June 29, 2009 | Refinancing

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How to Collaborate with Your Contractors

June 29th, 2009

The other day a good friend of mine called to express the frustration he was feeling about working with his current IT vendor. My friend is in the pre-launch phase of an e-commerce begin up and he was discouraged with the lack of progress the vendor is making. He was tempted to pull the plug on the project and award it to someone else. Entrepreneurs feeling frustrated with subcontractor work is nothing new. I know of another begin-up executive who is expressing similar feelings about a manufacturing vendor.

While the problems entrepreneurs experience with vendors are different, there is a commonality. Many begin-ups, and mature businesses too, are working with vendors who do not consider themselves to be collaborators; they are mere contractors. Collaborators feel ownership for their work; contractors just want to get the job done. The latter is not a problem for small projects, but when the contracted project is integral to the future of the enterprise, the contractor mentality will not do; the big project demands commitment.

Coaxing commitment from a contractor is not a straightforward proposition. The contractor is not part of your organization; you lack line authority over their employees. However, they are part of what many of us call the virtual organization and need to be treated as contributors. Otherwise, you are managing by checkbook rather than by commitment. Stirring commitment in any employee is a challenge but doing it for people who do not report or work for you is doubly difficult. But not impossible! Here are some suggestions for addressing the human equation in your supply chain.

Get people on board. When the contracted project is important, you want your employees to understand its impact on the organization. The same rule applies to your vendors. Communicate the significance of the project to the vendor principals, that is, those responsible for managing your project. Talk about what you hope to accomplish. Get their input into how to do it efficiently. Ask them how they want to be managed and how you can be a good client company for them. Dialogue lays the foundation for establishing trust.

Communicate for knowledge. Vendors need to keep their clients informed of progress. Establish regular communication points. For example, ask for an update via email every couple of days and a phone call once per week. Make a habit of meeting face to face occasionally. Clients might even want to spring for lunch or dinner. Doing so opens the door to open communication. Make it clear that you will not tolerate the withholding of bad news, but at the same time earn the trust of your supplier so they give you an honest appraisal of work to date.

Insist on accountability. Once the timeline is established, hold people to it. Correlate payments to project milestones. Easier said than done since many projects involving technical expertise are subject to slippage, not because the vendor did anything wrong but because the scope of the project changed. So a savvy manager will work with the vendor to incorporate the new parameters and pay them for work done to date and write a change order for new work. Open communication is essential; it is essential to keeping the project rolling forward.

Sometimes it does become necessary to seek another vendor. The current vendor may not have the capability or the capacity to deliver on the agreed specifications. And so you must part ways. While this may incur some cost, it is not as difficult (at least emotionally) as terminating an employee. You are terminating a contract, not a person.

Working collaboratively with your vendor is becoming more essential in our downsized economy. Core competencies are retained but everything else is subject to outsourcing. This creates great opportunities based on excellence. That is, the company and vendor both focus on what each does best. Suppliers are free to hawk their services to a broader customer base and in the process grow their businesses. Paying attention the human equation in the supply chain is vital; ignoring it will only lead to missed deadlines, overblown budgets, and missed market opportunities.

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Finance News

Private Equity and the Owernship Decision

June 29th, 2009

A few months back I wrote about micro-decisions and how they can add up to macro money. But as a student of decision-making I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that one big decision — who will own an organization — has a massive effect on performance, culture, and organizational effectiveness.

I’m prompted to post on this topic because of two contrasting experiences of late. One is that I’ve been doing some research on private equity and what a bloody mess it has made of many of the companies it has taken over. The other is a recent visit to SAS, the privately-held company that dominates the market for analytical software.

Private equity is in shambles now, and deservedly so. Deals are down 96% from their peak. The “industry” has run several pretty good companies into the ground, including Mervyn’s, Linens ‘n Things, Steve & Barry’s, Station Casinos, and 66 of 105 bankruptcies in 2009. BusinessWeek had a great story on the demise of Mervyn’s, which can be traced to a combination of PE greed, overly creative asset management, and a somewhat outdated business model for the underlying business. A typical PE anecdote: while Mervyn’s owners took 7 million in “distributions” over the first two years of the deal, water coolers for employees were taken away.

