Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2009 – What’s New?

It was interesting to visit the Web 2.0 conference last week and see the progress and trends compared to my last year impressions.

Here are some of my thoughts:

  • SharePoint is the de-facto standard for Enterprise 2.0 While other vendors have compelling products and features, a CIO that is looking for an internal, comprehensive, secure and maintainable solution has almost only one choice (unless you are on an IBM stack..). Other tools focus on providing point solutions, hosted environments, plugging current SharePoint holes and extending functionality. Microsoft had the biggest and most impressive presence and were heavily promoting the next version SharePoint 2010 that will be launched in the SharePoint conference in October. (Some preliminary details here).
  • The field has definitely matured over the last year. There are more case studies and research about usage, benefits and trends although most companies are not sharing explicit ROI numbers. Some vendors have disappeared while others are growing and establishing themselves at a level where they may be considered long term players and safe for the enterprise.
  • The experts are still frustrated with the slow rate of adoption and the seeming growing gap between the prevalence of social tools and technologies used by marketing and sales to communicate externally Vs. they almost complete absence internally. The rapid adoption of tools like Facebook and Twitter for customer communication not just in retail but in Healthcare and other industries creates glaring discrepancies where the same companies have no tools internally and sometimes even block their own marketing teams from external use of these tools under some outdated IT policy.
  • IT is still not part of the discussion. That is unfortunate because as Steve Wylie, the conference director expressed in a guest post at ZDNET last week, large scale adoptions will not happen without IT.

    “While we could argue that this is a very new market and that businesses take time to change, I also believe that Enterprise 2.0 will be challenged by large-scale adoption until corporate IT is fully on board.  Early adoption has been largely driven by business users and department-level managers.  They had a problem to solve and were fed up waiting for IT to provide the solutions they needed.  They took matters into their own hands by finding workable, web-based solutions and even celebrated this new found freedom from IT.  With a few exceptions, IT took a reactive posture to Enterprise 2.0 and viewed it as a threat to be managed, secured and even blocked in some cases.”

  • Tactical view. One of the most frequently asked questions was “what is the best way to get started?”. The pretty universal answer for vendors and corporate users was to approach it in a tactical manner and find a specific business problem you can solve using collaboration tools. Be it an HR portal to boost morale, tools to help virtual project teams work more efficiently, sales best practices portal or any of many other ideas. Define a narrow business case and implement. So far, trying to approach this in a strategic manner makes finding ROI a herculean task and as noted above, puts IT on the defensive. I hope that this trend will start to change as these tactical solutions rarely provide long term sustainable benefits.
  • Rise of the Community Manager. The most active forum was the one where the newly created function – community managers shared their challenges and tricks for getting people to take part in the social activity. First, It is great to see that many leading organizations have realized the importance of such a task although many had it as a secondary responsibility they volunteered to do rather than a full time position. Creating and maintaining a vibrant and active internal community requires skill, passion and process and the focus should rightfully be as much on that as on the tools that enable the community.

Additional impressions:

Enterprise 2.0 2009 Conference: Aggregate and Organize

Web 2.0 for Healthcare Providers – Q and A Part 1

Thanks for all those who attended our webinar on implementing web 2.0 strategies last week. If you missed it, the recorded webinar is available on our site. Enjoy.

As I promised, here are some of the questions asked during the session that I have not had time to address:

Q1: Using Facebook and Twitter – how do I get started? How can we monitor it?

Getting started is ridiculously easy. Facebook has a good starter guide . Setting up Twitter is even simpler as there is not much to do other than selecting a name. You have only 15 characters so it is not always an easy task. Twitip has a good guide to best practices in twitting and a list of useful services to track and monitor twitter conversations.

Q2: Why would people want to follow a healthcare organization? How do I promote it without spending money? is it really worth the effort and Investment?

So setting up profiles and pages is easy. The hard part is getting people to follow you on a regular basis. The good news is that you just need to get users to act once and add you to their friends list or follow you on twitter. From that point forward you are just one in a stream of many others.
Spreading the word is done in every way possible, but not through direct advertising. Put it on your website, emails, blog and any other marketing communication form. The best promotion methods are viral. If you have something interesting to say, people will spread the word.

