Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Weblog Business Strategies 2003 XVI

Ireland, Perry, Regan, Roell, Seitz, and Windley: Using Weblogs in Large IT Organizations

Tim Ireland is founder of Bloggerheads, Paul Perry is a director for Verizon Communications, Rock Regan works as CIO for the state of Connecticut's department of information technology, Martin Röell is an independent e-business consultant, Bill Seitz runs Wikilogs.com, and Phillip J. Windley is former CIO of Utah and founder of the Windley Group. Here is a rough transcript of their discussion:

Philip Windley: I got into Weblogging when I was CIO for the state of Utah. I'm no longer in a large IT organization, but that's where I got my start.

Paul Perry: I'm at Verizon currently in IT but working to deploy a WiFi network in Manhattan. I was looking for the intersection between IT and community. I knew I needed to leverage the rest of the IT community in order to get a summary every day. I started to use Traction software to see the community of people who would inform me of what’s going on.

Rock Regan: I'm the CIO for the state of Connecticut. I'm relatively new to blogging and got started through Phil. A month ago we had 1200 employees. June 1 we had 900 employees. We're going through a lot of budget churn and people churn, and I'm looking for ways to capture knowledge. We support 65 agencies in the state. I became pretty excited as I talked to Phil, and I've been looking around internally within the organization. How can we capture information, foster good ideas, act on those ideas, and drive out solutions and cost.

Tim Ireland: I came into blogs from a search engine optimization and marketing perspective but quickly realized they can do much more. I just got my first British MP on a blog, and I hope to get some more.

Martin Roell: For most Americans it's difficult to pronounce my name. That's fine. I was talking to Halley Suitt last evening. She saw my name tag and it didn't match my email. She thought I was someone quite different, and it was quite fun. I run a German language blog about e-business strategy. That's what I did until two months ago when Weblogs started to become popular in Europe. So I started doing some research. I can tell you a little about how companies see Weblogs in Europe

Bill Seitz: Within the internal enterprise process, the core unit is the team. And these new tools should be used to maintain a team voice and a shared vision of what you're trying to accomplish. An individual voice is dispersive to that process. And a top-down knowledge management approach stifles that team communication,. The tools have to be what the team is going to use. It's all about the process of generating insights. That generates more context and changes the context. Using a Wiki-based framework is better than a blogging approach, but that's not crucial. All these things increase transparency, and that raises some problems. What is perceived as a crisis is often the end of an illusion. Weblogs can accelerate that process.

Windley: You have used blogs in your organization. What were your goals? What were your tools? When I was CIO of Utah, I bought 100 licenses to Radio and offered them for use. Maybe 10-15 are till actively blogging.

Perry: I knew that a lot of emails were going around about what was going on in the industry. Sometimes I was in those threads. Sometimes I was not. The problem with cc lists is that you have to decide if the email is spam or if you've hit the right audience. I needed to find a way in which I would be fully informed but I didn't have to decide who to inform. Another problem with email is that it's gone. I didn't want to have to go into everyone's email to see what had been read or not. I also needed the right technical people to highlight what I thought was important and what they thought I needed to see. I looked at a number of tools, and Traction seemed to do what I needed to do. I needed to fit it into the workflow. Everyone lives out of their email in box. You can host server side, but you can notify people. When they're notified it's a digest. I started to seed it, and I knew from previous email threads who was always active. There's always a core, chatting. I sat them down and showed them how to use the tool. I also made sure I had upper management involved.

Regan: I'm the guy who makes the decision what we can and what we can't buy. But I don't want to shove anything down anyone's throat. One of the biggest challenges I had was with our middle management. Knowledge is power. We're making a lot of decisions with folks who don't really make those decisions. I don't just want our heads down, I want to look to the horizon. I was looking for ways we could start looking at things we have to discuss. We started looking at it in the process we call our architecture review boards. We've got probably 90 people using a blog to discuss the architecture of our organization. I have a liaison who deals with the 65 agencies, not just technical agencies but the business folks. It really started in my office. I'm not going to claim that I'm good yet, but I'm certainly open to ideas. How can we use this? How can this make your job better? For me, it's a critical function that's going to be instrumental in our survival. A 22% staff reduction in the last two months. We've got to do things differently. Change is good. One of the mantras we get in government is that I'm all for progress as long as there's no change. That's not going to cut it.