Sure, some of the retailers involved in PE deals would probably be having hard times anyway. But previously healthy companies can be brought down by PE too. Take Harrah’s, for example, which has been the poster child for effective use of analytics in its business. The gaming giant went private in a 2006 PE deal with Apollo and TPG. They saddled it with almost billion in debt. Even though the company is still relatively healthy in operational terms, the debt load is crushing. What a shame to see a previously well-managed company stumbling to such a degree.

Contrast all this with the state of SAS, a company I’ve done a lot of work with over the past several years and have grown to respect greatly. SAS is privately held by its two founders, Jim Goodnight and John Sall. Goodnight runs the company with a “get rich slow” approach, and indeed that’s what has happened. The company had revenues of over .25 billion in 2008, and appears to be doing well in the recession. Goodnight invests about a quarter of revenues in R&D every year, and SAS is well-known for its fine facilities and services for employees (and consultants — the Umstead Hotel on the company grounds is fantastic). Goodnight also invests heavily in education for the Raleigh area, and has recently built a solar energy farm on the SAS campus.

Which would you rather have; owners who load your company with debt and take away your water, or owners who give you gyms, on-site subsidized childcare, and a piano player at lunch? Granted, not all private owner/operators will act like Jim Goodnight, but it’s hard to imagine private equity owners investing for the long haul and to keep employees productive and happy. Think about this decision before you sell your company to a PE firm — or work for one that’s already been sold.

Finance News

Let Gen Y Teach You Tech

June 29th, 2009

This post was co-authored by Laura Sherbin and Karen Sumberg.

You say you want a revolution? Better set up a Twitter or YouTube account. Once derided as sandboxes for Gen Y slackers, messaging and social networking sites are the new soapboxes, organizing centers, town halls and, as the recent events in Iran have shown, an increasingly powerful news source.

Much has been made of the youth engine driving Iran’s demonstrations — half of the country’s 71 million people are under the age of 25 and almost two-thirds are under 30. “Just look at a single photo of a rally on www.youtube.com/citzentube to see hundreds of hands elevated in the air and holding a cell-phone camera to get a sense of how tech-savvy this generation is,” says Steve Grove, head of news and politics for YouTube (now owned by Google). “Now the activism that young people have always engaged in is being reflected in mass platforms for mass distribution. But it’s not just about documenting an event,” he adds. “It opens a conversation about what’s taking place.” Grove’s expansive and enthusiastic take on YouTube is at the heart of Google’s mission. This company has always stood for the democratization of information and connection.

Until recently, it was a conversation mostly confined to the elevated-on-the-Net younger generation and a few older outliers. Now, however, it is rapidly expanding across all ages and demographics. And, with collaboration a driving force in the 21st century workplace, new research by the Center for Work-Life Policy finds that smart companies are eagerly figuring out how to get employees of all ages to participate. Their secret weapon: Generation Y workers.

Think of it as spreading the wealth. According to CWLP data, Gen Y (the 70 million-strong demographic dynamo born between 1979 and 1994) is a connected, tech-savvy tribe, comfortable with state-of-the-art communication technology; 64% regularly participate on social networking sites compared with only 20% of their Baby Boomer colleagues. In fact, Boomers are looking to learn from the Ys: 88% see the Ys as tech-savvy and 40% say they have already asked their younger co-workers to teach them about iTunes, text-messaging and social networks.

Time Warner formalized this information exchange with an unusual version of a mentoring program in which the traditional roles of older mentor and younger mentee are reversed. The Digital Reverse Mentoring program matches college students from outside the company with senior executives for one-on-one meetings about Web 2.0 applications and the many emerging — and mutating — technologies changing the media industry.

Time Warner recruited Gen Y mentors from college students who were not only passionate consumers of digital technologies but also creators of it — writing blogs, posting videos on YouTube and making imaginative use of new media — not only to better understand how new technologies are impacting Time Warner but also to obtain fresh ideas on optimizing the company’s online presence. “Executives felt that there was so much knowledge to be gained from these college students,” says Vera Vitels, vice president of global people development. “They were impressed with the types of conversations they had and very satisfied with the overall experience.” So satisfied, in fact, that the program has been extended from four pilot cities to larger groups of executives throughout the company.

Consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton has long been challenged to ensure that its far-flung workforce remains embedded in the company’s culture. In 2008, the tech branch created hello.bah.com, an internal database with social networking capabilities that enables employees to search for specific colleagues or people who share similar interests, post blogs and participate in wikis and other community building applications. Within 14 months after this grassroots application launched, 36% of Booz Allen’s workforce had signed up. Ys who reach out to Boomers on the site help them utilize it more effectively; conversely, Boomers share their know-how in other areas with their junior colleagues.

Quick, post that on YouTube.

Laura Sherbin
is a vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy where she heads up CWLP’s survey research. She is an economist specializing in work-life issues and gender. Karen Sumberg is a vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy and an expert in Gender, career pathing and communications. She has led key research projects for CWLP including “Bookend Generations: Leveraging Talent and Finding Common Ground.” Sherbin and Sumberg are co-authors, with Sylvia Ann Hewlett, of the Harvard Business Review article “How Gen Y and Boomers Will Reshape Your Agenda” (July 2009).

Finance News

Michael Jackson and the Zombieconomy

June 29th, 2009

“…Sales of his recordings through Sony’s music unit have generated more than 0 million in royalties for Mr. Jackson since the early 1980’s.”

Wanna know why we have a zombieconomy? Because the beancounters killed the incentives to create real value.

Let’s use MJ’s tragic death as a mini case-study. 0 million over, for example, 25 years? That’s million a year.

I’m deliberately leaving out ads, endorsements, concerts, etc – to focus on the the structural problems in one industry: music.

If the world’s biggest pop star only made million a year from his recordings, why would anyone make serious music? Where did the rest of the money go? Why, straight into record labels’ pockets. Did they make better music with it? Nope – they made Britney and Lady GaGa. And that’s how they killed themselves: by underinvesting in quality, to rake in the take.

Wait a second – that sounds familiar. You can add back in the endorsements, etc now – they only double the figure: to about million.

If the world’s biggest pop star only made million a year in total, something’s very, very wrong. Where’s the rest of the money? Why can’t a resource as scarce as the King of Pop capture more value?

After all, that’s not even mega-rich.

The world’s top hedge fund “managers” regularly pull in hundreds of millions. That’s an order of magnitude difference.

No wonder everyone wants to be a banker, investor, or [insert beancounter here]. There’s no money left in anything else.

That’s the big problem behind the zombieconomy. We don’t reward people for creating, growing, nurturing, or even remixing assets. We just reward them for allocating the same old assets.

That ‘s not an economy: it’s just a game of musical chairs.

Hence, no new finance, healthcare, educational, auto, or, yes, music, industry – for decades.

“…Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y’alls neighborhood.”

Indeed. Everytime you look at today’s economic landscape – you should see the Thriller video playing in your head. Because what we’ve built is a zombieconomy, where little net value is created.

And MJ’s death-by-financial-desperation should be a case study in that zombieconomy if ever there was one. Yes, he spent money on absurdly ludicrous stuff. But if top hedge fund managers can do it – why couldn’t the world’s most famous singer?

PS – The ultimate irony? I can’t even link to the Thriller video. It’s unavailable on YouTube in the UK…”due to copyright restrictions”. Lulz. Leave the link in the comments, and fire away with thoughts, questions, etc.

Finance News

Beware of Highly "Efficient" Charities

June 29th, 2009

This is the third in a series on the failings of “efficiency” measures. Today: gaming the system.

We ask, “What percentage of my donation went to the cause?” because we think the answer tells us which nonprofits are efficient and which are not. High percentage to the cause equals high efficiency, right? We also use it (erroneously, but more on that in a future post) to weed out fraud. High percentage to the cause means no fraud, right? Itʼs a trust gauge. But what if the accounting some nonprofits are employing to give us a number that will earn our trust is not to be trusted? What if the ultimate measure of trustworthiness is highly vulnerable to deceit? What if some of the nonprofits we trust the most are not almost as “efficient” as theyʼd have us believe? What if weʼre getting opaque transparency?