Social media communication tools are just one more way to reach an audience in a fragmented media world but health is something people really care about. If you are a regional hospital, publish daily information your community will want to know. Allergy report, flu alerts, flu vaccine reminders, etc. The cost is usually limited to a resource that will write and maintain all these social media properties. We’ll go into ROI in the next answer but first and foremost the benefit is relevancy. Hospitals that will engage and communicate will be relevant and top of mind. Others will be there when the appendix burst.

Q3: What type of investment is required? What is the ROI

We usually see 2 main areas of investment. The first is Strategy. With so many options, tools, opportunities and risks large organization usually do not just jump in but take some time to look at the landscape, their audience, their revenue centers and their media assets and capabilities to form a cohesive strategy. This is the main area we help clients in as they often lack internal expertise. We usually recommend forming a broader web strategy as these social activities are not isolated from the needs to have an attractive and interactive website than engages users and effective e-marketing programs. The strategy part also looks at the organizational ability to support these types of programs, the skills required and can help in building a cost and ROI structure. The cost of a comprehensive web strategy can range from five to low six figure depending on the size of the organization and scope.

The second area of investment is in the program operations. This usually translates to people who dedicate some of their time to writing content and managing user interactions. It can range from a few hours a week for a small program to a full time position.

The returns: like in any marketing program, these activities are judged by their ability to generate increase in profitable patients and donations. Since they provide a great way to reach an audience without a cost per unit (as you have in email, banners or paid search) the ROI increases as the size of your audience.

Mashable.com has a good overview for the qualitative and qualitative measurements for ROI. I think it goes back to relevancy and the need to be part of your audience daily life.

Illustration: Monica Parra / Newsweek

Why CEO’s must care about Enterprise 2.0 as a Strategic Imperative

One of the strongest and most misguided arguments expressed online and in many companies we speak with about Enterprise 2.0 is that it is not strategic.

That this collection of tools, technologies and ideas is not yet mature enough, lacks proven ROI, introduces a myriad of security and governance issues and even if successful is not a priority in today’s soft economy. It is too often delegated to IT managers to experiment with and report back in a few years.

Here’s where the difference is: Enterprise 2.0 is not a technology. It represents first and foremost a new way of thinking, interacting and communicating that includes attitude and cultural changes, empowered by IT. Is there anything more strategic than that and more important to a business future success?

It is arguably the biggest opportunity for IT driven cultural change facing organizations since the introduction of PC networks more than 2 decades ago.

One of the C suite most important tasks is to shape an organizational culture that will make their company innovative, competitive, efficient and successful not just now but in the future. Embracing Enterprise 2.0 now and guiding their employees through this transitional period should be one of their top priorities.

While in a few cases adoption started from the bottom up, a change of this magnitude usually needs to come from the top accompanied by the matching set of values and actions that prove the seriousness and commitment to change.

It requires leadership that is able to see that transparency and increased visibility into activities throughout the company will finally enable them to know what is really happening and will create a culture of trust. That openness and exchange of ideas will lead to innovation and efficiency. That collaboration will enable a diverse workforce to work together in emergent ways while being physically and geographically dispersed.

In short, it requires vision that will set a future path and will ask managers to overcome the obstacles in the way. The type of vision CEO’s need to provide and not delegate to IT managers.

The challenge and opportunity is that not many chief executives have realized yet that embracing Enterprise 2.0 is a strategic imperative and are focusing the discussion around short term ROI.

Dion Hinchcliffe at ZDNET provides a comprehensive review of the evidence and opinions regarding ROI and adoption challenges, and adds his own interesting model of collaboration cause and effect chains that while clearly provide benefits, make them harder to pinpoint and measure.

He also concludes that

an accumulating body of knowledge is pointing to potentially dramatic business returns with Enterprise 2.0. If these continue to be borne out, it will affect the competitive and financial positions of the companies that are proactive and therefore their long-term marketplace success

And wonders what it will take to break the current status quo?

His colleague Dennis Howlett on the other end thinks the ROI is still years off and concludes

As always, the secret to long term success depends on management’s ability to maintain a sustained commitment and all that goes with it. The difficulty today is that same management is wondering where the next sale comes from or how cash will be generated.”

The good news is that Enterprise 2.0 does not require large capital expenditures but mostly thorough organizational commitment. There has rarely been an opportunity for businesses to gain so much competitive edge by investing so little.

