The Personal Enterprise

Pete and I have been talking a lot about our Organizational Design work as we have reflected back on 2009 and what that means in terms of Social Business Design as we go forward. For each piece of strategy that we deliver, we always need to be able to back it up with concrete changes at the organizational level for customers who are ready to act. There will be a post from me on the Collaboratory (You can subscribe to the RSS feed here) later this week with some more thoughts on this.

The reason I bring that up is that in looking at better ways that an organization can operate, we often look at the current service delivery model. How are services shared, delivered and managed? Which functions and resources are centralized and which are distributed? Does centralization mean less flexibility? Does distribution mean less reliability? We look at services inside the organization through the lenses of People, Process and Technology.

This is a long way of saying: I’ve been thinking about “shared services” and how that concept is going to change very soon.

Then over the weekend JP wrote about the The Facebookisation of the enterprise.

JP’s dream is more than just the Facebookisation of the enterprise, he is talking about the personalization of the enterprise.

imagine an “enterprise” world where:

  • You chose your own phone
  • You chose your own portable computing device (which may be your phone)
  • You chose your own desktop computing device (which may be your television)
  • You chose the operating systems you put on these devices
  • In other words, the IT department had “lost control of the device”.

I’m not sure whether we need IT departments to “lose control” of the devices used for work, so much as we need them to “give up control” of the data that is available to whatever devices the user chooses. I think that the Personal Enterprise is one where the definition of “shared services” includes thinking about what the user provisions for themselves, not just what is given to them.

The personalization of the enterprise is already happening. It couldn’t be more obvious these days. People are literally carrying two laptops and two cellphones with them. Sit down in any meeting (although I notice this trend far more in the US than in Canada right now) and you can be sure that a handful of the people there will reach in one pocket for their Blackberry, and then they will reach in to another pocket for their iPhone.

How do Police officers coordinate and communicate while working? Ask some of them: More and more it is happening on their personal cellphones. The radios and dispatch systems provided by most police departments are insecure, lack privacy and have centralized dispatching.

So, where do you draw the line? Where is the walled garden and where are the open spaces? I think this is the trick, and where a lot of enterprises will get caught.

The Personal Enterprise (or the Facebookisation of it) is not about picking and choosing which services get opened up and which have controlled delivery, instead it is about opening up as much data as possible and creating an ecosystem that allows personalization to be developed.

We are now coming out of an era where IT delivery was more efficient when it was done as an end-to-end controlled process. I do not believe that has been anything malicious or wrong about how things have been done to date. Controlling the platforms, devices and information that the end user can have access to was simply more efficient: Laptops were expensive, so you wanted to do a volume deal. Blackberries and service plans were very pricy, and then you needed a “Blackberry Enterprise Server” on top of that, and that only really worked with a full on Microsoft Exchange server setup.

Don’t forget how much Databases (still) cost. Doing millions of transactions? You used to have just a few options. For some of your data those are still your options, but you can now deploy MySQL or Postgres at a web, departmental, workgroup and even personal computer level. So you have 4 of the 5 major database types covered right there with free and highly reliable software.

Lets also not forget how “standards” never really used to be standards at all. They were lock-in tools, and the vendors who supported them gave you just enough rope to hang yourself. Having DCOM flashbacks here. Now you can feel free to tell your vendor to bake that RESTful API in from the start, otherwise you are happy to have it built yourself.

Open the data and create incentives for developers and designers to create practical and beautiful things. Users will scream loudly, designers will listen and developers will build. Utopia perhaps, but not far away to be honest.

The thing that is standing in the way of the Personal Enterprise is that we believe that being complicated is a prerequisite for IT. The truth is however that the services that mean the most to end users are some of the simplest and need the least “engineering”. They are rich profiles, SMS (or BBM) messaging, Email, phone and document sharing.

The personalization of the enterprise is happening in communication first, and the sooner that IT departments can get out of the communication business and focus on data, then we will be in a much better place.

Why the client hates your software

This post, from June 2004, is being reposted from several dozen posts which were lost during a database corruption a few years ago. I recently changed the sub-title of this blog back to the same one I was using back then “The people woven web”.

The only thing that has changed since 2004 is that customers are much happier to just forget about you completely, they don’t stick around like they used to.


It’s been over two years now since I have sworn off being a web developer and software hocker. I didn’t do this because I had to, I did it because it became clear to me that I could no longer do work that I wasn’t passionate about. I applied this thought to every space in my life that made sense. I made family a passion, I was passionate about the girl I love, our cat, my belief in god, I had passion as my driver. I am still learning about this, and I believe I always will be.

In this change, I came to hate the essence of the software I had been producing, even when I was making a lot of money doing it. I saw this because there were two parts to what I was doing. I was building tools that had FIV (the virus which causes featureitis) and the other half of my time was spent fixing the screw-ups of other vendors (this is where I got to see how much the client suffers).

At this time, I began to become fascinated by community building – I fell in love with the idea that people could connect with each-other, online, on a meaningfull level. I saw that we weren’t stuck in the old software world forever, we could make software that meant something to the people who used it. I got to do some cool work on internal communities with some big organizations, but I saw that I couldn’t make much of a business of it at the time, the dot-com boom was still rolling along, albeit on it’s last legs.

It was then that I noticed on key fact: The client hates the software – and (s)he may start to hate you.
Software, web apps, utilities, databases, they all cause headaches. I wish I could bet on this at the casino, because there is almost no argument here. So little software is actually well made that organizations have been forced to funnel money into IT and the only cost-effective training is teaching the employee how to run damage control when needed. This is true for all software, open-source included.

