Thursday, October 25, 2012

Calm Computing - Need of the Hour!

We have heard about Cloud Computing. I have written about Klout computing. I said in my LinkedIn status that my next post would be about Cognizant Computing. But, before that I found this ‘Calm Computing’ intriguing and need of the hour.

Before I start discussing about the term, would like to narrate few scenarios that would set the context.

Have you ever wondered why you end up spending more amount of hours in Internet than planned?

Have you ever started searching something specific in Google, clicked on a set of results and then you navigated from Google and you kept your reading / scanning on and on and lost the time and intent on where you started?  In search results, any hyperlink that you click ‘initiates’ or leads to a diversion.   

Have you ever clicked on the links recommended for you on news sites  (e.g. Harvard Blogs) and spent good amount of time without actually noticing the time lost?

Have you noticed the Facebook’ design of displaying your contact’s recent updates?. It will show the picture of yourself followed by a text box, waiting for you to add your comments. Pls note the ‘initiation of update’ is already done for you. All you need to do is to ‘complete’ the same. That’s good enough stimulant for the end user to add his comment.

Am sure most of us would have had these experiences. Internet sites are inherently designed to be ‘sticky’.  Sticky experiences help to generate relationships and transactions for the business. That’s the key. But, the flip side is that the end user ends up spending quite a lot of time involuntarily.

Distractions are everywhere. Email beep, Blackberry buzz, facebook social updates, advertising messages, phone calls – interruptions are pervasive.

While the biggest boon of today’s trend is abundance of technologies and devices, the bane is the attention deficiency. People are constantly distracted and there are tons of books, tools, techniques to help them to get focused on their work.

Have you ever wondered why so many to-do list apps are there in the industry?. Just search for a perfect to-do list app, and you will get tons of them.

I believe people want to get focused. And To-do list app does just that.

I believe today’s web user interface design is meant to facilitate constant information flow and constant feedback loops.  Starting from Google’s all-white web page design with list of clickable search results to Facebook comments update - all commercial internet sites apply the same principles.
This phenomenon may not apply to business applications. But with advent of Consumeration of IT, We may apply these practices to business applications as well unknowingly. 
So, if someone is addicted to Internet, its no surprise. The design leads to constant use and potential addiction.

So, What’s the solution?.

If User Interface design experts are helping to design ‘sticky’, same geeks are giving ideas to design for the opposite – to design for focus, to design for user attention.

Before getting to the solution, let us see what are the alternate user interfaces that we are used to, that helps us to focus our attention?

-          Conference rooms in offices which have small window and rest of the wall in the rooms are either covered with tinted glass or sealed. This helps the participants to focus on the meeting without getting distracted by the outside noise and whenever the participant wants to get the view of the office outside the room, they can always look through the small window.

-          Have you been to meditation halls where the hall is devoid of all unnecessary objects except one or two objects of focus?. (e.g. a glowing candle)

-          You can add lot more here… J

Is there anything that we can take from these physical interface designs and apply in our virtual world? This should help us to design user interfaces that would help users to focus and converge their attention on specific tasks/actions.

I have thought about this problem and potential solution a while ago and believed it was innovative. Not true. As the saying goes – Innovation happens elsewhere – and there are user interface design experts who have formalized this design paradigm and identified certain design principles for implementing encalming experiences.

They  call it ‘Calm Computing’. Its all about designing or engineering user interfaces for calming the human attention, helping to achieve focus. Search for this term and you will get tons of links that will direct you to more information on this topic.

Charlie Bess of EDS has been blogging about it in the topic of ‘Attention Engineering’.

With the abundance of devices and services, the critical need of the hour is to design applications that will apply Calm Computing principles that help the users to achieve their objectives without loosing too much of their precious resource – Time!.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Social Analytics and Relationship Management!

There is a good amount of traction on Social Analytics from Marketing departments. CMO Teams are experimenting their discretionary spending in listening platforms, sentiment analysis, campaign impact measurement, amplification rates and competitive intelligence metrics.