As in many cultural revolutions, by the time Enterprise 2.0 related changes start translating into business differentiators, organizations that have not made the transition will look as outdated as an organization resisting getting these useless PC boxes or adopting email.

Hospital and Health Provider Web 2.0 Trends and Opportunities

We recently looked into ways that companies can leverage web 2.0 and monetize social networks.

We got a lot of questions regarding the applicability of these principles and methods to different industries and specifically for hospitals and other health providers. As organizations with a strong social purpose and educational / outreach focus, how can they remake themselves and their services to provide innovative and effective web-based information and health?

We envision the Hospital as the center of regional health, building a community of patients, caregivers and healthcare professionals that work online and offline providing care, support and prevention.

It is an overall shift in strategy that transforms the organization to be more Open, Collaborative, Transparent, Interactive, and Social.  Organizations that have successfully executed Web 2.0 initiatives:  share data and information securely and seamlessly with their health care partners, provide platforms for patients, doctors, and hospitals to collaborate on improving the effectiveness of services and communications, foster community patient support networks, and empower patients to gain access to the best health care services and providers.

There have been some interesting efforts but most providers are just in the initial experimentation mode. Ed Bennett maintains a great list on his blog of all the hospitals and their social activities. According to his findings, Twitter has just become the most popular social media channel among hospitals

Paul Levy, Beth Israel Deaconess CEO has been a trail blazer in his blog, sharing thoughts, ideals, goals, results and experiences, promoting true transparency. The hospital has recently launched the first web 2.0 oriented site with a special section dedicated to interactive features such as blogs, videos, podcasts chat etc.

St. Jude Children Research Hospital has close to 35,000 fans in their facebook group and have extensive social media program on their site. Cedars Sinai in LA is using YouTube for staff recruitment purposes.

These are great examples for a few health providers that seem to have a cohesive strategy for this new interactive age. For most hospitals, just being on facebook or Twitter without setting measurable goals and defining a strategy will not yield the anticipated results.

The following diagram shows the different areas where hospitals can consider collaboration and use of social media and interactivity:

 

Some of the interesting opportunities we are seeing for hospitals:

  • Use of social media and communities to create an active health community around their health facilities that will involve patients, physicians and hospitals
  • Enhance educational activities to include online courses and support groups
  • Use blogs and actual access to quality and performance data to promote transparency and trust with the community
  • Use advanced web analytics to capture interests and trends and improve content and services accordingly
  • Build a stronger relationship with Affiliated Health Professionals and allow them to collaborate and exchange knowledge
  • Reduce the customer support functions by moving self service functions to the web

Globalization and Localization of web sites

Many companies that sell products or services internationally are finding themselves in a familiar dilemma, should their web presence be global or local?

While a global site is easy to control and maintain and can ensure consistency in branding and content quality, it can not address local culture, interests and variation.

I’ve come across an interesting view on the site of the Localization Industry Standards Association www.lisa.org

They see Globalization as a process with 2 parts

  • Internationalization which is the process for defining applications and sites to work in every market
  • Localization which is the adaptation of the International framework to local needs and

And the process as:

I agree that the best approach in most cases is to plan for the site and application to work anywhere and then build in enough flexibility for local control and adjustments.

The challenge in this approach is that defining international requirements and anticipating all local variations is very expensive and time consuming. So what should a company that is expanding internationally do? Here are a few questions and guidelines to consider:

