Global innovation and networks

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IBM has recently released its second Global Innovation Outlook report. I referred to a related initiative – IBM’s Global Technology Outlook – in the second edition of Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships as an example both of collaborative innovation, and how IBM provides customized and highly relevant insights to its clients. IBM brought together 250 thought leaders in five locations around the planet to think about innovation and the future. The insights are available in a publicly-available report, and also in customized interactive presentations for large clients. The report is excellent, not least because it hits on most of the themes of this blog 🙂 It points to innovation today being: Global, Multidisciplinary, and Collaborative and open. This ties in totally with the story I often tell, of how increasing depth of knowledge and specialization requires collaboration between disciplines, which must be global in scope, and requires new models to draw together disparate strands. In its examination of the Future of the Enterprise, the report focuses on networks, also touching on other key themes of strong interest to me, including “reputation capital” and how value is aggregated. Well worth a look.

Microsoft enters enterprise social network software

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Very interesting news: As mooted by ZDNet, Microsoft has just announced an add-in to Office SharePoint Server 2007 called Knowledge Network, which will automatically develop profiles of employees’ capabilities and experience. It will then allow people to request to be connected to others in their organization that have specific expertise. See some screenshots here. This squarely puts Microsoft into a space – enterprise social network software – that has previously been populated by Spoke, Visible Path, Contact Networks, and Tacit. Each of these companies has developed fairly mature offerings, and gained traction in the corporate marketplace, with a number of leading audit firms, investment banks, and pharmaceutical companies in the process of implementing their software. Microsoft’s offering – as a new, free download for SharePoint – may not yet be as mature, but as in many other cases, their market clout means they can access more markets, and undercut the often high-priced software of the existing players in this space.

The broader theme here is that there is now unambiguous recognition that social networks are central to organizational performance, and to cracking the “expertise location” issue that is fundamental to any large knowledge-based organization. Unquestionably, good software, well-implemented, can be a powerful enabler. However business processes and culture need to shift too. Many organizations seem to think the enterprise social network software will provide an immediate solution, and many have stumbled already in applying these tools. The real value is harder to tap. Once more organizations implement Microsoft’s Knowledge Networks and related tools, social networks will be brought further to the fore as critical enablers of performance.

Talking about MySpace Generation

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Reuters just came out with a syndicated story on MySpace titled As freedom shrinks, teens seek MySpace to hang out. It describes how MySpace has matched its moniker by creating a place where young people can explore their identity under their own terms. The article quotes me about these issues of teen identity, and how technology is a natural landscape for those who have grown up with it. The way I see relational technologies such as mobiles, chat forums, multiplayer roleplaying games, video sharing and so on, is that they extend our capacity as humans to relate. People have a built-in drive to connect with others, and now that has a far wider canvas across which to express itself. We can now discover many of the latent propensities and characteristics of humans, because we have been given new tools to explore our human identity. In some contexts, face-to-face interactions are absolutely superior, however that does not mean that it is not fundamentally human to connect in other ways too. It is the so-called MySpace generation that is exploring these new ways of relating, and as-yet undiscovered aspects of what it means to be a human being.

Social networks, data mining, and intelligence

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The uproar over the phone calls records collected by the National Security Agency to search for terrorist activity is actually a network phenomenon. Supposedly the numbers called by tens of millions of Americans have been provided by AT&T, BellSouth, and Verizon to the NSA. I have no doubt that the analysis techniques used on this data were primarily network mapping, using software such as Netmap, which I described in an earlier article on social networks and intelligence applications. Searching for patterns in this data is a network analysis application, and the state of the art is pretty good now. So as long as the government (or whoever) can get sufficient data, the patterns and anomalies of your life will be evident.

Speaking at the Network Roundtable

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Last Wednesday was the Network Roundtable conference at Babson College in Boston, continuing the great work since the consortium was established almost two years ago. A little while ago I wrote that organizational network analysis is going mainstream, and the conference indeed showed the maturity of this management discipline. The presentations will be available soon at the Network Roundtable website.

One of the key themes of the event was knowledge worker productivity. Both Tom Davenport of Babson College and Marshall van Alstyne of MIT discussed recent compelling research which shows unequivocally that a person’s social networks is the single most important determinant of both personal career success, and productivity inside the organization. Organizations such as Raytheon, Hill & Knowlton, and Accenture shared some of their recent advances in the field. I spoke about applying networks to sales and relationships, looking from both supplier and client perspectives, tag-teaming with Ted Smith, Senior Vice President at CNET, who went into more depth on the study which I recently completed for them on technology purchase influence networks, and how this has uncovered a whole range of new, actionable insights not possible through more traditional research processes. I also discussed some of the other studies I’m doing on client-supplier connectivity, including current work on a very large technology outsourcing relationship, which shows in detail how a large financial services organization and its primary technology services firm are connected. The day rounded out with some fun and valuable views on networks from Tiziana Casciaro on the work featured in her recent Harvard Business Review article, showing the organizational implications of the people we can recognize so readily, such as the “competent jerk”, and “lovable fool”. It’s great to see the power of the network view of organizations beginning to reach its potential.