The mainstream investment is yet to kick-in in Enterprise IT space. In my view, Social Analytics is all about Qualitative intelligence whereas traditional analytics is all about Quantitative intelligence.

Where do you typically need Qualitative intelligence?  When I say Qualitative intelligence is all about something that is not measurable, not explicit, lies as tacit knowledge in people's minds, often not expressed in numbers, generally not quantified, subjective. By means of subjective, the intelligence also largely depends on cultural bias as well.

Now, Where do you seek and use such intelligence?. We all know Quantitative intelligence is something that everybody seeks in structured financial investments/reviews or operational improvements. But, Where do we use Qualitative intelligence?

Hitherto, We seek Qualitative intelligence from people. We talk to people our inner circle and our networks to figure out what is subjective opinion on certain individuals/institutions/products and services and then We decide.

But, with arrival of social networks, its much easier to capture such information from Social Analytics tools.

In my view, Qualitative intelligence is lot more applicable in relationships whereas the numerical intelligence is applicable in transactions. What do we mean by relationships and transactions?

I remember reading the following saying few years go...

"You focus on transactions. Relationships will not grow.

 You focus on Relationships. Transactions will grow naturally".

Unfortunately, with intense competition and scarcity for time, everything is a transaction now. The responses are almost instantaneous and the relationships are volatile, as choices are too many.

Then, When do we really have relationships?. I think Relationships are a must-have in long-term associations...or a series of short-term engagements. CMO team approaches relationships from the second perspective – series of short-term engagements.

In that context, I see social analytics are lot more relevant in relationship-centric environments such as

- Measuring customer feedback in services' firms Offshore Delivery centers

  (I recently gave a survey to my car dealer on their recent car service.  They asked me to force fit my rating into only three categories.    For example, the service executive asked "Do you want to us rate as Excellent, Good, Bad?"    I said "Average". I explained the reasons for the same opinion.   Unfortunately, they couldn't complete their survey, because their system expects only one of the three above mentioned ratings!.  That's crazy!. I could still force fit my survey rating. But, it would mean the auto dealer will lose the value of my feedback. That's exactly the Qualitative intelligence I am referring to).

- Measuring Employee Performance for Leadership roles (Largely deals with perceptions)

- Measuring the perception of say, a real estate firm, based on its past deliveries/customer services (again perception driven), before somebody makes a huge investment

In all these scenarios, stakes are high and data/information is scarce while decision making.

In all these examples, I am not saying Quantitative metrics doesn't matter. But, Qualitative information weighs a lot more, which is often overlooked.  In fact, Qualitative intelligence with corresponding quantitative metrics, it could be a winner metric all the way!

In some of the scenarios, Social analytics is also used to compute the impact in short-term transactions such as measuring the impact of time-bound marketing campaigns (internal/external).

Its very valid, but using social analytics in relationship management will create greater impact than transactional scenarios.

Today, Social Analytics is all about Marketing because that's where it gets funded and largely public data focused such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.  This is required. But, let's not get skewed that public social is the only social.  

There is good amount of social activity happens in Intranets (beyond Twitter, Facebook, etc.). There is good amount of social activity happens in non-digital world as well (Phone, In-person meetings, word-of-mouth opinions)

If we depend and derive our opinions based only on pure-play social analytics that monitors public facing sites,  We should also be aware of their boundaries. And there are tons of opportunities to employ social analytics in lots of business and social scenarios.

Insights from Social Analytics should ultimately help us to improve our relationship management actions!.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Social Engineering in Action - by LinkedIn!

Am not a big fan of Social Networking sites. Have ranted about my perspectives on famous social networking sites in my earlier posts. But, a recent initiative by LinkedIn really got my attention. Would like to share my observations on this initiative and some of the key take aways in this post.

