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Co-Innovation, Collaboration and Social Networks

This is the first blog post for me in 2011 and I’m pleasantly surprised that I even made it happen in the first month of the year! This is probably a good thing as we have at least three projects forming up in the beginning of Q1 that are already requiring a lot of attention and will invariably reduce my blogging window. More details on these projects in a blog post forthcoming.

Today’s post is meant to draw attention to a recent article I wrote now featured on SDN. A few things prompted its creation. This has been a subject on my mind for quite sometime now, as it seems not more than a few days pass before someone asks me about how we manage collaborations in COIL. What tools do we use, how do we use them and are there any you would recommend? Avoid? I also get asked the same sort of questions about social networking. Does COIL have a Facebook page? Do you Twitter about projects?  All legitimate questions asked by friends, colleagues and partners.

Since I also ask the same questions with respect to thinking about COIL matters and how this lab serves to enable co-innovation, it lead me to conduct a bit of research in an effort to try and understand just what the intersections looked like between collaboration, social networks and innovation, and to do so within the context of how our lab enables ecosystem-based co-innovation. My additional motivation for all of this is that the questions are going to come at me again on January 14th where I will be particpating in a panel discussion at a Social Networking Conference being held at Santa Clara University.

I wanted to explore it in more depth to not only understand more about the platforms and tools designed to make collaborations more efficient but to understand the tools within the context of how individuals and groups work together. You might find the most amazing, feature-rich collaboration software tool that seems perfect to help your team work together to successfully complete a project, but if other work flows or priorities outside of the project adversely influence the behavior of even one individual on the team from using the software as the team expects, then does your assessment of the tool’s worth change?

I found hundreds of blog posts and trade articles written in 2010 covering social networking. Most focused on the tools and how they were being used to augment outbound marketing campaigns. When I explored the topic of social networks across numerous academic journals, there is not much research yet looking at how these tools are affecting the firm’s ability to innovate. The examination of social networks in business pre-dates the telephone let alone the Internet, so the emphasis of the research is organizational theory and management from the perspective of sociologists, economists and strategy researchers.  While I would have liked to have found more published, empirical research on the topic, what I did find certainly helped to temper all of the hype and exhuberance around “everything social”. 

The older studies are insightful and I think that a few of the more hyped up articles I did encounter could have been better had the authors taken the time to go back and look at some of the social network analysis that has been done over the years.  All of these tools and platforms are just new transport mechanisms accelerating our ability to perform one-to-many and many-to-many communications more quickly and more effectively, but in the end you still have to fall back upon the same fundamentals of knowing your audience and community and in an attention economy, you need to figure out how to use these networks to give attention before ever expecting to get it.

COIL offers an aggregate of resources to enable co-innovation; a robust IT infrastsructure, its own IP framework, project management and operations management. It relies upon an established and growing, boundary spanning network in order to broker knowledge and to connect co-innovation project teams to the right subject matter experts inside and outside of SAP. We do this quite well but we are intent to further explore how to broaden and deepen these networks through using the right social networking tools.  Additionally we want to unlock the opportunity to further accelerate and streamline co-innovation with optimal use of the right collaboration tools.

We’ve already started to evolve a set of best practices for both and 2011 should be another year of discovery as we refine and apply the best of what we learned last year as well as to take advantage of the new things that we can count on to continue to emerge.

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  • More people have told me since I wrote the article about how it maddens them to bounce around trying to corral project communications. For me personally I no longer want to manage contract redlines over email- one version should stay securely parked somewhere on line and worked to completion. Any one else finding it tough to collab with collab tools?