Riding the Wave

Catching the wave
Image by: Eric Ziegler

Since a recent vacation to Virginia Beach, I have come to realize the similarities between the fun I had with my family and the approach I take in my current job.  While at the beach, I am not someone that just sits on the beach and soaks up the rays, but rather I go down to the water and hang in the water for hours on end, playing with the kids, body surfing and riding my body board. Over the years, as the kids have gotten older, they have shown more and more interest in riding the waves, just as dad does.  This year was a banner year (and I expect them to continue to enjoy riding the waves). The were more interested in riding the waves and trying to figure out which wave was best to ride.  

I encourage them a great deal - helping them in different ways so that they can really enjoy riding the waves rather than just getting frustrated. With my kids, I took the opportunity to teach them the tricks of the trade on how to catch a wave, teaching them how to body surf and body board.  I taught them how to pick the best wave to ride, which included teaching them how to tell if a wave approaching was good or not and then teaching them how to determine where the wave is going to break. 

As with anyone learning for the first time, they were not successful the first time (or the second or the third ...).  Every day as we played in the water, they were learning and getting better and better at figuring out how to "ride the wave".  And when they couldn't get it after several tries on their own, instead of having them get frustrated, I helped out by giving them a helpful push to get up to speed, or a loud shout "NOW!"

My job implementing Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) solutions and enterprise collaboration parallels my interactions with my kids.  What I find is that employees don't know how to "read the waves".   They are often interested in collaborating and using the E2.0 tools, but they don't know how, when, or which wave to jump on.   Not all E2.0 tools are meant for all business areas, just as every wave is not meant to be ridden.  That is why having someone consulting with different business areas are so important.  The businesses need to know how to start and when to start.  They need to have someone be patient with them, repeating what they are taught and providing that helpful push in the correct direction. Some businesses might be able to figure it out on their own, but the initial interactions is key. Teaching early and often will ensure they are successful.

It is important to remember that everyone is on a different learning curve.   For example, my son, the youngest, is able to understand what I say about the wave, and knows when to start swimming or paddling to catch the wave, but he is not strong enough, and requires that helping hand "push" to actually catch the wave.  Some businesses need that extra hand push to get started.   They require someone to say, "now" and then the extra push to make it real. But as they grow and learn and get stronger, they will be able to do it on their own.   And that is what my team is there for.  To provide them a helping hand, lending our expertise in helping to navigate which wave to ride.

Circles, lists and searches - Methods for using Google+ and Twitter

Image: Eric Ziegler

As a change of pace away from search engine optimization (I still have several posts on SEO), I thought I would jump into how I use Google+ and how it relates to how I use Twitter (yes I use Twitter and yes I do find that I gravitate to the better conversations in Google+ more than I use Twitter).  

I use both Google+ and Twitter in a very similar way.  For each tool, I follow many different people, and in fact I follow more people of Google+ then I have ever followed on Twitter.  But when you start to follow too many people on either tool, your main stream becomes a water fall, a fast moving stream or even a river.   There is no way you can keep up with the stream and digest it all.  To be honest, it makes my head spin sometimes.  So instead, I create circles / lists that I use to follow the main people that I am interested in following.   This is where I get great information from people I know and trust are going to provide great information.   Some circles/lists are based on topics, such as E2.0/Socbiz.  Other are just groups of witty people that have great things to say.  But the key is, both Twitter and Google+ provide the same type of mechanism to help you monitor the stream while maintaining you sanity.  

The other mechanisms I use on both tools is the search capabilities.  While the basic concepts on how I use search are slightly different, the end result is very similar and equally useful.   For Twitter I follow tags that are of interest to me - again E2.0/socbiz are my main tags.  for Google+, I use a boolean search string for topics of interest (e.g   e20 OR socbiz OR "enterprise 2.0" OR "social business" OR "E2.0").   I save both lists (in Google, your saved lists are under the explore icon on the left).  While I get a lot of great information that I don't see in my lists or circles, the other great thing about searches is that you find new people to follow.  I will typically add the new person to a secondary topic list / circle to monitor to see if the person provides good content and not too much spam (spam to good content ratio has to "feel" just right).  

What other tips or tricks do you use to gain value out of for Twitter or Google+?

Search in the Enterprise and HR Systems

SEO and HCM the start of a profile
Image: Eric Ziegler
Three weeks ago I started a series of blog posts about search engines in the enterprise.  My premise was that the search engines in the enterprise are not as good as the search engines in the internet.  I do have to say though, that this is most likely not completely the fault of the vendors that provide such tools, but more about the difference on how people create content for consumption on the internet vs. the enterprise.  This was the premise of my first post.  In the next set of posts, I started to propose that there are ways around the behaviors of employees for people on the internet and the search engines used in the enterprise could adapt to improve the search experience.  In my second post, I discussed how using the context of the employee can provide enterprise search engines a boost in providing improved search results. In my last blog post, I started to provide more details on what I mean by employee context by discussing connections of employees (e.g. following each other). I provided several ways connections can improve search results.  

In this blog post, I plan on discussing another part of how employee context can improve search results.  The Human Capital Management (HCM) profile is my focus for this blog post.  Companies have a wealth of profile information on each employee.  This profile information comes from the Human Resource or Human Capital Management (HCM) systems.  HCM systems contain data that captures who each employee works for and who each employee works with.  These systems also know what each employee's job title, where they are located (building, country, etc.) along with having the employees entire job history.   

