Story-telling the intranet

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Sometimes, the workplace of the late 1990s seems to me a little like today rather than over 16-18 years ago when I think of disruption and change driven largely by developments in technology. I say ‘largely’ as shifts in people’s behaviours also play a huge role in workplace disruption and change, as do corporate and national cultures, attitudes and leadership.

Disruption and change are not only about technology.

Such thoughts came to front of mind this weekend when a major sort out in the home office turned up a pile of business and tech journals from the latter part of the 1990s including a copy of Conspectus magazine from January 1998 that contains a feature article I had written in the autumn of 1997 about the roles, impact and potential of intranets in the corporate workplace, with a focus on self-service employee benefits management.

The late 1990s was a time when an intranet was still, relatively, an embryonic communication and functional tool in most organizations, never mind the notion of employee self-service. Those that were developing intranets tended to be large organizations with budgets and the willingness to travel new roads. While many intranets of that era were a great deal about employee communication – and more often than not, owned and run by the IT department – quite a few organizations were investing in the development of functional intranets that offered self-service opportunities for employees in things like employee benefits enrolment and management.

A little like what we see all around us today with social media, internal social networks and of course highly-evolved intranets (take a look at today’s intranet from companies like Igloo Software, for instance – utterly unlike what you’d have seen in 1998).

At that time, I worked for William M. Mercer in the UK and part of my job was to help multinational and large-national clients see what tech was coming to the workplace and how we could help them prepare for it. (Even then, as a consultant I always looked on the bright side.) And so I wrote my piece for Conspectus with a predictive short story as the scene-setting introduction to a topic that many people were writing about at that time.

I figured as everyone else was writing pretty dry stuff about intranets focused on the technology in the here and now (then), let’s look at what is very likely in the near future where the forthcoming new millennium was capturing many imaginations (mainly worries about the potential imagined effects of Y2K), and write a story.

While it does seem a bit Space: 1999-ish even to me reading it today – I may well have been influenced by that 1970s sci-fi TV series – it does contain some realistic predictions of what we have today: ubiquitous workplace video-calling and touch screens, for instance, as well as attitude.

Here is that short story; see what you think:

Monday December 6th, 1999. Time: 8:10am. Elliott Green, human resources manager, arrives at his desk and puts his laptop down. It rings. Cursing mildly, he opens it up and fumbles in his pocket for his ID card.

The laptop rings again as Elliott slips the card into it and watches the screen light up to display a request to confirm his password. The computer rings once more as he keys in the password. A dialogue appears saying “Incoming Call from Marie Page.”

He touches the “Accept Call” button on the screen; up comes a live video picture of Paige, the human resources director. Her name and the legend “Encrypted – Secure Call” appear beneath the image.

“Hi Elliott, good to see you. Hope I’ve not caught you at a bad time?”

“Good morning, Marie. No, not at all,” replies Elliott. “Go ahead.”

“Ok, I just wanted to remind you that the new secure employee-access module of the interactive flexible benefits system goes online today. I’ll be at the consultants’ till early afternoon, so would you make sure that the announcement to everyone goes out at 11 as we agree?”

Smiling, Elliott says, “No problem, I’ve taken care of it.”

“That’s great, thanks,” says Marie.

“By the way, the results from the final pilot test are excellent. I’ve put the video-doc report in our private message area on the server. If you want, you can listen to a quick overview on the audio-call system. Just dial star-789 and follow the voice prompts.”

“Ok, thanks, see you later,” says Elliott, and disconnects.

Elliott touches the “Access System” button in one corner of his screen. It expands into a display of icons, buttons and message listings. Scanning the screen, he quickly sees the button he wants: “The Employee Source.”

As he touches it, he recalls the meeting, two years before, when the idea of fully automating the company’s HR information structure throughout the whole global organization had first been mooted.

No-one believed we’d do it by the new millennium, he reflects: all of it, linking HR databases in 20 countries that employees can access as well, from wherever they are.

That set the scene for the case I made in the overall article for building an intranet and the role it plays in employee communication, engagement and employee self-service in benefits management (the latter a pretty new concept at that time).

A sidebar in the article outlines important considerations from the point of view of a communicator. Written in 1997, I think they’re still valid today, whether for an employee benefits website as the article discusses or for almost any other employee resource where access to and content from is via a digital network:

Six Steps to an Employee Benefits Website

  • Build your sound business case. No matter how good your idea seems, it must show clear financial advantages and demonstrate how it will help achieve your company’s overall business objectives.
  • Involve the IT department (1). Your IT colleagues can be the most valuable ally within your organization if you discuss your ideas with them at the outset of your planning.
  • Involve the IT department (2). The planning and operation of an employee benefits website is very much an IT issue; the design and content is broadly your issue. Recognise that your website will likely be successful when developed as a joint project.
  • Get people’s opinions. Ask employees what they’d like to see on the website. Ask a few rungs above and below you on the management ladder. Consider all the views. Identify the stakeholders. Keep everyone informed of what you;re doing.
  • Be clear about design and content. Above all, your website is a communication channel – it must attract, interest and stimulate visitors into the desired action. Don’t short-change on the “look and feel.”
  • Talk to your external consultants. Find out what other organizations are doing – what tips and tricks you can learn, and how to avoid the pitfalls.