Ireland: Bloggerheads is just me. But I would like to touch on the political issue. MPs are more apt to publish because they can say whatever the hell they like. It's important that people see what they have to say. They're too busy to scratch themselves, really. And it's hard to take government documents and make sense of them. But if you're able to access them through your elected representative, you can bring the process to life. We need a hell of lot more doing it for it to work.

Roell: You said you would use Weblogs in project management. Have you already tried that?

Regan: It's the way we're aggregating some of the topics people post. We're doing it in a crude way, but we're learning as we go.

Windley: People are posting personal blogs, but then you're moving them to functional aggregations?

Regan: Yes.

Windley: Blogs have a certain culture to them. Blogs require -- more than inspire, they require a culture of candor. They require a culture of abundance. There's also a little bit of risk-taking involved. I'd like to ask the panel to comment on cultural issues.

Seitz: There's two big dimensions. Shock and awe for some people. One is the transparency and candor aspect. That can raise sore points with people. It also can force some feedback to things. People identify themselves as victims and slaves to their environments. Blogs empower them to have a voice, but it also gives them responsibility. The other issue is sort of the hierarchical issue of information flowing around bosses. What happens when a very senior person discovers something on the intranet and it's bad news. How do they react to it. Who do they involve? Senior managers need to be aware of the leverage that they carry. What could seem to be an informal conversation could have a lot of impact. Managers should maybe not react to what they read. Don't just jump in and start doing everything yourself when you discover a problem.

Ireland: The only reason to run it as an intranet rather than something more public is to encourage free speech.

Seitz: Part of that indicates that things are organized poorly. Flame wars are symptoms of a deeper organizational problem.

Ireland: There could even be a wonderful idea down in production.

Roell: Do you think the management blogs will stifle other blogs? Everyone will read a CEO's blog. If a CEO points to someone, do you think that that imbalance brings a danger?

Ireland: Real talent will rise to the top. Companies have reached a size where they're depending on someone and may never even meet that person. If problems are solved in a public way it can only help the corporate memory. The advantages far outweigh any fear of the dangers of the current hierarchy.

Windley: Can any of you point to experiences -- either good or bad -- in terms of blogs and the culture of the organization.

Perry: Even very technical people who were aware of blogs didn't want to post at all until they saw other people post. I created a private space for them to post in their own private journal. As soon as they were ready to open it up to the project, they could. It was important to post and make mistakes. You need to offer a ramp that is shielded and private. I don't see any additional candor. The organization size is very large. Verizon IT is 10,000 people. It's not like we can all share and have enough interaction person to person. With an organization that large, you are open to some misunderstandings if you don't offer more context first. We might establish trust over a call. That trust network develops as it always has.

Seitz: Having an environment in which ideas can be related to each other can be helpful in terms of managing upward. Things that get packaged in small units right next to each other can be useful. It can help people fill in the blanks. A little bit of formality allows that to happen. When everything happens through email and instant messaging, everything just flows past.

Regan: We're beginning to see some great discussion among people who don't communicate well together. We've had some discussions recently to make some differences in core technologies that will allow groups that don't communicate well know what the other groups are doing. You've got to open up the opportunity for people to know what's going on in those different functional areas.

Windley: Let's talk about knowledge management. How important is that to you? Are you using any other knowledge management tools beyond Weblogs?

Perry: I could never buy, understand, or know what knowledge management was. But I needed to hook people up. For me, knowledge management is the ability to go back in and find the best summary you can. Another aspect of knowledge management is tagging a story with a category. At minimum, it's easy to sort projects.

Roell: Are you using a centralized taxonomy to categorize posts?

Perry: You have to start with a taxonomy which I just put in there. If it's harder to create a project, people just start a category. With our tool you can just start a new term.

Ireland: Another aspect is accessibility. A lot of times a report is sent out and no one reads the damn thing. If the report is written in a voice, it might reach more of the people it needs to go to -- and people it wasn't even intended for.

Perry: Distributing across the group so it's in the repository and can be summarized -- that becomes knowledge.

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