For too long this measure has been abused by some nonprofits to gain a competitive advantage; to make the donating public think they are holier than the rest. I can think of nothing unholier than gaming the holy meter itself. The percentage of your contribution that a nonprofit can tell you goes to “the cause” all depends on how the nonprofit defines the cause. The more broadly it defines the cause, the higher the percentage it can tell you is going to it. This is problematic for two reasons. First, it makes nonprofits who define the cause broadly look more efficient on paper than those that donʼt. An aggressive nonprofit that labels all of its fundraising expense as part of the cause will look far more efficient than a conservative nonprofit that labels its fundraising expense as overhead. But if they both spend the same amount on fundraising, the truth is theyʼre equally “efficient.” The fact that the conservative one looks less trustworthy to the public is abhorrent. especially when you consider that its programs might be better.

Second, chances are 1) that the public has a much different idea of what “the cause” means than the aggressive charity does, and 2) that the aggressive charity knows it. Thatʼs duplicitous. If a big disease research charity stages a 10K walk and hypes its brand by telling participants that only 30% of donations went to expenses and 70% to the cause, the average person will think that 70% went to medical research. In reality, if the charity off-loaded half of their event expenses to “the cause” (i.e. if 60% of donations really went to expenses, but the charity labeled half of them as part of “the cause”) then only 40% of donations went to medical research — almost half of what the public thinks. Thatʼs a betrayal.

I have no problem with a broad definition of the cause. I favor broad definition of the cause. I think 100% of what weʼre doing, if in good faith, is cause-related. But I have a problem with not telling the public loud and clear what that definition is. I have a problem with short-cutting critical donor education (i.e. about the importance of adequate administrative and fundraising expense) in the interest of false piety and high revenues. That actually undermines donor education — it teaches the public that fundraising and social progress can be gotten for free, which is exactly why it rebels against sector spending on organizational strength and capacity.

Does this happen in the real world? The Nonprofit Overhead Cost Project studied the Forms 990 of 126,956 charities. The following findings are remarkable:

almost half of the charities studied reported zero fundraising expenses. Of the larger charities with annual revenues between million and million, one-quarter reported zero fundraising expenses.

  • 27 percent classified some or all accounting fees as program expenses, despite the fact that the 990 instructions give accounting fees as an example of what is meant by “management and general” expenses.
  • Only 25 percent of nonprofits receiving foundation grants properly account for those proposal-writing expenses as fundraising costs.
  • Just 17 percent of nonprofits receiving government grants properly account for those proposal-writing expenses as fundraising costs.

Efficiency and the appearance of efficiency are two different things. It may be that what nonprofits with high “efficiency” ratios are most efficient at is public relations.

Finance News

Finally, A CEO Speaks Up on How to Renew America

June 29th, 2009

A couple of weeks ago I met with GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt and we were talking about the financial meltdown, the deep recession, and what it would take to fix America. He was outspoken about how business and government had let down the American people and the need for radical change.

That’s fine, I said, but if he felt that way, why hadn’t he spoken up publicly? Immelt ran from the room and quickly returned with a speech he was working on–one he delivered last week at the Detroit Economic Club. This was his speech and not something he had fobbed off to a speechwriter, he told me.

I urge you to watch it, here:

Immelt exhorted Americans to give up the notion that the U.S. can make it as a services-led, consumption-based economy, where “a mortgage broker is pulling down million a year while a Ph.D. chemist is earning 0,000.”

The country must refocus on manufacturing and R&D and must strive to be a leading exporter, he said. He announced that GE was opening an advanced manufacturing and software technology center outside of Detroit near the headquarters of Visteon, the auto parts maker that recently sought bankruptcy protection.

Coincidentally, “Restoring American Competitiveness,” an article in the July-August special issue of the Harvard Business Review makes the same case about the importance of manufacturing. It warns that the erosion of the U.S. manufacturing base is seriously undermining the country’s ability to innovate. (So much for the idea that we can succeed by letting other countries manufacture the products we invent!)