Exploring new models for creating content

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This in from Shannon Clark of MeshForum fame: A Swarm of Angels is an experiment for a new model for content creation, well worth a look. Its objective is to raise a £1 million pound movie from contributions, and freely distribute the resulting movie to 1 million people, all within one year. This creates collaborative effort, bypassing Hollywood, and allowing the outputs to be shared and remixed, by issuing it on a Creative Commons license. There’s a good chance that they’ll create something worthwhile, with their explicit intent to make a cult movie. The fund-raising model here is difficult to scale, but it can carve out a niche. The point is we need to explore new models for content creation and ownership – the experiment with this new model may uncover new possibilities that will indicate some of the many paths forward media creation will take.

Video goggles will unleash mobile video

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A year or so ago I was looking around to see what was available in the way of wearable video displays (video glasses) so I could use my laptop in privacy with a massive display while I’m flying. After checking out the field (see for example this recent review) I decided to wait until there was something better available. One of the big issues has been with both head and eye comfort – these will not be used unless they really are completely comfortable and immersive. The field is now evolving quickly, including a just-announced wearable video display from an Israeli start-up Mirage Innovations, unfortunately not yet commercially available. However other offerings are coming out, including the single-eye EyeBud 800, intended for watching iPod video. I think the offerings will have to improve a little further until I’m ready to wear one for extended periods, but they should reach the right quality in the next year or two. At that point, expect to see plenty of people around wearing video goggles. Once this is commonplace, mobile video and content will be unleashed. An iPod video screen certainly has its limitations. However if you can get the equivalent of big-screen viewing wherever you go, that’s a different story. This is definitely a transformational technology in content delivery and more.

Six Facets of the Future of PR

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I recently wrote an article on the future of PR that appeared in the premier March edition of Marketing magazine. The piece, titled Six Facets of the Future of PR (pdf), gives a quick view of what is driving PR today. The six facets I identify are:

1. Clients expect more

2. Media is transformed

3. Business is a conversation

4. Information flows in every dimension

5. Transparency is a given

6. Influence networks are at the heart

The article then goes on to discuss emerging opportunities for the PR profession.

The full text of the article is posted below here.

Read more

Monitoring the future

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Last week I caught up with Michael Hopkins of Monitor Group. Chris Meyer, author of books such as It’s Alive, and previously Director of the Ernst & Young Center for Business Innovation (CBI), came to the Monitor Group after Cap Gemini closed down the CBI, to establish Monitor Networks. Its very interesting business model includes acting as a talent broker, a rather unusual activity for a top-tier strategy consulting firm. Monitor Networks has recently set up FutureMonitor, which is an online community that brings together many people’s insights to gain perspectives on the future. There are a lot of directions this could go, including providing decision-relevant prediction markets for clients. Certainly FutureMonitor is well worth a look to gain some of the distilled perspectives from its participants – very interesting stuff.

Windows Live Launch May 10 (?) and Microsoft as an advertising company

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A very reliable source tells me that Microsoft is summoning journalists from around the globe to Redmond for an announcement on Windows Live on May 10. This is clearly a significant launch, quite possibly the shift from Beta to full release products of some of the Windows Live suite of products. I strongly suspect that the launch, whatever it entails, will position Microsoft yet further as an advertising company. There have been a range of signs recently that Microsoft is reconceiving itself, and much of that shift is around advertising. Consider the following:

1. In a press release dated March 15 titled Microsoft Developing Web’s Largest Advertising Network, Microsoft describes how it is now placing advertising across not just MSN Live Search and MSN Spaces, but also Office Live (the online version of Microsoft Office). It also says it will exploit advertising opportunities in Xbox Live, IP TV, and its mobile properties.

2. After launching AdCenter, Microsoft is expected to launch ContentAds this year, which will allow its advertisers to place their ads not just on Microsoft properties, but on an array of independent sites (i.e. “contextual advertising”). The best way of understanding Google in its current form is as an advertising aggregator, placing the ads they sell on a wide variety of online and offline properties, increasingly ones they don’t own. Microsoft now seeks to be an ad aggregator too.

3. Last week the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft is acquiring Massive, a company that inserts advertising into games, for up to $400 million. The intent is clear – Microsoft sees embedding advertising into its users’ activities as central to its strategy.

4. Within the Windows Live suite, Windows Live Expo is a classifieds site that seeks to overlay all of MSN’s functionality to create communities. The direct comparison here is with eBay, whose acquisition of Skype, nominally to provide connectivity between buyers and sellers, is mimicked by how Microsoft provides instant messaging, voice, and video connectivity to enable communities to connect and transact business.

Clearly part of all this is copying Google’s – and to a certain extent Yahoo’s – positioning. Google’s acquisition of Writely has firmly established its intentions of providing web-based office utilities, undoubtedly advertising-supported. Microsoft’s moves suggest it is considering meeting them front-on, with the possibility of some configurations of Office Live being available in free advertising-supported models. This could cannibalize its existing market, but if it doesn’t do it, others will do it. This time it is seeking to be ahead of the game. Following Google’s footsteps in much of the development of the Windows Live suite doesn’t mean Microsoft doesn’t have a bigger vision here. Microsoft could be an extremely different animal in just a year or two from now.

[Update May 5] This has now been announced as the official launch of Microsoft AdCenter, moving out of pilot mode. AdCenter is said to

“provide advertisers with a one-stop-shop experience, whether buying search, contextual or display ads across a number of Microsoft properties…. Contextual advertising testing begins on MSN in the U.S. market this summer. In addition, the following Microsoft properties are preparing to launch ads in the near future: Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Safety Center, Windows Live for Mobile, Office Live and Office Online, and the Xbox® Web site Xbox.com.”