It is Time to Get Serious About Social [McKinsey]

Social Media ROI What would you say if someone offered you the opportunity to free up as much as 25% of the work week for more productive purposes? Would you be willing to explore this further or would you discount it out of hand as wishful thinking? What if the source of this claim was the McKinsey Global Institute, the management consulting firm’s research organization?

The McKinsey Global Institute has just released a new study, The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies, that examines the potential impact of social technologies in four sectors: consumer packaged goods, retail financial services, advanced manufacturing, and professional services. This report makes the sit-up-and-take-notice claim that these technologies “could potentially contribute $900 billion to $1.3 trillion in annual value across the four sectors.”

That’s a lot of zeroes worth of added value. In fact, the study estimates that “by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25 percent.

For those of you tend to skip over claims like this, I’d encourage you to back up and take another look since one of the sectors examined in the study is the professional services sector. That includes your law firm. If you were to read the report from the perspective of a legal professional services firm, what might you learn? Here are some money quotes from the study’s abstract:

Two-thirds of this potential value lies in improving collaboration and communication within and across enterprises. The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35 percent, the time employees spend searching for company information. Additional value can be realized through faster, more efficient, more effective collaboration, both within and between enterprises.

The amount of value individual companies can capture from social technologies varies widely by industry, as do the sources of value. Companies that have a high proportion of interaction workers can realize tremendous productivity improvements through faster internal communication and smoother collaboration.

To reap the full benefit of social technologies, organizations must transform their structures, processes, and cultures: they will need to become more open and nonhierarchical and to create a culture of trust. Ultimately, the power of social technologies hinges on the full and enthusiastic participation of employees who are not afraid to share their thoughts and trust that their contributions will be respected. Creating these conditions will be far more challenging than implementing the technologies themselves.

I’m betting that the law firm that masters social technologies would be a very attractive place to work. I’m also betting it could attract the high-performing knowledge workers it needs to be hugely successful. McKinsey calls the potential impact of social technologies in the enterprise “transformative.” Have you considered what these technologies could do for your firm?

[Photo Credit: Mark Smiciklas]



Augment Your Reality

The Nearest Subway app is out! Science fiction isn’t just for futurists. It’s today’s reality.

It used to be that people with wild imaginations wrote improbable stories for a sci-fi audience and then later, perhaps even decades later, those imaginings might become reality.  For example, Jules Verne, an astonishingly imaginative author, wrote in the mid-19th century about fantastical things that we now take for granted such as electric submarines, newscasts, tasers, skywriting and videoconferencing.  As far as videoconferencing is concerned, he may have been dreaming about it in the 19th century, but I for one did not experience a high-quality video conference until the 21st century.  In this case, his innovation took over 100 years to materialize.

For those of us who are slow out of the gate, having decades or even a century to turn a great idea into an even better reality meant that you didn’t have to innovate or change too quickly. But those days are long gone. Take augmented reality, for example.  It’s moved from arcade video games and TV football games to smartphone apps in a very short period of time.

Married to mobile technology, augmented reality lets us experience the world in a new, more information-rich way.  Wikipedia describes augmented reality as

a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. It is related to a more general concept called mediated reality, in which a view of reality is modified (possibly even diminished rather than augmented) by a computer. As a result, the technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.

In other words, it’s real life — but better. It means that we no longer have to experience our surroundings in just a three-dimensional way. Now current technology allows us to layer on top of our physical world information that leads to insight and learning. Kevin Bonsor gives a practical example:

Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world — or at least the way its users see the world. Picture yourself walking or driving down the street. With augmented-reality displays, which will eventually look much like a normal pair of glasses, informative graphics will appear in your field of view, and audio will coincide with whatever you see. These enhancements will be refreshed continually to reflect the movements of your head. Similar devices and applications already exist, particularly on smartphones like the iPhone.

So why does this matter to knowledge management personnel? If the people you serve can take their smartphones or Google glasses and use those to obtain the information they need while on the go, will any of them ever elect to stay tethered to their office just because your knowledge resources are best viewed at a desktop? I didn’t think so. Thus, in one fell swoop, your work product has moved from critically important to nice but highly inconvenient. That’s not an optimal outcome.

To be clear, this is not just about mobility. This is about merging our information with our physical world while we are mobile. It’s also about taking humans out of the information search process.  Without an augmented reality app, if you want information about something you see, you’ll have to enter a search query via your smartphone’s web browser. With augmented reality, however, you don’t have to go hunting for information. It simply is presented to you in context as needed.

This is radically different from our current world of information push and pull. It’s a new world of information ubiquity.

For those of you who are thinking about more effective ways to present data in context, augmented reality may provide some answers. In the words of Rick Singer, IBM’s Vice-President for Sports Technology:

This is all about data. It’s about how you take data, aggregate it and make it simpler to use,” says Singer. “This is like having your best friend with you that knows everything about the [US Open] right by your side because you can take all of that data and you can make better decisions.

If your KM planning isn’t headed in this direction, then you will be left behind.

For the skeptics among you who think this is still pretty far-fetched technology, I have one word for you: IKEA.  That’s right, IKEA is launching an augmented reality catalog app that lets you experience their inventory with audio and video via your smartphone. If it’s available for shoppers, then it’s hard to deny that this technology has moved from science fiction to practical reality. And, given the current rate of consumerization of technology, how long do you think it will be before the knowledge workers you serve demand similar functionality?

But don’t procrastinate. The future is here. And, before you know it, you’ll need to master the Articulated Naturality Web, which promises “to open a door to a virtual universe in which our mind is the only boundary.”

Remember, you heard it here first.


If you would like to learn more about augmented reality, here are some resources:

[Photo Credit: Ian Westcott]


Make Magic Happen

magician wanted We can get so caught up in the basics of making something work that we too often forget to make magic happen. Truth be told, sometimes it can be really hard to get something to work at all. And so we struggle every day with software and hardware that are not intuitive to use. To add insult to injury, they often ship with documentation that is inadequate or unintelligible.

Today a friend called me in frustration asking for a help to complete what should have been a fairly simple online procedure. As his frustration ramped up, his ability to deal rationally with the software spiralled down. At the end he asked,”Can’t I just push a button to make this happen?” Unfortunately, the people who had created the code in question had barely made it functional. And they did not seem the least bit interested in making any part of it easy let alone magical.

So why am I obsessed with magic today? Because the experience of magic is what end-users are looking for. This is particularly clear with mobile applications. Art King, Global Information Architecture Lead at Nike, said at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference that users of mobile apps were pushing developers to offer something more than back-to-basics functionality:

Everything must be intuitive, intuitive, intuitive. The customer wants the mobile experience of opening the app and watching magic happen.

The magic doesn’t need to be earth-shattering. It can be subtle and still effective. For example, although it’s a small thing, every time I enter a physical address into my iPhone, I’m always grateful that the developer figured out that every word in the address field is likely to start with a capital letter and, therefore, set the default that way. This spares me unnecessary key (or rather “thumb”) strokes.

But we’re greedy.  We don’t just want magical mobile experiences, we also want to see magic when sitting at our desktops at the office. This puts pressure on law firm IT departments and legal industry vendors to meet the challenge set by Johna Till Johnson who believes they must “consider `magical user experience’ a design goal.” That seems like a simple enough thing, but why isn’t it reality? She describes the issue in the following way:

Nearly everyone I spoke with complained about the same problem: Enterprise collaborative, social, or mobile apps that simply weren’t easy or fun to use.

The root cause? Lack of proper usability testing.  This came up over and over, from almost everyone. Enterprises aren’t conducting usability testing, even if they’ve invested millions in their collaboration efforts.

Yet usability testing has fallen out of favor in the past few years.

I’m not sure why, so I asked someone who should know: Adam Hulnick, a professional usability tester.  “There’s a sense from senior managers that usability testing should no longer be necessary. They pay top-dollar for designers already– shouldn’t those designers be able to just create usable interfaces?” says Hulnick.

As we say in New York, “From your lips to God’s ears.”

If you’re interested in thinking about the intersection of magic and user experience, take a look at this advice from Danno Ferrin: Applying the Principles of Stage Magic to the User Experience. Lest you think this is frippery and not core to software, consider the trend away from mere functionality to truly delightful user experience as described by Jessica Stillman in Sprinkle Some Pixie Dust: The User Experience. Finally, if you’re ready to step into the big leagues, spend some time with Keith Barry (described as “a hacker of the human brain“). It may be that While a Magician Works, the Mind Does the Tricks, but I dare you to take a look at the video below and explain how he does it.

Then think about how you could bring some of this magic to the user experience of your colleagues at the office.


[Photo Credit: Argbx]