Technology potential in Facilities Management

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What if your machines could talk to you? What would they say?

Some time ago I worked for a company that provided preventative maintenance monitoring.  By measuring various things on mechanical and electrical equipment, they could predict that something was going to break before it happened.  I was fascinated by this.  They would measure vibration, heat, changes in voltage or amperage even analyse oil for particle contents.

However I believe there is now an opportunity to take this technology a step further.  Platforms like Arduino can measure, monitor and react to various types of data.  Think about building management for a second.  Hundreds of moving parts; fans, pumps, motors for lifts etc.  For a relatively low cost, you could setup sensors that collect information like heat, vibration and electrical signals.  Then react to certain conditions by sending an email to the building manager.  Or even better, an email to your maintenance contractor.  You could even trigger posts on your enterprise social network so the remedial work can be quickly delegated across your organisation.  Everyone from property managers to portfolio managers could get a real sense of the health an asset – without having to get costly reports or analysis done.  This video shows how it can be done with Salesforce Chatter and Arduino.

Its about having systems that ‘push’ information to the people that need to respond to them, rather than have employees constantly having to check up on the health of their services infrastructure.  I’m interested to know if anyone is doing this already.  It seems like a very exciting opportunity.

Are you in the business of creating new knowledge?

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There are many businesses that essential don’t actually make anything tangible.  What I mean is, they create and sell valuable knowledge.  Professional services, engineering, architecture and consulting are just a few.  When knowledge is your product, you can approach the way you ‘manufacture’ knowledge in an efficient way.  Enterprise social networking gives you the platform to do this.  Here’s how:

1. Finding subject matter experts

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Every company that sells knowledge has experts, they wouldn’t be in business without them.  So the key is often how do you get the insights from the experts in your firm and package it into your work for the client.  Traditionally you would just have to get to know everyone by talking to as many people as possible.  However a more efficient way is to be able to search by employee profiles for specific capabilities.  You can also search all existing conversations.  Some experts may have developed new capabilities but not necessarily updated their profile.  However with embedded use of enterprise social networking, the database of intellect naturally grows and becomes an powerful asset.

 

2. Existing work indexed and searchable

magnifyingKnowledge companies produce reports, whitepapers and presentations.  That is the tangible manifestation of their work.  When employees get into the habit of uploading their work, it is automatically indexed and searchable.  This is often very helpful when developing a proposal that outlines your capability.  Quickly getting all previous work, the insight from that work and identifying the author are critical steps to creating compelling, balanced proposals.

 

3. The conversations between static documents

conversationHaving a deep history of existing work and a network of experts is one thing.  But its the conversations that bring all these elements together.  An existing piece of work, on the surface, might not appear relevant to your current project.  However when you ask for help on your enterprise social network, the author of the work might have a different perspective.  Perhaps the existing piece of work can be re positioned or applied laterally to a different function or vertical.  Outside of key word searches and grouping work into topics, its the conversations (or insights) from your colleagues that truly creates value.  Value which would otherwise not be created at all.

 

In this video Gary Hamel talks about what the companies of the future will need to execute to remain competitive.  He believes (and I agree) that its not knowledge itself that is power, its the speed at which companies can create new knowledge, with an emphasis on the word “create”.  The challenge is getting as many employees as possible to transform their work practices to use enterprise social networking.  That, my friends, will not happen with traditional top-down strategic execution.  Here’s how it will happen.

Sending an email to more than 3 people? Set it free!

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Here is a simple rule to incorporate your enterprise social network (ESN) into your daily workflow.  Every time you are about to send an email to 3 or more people, post it on your ESN instead.

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You’ll not only reduce your inbox, but you’ll draw more conversation and collaboration on the topic.  You’ll probably draw insight from people you would have never thought to ask.

Conversation. The valuable white-space between task-specific work.

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If you look at what makes your work great, you’ll find its not the work itself.  Think about this for a minute.  Before you begin creating a piece of work (say a report, strategy, presentation etc), you’ll spend time talking about the topic to many different people.  Then at some point, you’ll go into your space and start doing the work on your own.  I propose that its the conversations right at the beginning which ultimately dictate the quality of the work.  Your ability to take different perspectives is critical to creating a high quality, balanced piece of work.

Corridor illustrating white space

Now, traditionally you are quite limited as to how many of these conversations you can have.  Demanding time frames mean you have to get started quickly.  Also, once you begin the work, you don’t have time to stop and have these face-to-face conversations either.  What if these conversations just happened without the loss of productive time?  What if you got into the habit of creating work in small chunks, so you could improve it as you build it, based on valuable input from these conversations.

Its a different way of working, but its proving to be the most efficient.  How many times have you seen a huge amount of work go into a report or strategy, only to see the assumptions were either wrong or had changed since the beginning of the project?  Wasting all that time and effort, only to produce something that is fundamentally redundant.