In his speech, Immelt offered a vision for how the business and government together can revive the economy and solve grand challenges such as clean energy and affordable health care. “We should welcome the government as a catalyst for leadership and change,” he said, calling for a “real public-private partnership.” (This from a self-described “Republican and free market guy.”)

Finally, he lectured his fellow business leaders to take personal responsibility for turning things around. “We must end the impression that American CEOs are short-term speculators,” he says.

Amen!

Finance News

Neda and the New Iranian Woman

June 29th, 2009

This post was co-authored by Ripa Rashid.

Among the images of Iran’s anti-government demonstrations flooding the media, none has been as potent as that of Neda, the young woman the world watched bleed to death on the streets of Tehran after being shot, it is believed, by the pro-government militia. Her death was symbolic on two fronts: it put a human face to violent repression, and conjured up the increasingly powerful presence of women in this most Muslim of nations.

In contrast to 1979, women are front and center in this uprising. They are shaking their fists, chanting slogans and “tweeting” side by side with their male compatriots. Hijabs and chadors notwithstanding, their visibility hints at a storyline more complex than the more familiar one associated with the region, i.e., of women as second-class citizens lacking economic or political clout. The prominence of women in these protests, and Neda’s brave, untimely death, force us to take on board the notion that women in the Middle East are a force to be reckoned with.

First off, they’re enormously qualified. Women in the region newly outperform men in tertiary education: in Iran, they’re 63% of college graduates; in the UAE, 65%; and in Syria an incredible 88%! Few organizations — private companies or state government — can afford to ignore this enormous and valuable talent pool.

Recent research — undertaken by the Center for Work-Life Policy as part of a broader study on the female talent pipeline in emerging markets — discloses that Middle Eastern women are also newly ambitious. almost 80% of those who participated in CWLP focus groups viewed themselves as “very ambitious,” and almost none considered “staying home and relinquishing career” a prestigious alternative. Interestingly enough, educated women in the Middle East have certain unexpected advantages — they’re considerably less encumbered than American or European women by the “double duty” of domestic responsibilities. With strong, intact family networks, and access to affordable, abundant domestic help, they’re able to lean on an extended (and enviable!) support system for childcare, eldercare and homemaking.

This emerging storyline, of course, does not diminish the very real obstacles Middle Eastern women still face. In spite of their credentials and ambition, they remain massively underrepresented in the labor force: a mere 12% of the workforce in Iran, 32% in both the UAE and Lebanon. Underlying these numbers is a complex web of legal and cultural barriers, from travel restrictions for unaccompanied women to limited personal rights. In the workplace, the situation is exacerbated by the absence of mentors (men or women), female role models, or flexible work arrangements, all of which are critical to growing women leaders.

For the many women determined to surmount these barriers, signs of much-awaited change are at hand. Governments in the region, recognizing how vital women are to future growth prospects, are stepping up efforts to ensure better representation by women in leadership and decision-making. And in the private sector, a number of forward-thinking global companies, eagerly aware of the business implications of nurturing and growing multi-cultural women leaders, are taking action on the ground.

Take, for instance, the case of Pfizer, a leader in the healthcare industry. The company held its first Emerging Markets Leadership Summit in Dubai earlier this month, a landmark event hosted by Jean-Michel Halfon, President and General Manager of Pfizer’s Emerging Markets Business Unit. Over 250 of Pfizer’s senior leaders, men and women, from across the globe gathered for a two-day working session which featured presentations by Maryam Matar (Director General of Dubai’s Community Development Authority) and Mahzarin Banaji (Harvard University). The goal?

To create an action plan that will propel many more “diverse” people to leadership positions. With emerging markets as a critical growth engine for Pfizer (the Middle East alone is expected to have double digit growth over the next few years), Halfon emphasized the urgent business imperative for more fully realizing the potential of Pfizer’s multicultural and female talent.

So there’s one reason why Neda’s story has had such traction — it taps into the hopes, fears and potential of a new generation of impressively qualified Muslim women.

