking ideas, and so on. There is a huge capacity for Collective Intelligence (CI) in your organisation if you harness it – human sensors of customer experience, and generators of great new ideas!

So how do you harness CI? Well, to make it possible, you have to provide the means – a platform that allows people to connect and collaborate. It must have these properties:

  1. Allows people to choose from different methods of non-disruptive, asynchronous communication (chat, blog, content sharing) with a single user interface. It does not complicate the internal user experience by adding to the number of tools, but can rather replace several of them (including internal email), reduce the number tools to make working life simpler, and foster conversation around knowledge, insight and ideas.
  2. Captures, organises and cross-references ideas and knowledge without adding to the users’ workload. This ensures full context is preserved, so others can get up to speed fully and add value without repeating history.
  3. Provides a “single source of truth” for all the conversation and content, i.e. a single, searchable knowledge base.
  4. Seamlessly allows for ideas to become accountable actions through workflow and task management.
  5. Has the integration capabilities through open APIs, integration bots and native integrations that allow it to become integral to the whole work experience, complementing existing collaboration tools and systems of record. Promotes inclusiveness by ensuring that, for example, legacy internal email users can be included in conversations.
  6. Is supported by a practical, experience-based methodology to ensure successful adoption. Experience says that viral adoption cannot be depended upon for success, there must be a plan with an executive lead, objectives and measurement.

To some, this might seem circular. Successful adoption of new digital tools requires a change in habit and attitude, and a more agile mindset, but to achieve more agile working requires new tools. To break that circle, and make the first transformation steps that deliver quick wins, it is much easier to provide the means first with a digital workplace platform that combines collaboration with knowledge management and supported by an adoption programme, than trying to start with nebulous concepts of wholesale cultural change.

 

6 Reasons Why You Need Mobile Collaboration in Business

 

Whether smartphone, ultra-portable laptop or tablet, mobile devices are more common in business now than ever before. While not every business encourages the use of mobile devices in the workplace, collaboration on these devices can be achieved with productive results. Here are six reasons why businesses need mobile collaboration.

1. Capture and share an idea while it is fresh.

How often have you been out and about when an idea popped into your head?  An Eureka moment! One you want to share or bounce off someone ASAP. You can phone someone, but as sure as “eggs is eggs,” they won’t be there. Besides you might want to share it with several people. You can make a note of it in your phone, but somehow when you look later, it doesn’t have the same freshness. So post it from your phone now to a collaboration space, and let your colleagues build on the idea.

mobile-collaboration-business
Embrace mobile collaboration in the workplace for increased productivity, efficiency and business velocity.

2. Deal with issues on time, but avoid “off the cuff” decisions.

You get a phone call about an issue that has come up. You feel you have to provide an answer because another phone call is not possible until much later, you are pressed for time, it’s a rush but make a decision anyway. Later you realise, on reflection, you are not sure that you articulated your decision well, and there could have been a misunderstanding.  In situations like this, wouldn’t it be better in a mobile collaboration tool, to acknowledge and accept the issue, perhaps suggest a preliminary answer but allow a little more time for clarification? Then you’re free to provide a more considered decision with clearer reasoning later.

3. Create “flex time.”

When I left Primary School aged 11, it was a tradition for the leavers to ask each of the teachers for an autograph and perhaps a written memento. My final year teacher wrote for me the Francis Bacon quotation, “A man that is young in years may be old in hours if he have lost no time. ” Mobile collaboration means creating “flex time.” With a mobile, in those brief (but previously inconsequential) periods of time, you can use those little intervals to deal with the many issues that can otherwise stack up during the day. Without mobile collaboration some of those questions would have come as phone calls, often at inconvenient times that interrupt conversations or valuable thinking time. Flex time means you can make better use of otherwise dead time to sweep away all those issues that can be dealt with quickly, so they don’t interfere with the more precious, larger chunks of time you want for spending time with people, thinking, writing, and the like. Far from adding stress, managed correctly, mobile collaboration will reduce the pressure on personal time.

4. Leverage the mobile revolution.

Everyone has a smartphone or tablet now – why not make use of that? In 2015 there were 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions globally, and by 2020, globally there will be 6.1 smartphone users. Smartphones will overtake the number of active fixed-line subscriptions worldwide in 2020. More and more, people use their smartphones more frequently than their laptops and desktops for keeping up to date with events, for connecting with others, and sharing information. Most firms now either have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy or equip their staff with mobile devices. It is a no-brainer to ensure that you can engage with your colleagues, your customers, your partners, and suppliers on mobile.

5. Get access to people you have not had much connection with before.

The social capabilities of a modern mobile collaboration platform, like Vmoso, means that people, together with their expertise and knowledge, in and beyond the business are better connected. Information flows better and faster, decisions are quicker and better informed. Business velocity is greater.

6. Today’s collaboration is tomorrow’s knowledge.

In this mobile age, technology has encouraged us to operate in the here-and-now. With that, in our personal lives, many of us use mobile chat to communicate with our friends and family. Call it “chit-chat.” And in business we have been tempted to take that same habit into the workplace. But such “chit-chat” has no lasting value – if it takes place on consumer tools, it is outside the view of the company. And such tools are not designed to capture and organise the valuable knowledge in communication. A true mobile business collaboration platform uses the chat paradigm for its ease and convenience of communication, but also ensures the content of communication is organised, linked and managed so it can be searched, queried, and analysed in perpetuity. It is where mobile enterprise collaboration meets knowledge management, and businesses should strive for both.