  • Scope of localization: how are you products or services different around the world? Is it exactly the same product (jewelry tableware for example) or does a local audience may have preferences that will impact selection and availability of products (fashion and cosmetics). If the products need to meet local regulations, standards or laws (220V or 110V for consumer electronics, Material Safety or FDA approvals for Chemicals and Drugs) or if products include attributes like language that will make them market specific (Books and CD’s). In each case, a single catalog for all products will provide the easiest way to maintain master product data but sites level of granularity may be determined by the variance in offering. It may be truly global, regional, country or language specific.
  • Centralized or Distributed management. Who will maintain content, details, specs etc. in local languages? Do you assume that a product is not released until all languages have been updated? Do you allow a default language to remain until a local language become available? Is this the responsibility of a central translation group of does it goes downstream to the local group to translate? (If you are thinking about machine translation, don’t. This technology is still not ready for prime time and will drive off disappointed customers)
  • How local should you go? to create a true sense of local site and service, certain adjustments may be needed to the site so it does not look like the translated version of the global template. Does the site has local news and events? Is there editorial content from local sources? Are reviews and communities local? Does the interface adapt to local language without cutting words or providing headers in English? Are local conventions like time format, date format, calendar, currency, address, name formats etc. are specific or generic?
  • Build from scratch or retrofit? While substantial amounts have been invested in current web and e-commerce infrastructure, allowing for globalization and localization is not an easy retrofit and in many cases it will be faster and cheaper in the long term to build a technology foundation that is designed to support these issues. Technology issues to consider:
    • Separation of content from the display. There should be no text or images in pages and no parameters in queries. Many CMS systems support localization and handle pages this way by default but custom build CMS systems rarely do.
    • Support for UTF-8: databases and management tools as well as search engines must support UTF-8
    • Caching and Performance: a system must be designed with advanced caching to avoid extensive load on the database for rendering local editions
    • Support for variable length and right to left interfaces. Different languages have very different word length and even orientation. How will interfaces that were designed for exact size look?

While these are not simple questions to answer and resolve, creating a global experience with local flavors and details can substantially impact the ability of a company to succeed internationally.

The Surprising Link Between Web Usability, Customer Satisfaction and ROI

web_roi1

A just released survey of the top 40 e-commerce sites asked users to rate their satisfaction with the buying experience. In the results, the survey director notes “higher customer satisfaction ratings often translate into loyalty and purchase intent”.

It is amazing that we still need surveys to tell us that. Web usability started as an art and is now an established science that uses audience personas, usage stories and needs mapping to optimize site flow, calls to action and creating an engaging yet efficient experience tailored to each visitor.

Jacob Nielsen in recent studies found an improvement of 83% to 138% in KPI’s resulting from a web usability redesign. In about 12% of the cases, the increase was tenfold.

With every web initiative need to provide Return On Investment (ROI) justification, most sites and applications have huge potential for improvement and can easily justify usability upgrades.

How to build a strong ROI case

The common formula for the commerce site business potential is based on the simple concept of getting as many visitors as possible and converting them into paying customers.

Business = Visits x Conversion Rate X Average purchase amount (For each revenue stream on the site)

Let’s look at each of these 3 components that largely determine site performance: volume, conversion and purchase size and see where the usability comes in.

Volume: traffic is comprised of new traffic and repeat traffic (V = Vnew + Vrepeat). Attracting new visitors to the site can be expensive and the acquisition cost is often reduced from the total revenue generated. Repeat and loyal visitors are essential to profitability and any improvement in the repeat visitor rate has significant impact on the bottom line. Good user experience that contributes to customer satisfaction will increase the number of repeat visits and add traffic without the acquisition cost.

Conversion Rate: The other critical role of usability is to make sure each visitor is provided with their specific needs which are not always a direct purchase. In a previous post I looked at the new e-commerce paradigm that acknowledges the multiphase shopping experience and provides information, interaction and solutions for visitor in every phase of their purchasing decisions. User experience optimization can have a dramatic effect on converting a visitor to a customer.

Purchase Size: Amazon started product merchandizing, upsells and recommendations more than a decade ago but many companies still are not perfect at providing users with additional options and suggestions throughout the checkout process.

Therefore the impact of usability on the Business consists of the increase in repeat traffic (∆Vrepeat), the increase in conversion rate ∆CR and the increase in purchase size ∆PA or in a formula: B = (Vnew + (Vr + ∆Vr)) x (CR + ∆CR) x (PA + ∆PA)

Usability contributions to cost reduction and savings:

  • Reduction in marketing spend for new customer acquisition. The same traffic goals can be achieved with more repeat traffic reducing marketing expenses for new traffic generation.
  • Reduction in calls to phone support

Other factors to consider:

  • The cost of doing nothing. Not improving usability can actually hurt the factors listed above as the market is not static. The overall web usability standards have increased with rich interfaces and Ajax style functionality. Sites that have not caught up, look dated and clumsy. The competition is not static either. If your site’s experience is inferior to the competition, traffic will move there.
  • Social media and word of mouth quickly spread good experiences and bad one to an extremely wide audience.

And lastly, without good web analytics program and measurements, you may not know to identify the challenges of poor usability or the contributions of improvements so consider setting an analytics baseline prior to any substantial improvements.