You can see the complete article as it appeared in Conspectus in January 1998 in a scan from the journal as a Scribd document, embedded below. Look out for two screenshots showing an HR intranet via Internet Explorer 4 and the Netscape Navigator browser (remember that?) in Netscape Communicator 4, the versions in use in late 1997.

Much has changed. Yet not much has changed.

Key to the Virtual Door by Neville Hobson

FIR Interview: Leila Janah and The Future of Work

FIR InterviewsThe expansion of the global internet population will continue to have a profound impact on infrastructure, education, finance, commerce, and healthcare, among other industries worldwide.

That was a major theme of The Next Billion London, a one-day conference on May 19, 2015, presented by Quartz magazine.

At the Quartz event, FIR co-host Neville Hobson had the opportunity to record a conversation with Leila Janah, founder and CEO of Sama Group and an award-winning social entrepreneur who uses technology and lean business methods to promote social justice.

A wide-ranging conversation focused on the future of work which was how Quartz titled her conference session, very much in the midst of the profound impact the Quartz conference addressed. A thought-provoking segment in the latter part of the discussion concerns the role of governments as enablers of positive change through specific actions that include taxation and rebuilding trust with citizens.

The interview began with Janah introducing her business model.

Listen Now

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About Our Conversation Partner

leilajanah110Leila Janah is the Founder and CEO of Sama Group and an award-winning social entrepreneur.

Prior to Sama Group, Leila was a Visiting Scholar with the Stanford Program on Global Justice and Australian National University’s Center for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. She was a founding Director of Incentives for Global Health, an initiative to increase R&D spending on diseases of the poor, and a management consultant at Katzenbach Partners (now Booz & Co). She has also worked at the World Bank and as a travel writer for Let’s Go in Mozambique, Brazil, and Borneo.

Leila is a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, a Director of CARE USA, a 2012 TechFellow, recipient of the inaugural Club de Madrid Young Leadership Award, and the youngest person to win a Heinz Award in 2014.

She received a BA from Harvard and lives in San Francisco.

  • Connect with Leila on Twitter: @leila_c.

FIR Community on Google+Share your comments or questions about this podcast, or suggestions for future podcasts, in the online FIR Podcast Community on Google+.

You can also send us instant voicemail via SpeakPipe, right from the FIR website. Or, call the Comment Line at +1 415 895 2971 (North America), +44 20 3239 9082 (Europe), or Skype: fircomments. You can tweet us: @FIRpodcast. And you can email us at fircomments@gmail.com. If you wish, you can email your comments, questions and suggestions as MP3 file attachments (max. 3 minutes / 5Mb attachment, please!). We’ll be happy to see how we can include your audio contribution in a show.

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Podsafe music – On A Podcast Instrumental Mix (MP3, 5Mb) by Cruisebox.

(Cross-posted from the FIR Podcast Network blog.)

Social business, your intranet, and you: Collaborate/London

Collaborate/London

If you’d like to know how leading UK retailer The John Lewis Partnership planned, developed and implemented an intranet that employees actually like, and hear insights from those who made it happen, then mark Thursday April 16, 2015, in your calendar and register to be at Collaborate/London.

This morning event is from Igloo Software, the company behind the intranet that enhances internal collaboration, improves employee communication, and provides a central repository for assets and project deliverables. And that’s just the overview (here’s more).

I’ve partnered with Igloo to host this workshop, where my job will be to set the scene for what you’ll hear about John Lewis with an introductory session that explains why “Social business is here to stay”:

Humans have always been social, but businesses aren’t always ready for this level of interaction. Neville Hobson will be leading a workshop to shed light on what it means to have a true IT/business partnership, and how to build and reinforce your company culture.

The key part of the day’s event is what you’ll learn from and about the John Lewis experience:

Kimberly Thomson, of the John Lewis Partnership, will discuss the key drivers for seeking a new solution, and their milestones and measures of success. Karen Hobart of Contexxt, the consultancy engaged by John Lewis, will share her methodology, ideas for establishing a project plan, and tips for vendor evaluation.

In sum, you’ll have the chance to hear lessons learned by Igloo customers and thought leaders as well as best practices for planning, implementing, and maintaining a social intranet.

There’s no cost to attend Collaborate/London, but places are limited – sign up now to secure your place.