In all my previous companies, the HR department typically chases employees every six months to update their individual skill sets and certifications. This information is used by Resource Managers to identify the best people required for the upcoming business opportunity, be it consulting or application development or system integration. Obviously the HR initiative falls flat consistenly with meagre employee engagement resulting in incomplete / inaccurate data.

Then IT department changes the look and feel of those competency management tools and releases a simplified new version to appeal to its employees. Assuming employees would embrace the new system, there would be new set of internal marketing / evangelization undertaken within the company. Guess What?. The pursuit falls flat again with discouraging results!.

The reason for failure is simple. Employees don't see value in return for submitting their individual skill sets/expertise/certifications.  There are no organizational incentives that compliments the IT systems to encourage the employees to submit their individual information.

LinkedIn has solved this very issue in capturing the skills data for individuals who have registered their profile with LinkedIn.  This blog post is all about the idea LinkedIn has applied in achieving decent results.

If you have been a observer of LinkedIn in the last few years, you must have seen the company morphing itself from a Professional Networking solutions provider to a Social Job Portal. Nothing wrong with that!. Its the business model that LinkedIn has adopted. Its definitely better than a business model that is completely dependent on pure-play advertising!.

Guided by its business model, LinkedIn was pestering me to provide details on my skills sets for quite sometime.  It sent me email reminders. It tried to influence me that providing details would help me to land great opportunities!.  Of course, I didn't budge!. and LinkedIn also gave up after few weeks.

Now during last week, I received about 10 emails from LinkedIn stating that one of my ex-colleague has endorsed my skills in several areas.  I received one email per skill set that is endorsed by my connection. What an Idea?

LinkedIn has cleverly applied the idea of nudging my connections to endorse my skill sets. And it really worked!.  Have also started receiving periodic emails from LinkedIn stating various conenctions of mine endorsing me in different skill areas.   Whenever a connection of mine visits my profile, LinkedIn asks the question to them if they would like to endorse me in a variety of skills areas.  If they are interested, they could endorse it and the number of endorsements appear in my profile.

 A very complex challenge that enterprises have been struggling to tackle for a long time has been solved by a very simple social idea.

The key observations that I derive out of this idea are:

- Your social connections may know little more than what you think they know about you. Of course, some of these could be mere perceptions or inaccurate information.   But, Please note having some data with less accuracy is always better than having no data at all (like the HR department example)

- By having connections endorsing your skills, LinkedIn has pulled the right levers in the interest of its business model.    It had an insight that connections would have some knowledge about an individual's skill sets.

  It also had an insight that connections would be willing to help the individual by doing the simple act of endorsements.   By helping the individual, the connections also help LinkedIn to gather more data that would be useful in its job / candidate matching.

- The unintended side-effect is that the individual may feel happy about the endorsements and may also like the connections who did the endorsement.    This could nudge the individual to renew their connections and reopen the communications with the people who have endorsed.

- Above all, the intiative helps to generate 'more' data that is decent and useful in a business and social context.   It helps to keep the system 'live' and 'fluid'.
[Would also like to add another example here by LinkedIn itself. In initial years,when somebody registers their profile with the site, it would ask certain set of information under pre-defined categories. And it would also let the user know how much percent the profile is complete with information. (e.g. 80% or 70%).  Letting the user know and indicating the completeness would potentially nudge the user to provide more information and make it complete. Pls note here the user is influenced to provide information in favor of LinkedIn's business. But the individual perceives its towards the benefits of his own interests.  Initially when I created the profile, I made it 100% complete. Now if I look at my profile again, it says 90% complete. I was wondering why?. Because, LinkedIn wants my resume also to be uploaded to make it 100%. Isn't that a great idea?. If I am a novice user, I would certainly upload my resume and make it complete. Unfortunately for LinkedIn, am not!. :-)]

This is a classic case of Social Engineering, where you are subtly nudged to do certain things in favor of an individual or a business, without major effort.
Am sure We are going to see lot more examples not just from LinkedIn but from other leading companies in near future!.