A new e-commerce 2.0 buying model

A just released survey of the top 40 e-commerce sites asked users to rate their satisfaction with the buying experience. Of these top 40 sites, only 2 exceeded 80% satisfaction and most are at 70% or less.

E-commerce 2.0 requires taking existing best practices to a higher level. Technical and social changes of the last 8 years have to be accounted for.

  1. Prevalence of web 2.0 attitudes I wrote about earlier
  2. Influence and communication circles are expanding. Like in the classic AIDS commercial, every customer you touch, you have the potential to touch their friends and their friends’ friends. Now at internet speed.
  3. Social Web. Using the internet is not a solitary experience anymore. People surf together, buy together, twitter all day and share everything.
  4. Web applications are expected to be faster, sleeker and with a rich user interface
  5. Available anywhere. With improved browsers in phones, the phone with its small and limited browser is fast becoming a popular and growing way to surf the web.
  6. Data, data everywhere. The proliferation of interaction channels is making it harder than ever to collect and analyze it.
  7. Service orientation: whether you call it web as a platform, software as a service, service oriented architecture or just web services, web applications are expected to be social too.

Has the cognitive buying experience changed? How should all these changes affect the forward thinking enterprise?

The classic AIUAPR model (Awareness, Interest, Understanding, Attitudes, Purchase, Repeat purchase) can be expanded upon to include the web 2.0 concepts and create a solid backbone for the e-business 2.0 infrastructure. David Mercer in his book Marketing has laid a great foundation adding a few very relevant steps into this process

 simple-process

Susceptibility addresses the set of activities that promote a brand and makes the consumer susceptible to the advertising that brings specific brand and product awareness.

Understanding is added to the Interest as research and comparison are becoming an essential step in the purchasing decision

Legitimacy is ever more important as identities of sellers have to be credible enough to result in a transaction. A strong off-line brand name, heavy advertising or good seller feedback on eBay will make it easier for customers to trust the seller.

The Repeat purchase step was divided into the components that determine if the customer will come back

Experience encompasses the shopping experience, satisfaction / experience with the product or service and even the experience with customer service. As more sites and tools allow customers to share their experiences, the impact of positive or negative experiences is magnified beyond the immediate circles and is kept for posterity.

Loyalty is the culmination of all brand efforts to make you a frequent customer who is loyal to the brand and is a brand ambassador to others.

David Mercer also suggests adding Peers and Vendor activities in parallel to the customer process and examines how they influence the decision making process

 

Peers Customer Vendor

process-10

 

 

While this model greatly expands the basic AIUAPR model it addresses the reality e-commerce 1.0

In e-commerce 2.0, a few things change:

  1. Communications are not one sided. Every communication is interactive where data and opinions get exchanged.
  2. The Peer group definition had expanded to include everyone accessible through the internet that has an experience or an attitude/opinion towards the brand, product or service.
  3. As such, it is not enough for the Vendor to try and manage customer experience as they become peers, you need to manage and have specific information and communication plans for the peers as defined at every stage.

The new model will look something like this:

It includes on top the customer, peer, and vendor relationships

anewecommer3

On the other it looks at the customer lifecycle from e-awareness to e-commerce and e-service. Each one of these buckets includes the actions and interactions in the phase.

On the bottom it has the funnel that collects all possible data from all these interactions and processes it as analytics, to be fed into the systems and decision processes that will improve the next iterations.

E-commerce 2.0 high level map

ebusinessdiagram

 

What I think differentiates this model from traditional e-commerce models:

  1. Peers. The influence of peers as part of a social network or even opinions of strangers expressed in blogs and communities or review sites had increased tenfold and has to be acknowledged and managed.
  2. E-marketing is evolving into e-awareness as marketing and PR work together to create awareness to brand and products.
  3. Analytics need to be collected at many different levels. Customer actions and interactions not just on our site but through the awareness and service channels. The interactions with the brand can provide great data as to cause and effect and ROI

Top 5 Web Technology Trends for 2009

cball

The Holidays are here and with them all the yearly summaries and forecasts. It may be a good idea to go back a year and check how many oracles have seen this slowdown coming..

As I look ahead to 2009, I see a few clear trends for web technology areas that are providing value in these rough economic times and are maturing to the point that companies cannot ignore anymore.