I hope you can join us for a morning of listening, learning and sharing. Igloo’s philosophy is encouraging:

Our events will be different.
We know how that sounds, but it’s the only way to put it.
Real people talking, information you can use, goals you can set.
Right now.

It will be a few hours of our time well spent. Note your diary:

  • Thursday April 16, 2015, 9:30am – 1:30pm.
  • St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel, London NW1 (Google map).
  • Free to attend but places are limited – sign up now.

Collaborate/London is the second event in Igloo’s Collaborate series, the first of which took place in Los Angeles last month. Upcoming Collaborate events are planned for New York on May 14 and Chicago on June 9.

(Igloo Software is a sponsor of For Immediate Release: The Hobson and Holtz Report, the business podcast I co-present each week with Shel Holtz. I am very pleased to be working on Collaborate/London with Igloo that builds out our existing relationship. Good people! You can try Igloo’s intranet for yourself – and it’s free for up to 10 people. Find out more.)

Sprinklr raises $46m to build out an omnichannel offering: Experience Cloud

Empowered Customers

“Omnichannel” is a word to get used to as I expect we’ll hear this buzzword more and more as the technical marketing term to describe something relatively simple: the seamless customer experience. More on that in a minute.

It’s a word used in much of the media reporting on two announcements from enterprise social media firm Sprinklr yesterday, the first being that it had raised $46 million in new investment funding to value the company at $1.17 billion.

As Fortune magazine notes in its report, it’s a significant valuation increase in a short amount of time as Sprinklr’s last round of investor funding in 2014 valued the company at $520 million.

It’s Sprinklr’s second announcement yesterday that caught my attention most – the launch of the Experience Cloud, what Sprinklr describes as “a complete, integrated, and collaborative technology infrastructure that connects all of a brand’s social touch points.” It’s what they raised the $46 million for – to launch the Experience Cloud.

You’ll probably need a bit more than that to fully understand what Sprinklr is introducing, so here’s a 73-second video from Sprinklr explaining the Experience Cloud.

Let’s go back to the word “omnichannel.”

If we are in a world that’s about experiences, as many say we are – and as many of our own experiences as customers illustrate we are – then understanding the landscape and the behaviours of those in or on it become ever more important, whether you’re a marketer or a customer.

As good a definition of omnichannel as any I’ve seen comes from Omer Minkara, Research Director leading Aberdeen Group’s Contact Center and Customer Experience Management research:

Omni-channel: While companies using this approach also use multiple channels to engage their customers they distinguish themselves through two additional factors: consistency and focus on devices involved within client interactions. These businesses are diligent to ensure that their customers receive the same experience and message through different channels and devices involved within their interactions with the firm. For example, a company that provides customers with the ability to engage it through a mobile app, social media portal and website would be focused to ensure that the look and feel as well as the messages they receive across each touch-point are seamless.

It’s a bit wordy, but I’d say it describes what Sprinklr’s new offering is about. The above-all keyword is “seamless” as one differentiator from “multi-channel.”

Add to that this piece from Stan Phelps in Forbes magazine:

The Experience Cloud promises a unified view of the customer. It allows brand to manage a multitude of touchpoints. The key question is speed. The problem for most organizations is that response times differ whether its social, phone, chat, e-mail, or snail mail. Sprinklr’s offering allows all of these channels to managed from one central hub. It allows brands to take a channel agnostic view with the ability to deploy resources and a workflow for each interaction. The biggest benefit is that response time can be greatly improved.

And in a marketing email coinciding with yesterday’s announcements, Sprinklr Founder and CEO Ragy Thomas says:

We believe every business must focus on delivering relevant experiences at every social touchpoint.

If you agree, then Experience Cloud may be for you.

Worth a look.

Check out Sprinklr’s infographic:

Disconnected Experiences and Connected Customers [Infographic]

Rays of light amongst the gloom in the 2015 Trust Barometer

2015 Trust BarometerIf you glance through the 2015 Trust Barometer published by the Edelman PR firm on January 20, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things are bad if not dire everywhere.

The report – marking the 15th consecutive year Edelman has been publishing this – contains the results from surveying 33,000 people in 27 countries in order to paint a picture of public trust in business, the media, government and NGOs in those 27 countries and averaging across the world.

The data Edelman gathered from conducting the survey during the final quarter of 2014 enabled them to glean insights and come to some credible conclusions on the general state of trust around the world.

Three headline metrics paint a pretty bleak picture:

  • Trust in institutions drops to the level of the Great Recession (let’s start with the headline of the press release, referring to the global economic downturn that began in 2007/8).
  • Trust in government, business, media and NGOs in the general population is below 50 percent in two-thirds of countries surveyed.
  • Informed public respondents are nearly as distrustful, registering trust levels below 50 percent in half of the countries surveyed.

