Dennis D. McDonald (ddmcd@outlook.com) is an independent consultant located in Alexandria Virginia. His services and capabilities are described here. Application areas include project, program, and data management; market assessment, digital strategy, and program planning; change and content management; social media; and, technology adoption. Follow him on Google+. He also publishes on CTOvision.com and aNewDomain.

How Corporate RSS Supports Collaboration and Innovation

By Dennis D. McDonald

Check out corporate IT manager Jim MacLennan’s RSS: Underappreciated Web 2.0 in the Enterprise post. He describes what happens when IT projects and work groups that are using blogs for project communications are “RSS enabled.” He provides these examples:

  • One Supply Chain systems team informs us of process improvements in product development - nothing to do with IT, but interesting nonetheless
  • Another team is putting together ideas that will take some significant IT costs out - that’s a very active thread
  • The SAP application team is debating with the Basis team on the merits of a Unicode upgrade - and onlookers from Supply Chain Planning and Data Warehousing are noting dependencies on Unicode in their platforms

MacLennan points out that making project activities more visible via RSS feeds does place more pressure on managers to keep project blogs updated. He believes that the effort is worth it.

In an earlier blog post he discussed project management, blogging, RSS, and email:

I’ve had a couple of conversations now with folks who can only see blogs as yet another website I need to visit, more information overload to deal with. eMail is a mission-critical system for many companies, partially because people have learned to use it as an information aggregator. Only when folks see an RSS client in action do they really understand what’s going on; the blog/website is nothing, but collecting feeds from the 50 projects you want to keep tabs on, and seeing timely updates about them all in one place - that’s powerful, and that’s when they really “get it”.

In summary, these are some of the things he is finding:

  • RSS feeds make it easier for people to keep up with what a lot of different projects are up to.
  • This has led to better communication as well as innovation.
  • Email is still the most ingrained communication platform.
  • Upper management still expects PowerPoints for reporting purposes.

While enterprise social media evangelists may find little to surprise them here, it is not a “slam dunk” that all IT staff will have an immediate affinity for benefiting from the efficient information flow and improved collaboration and innovation potential that RSS supports. There’s still a lot of ignorance about using blogs for project support even within the IT community. It’s also questionable whether the initial positive impacts of project-level RSS feed availability could be easily replcated within a non-IT user community without additional effort.

Still, the communication events that MacLennan reports here might not have happened were easily subscribable and scannable RSS feeds not available. These events can be described in terms of fixed and variable costs, with costs being related to the act of creating and subscribing to a feed (Jim describes a list of available tools being used in his organization) and other costs being related to the number of feeds (projects) being scanned.

Simply put, a generally available RSS feed creation and subscription capability can increase the number of projects any one person can remain abreast of for the expenditure of a given unit of time — just as it can increase the total amount of time a person devotes overall to managing — and responding to — the monitored RSS feeds.

Granted, taking such a quantitative view does not tell the whole story about what might be gained by making RSS subscription features generally available across projects and the people they interact with. There’s no way to predict, for example, when an innovation or improvement will occur as a result of a communication that might not have otherwise taken place.

That’s a disadvantage of taking a “beancounter” approach to implementing social media within an organization. While you might be able to quantify the time, effort, and technology associated with impacted processes, you can’t necessarily predict when and where the benefits (such as innovations or new ides) will occur.

One should never ignore the cost element but don’t assume that it tells the whole picture. That’s why stories such as those told by MacLennan are so important. They describe examples of “where the rubber hits the road” in ways that are understandable to others in similar situations.

Such stories also are indicative (in my opinion) of why it makes sense to involve the corporate IT department in the planning and decisionmaking that goes into making collaboration and social media toolsets available — assuming the corporate IT department is willing to be involved. If there is anticipated value from cost-spreading and from the sharing of information, the implementation of an IT-supported sustainable and general infrastructure is key. 

  • Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald 

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