HCM Connections : As discussed in my previous blog post, connections provide information that can improve search results. HCM systems provide many different types of connections.  The first connection is between employee and boss.  The second connection is the connection between peers on a team or within a department.   While the employee might not be following their boss or the people they work with, they still have connections with these people.  Bosses, employees and their peers all work together on projects, documents or presentations.   Using similar reasoning as the Directly Following example in my previous blog post, search results can be improved by these HR releated connections. The content created by a manager or by a peer should get bump in relevance because of the relationship between that employee and the person doing the search.

Location : Another piece of information that often comes from the HCM systems is the location of the person.  When I talk about location I mean, the country and city the person works.  I also mean where the office the person sits in, assuming they don't work from home.  If they work from home, this information is typically captured also.  Each of these locations can be used to improve the search results.  For example, if the employee is located in Belgium, and searches benefits information, search results should be returned in context, and not return a link to the Japanese benefits content.    Or if the person searches for what is being served for lunch today, the lunch menu for the company cafeteria that is closest to his building (if it is not actually in his building) should be the top result returned.  Again, search results in context.

While I highlight only two types of data from the HCM system, there is the potential for a log of other information that could be used to improve the search results for the employee.  Of course there are concerns that need to be addressed.  If there is personal information about the employee, there are privacy or security concerns.  But if careful planning occurs and the correct legal and security teams are consulted, the data from the HCM system can dramatically improve search results for each employee.

What other types of HCM data could be used to improve search engines in the enterprise?  What other types of connections can make search engines better?

Enterprise Search Failure - Connections

E2.0 Enterprise 2.0 Socbiz Social Business
Image: Eric Ziegler
How often do you hear someone say, "why doesn't our enterprise search work as well as Google search? Bing?" or "Why can't I find the content I want  to find." or "I can't believe our search engine sucks." or "Our enterprise has a very small fraction of the content that Google searches and I still can't find the content I am looking for." or "FIX IT!".

In my previous blog posts, I started a series of  posts about internal enterprise search and how it is not as good as internet search.  In my first post, I provided an overview of how internal social interactions can improve internal search engine results.  In my second post, I discussed how using the context of the employee can provide enterprise search engines a boost in providing improved search results.  As a definition for what I meant by employee context I proposed that employee context is made up of a wide variety of types of information, including HR system information, social profile information, social connections and social interactions.   In this blog post, I plan to discuss how the power of social connections can be used to improve search results within the enterprise.  

When I mention connections, I am referring to the idea that one employee "follows" another employee.  This following is similar to those external social networking sites such as facebook, twitter and google+.   But how can these connections between employees be used to improve search results?  Below are several illustrations of how connections can improve search results for each employee.  For each of the examples below, I am using the following base example to illustrate my point:  

Joe, an employee, follows five other employees and has 15 employees following him (Joe).  In addition, the five employees Joe is following, follow a combined 20 more people (some with multiple people following the same person).   Each of these connections (both direct and indirect) can play a key role in improving Joe's search results.  

Directly following:  Joe is directly following five other employees.  Content created, modified or interacted with (comments, likes, tagging, bookmarking, etc.) by these people has a higher importance to Joe then other employees.  Think about it, Joe is following these people for a reason.  So why is the content these people create, modify and interact with not given higher relevance when providing search results to Joe?

Directly being followed: Similar reasoning can be used for the content created by the 15 people following Joe, but it goes in reverse.   Joe does not realize that the 15 people are creating good content.   Joe is not following any of these people, but they are following Joe because he creates content that is related to ideas each of them are interested in.  Because of this, the content these people create has a higher chance of being valuable to Joe, he just doesn't know it.  But there is a caveat to this, Joe is not following these people, either because he has knowingly not followed these people or he has not discovered these people.   Because of this, the content created by these 15 employees should not receive as much of a relevance boost as content created by the direct followers.  

Indirectly Following: Again, similar reasoning can be used for the indirect followers.  Joe is following 5 people who are following a total of 20 people that Joe is not following.  Since Joe trusts and follows those 5 people, there is some merit and a higher chance that the content created by the 20 indirect employees will be of higher relevance and importance to Joe.  Because of this, the content created by these 20 employees should get a relevance boost in the search results. But just as the 15 employees that follow Joe, there is a caveat.   Joe is not following these people, either because he has knowingly not followed these people or he has not discovered these people.   Because of this the content created by these 20 employees should not receive as much of a relevance boost as content created by the direct followers.

With these improved relevance boosts for people direclty following, directing being followed and indirectly following, Joe searches on the term Java and receives results with an improved relevance boost for the 5 employees he is following, the 15 employees that are following him and the 20 indirect employees. In addition, the content from the 5 direct employees has the largest relevance boost, with the 15 employees following Joe and the 20 indirect employees he is following improving the relevance but not with as much of a boost in relevance.  

With these search engine algorithm improvements, the search results have just gotten tremendously improved, making searching for content a better experience for Joe and every other employee.  In future blog posts, I plan on continuing to discuss topics of how to improve internal enterprise search engine results. Future topics include reviewing how HR systems, employee profiles and social interactions can be used to improve search results.  So check back periodically to hear my thoughts on how enterprise search can be much better than it is today.