Is enterprise collaboration an oxymoron? – podcast

on August 4, 2008

Episode two of the “Be the Voice” podcast stars enterprise collaboration consultant, Oliver Marks.

Summary (Oliver Marks):

  • Competitive enterprises fight collaboration. People don’t like each other and they’re competing for funding for their divisions.
  • An open internal and exteneral editorial environment is necessary.
  • C-level people aren’t reading blogs, but the people they trust are.
  • Collaboration projects die because they don’t get the funding or credibility of the organization.

Subscribe via iTunes to the Be the Voice podcast Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes
Subscribe to the Be the Voice blog Subscribe to the Be the Voice blog

The full article:

Oliver Marks, photo by Brian SolisI sat down with blogger and enterprise collaboration consultant Oliver Marks at Cafe Flore in San Francisco. Marks is omnipresent in the enterprise collaboration space with his high profile blogs at Collaboration 2.0 for ZDNet and Inc. magazine.

Working as an independent consultant today, Marks recently left Sony Playstation where he was developing their collaboration environment. The plan was to create an engineering portal allowing offices in Japan, Europe, and USA to collaborate. Marks admits it’s sometimes an oxymoron to have collaboration in a large organization because they often set up competition among groups in an effort to drive innovation. And this is especially true, said Marks, in the game industry.

Sony had bigger plans, explained Marks, “The president of world wide studios demanded a collaboration environment be set up. There was an expectation that the synergies of having people work more closely together would both save money and be more efficient.” Marks admits that’s the politically correct answer. “Being very blunt,” the reality said Marks, “In large companies a lot of people basically don’t like each other and they’re competing. You have to overcome all of that.”

A lot of information was top secret, and there was plenty of information you couldn’t talk about. The use of permissions (your role within the company) defined what people saw. Sony had no open editorial environment beyond just news being gathered from all around the world.

What’s an enterprise collaboration consultant to do?

Once Marks left he could actually start practicing what he was preaching-collaboration.

The power of many people collaborating has a greater impact than just an individual telling his or her experiences. “It’s a much more powerful experience for people if they’re aware you’re constantly interacting with others and gathering more and more information,” said Marks

Marks is trying to liken his consulting style to that of Stowe Boyd. Boyd tells clients that he’s only available 10 days out of the month and the other 20 days he’s doing research which involves talking to vendors and subject matter experts. “That is the value that is essential. Otherwise you’re selling canned information which is basically a year past its ‘sell by’ date,” explained Marks.

What do you expose and what do you protect is the main question Marks is asking himself. “There is an interesting division between what you’re sharing for free to your audience and what is actually something you’re selling – in my case is a fairly substantial amount of money – which are the last few pieces of the jigsaw in a way that make the business model work,” said Marks.

With his blogging and consulting, Marks is aiming towards C-level people. It’s a tough hill to climb as I’ve had clients say to me, “But C-level people aren’t reading blogs.” To which I argue back, “But the people they trust are.” Marks’ blogging is around strategy and tactics which are elements that will be carried out by the trusted employee network of C-level people.

“So many collaboration projects die because they grow out of mid-level or even grass roots people. And they don’t get the funding, they don’t get the credibility in the organization, and there’s no coherent strategy or organization around them,” Marks explained. For example, an enterprise may try a pilot collaboration project among 300 people. That does well and so the enterprise immediately scales it up to 3000 and it fails. When it grows to that size, it becomes a different animal and you need to look and plan for it differently. You can save a lot of costs by planning things out well and thinking them through, which as Marks explained, “Is what I do.”

People not talking to each other or collaborating with each other are not new problems. Web 2.0 technologies are not a magic wand that will force people to collaborate. Tools can make it easier and make people want to collaborate, but often people are fearful of how long it will take and will it change their work/home life.

Everyone in large companies wants to be told what to do and told that what they’re doing is right. Yet Web 2.0 technologies like Twitter and instant messaging are often being initiated and used with no top-down approval. Marks is aiming at C-level employees because he knows convincing them has the best chance for enterprise-wide success. He’s trying to get top-down understanding and deployment from top execs.

What Oliver Marks has personally learned using Web 2.0 tools

Marks started using Twitter and Facebook to meet people. And he’s admitted that networking in the Bay Area is truly unparalleled.

Whether in person (ideal) or online, you’re building a rapport. A common multi-Web 2.0 technology scenario for Marks begins with a public conversation in Twitter, it then goes private, then there’s an invitation to talk by voice over Skype.

“It’s amazing how much you can respect somebody’s opinion through hearing what they’ve been saying, even micro blogging like Twitter,” said Marks. Twitter is great to know what people are thinking in the moment.

Mistakes: Marks admits as he’s learning and exploring he can get heavily distracted and take on too much. It’s good ‘ole fashioned curiosity that sends him in multiple directions.

Advice: A little new agey, but Marks said to speak from the heart and be genuine. You can’t fake sincerity. It always comes through. If you put out canned press releases and sales patter, people simply won’t respond. People feel when you’re being yourself. Getting that level of sincerity is such a critical component.

Previous post:

Next post: