Over the last decade I’ve studied the practical applications of ethnographic research. I’ve performed detailed use-case analysis of requirements, and I frequently volunteer as a participant in the development of prototypes for applications that are hosted in the cloud.
Why did I choose to invest my own time in alpha tests and beta trials? To gain the first-hand knowledge of what it really means to create a user experience that is remarkable.
While I’m not a user experience designer, I’ve developed a keen sense of the personal productivity gains that can be achieved by software UI ease-of-use improvements.
Application Assessment Lessons-Learned
My journey of discovery started, about 15 years ago, when I was asked to share my perspective on how an enterprise customer relationship management (CRM) system met my needs as a global accounts sales manager. Over the course of five years, I participated in three similar CRM system pilot deployments at different companies.
My primary take-away from those application scenarios: a superior user experience is the key to adoption and long-term engagement by the intended user population. In contrast, the absence of an intuitive user interface (UI) can be the main obstacle to initial take-up and ongoing usage.
User loyalty to an online application is tentative at best – it’s very difficult to attain and yet relatively easy to lose. Also, attempts to mandate 100 percent user adoption in the enterprise will typically fail — even with the threat of punitive action — when you’re dealing with skilled professional talent.
Usage Context Matters More, than Platforms
Another significant discovery was that the common approach to CRM user training was flawed. Most vendors would merely teach novice users about how to operate the features and functions of their particular platform.
In contrast, few would explain the more meaningful CRM workflow benefits and anticipated productivity outcomes — within the context of how a system user could perform their role and routine responsibilities more effectively.
That eye-opening revelation, and related epiphany, enabled me to articulate the nascent demand and use-case for a hosted Sales Effectiveness solution — it came to me after witnessing the failure of all those monolithic CRM enterprise software deployments.
How Talent Optimization Fuels Online Collaboration
My research progression (circa 2002-2004) then led me to study the social networking phenomenon. Initially I participated in the early-adopter trials of public social networks, but my interest quickly evolved toward the design and application of private Enterprise Talent Networking methodologies.
That R&D activity helped to crystallize my point of view. I now believe that an innate technology-assisted ability to quickly mobilize human talent — just-in-time — will become the ultimate competitive advantage in business. It’s a fundamental capability, applied horizontally across organizations, and it’s essential to any and all industry verticals.
Why is this so important? Talent optimization strategy development is part experiential art, part cultural science, and it must be adapted to the unique attributes of a given situation. Therefore, the tactical execution can be incredibly difficult for any competitor to replicate — that’s a good thing to know.
Put simply, those who are armed with the best talent engagement processes will achieve unprecedented human resource effectiveness – whatever the business challenge.
Furthermore, I believe that “available time” is today’s #1 perishable commodity. By default, the need to use this precious resource more effectively will drive us to seek better ways to enable talent connection, communication and collaboration online.
A Pathway to Online Collaboration Supremacy
It’s exciting to watch the next chapter of this story unfold. Cisco’s vision is for a network-based approach to collaboration — one that’s more mobile, interactive, visual and inherently virtual. It’s also a perspective that’s people-centric, not technology-centric.
Cisco has worked long and hard to conceive a human-attuned architectural model, that’s intended to integrate the pieces of its proven collaboration enablement product portfolio — such as Unified Communications, TelePresence and WebEx. On this backdrop, it is launching new complementary offerings like Cisco Jabber and Cisco Quad.
Clearly, we’ve entered an era where the informed people will be using many different communication devices, applications, and purposeful collaboration processes to create tangible value for their organization. That’s one reason why I’m truly upbeat for 2012.
However, I know that some senior executives don’t associate the word “social” with their business goals – because it implies this activity might lead to idle chit-chat. That’s why I emphasize that my online collaboration activity is really about gaining access to the most talented individuals, and tapping into the tacit knowledge that they possess.
This is the first in a series of editorials where I’ll share a personal perspective of “My Connected Life in the Cloud.” Next I’ll describe how I’ve enhanced my own productivity, and what I learned about Teleonomy and goal-oriented interaction.