Gartner published their list of strategic technology trends for 2009 a few weeks back. They highlight Cloud Computing, Web Oriented Architecture, Enterprise Mashups and Social Software and Social Networking.

Here are 5 additional web technology trends that will be important in 2009, in no particular order:

  1. Actionable Web Analytics as part of Enterprise BI and Dashboards.
    Web Analytics in many organizations is still an orphan with no real parents. Every department looks at its data but rarely does it get a strategic priority as an indicator of business trends and business intelligence asset. Investment in web analytics allows for customer insights, marketing spend ROI, conversion optimization and can impact the bottom line. As companies invest in sophisticated BI and analytical dashboards, web based data that is not transactional is usually not there. Integrating web traffic and user interest data into these systems can result in new insights and better actionable data.
  2. Phone Browser Compatibility
    Mobile computing is booming. About 13M iPhones were sold so far, and the support for location and browser that both the Android, Blackberry and all Microsoft based smartphones are offering, the percentage of traffic to web sites coming from phones is already in the 3%-10% range and will only increase. These are not the early 00’s WAP/WML jokes but full HTML browsers. Still, these special browsers are very different from the full version used on PC’s and Laptops. Bandwidth is still a challenge and their support for Rich Applications such as Flash and Silverlight is lacking. If you have a fancy Flash based site, your users will most likely not see a thing. Companies that have ignored it so far will have to adjust their sites or redirect mobile traffic to a mirror mobile optimized site.
  3. Location based services
    Continuing from the previous point, these mobile devices have GPS included and location based applications can drastically impact the user experience. Either as an iPhone/Android application or websites, the ability to share location information and get back location specific data about local services, other people, events, sales or anything else adds a new dimension to mobile applications.
  4. Increased reliance on open source infrastructure products and technologies
    Free is always a powerful word. Strong and reliable open source environments allow companies to create a robust e-commerce infrastructure with little or no proprietary platforms. The excellent Apache OFBiz for example, provides strong open source modules for e-commerce, ERP, CRM and many others. Alfresco offers a great content management solution and multiple open source development environments are available. The case for Enterprise Open Source web environment is getting stronger every day.
  5. Approaching Social Networking and Collaboration in a Strategic way
    Everyone now realizes the power of social networks and is rushing to get in, establish a FaceBook page, a Twitter account and get’s their PR to sprawl the web to “engage” people. Internally, companies are haphazardly trying various collaboration methods. We see a maturity process happening through 2009 that will force companies to look at all their collaboration points in a strategic way and tie them to business goals and processes. This new approach will transform them from toys to tools and will establish their place and value in the new order.

Web 2.0 for Insurance Questions and Answers

web202

I wanted to follow-up the IsoTech08 conference and the talk I delivered there on Web 2.0 and Insurance with answers to a few questions that came from the audience.

The full presentation slides are posted on slideshare:

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: agent_collaboration agent_engagement)

Questions and Answers:

Q: the new trends in the innovative use of the web seem to give direct insurers an advantage over indirect ones, as they focus a much larger portion of their resources in direct to consumer services and marketing. How can traditional agent centric companies compete?

A: Do you remember the end of real estate agents? When Your Home Direct launched with a website and a 2% commission structure everyone mourned agent based companies. It appeared that agents do provide value and the 2% became 3%, then 4% and now chapter 11. Remax is still going strong…

Agents provide a personal relationship and value that is appreciated by many customers. Companies can empower these agents with the latest tools and technologies that will allow them to provide their customers with the best user experience and convenience that will provide the best of both worlds.

The direct providers like Geico, provide tools but no context or tailoring to the client specific needs. Agents should be provided with a white label set of tools (tools that the Insurer provides but can be customized with the branding, contacts and products that a specific agent provides). When providing a quote, it is not a printed document but a link to a personalized client site with all the details of the quote listed and the ability for the client to make changes and see options. Agents can communicate through messages or live chat and provide all the options and discounts.

The Customer gets a completely customized experience guided by a trusted agent.

Insurers that will empower their agents with tools like these will not have a problem to compete successfully.

Q: It was mentioned that one of the largest hurdles in the successful implementation of social and collaboration tools inside the enterprise is lack of critical mass of users. How can we ensure that we reach the critical mass and what will drive adoption?