Co-author Ripa Rashid is a vice president at the Center for Work-Life Policy where she is heading up CWLP’s research on the female talent pipeline in emerging markets. She has over ten years management consulting and diversity and inclusion experience and has worked across Europe, the Americas and Asia-Pacific. She holds an AB cum laude in astronomy and astrophysics from Harvard University, an MA in anthropology from New York University and an MBA from INSEAD.

Finance News

How to Value the Advertising-Supported Internet

June 29th, 2009

Older Internet users may remember the battles over the commercialization of the web in the early 1990s, when the first Mosaic browser was introduced. Back then, pioneering adopters passionately condemned the first web advertisers and tried to bring down their sites with “flaming” attacks. The fight was lost as consumers voted for free information supported by advertising over subscription services.

Ironically, online advertising and the commercialization of the web accomplishd important goals of the resisters: to preserve the web as a medium for free publishing and communications. A recent TNS study reported the leading activities of Internet users as: used a search engine to find information (81%); looked up the news (76%); used online banking (74%); looked up the weather (65%); researched a product or service before buying it (63%); visited a brand or product website (61%); paid bills (56%); watched a video clip (51%); used a price comparison site (50%); listened to an audio clip (44% ).

All of these activities either are subsidized by advertisers, or take the place of traditional advertising, information search, and purchasing and banking transactions. Free access to information entertainment, along with speedier and more convenient transactions, are a great deal for consumers. Social networks and the easy connections they facilitate are transforming social life and have helped to elect a President. They also increase productivity in the larger economy.

How can we quantify the economic impact of the Internet? A recent study we prepared with Hamilton Consultants for the Interactive Advertising Bureau uses three methods to value the contribution of the advertising-supported Internet to the U.S. economy:

1. Employment value. The Internet employs 1.2 million people directly to conduct advertising and commerce, build and maintain the infrastructure, and facilitate its use. Each Internet job supports approximately 1.54 additional jobs elsewhere in the economy, for a total of 3.05 million, or roughly 2 percent, of employed Americans. The dollar value of their wages is about 0 billion or around 2 percent of U.S. GDP.

2. Payments value. The direct economic value the Internet provides to the rest of the U. S. economy is estimated at 5 billion. It comprises billion of advertising services, billion of retail transactions (net of cost of goods), and billion of direct payments to Internet service providers. In addition, the Internet indirectly generates economic activity that takes place elsewhere in the economy. Using the same multiplier as for employment, 1.54, then the advertising-supported Internet creates annual value of 4 billion.

3. Time value. At work and at leisure, about 190 million people in the United States spend, on average, 68 hours a month on the Internet. A conservative valuation of this time is an estimated 0 billion.

The advertising-supported Internet also helps the economy by fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and productivity, especially among small businesses that create most new jobs in the U.S. In addition, larger companies in this sector, such as Cisco, Google, or Adobe, have been a haven of relative stability through the current economic downturn and boost the U.S. balance of commerce through their global sales.

Consider also the social benefits of the Internet, harder to quantify but including the power of access to information as well as greater flexibility in balancing work and family obligations through telecommuting. The economic downturn is accelerating consumer interest in social networks and online communities as a source of support. And 19 percent of all U.S. marriages are now the result of bride and groom meeting via the internet.

When regulators begin trying to constrain the Internet, let’s be aware of its enormous and ever-increasing economic and social impact. The Internet is an economic powerhouse that drives U.S. competitiveness and productivity.

Finance News

Debunking Social Media Myths

June 29th, 2009

I recently spoke at and attended the Conversational Marketing Summit in NYC. On day two, I heard something from Brian Wallace of Blackberry that echoed thoughts I’ve been preaching for a while. He said “I was selling in the idea that social media is free, until the community manager headcount came in.”

This underscores a essential truth to social media that many organizations underestimate–being social means having real live people who actively participate in your initiatives. It’s difficult to automate and a challenge to scale, but it can also help move your business forward in ways that produce leveraged outcomes such as new/better products or services.

The economics of using social media in business require the participation of people to fuel it. It is not simply enabled by technology that maintains itself. One of the biggest lessons to be taken away from a social platform such as Twitter is that the ecosystem it’s a part of if, is itself built on people who keep it humming along with not only content, but a appearingly endless stream of third party applications. This phenomenon is not entirely new–it’s been referred to as end-user innovation (innovation by consumers and end users, rather than suppliers).