It is still true however, that: If you don’t know a thing about the software, you’re going to look like an idiot.
If you are building a business on this software, it doesn’t matter who you are, you have to understand the software. Even considering the last point in this post (coming up), the tool does matter enough that it can break your relationship with the client.

There is a different way: Be passionate about your build, and connect that to the client.
The fact is, most developers are incredibly passionate about what they are building. The software that a programmer develops is most likely a major source of pride in his/her life. It is somewhere between the coders, the sale department, the management, and the client that the love gets lost. The connection between the programmer and the client needs to be made again – let them smile at each-other, and let your developer tell the client a few secrets here or there, or fill a feature request in record time, just for them. This is the only way you can foster a real long-term integrity. The easiest way to start is to have your developers blog on their own section of your company site.

No matter how good you think you are: Your software doesn’t matter
In the end, what matters most is how well your client can actually use the software. There is no other result (including your bottom line) that will sustain you over the long term. By being in the trenches with them and pushing the adoption curve, you will get impromptu phone calls from your client in a few months, just to tell you how well everything has been working, and just to say thanks.

Etherpad is now Open Source

This is worth taking note of in the enterprisey world: Etherpad has gone open source and it immediately becomes one of the best Enterprise 2.0 tools available. It is built on a Java/Scala/Mysql stack.

Etherpad is a real-time collaborative editing tool. In short: you can work directly on editing text with other people and be fully aware of what they are doing. In Social Business Design terms it is the ultimate in Hiveminded content creation tools.

Here is a document I created that you can also edit. It is Public.

If you go to the doc you will see just how simple the environment is. No fancy word processing features, just straightforward Rich Text editing.

A lot of energy inside organizations is spent writing documents, sharing notes and creating small pieces of text. Until now, as a public webservice, etherpad hasn’t really been an option for mid-large organizations. Writeboards were an attempt to solve this problem, but they have been a huge pain to use well in my experience.

Why did it go open source? The team behind Etherpad has been hired by Google to start working on Google Wave.

Which brings me to my next point. You can think of Etherpad as a sort of useful and focused version of Google Wave. Where you probably said “Why would I use this?” or “What does this do?” when you tried Google Wave, you will know immediately how Etherpad could be used in your organization.

I am hopeful that Etherpad development will continue now that it is Open Source, but it is hard to tell if that will be the case. Integration in to existing enterprise systems (specifically ECM and Document Management systems) will not be simple. There is a lot of work ahead.

In the meantime, you can try Etherpad at iEtherpad.com or just play around in the document I created. Etherpad.com itself will not be live for much longer.

Want to work in Social Business?

We are hiring for a handful of positions right now. These are very cool opportunities for someone who gets Social Business and feels ready to apply it. You will be working directly with customers and I promise you will learn on the fly.

We are currently looking for people who can help as:

We are based in Austin, TX (wow you will love this city!), but location is not a requirement. We want to hire the best people possible, and we aren’t ready to let anything stand in our way.

If you think you are up for the challenge, and you fit the bill, please get in touch.

Am I going to post on this thing?

Kate and I were lamenting last week that we just haven’t had the umpf lately to post something worthwhile. When we aren’t putting our creative thought in to our work, we are stuck on Twitter, Facebook and wherever else we can spend attention like the generous folks we seem to be.

Kate and I are always trying to post big posts. Sort of “put me in coach, I can hit this out of the park” stuff. Kate gets there on every post, but she puts a lot of energy in to each one. I keep swinging for the fences as well, but I have to say that Kate and I are in different leagues in terms of insight.

People like Howard post stuff regularly whether or not they’ve got something big to say. Howard knows that a few thoughts written down are much better than a brilliant insight locked up inside his head. So he lets it out, and usually it is as good as something he sat around all day thinking about. I know Howard well enough to know that he goes on instinct most of the time and that shows up in his blogging. He knows when something is worth saying.

Then there are guys like Fred Wilson, who seem to have something great to post every single day. Honestly, there are days I don’t want to read his posts because I know he is going to throw off my concentration for a while.

There are also story tellers like Rob and Peter. I don’t even know Peter really, but I love his writing style and I am pretty sure he could persuade me of anything. Rob’s posts are much more epic and illustrative of a specific point. I don’t always know what the actual point is at the time, but then I will find myself in a situation where I will remember the story Rob told in a post and I will think how it applies. Reading Rob’s blog is a LOT like being his friend, you get the same Rob on both mediums.

I used to post with a much more conversational style. A lot of my posting was actually emulating the style Dave Winer used to use back then. I had my blog hooked up to an outliner as well and it was a beautiful thing. It was very similar to Tumblr blogs today.

Then tonight, Peter goes and posts some thoughts on what he thinks has changed about blogging. They are all good points and they all resonate.

The biggest point is the first one, and I think it is more of a general “life lesson” than simple blog advice. “Once momentum is lost, it’s a lot easier for the blog to remain at rest.”

Pete also mentions that a lot of the people he first started reading just aren’t posting as much these days. That really hit home for me when we did our “Thanks” post on American Thanksgiving and I couldn’t find current blogs for many of those who influenced me the most.

I have written about this before. I don’t really think that blogging is dying, I just think that certain types of bloggers have varying life expectancies. If you want longevity you need to learn to pace things properly and keep your networks changing so that as your other blogger-buddies lose steam, you can make new connections that matter.