systems

The Power of the Crowd

 

“We don’t have a choice on whether DO social media; the question is how WELL we do it.”

Erik Qualman

 

Digital marketing and social media thrive on the conversations, needs, wants, and dreams of the crowd. Whether it’s through the sharing of images, video, written word, or even shared labor and funding, the human experience has gone viral. As I mentioned in my last post, social media as a disruptive technology has re-created the way individuals and businesses use the internet. Today, the buzzword is “engagement,” not just “communication.” The following video encapsulates a little about how disruptive this technology has been:

 

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eUeL3n7fDs&feature=related[/youtube]

 

As web-based and mobile technologies turn communication into interactive dialogue and engagement, new disruptive technologies are begging to be born.

 

Enter: The Power of the Crowd.

 

This week I completed a research project about the disruptive potential of Kickstarter, an online crowd-fundraising platform which targets artists and entrepreneurs who need funds to bring their creative projects to life. The only way that these artists and entrepreneurs build awareness about their ideas and projects is by tapping into the power of the crowd. Leveraging the ubiquity of social network platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Vimeo, and various other digital media tools to broadcast their creative ideas found on Kickstarter, these individuals attract other like-minded individuals (i.e.: total strangers) to build awareness and interest in backing their projects.  In essence, Kickstarter is truly a representation of market demand; by taking a funding request straight to the people, if no one donates money to a project, the project does not get funded. As simple as that.

 

The disruptive potential of utilizing the power of the crowd is remarkably simple, yet mind-blowingly powerful. While it’s not quite the Hollywood pipe dream of “If you build it, they will come,” Crowdfunding (as the movement is called) requires effective communication between creators and customers and extends the engagement of social media with philanthropists; indeed “group conversation drives repeat visits.” The catch is that, now, everyone online can fund a piece of someone else’s vision – all while the original creator retains 100% of his or her intellectual property and ownership rights.

 

Of course, others criticize social media and crowdfunding, labeling them as fads or trends. What is more, other critics believe that social media is simply “digital Darwinism, the survival of the loudest and most opinionated”. While project owners on Kickstarter do need to be fairly vocal and shout through a mass of clutter across multiple social networks, those that do receive funding, and go on to produce the work that they set out to produce, set the example for the power of the crowd. Is this the new norm of the American dream?

Disruptive Technology and the Social Network

 

When I worked at Post University, I spearheaded the creation of a University-wide social networking policy. Being that I was part of the original collegiate user group of Facebook, I had done much of my “growing up” years with social networking omnipotent in my daily life. I used the network for sharing personal photos, interacting with distant friends and relatives, and communicating daily with the electronic world around me. So when I began writing Post’s SN policy, I was surprised to meet with such resistance from management. Many of the criticisms surrounding adopting a SN policy for the University were specifically that it would “open a can of worms” because people on the web have the potential to broadcast negative reviews about the University.

 

As a disruptive technology, the social network has re-created the way individuals and businesses use the internet. [Way back] in 2007, when “What Web 2.0 is (and isn’t)” was written, Facebook was in its infancy and businesses were scrambling to control the power that individuals now had over their business’s brand image online. As the aforementioned article recommended:

“People are going to find a way to use their newfound power whether you like it or not, so encouraging it and building a legitimate partnership with the community – both good and bad – will be paramount. Ignorance or hope will lead to death. Adaptation and embracing change is how survival works.”

 

As with any disruptive technology, the opportunity lies with who can grasp the most power first. As Christensen states in his How to Use Theories of Disruptive Innovation to Predict Industry Change: “The disruptive technology theory points to situations in which new organizations can use relatively simple, convenient, low-cost innovations to create growth and triumph over powerful incumbents.” As the obvious original disruptive technology to many, now crippled, organizations (ex.: newspaper industry), the internet was originally designed to be a way to communicate quickly, easily, and cheaply with others. However, Facebook pushed the boundaries of the internet’s disruption, and extended the technology to allow users to build an online community, one that not just allow users to communicate but has the potential to engage with all users in the online space. Today, the buzzword is “engagement,” not just “communication.”

 

What has left to be seen, as was with the case at Post, is how organizations will invest in social media and effectively measure or report on the network’s ROI. Many organizations have rushed to social networking, believing that simply having a web presence will bring customers to them (if you build it, will they actually come?). However, people have become more peer-oriented when it comes to acquiring knowledge and engaging within the social networking sphere. How organizations can turn these individuals into revenue has yet to be seen.

 

Social networking gives the internet new meaning because it disrupts previous notions of how and where organizations can learn from their customers, and opens up a broad new horizon for listening, responding, and engaging in a socially connected world.

The Key To Google’s Success

 

 

What has made Google successful?

 

 

 

 

 

Has it been its average cost-per-click to advertisers? Has it been its coverage rate? Has it been its click-through rate? It’s algorithm? It’s diversified portfolio of new businesses and applications?

 

I propose that Google’s success has stemmed from the company’s dedication to its original mission,

“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,”

and doing such in an ethically sound, intellectually stimulating and entrepreneurial way.

 

Even though I have worked on paid search campaigns in the past using Google’s AdWords and Analytics tools, I never learned about Google’s distinctive and strong corporate values. Obviously, founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page were first and foremost engineers, and as the 2011 HBR case “Google Inc.” states: “engineers are not the best communicators, nor do they make the best diplomats or business development executives.” However, that the two of these engineers created such strong corporate values based on a high sense of ethics and fairness, demonstrates that successful organizations can be built on strong values and continue to thrive in a hyper-competitive landscape. Indeed, a corporation does not need to “be evil” to make money, be innovative, or have fun being creative and professional.

 

Another source of Google’s success is its intellectually- and creatively-stimulating environment and culture it has created over the years. Many Fortune 500 companies have the distinct shadow cast over them of being stuffy, stifling, and unwilling to promote creativity. Google, on the other hand, specifically has built into company policy the requirement of having fun and working towards projects which interest employees. Called “Innovation Time Off,” engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them. Being passionate about something, and being able to “do one thing really, really well,” allows Google and its employees to focus exclusively on solving problems for its users.

 

Lastly, the tenth item on Google’s statement of philosophy shows the organization’s dedication to entrepreneurship: “Great just isn’t good enough.” To constantly strive towards excellence, but realize that there will always be something better on the horizon, has created at Google a culture of entrepreneurial perfectionists: people who are creative, but won’t stop with “greatness.”

 

With a culture, corporate values, and spirit like this, it’s easy to see why Google has consistently ranked high in Fortune’s “best companies to work for.” By not being evil, Google has been a pioneer in the internet, software and advertising industries since its conception in the late 1990s.

 

 

 

Enterprise Applications

 

The True Costs of Having “… an App for That”

 

Make a list of all of the application systems you have used throughout your life. There are applications on your phone which provide entertainment; there are applications on your computer to aid in your communication; there are applications that you use every day that eliminate some pain point and help you work faster, better, smarter.

However, how many of these systems work together?

 

In the business world, there are application systems for supply chain management, customer relationship management, business intelligence applications, and other data management systems devoted to managing data from HR, health care and other internal communications. However, these systems typically cannot communicate with each other to share data or business rules. Inefficiencies are created in a business setting when one functional area cannot communicate effectively with another department; inevitably, information silos are created and the organization’s expense line suffers.

Enter commercialized products such as Oracle, IBM, SAP and Microsoft. These firms specialize and produce products dedicated to Enterprise Application Integration: “the process of linking such applications within a single organization together in order to simplify and automate business processes to the greatest extent possible, while at the same time avoiding having to make sweeping changes to the existing applications or data structures.”

Close the books. Put your pen down. Your business problem has been solved.

But wait. This process is not as easy as giving the green-light to IT to install a new software on all servers. Before implementing enterprise resource planning software you must know more about how your business side performs.

Thus, one key point taken from my class’s readings as a whole is the fact that even though new software and remarkable tools come to market every day, unless a company understands its business and what functions the company must perform (and perform extraordinarily efficiently) in order to serve its end user, implementing a new application system will prove ineffective. Cisco Systems, Inc. did this process well: a team of dedicated executives along with employees from all crucial business functional areas (not just from the IT wing) performed an in-depth search for an ERP product. The prerequisite to be a part of this search team: both technical skill and business knowledge. Cisco executives understood that unless the company could serve all different departments’ particular needs and pain points (including its consumer end-user), this new application system would be worthless.

Indeed, in Barnett’s article “What IT can learn from the railroad business,” he comments on what businesses should be looking for from their IT departments:

Focusing on how the business side performs its tasks and finding solutions for its concerns will pay much bigger dividends in the end than will rolling out the latest multimillion-dollar project that has all the hottest bells and whistles but doesn’t give the business what it needs.

Instead of looking at IT to cut costs and save the company money, look more to the department needs to drive more flexible strategies that will alleviate pain points for the entire organization. IT should be defined less by the actual technology the department provides and more by the value it adds to the business as a whole.

So, the next time you take a look at your business operations and wonder what software it would take to streamline more processes, think first about what business processes you need to electronically capture and coordinate. Take time to determine what your business’s “job” is, and what value your business provides to your end customer, before you jump in and attempt to fit your operations into a cookie-cutter software system. Implementing an ERP product can be a long and expensive process; by taking time to mold the software to your process, educating your employees about how to use the new system, and setting reasonable deadlines and budgets, your business can take ensure a well-coordinated and streamlined rolling-out of an integrated platform in the manner as Cisco Systems, Inc.

Systems Thinking and Managing Complexity

 

How do you see the world?

 

I applied to Temple’s full-time MBA program knowing that I brought to the table a specific way of seeing the world: I analyze an issue and wrap my head around the end goal, and then systematically break apart the steps necessary to achieve that end result.  As I’ve come to understand my brain’s way of thinking, I begin with a holistic approach and then delve down into more logical methods of analyzing the steps crucial to task completion.

 

As I read through this week’s case study (STARS Air Ambulance: An Information Systems Challenge), it became apparent that protagonist Sharaz Khan similarly analyzed STARS’ information system holistically followed by a logical step-by-step task analysis approach as I have found myself performing over the years. What Khan saw was a company with an organization-wide lack of awareness about system and IT solutions, where departments were not unified and instead operating in a reactionary mode to any critical IT needs, and such a disconnect between centralized IT function and IS personnel created a palpable lack of supervision.

 

Exemplified in this HBR case, IT systems and sytems-thinking allow professionals to manage complexities within the workplace. Not only are lines of data streamlined by systems, so too are interpersonal relationships and day-to-day business operations. By developing a streamlined communications system that linked all departments within STARS, and seeing the world through an information technology/systems lens, Khan was able to reduce the complexity in the workplace and even build trust within his team.