Cooperation – the future of the intranet?

I spent Monday morning at the first half of Coporate Social Networking 2009 at RIBA listening to a variety of speakers talking about the impact of social networking on the way we work.

I hadn’t encountered Niall Cook of Hill and Knowlton before, but I agreed with much of what he had to say. He began with some great points about emerging tools, saying that the return on investment doesn’t need to be high when the investment is low. He dismissed internal systems which “don’t work any more… – even e-mail” – while the traditional model of an intranet is “publishing, not collaboration”.
Work, business and employees are all changing, he says. People want to work differently. Leaders should be guides, not gods – and employees will demand inclusivity rather than command and control (at which point we got a nice Child With A Laptop slide).

“It’s not just about connecting”, said Niall, outlining a model with the headings “Connect, Communicate, Cooperate, Collaborate”. Cooperation he differentiates from collaboration using the following attributes:

  • no end goal
  • no command and control
  • structure emerges
  • requires internal versions of Flickr, YouTube, etc.

The old IT model of user needs is dead, he contests – employees need wikis supported by social networks, or – and this is the risk – they will go outside the firewall and do it. Implementation needs be demand-driven, based on what employees are using already in their non-working lives, to create value. But, he warns, don’t ignore culture. There is no point using collaboration software in a non-collaborative organisation.

Lee Bryant of Headshift talks a lot of commonsense on-line, so his presentation was what originally drew me in. Beginning with the statement that existing business processes are too inefficient and businesses can’t afford them, he went on to talk about a future based on simpler, lower cost systems.

“Trust is cheaper than control”, he states, explaining how social tools or a social layer can “rejuvenate old, unloved systems.” He touches on the evolutionary nature of innovation, based on rapid feedback – something he feels intranets lack. Social networks and weak ties, he says, create an organisational immune system, which increases network productivity, not just personal.

Lee recommends that we make hidden data shared and use it to drive collective intelligence, an example: from usage statistics you can see which are the most valuable areas of an intranet. Unfortunately, they are rarely shared.
He talks about the “ambient awareness” which small-scale status updates create and the benefits for team working, he states that “90% of project management is communication”.

He finishes with a vision of the intranet based on wikis which “locate publishing into the context of doing something” supported by social networks. You don’t even need to create new tools – “use your existing directories”, he recommends, by which time I was sitting with a very smug grin on my face.

Conclusions
I was pleased to see more forward-looking opinions siding against static intranets with old publishing models. I remember suggesting over a year ago to our team that Interact could easily be wiki-enabled to encourage more participation, without compromising the validity of the information.

So enabling collaboration (and cooperation!) with wikis, supported by a social networks seems to be a good emerging direction for organisations who want to lead by taking the next step.