This picture is well presented in a chart that Edelman calls “The New Trust Deficit” showing that nearly 66 percent of countries are now distrusters among the general online population.

The New Trust Deficit

Each country has its own story to tell that throws some light on individual findings, as Edelman CEO Richard Edelman notes in the introduction to the report’s Executive Summary:

[…] We see an evaporation of trust across all institutions, as if no one has the answers to the unpredictable and unimaginable events of 2014. For the first time, two-thirds of the 27 nations we survey (general population data) fall into the “distruster” category. The horrific spread of Ebola in Western Africa, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 plus two subsequent major air disasters, the arrests of top Chinese government officials on corruption charges, the foreign exchange rate rigging by six of the world’s largest banks and the constant drumbeat of data breaches, most recently from Sony Pictures, have shaken confidence in all institutions.

In reviewing the 48-page report as well as the shorter summary, I was struck by these findings:

  1. The top three most credible spokespeople for an organization continue to be –
    – Academic or industry expert
    – Company of technical expert
    – “A person like yourself”
  2. There are further declines in CEO credibility as a spokesperson to the extent that this report shows that CEOs are not credible as spokesperson in three-quarters of countries surveyed. That is staggering.
  3. The pace of development and change in business and industry is far too fast for 51 percent of survey respondents, with not enough time spent on development and testing of products before the rush to market.
  4. Drivers of change in business and industry are perceived to be about technology, business growth targets, greed and money, and personal ambition. Improving people’s lives and making the world a better place hardly get a look in, with both factoring below 30 percent.
  5. 51 percent of respondents said the most important role for government in business is to protect consumers and regulate business.
  6. Most countries trust local governments more than federal or central governments. Although the numbers for individual countries vary widely, the global average comes in at 50-50.
  7. Search engines are now the most trusted sources for general news and information – very bad news for the monolithic model of mainstream media – with a 72 percent trust rank.
  8. Search engines are now the first source survey respondents go to for general information, breaking news, and to confirm or validate news. Search engines are way out front as first sources for general information and to confirm/validate news, and equal with television as the first source for breaking news.
  9. Put number 7 another way – for the first time, online search engines are now a more trusted source for general news and information (64 percent) than traditional mainstream media (62 percent).
  10. 63 percent of respondents said they refuse to buy products and services from a company they do not trust, while 58 percent will criticize them to a friend or colleague. Conversely, 80 percent chose to buy products from companies they trusted, with 68 percent recommending those companies to a friend. Such stated behaviour should be of little surprise to anyone in advertising, marketing and PR, although the high percentages in each case might be.

There is much more to digest and consider in this excellent report, available on free download.

And what about the “rays of light” I mentioned in the headline of this post? To me, that’s about some of the ten points above that I see as opportunities for organizations – whether business, media, government or NGOs – who recognize the continuously-changing and -evolving landscape and look upon it as a place to be that builds connections, trust and understanding between people for mutual benefit. Opportunity is knocking.

Finally, Edelman has a short video that will take you on a tour of the 2015 Trust Barometer. Worth two minutes and forty seconds of your time.

FT conference bots to star at #FTInnovate

I bought a robot...

I’m looking forward to being at FT Innovate 2014 that takes place in London on November 19-20.

This latest edition of the Financial Times’ annual tech-focused business conference will concentrate on the digital “big bang” – and the digital natives, digital pioneers, digital technologies and digital practices it is spawning – and how it’s transforming the way businesses innovate.

The speaker line-up is impressive, and the agenda for the two days looks pretty compelling.

And here’s a nice bit of innovation that may appeal to you if you’d like to be there but can’t physically go – drive one of the FT’s “conference bots.”

Here’s what’s happening in London as outlined in an email from the event organizer:

Attendees at this year’s FT Innovate conference will notice a few unusual delegates mingling amongst them.

For the first time, 3 robots will be roaming the conference, listening to our expert panel of speakers, participating in the interactive roundtable discussions and connecting with the senior innovation managers who will be attending during the networking breaks.

The FT Innovate team are offering 3 lucky winners the chance to remotely control one of our robots from their own home or office. The conference takes place on 19-20 November 2014 so you’ll just need to be available on these dates and have access to a laptop/tablet with a video camera and high speed internet connection.

If you would like the chance to control one of our FT Innovate robots, enter our draw today by completing this short form. The closing date for entries is midnight on Thursday 13 November and 3 winners will be selected at random and notified by Friday 14 November 2014.

Of course, we think it’s even better to be there in person, and a limited number of delegate tickets are still available. To register, and for more information on the programme and speakers, visit www.ftinnovate.com.

Looks a lot more fun than just following a Twitter hashtag. Which you can do, of course: #FTInnovate.

See you there!