A: It is true that for any community to be lively and for any communication tool to be effective it needs to reach a sufficient number of people. There are few ways to help that happen:

  • Cultivate the core user group. The ratio is usually 1:9. For every one contributor you have 10 readers and commenters. The contributors form the heart of the community and need to be encouraged and rewarded
  • Put collaboration tasks within the line of business. Collaboration and social tools are often considered “above the line” or things you do above and beyond your regular work. If an organization can find ways to put the use of these tools in the regular course of doing business, their usage will become just part of doing your job. Examples can include posting files and not emailing them, soliciting feedback through a forum, not in an email etc.
  • Make it the social norm. if key activities happen there, and key executive post and conduct business in the internal social network, it will become the place to be. People will start asking each other if they saw a specific thread or comments and will drive up adoption.

Q: Can you provide an example where Mashups provide a solution that can not be addressed using other existing Portal, BI ,EAI and Dashboard tools?

A: As with any new technology, people are justifiably concerned that the hype is exaggerated and that it is just a fancy term for well implemented dashboards. The new class of tools called Mashup engines try to solve some of the fundamental problems of integrating data from multiple sources and providing it in a visual interface without the need to go though the extensive and expensive effort of actually integrating the applications and their data. By leveraging web services standards, each source of data or data driven service can be assembled quickly and provide unique insights and different way to look at data that was very difficult until now. Here are a few scenarios:

  • Dynamic view of the customer. We often talk about a 360 view of the customer with all their claims, policies, history, and in multiple lines of business. A customer mashup can take a customer record as a baseline and pull together a combination of structured and unstructured data with visual rendering. For example, if the client is company X, the company view can include:
    • Company information and price stock
    • Map of company locations
    • List of latest news from news services about the company
    • List of SEC filings
    • Existing policies with their value and renewal dates
    • List of open and recent claims
    • List of recent service calls

    The data comes from multiple sources and can quickly change but the dynamic nature of the mashup, allows sources to be added or removed quickly and for different data to load based on retrieved parameters

Image taken from: http://www.andybudd.com/presentations/dcontruct05/images/zen2.jpg on April 21, 2008.

Insurance and Web 2.0

I’ll be giving a talk, as part of the 2008 ISOTech conference that will delve into use of web 2.0 in insurance. I’ve written before about what web 2.0 is and how to leverage it as well as about the rising adoption rate according to McKinsey.

Insurance is a specialized business and many people are very skeptical that the success seen in other industries can really translate into success in insurance. Jeff Jarvis in his blog “The Buzz Machine” wrote: “I can’t see any way that I’m going to see insurance as a social experience”

“I think our relationship with an insurance company is necessarily adversarial and one of mutual mistrust. Therefore it is impervious to social tools”

And Jeremiah Owian of Forrester Research wrote in his blog:

Overall, without surprise, the insurance industry has not adopted social tools”

It seems that both of them are taking a very narrow view to what web 2.0 is and as to what social tools can do to help any organization including insurance companies in improving their internal and external communication and collaboration.

First, you need to accept that web 2.0 is more than just a technology. It is a set of attitudes that if adopted, govern the use of existing and new technologies.

I’ll discuss what these attitudes are, what technologies are currently in place and emerging to support them.

Insurance carriers have multiple audiences they target. With Producers internal or external) still being the engine of business development, getting them all the data and services they need to their job is critical and the web opens up new collaboration and interaction channels not available before.

The following map illustrates all the different areas of collaboration and interaction that an Insurer will need to address:

There are a few new and exciting trends that I’ll speak about:

  • Social Computing: collaboration should not be limited to people. In a complex system like Insurance, multiple players, some human and some systems are all interacting through web based interfaces and services to complete tasks.
  • Mashups: how can new mashup technologies help bridge the vast gaps in siloed data and trun it into a web format that is easy to understand and act upon.
  • Agent engagement and Collaboration
  • A few alternative business models that are emerging
  • Power to the users: users now have all the information and power in their hands
  • Social, Mobile and Location based applications

And I’ll finish up with some lessons from the trenches about what works and what to avoid in developing your web 2.0 strategy and plans.

The Issues in Web 2.0 in the Insurance Organization session scheduled for Monday, November 10th from 10:45 – noon.

Hope to see you there.