Be smart about your work.  Find out ways to get many perspectives into the work, not just at the beginning, but throughout the process.  Get creative about how to break up your big project into small chunks (in lean management: the power of small batches).  Find the white space.  Maybe you’re doing this already?  If so, I’d love to hear about it!

 

Getting employees to go the extra mile for you

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Engaging employees doesn’t need to be expensive.  You just need a way to ensure everyone has a voice.  I often hear CEO’s constantly trying to engage the workforce to ‘go the extra mile’.  Some companies spend lots of money sending their managers to elite business schools, in an effort to both up-skill and gain loyalty.  In some respects it works well – for those that are “chosen”.  But what does it to do for the rest of the employees?  Does it create something for them to aspire to?  Or does it create a dichotomy between “chosen” ones and the rest of the employee base?

3D image of brain sections

Everyone should have an impact on the way the company is run.  Enterprise Social Networking (ESN) creates an environment for this to happen efficiently, but still allow the control that publicly listed companies demand.  When given the right tools and environment, employees will create things they care about.  And go the extra mile for you, without monetary incentives or perks.  Its about tapping into the hidden talents.  Your business analyst might be able to build really great websites.  Your personal assistant may have a passion for graphic design.  Your engineers might have some brilliant ideas outside the scope of their current work.  ESN’s provide the transparency so employees can work on things they are passionate about.  As managers you begin to see people’s natural strengths and manage accordingly.

Surprisingly, a lot of employees don’t necessarily want to go to some elite business school.  They just want to do work that is satisfying and fulfilling.  You just need to let them!

Enterprise Social – a virtual Andon cord

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Toyota Andon CordOne of the most controversial aspects of Toyota’s Lean Manufacturing approach was the Andon cord.  Basically no matter who you were, you could pull the Andon cord and stop the production line.  The idea was that problems would get fixed quickly and eventually the line would be more efficient.  At first Toyota’s managers were adamant that this would be a disaster.  They thought it would destroy productivity. But what actually happened was quite the opposite.  It turns out that stopping the line is the most effective way to find and fix problems. The Andon cord brings many people together to improve a process. Yet despite Toyota’s success, many manufacturing companies still haven’t adopted the Andon cord (or some form of it).

But think for a minute about all the non-manufacturing types of work.  Strategy, sales, marketing, administration, etc etc.  In other words, knowledge work. For this type of work you can’t have a physical Andon cord, but you still need to ensure errors are identified early and continuously improved. Enterprise Social Networking platforms like Yammer and Chatter could be used as a way to alert everyone that something needs to be fixed.  For example, if a strategy is being rolled out, any employee could raise a question about it, challenge it or suggest an improvement.

Intuitively as a manager you would think that this would be unproductive or inefficient.  That’s what Toyota’s factory managers thought too.  Having a virtual andon cord in your business will create the behaviour of more inclusive decision making.  As a manager, if you know anyone can challenge your strategy, you certainly begin seeking more input before pulling the trigger.

I think many companies have a production first, innovation second mentality –  both for the physical activities as well as knowledge work.  It is fear that stops employees questioning a strategy or suggesting a better way. Fear that they might interfere with progress.  The line workers at Toyota probably felt the same fear before they first used the Andon cord.  What’s better: a flawed strategy that is efficiently executed and delivers little or no results or a sound strategy that has stood the test of the Andon cord that delivers sustained results?

Do you have an Andon cord (real or virtual) in your business?

Enterprise Social Networking in Australia

enterprise social google search trend
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Like the rest of the world, Australia seems to be following the strong trend towards using social media for internal communication in business.  Google Trends shows that since 2009 the search term “enterprise social” in Australia has climbed significantly and it appears this will continue into 2014.

Its understandable too.  Australian corporations suffer from the same communication problems their foreign counterparts.  Top down messages don’t filter down too far in the org chart or get distorted.  Strategic initiatives are agreed to and everyone nods, but in the trenches and you’ll find employees scoffing at the ‘new company direction’.  To quote Gary Hamel: change is belated, it is infrequent, it is convulsive…

Enterprise Social Networking can be a very effective levelling device.  It makes communication across the organisation lighting fast.  If rumours spread or the wrong message is conveyed, it can be fixed quickly.  The collective intelligence of the entire employee population can be used for good.  Most importantly, people can just get stuff done quicker!

All these benefits can only be realised if people adopt the platform.  The more traditional and conservative your organisation is, the harder adoption is going to be.  Your best option is to talk to someone who has lived and breathed implementing an ESN.  Even better, find someone who has done it in a traditional top-down managed company in Australia.  Find out what worked and what didn’t.  A lot of it is experimentation, but you can learn from others to get your organisation there faster.