There are a few considerations every organization needs to consider when developing their blueprints for their own unique social media design. While there is no one-size-fits-all solution, there are few things you can plan for as you review the many options before you.

Here are three to consider:

Seeding. As you plan your approach for designing your social system, take into account that you’ll have to invest to grow your effort into a healthy ecosystem that can produce data, insights or even new ideas. People will be required in order to do this.

Feeding. Whether it’s a community, Wiki or internal collaboration solution you’ve put in place, it will have to be fed with a steady stream of content. Some of this can be automated and some of it can come from your participants–but there has to be some editorial judgment made for every piece of content and functionality. People are required for that.

Weeding. A productive social business design will require efforts to prune and weed out material that can inhibit its growth (just like a garden). In some cases, automated moderation services can do this–but in others people will be required to ensure that interactions are productive. Weeding can also include creating a separate environment–for example, Nokia’s “blog hub” encourages employees to vent freely internally (using anonymous aliases).You can bet that someone is looking at the data and analyzing it. If not, they should be.

It’s worth noting that seeding, feeding, and weeding all take place after any social initiative has been launched. But not taking into account the manpower that’s involved in these as you develop your social business design strategy can lead to a lack of adoption or participation–essential elements to any social initiative. Ignoring these realities will continue to propagate the myth that social media is fast, cheap and easy. As organizations look to grow or scale their current initiatives, it’s proving to be anything but.

David is part of the founding team at Dachis Corporation, an Austin based begin-up delivering social business design services. He is both an active practitioner and thinker in the worlds of digital marketing, experience design, and the social web. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/armano

Finance News

Coming to a Microsoft Shop Near You: More Macs

June 29th, 2009

You could almost hear the groans from PC-centric IT teams when Apple made the announcement: the latest version of the Mac operating system, Snow Leopard, will offer out-of-the-box support for Microsoft Exchange 2007. It’s bad enough that more employees want to commerce their BlackBerry in for an iPhone; this means folks who love their home Macs will want to connect to the office Exchange server to get their calendar, email, and tasks.

As a result, in smaller organizations with tech-savvy early adopters, the sight of a glowing Apple logo will become much more commonplace. But in corporate environments? Not so much. Yet.

Snow Leopard’s Exchange support doesn’t require the closest thing to a Mac version of Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft’s own Entourage. Instead it will use the Mac’s built-in Mail, iCal, and Address Book applications to access Exchange data.

When hooked up to your server, Mac’s Mail application can create Exchange notes and to-do, as well as auto-complete recipient email addresses pulled from Exchange’s Global Address List. The Mac’s built-in calendaring application, iCal, can show your co-workers’ and convention room availability via Exchange. You can also create and accept Exchange invitations to events and meetings using iCal and Mail. Mac users who are used to features like Spotlight and Quick Look for their personal data will get them for the information stored on their Exchange server, too.

The user transition over to the Mac might not be completely smooth, though. For example, there’s no word on how or if Snow Leopard will deal with existing Microsoft Outlook PST files, which means it probably won’t. This could be a deal-breaker for users with years of email archived on their work PCs in Microsoft Outlook.

Of course Apple says that no IT help is required to get Exchange set up. The fine print: your company’s Exchange server has to have the “Autodiscover” feature turned on, and especially security-minded administrators may not be willing to do that.

Either way, IT teams know that the more platforms they have to support, the more work there is for them and the bigger their range of expertise needs to be. In large corporate environments with big investments in a PC-centric infrastructure, where IT support maintains standard PC images and configurations to minimize workstation maintenance, the answer to “Can I use my Mac?” might just be a “No,” or at best, “You can, but we won’t be available for tech support.”

But as Mac sales continue to increase, and more employees, managers, and execs ask to use their Mac on the road or in the office, that answer might change over the next one to two years.

Are Macs in use in your organization? Will Snow Leopard’s release this September make a difference? Tell us about it in the comments.

Finance News