Enterprise 2.0 the Indian Way

by Andrew McAfee on April 7, 2011

On my recent trip to India (post here, pictures here and here) I got to sit down with Ashok Krish and his team. Ashok is the head of the Web 2.0 Innovation Lab at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Among his many other responsibilities, Ashok has been one of the point people for Enterprise 2.0 within the company. At a services firm of 150,000 people that’s growing like a weed, knowledge management is a massive challenge. A more optimistic way to say the same thing is that at such a firm, improving employees’ ability to find the expertise and information they need to do their jobs better would bring large benefits.

Ashok told me that he started trying to make progress in this area by rolling out, enterprise-wide, a tool that would let people ask and answer questions. As I’ve written, I like this approach a lot. It fulfills an important function not well supported by previous technologies, and it’s been shown to work by E2.0 pioneers like Euan Semple at the BBC (who I wrote about in my book).

Some might think that this approach is insufficiently targeted at a real business need. I completely disagree. The need was perfectly articulated a while back by HP’s then-CEO Lew Platt: “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.”

As I listened to the TCS Lab team talk about how they went about their work, I heard a lot of good ideas. They skipped the constrained pilot and went enterprise-wide right away. They built in simple mechanisms to let people give feedback and praise, and signal especially helpful answers. This adds structure over time to the mass of information, and also gives people incentive to participate and be helpful to their colleagues.

This incentive is not ‘hard’ at TCS; a person’s scores and reputation in the Q&A environment are not directly tied to her compensation or performance review. Instead, they’re a lot closer to the incentives to be good at a multiplayer online game — mastery made visible, reputation within a community, position on top of a ‘leader board,’ and so on. TCS also made the smart move not to limit questions and answers to work topics; as they were showing me the live system I saw more than a couple questions about cricket.

So I liked what I saw, but I still didn’t know what to expect. TCS employees are busy people who are supposed to be putting in billable time on client projects, not answering strangers’ questions. So I asked “What happened after you went live?” with a bit of trepidation. I didn’t know if I’d hear back “We built it, but no one came,” or “There’s a small core of people who use it a lot, but we’re still waiting for it to catch on more broadly.”

“We had so much traffic that we crashed the server after a few months and had to get a bigger one” is how Ashok actually answered the question. He said that the system had become extremely popular at TCS, and that most employees now used it. He had about 20 of his team in the room with us, so I asked for a quick show of hands: how many of them had used the Q&A system themselves? All the hands in the room immediately went up, and there was a general impression that a dumb question had just been asked.

Now, in some important ways TCS is pretty well positioned to succeed with Enterprise 2.0. It’s full of younger workers – digital natives – who are natural technophiles. Most of them write code for a living, after all. So if a well-designed 2.0 tool comes along to help them collaborate and interact with their peers, they might be expected to jump on it. I want to stress, though, that they’re compensated and promoted by being billable at work, not by being good citizens of the enterprise. So they could also be expected to ignore it, unless it were scratching some itch of theirs.

It clearly is. It’s meeting TCS people’s need to get questions answered and their desire to be helpful to others. It’s also bringing them pleasure when they see themselves atop a leader board, and activating their competitive juices when someone knocks them out of the top spot. And it’s showing the world of TCS what they’re good at, and expertise demonstration matters to people even when is not directly tied to a paycheck. I heard that TCSers frequently responded to questions in areas that had nothing to do with their current job titles or assumed expertise.

So I’m left wondering: what are the good reasons, if any, not to do try something like this in every enterprise? Are there legitimate reasons to hold back from trying to replicate TCS’s successes? I’m struggling to come up with any. The TCS team had no horror stories to share with me – no instances where the Q&A system had been badly abused —  and as I’ve written I have less and less patience for arguments against E2.0 based on vague ‘security’ concerns. If the US Intelligence community thinks the benefits of more information sharing outweigh the risks, so should most other organizations.

The more I learn about Enterprise 2.0, the more inclined I am to encourage companies to throw caution to the wind: buy (or build) some well-designed lightweight tools that take advantage of emergence and game mechanics, find a few leaders willing to lead by example, and go live. Do you find this advice too cavalier? Is my high-level plan missing any critical steps? Leave a comment, please, and let us know.

  • http://twitter.com/Satts Satyaprakash B

    Andy

    One of the critical steps that helped us achieve success is we adopted perpetual beta model for development of the platforms. Our teams were constantly monitoring the feedback, functionality requests ; ensuring that there was a quick closure and feeding it back to the system for people to see.

    We also had a very good internal branding and communication exercise months before the launch of the platforms. This built crescendo and got the audience excited.

  • http://www.jmorganmarketing.com jacobmorgan

    Hi Andrew,

    I’ve put together a series of in depth case studies around enterprise collaboration thus far including the federal govenment, intuit, oce, vistaprint, and penn state university. What I found interesting is that every single organization had a different way of approaching enterprise 2.0. Of course every enterprise wants to see the success that TCS is having, I don’t think that’s the right question. The question is can they? Now I obviously don’t know the details of what TCS is doing but two examples you mentioned in your book, BOH and Intellipedia are now being called large enterprise collaboration failures, although the proper term should probably be “obstacles” as these organizations are continuing down the enterprise 2.0 journey.

    Do you have some more information on what TCS is using, how much they spent on the platform, what the operational/financial impact is, if they developed a strategy, etc? I’d love to hear more about they did. In fact if TCS is up for it, I’d love to write a case study up about them that answers all of these questions.

  • http://twitter.com/cmsreport Bryan Ruby

    Andy, I don’t find your advice cavalier is at all. Instead, I think it is cavalier for decision makers to be so over cautious that they kill the project simply because it is out of their comfort zone. Haven’t we all seen promising Enterprise 2.0 projects simply die because someone at the top was worried about not having enough controls in place? Or worse the controls on such projects became so tight that it choked any benefit the Enterprise 2.0 tools would have had in the first place. I think for true collaboration to succeed you have to accept the risk of failure as well as embrace the willingness to learn and adapt.

  • VSR

    For E2.0 initiaitves to be successful, ‘Lead by example’ is the key. Not sure how many CXOs/Sr. Leaders in TCS have been participating in this E2.0 platform. Is this platform adding business value and help bringing innovation? Are the employees influencing management decisions. Certainly this is great and hygenie initiative in today’s business world.

    In general Organizations are not able to best leverage the strutural data (BI/Analytics), now leveraging this 80% of unstructured data captured through E2.0 for improving business performance, customer delight, employee delight is a major challenge!

    In the past too most of the Knowledge Management (KM) iniatives in many organizations failed due to lack of executive sponsorship. ofcourse E2.0 is beyond KM. I agree with the fact that paycheck is not the only ‘Motivation Boosting’ factor. But, curious to know whether employee recognition for active participation in E2.0 in TCS has become a system or still yet to mature?

    VSR
    Hyderabad, India
    Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/vsr111
    Blog : http://vsr-blog.blogspot.com/
    SlideShare: http://www.slideshare.net/vsr0001

  • Seth Young23

    This would be great advice for healthcare to follow given our current initiative to improve quality by encouraging employees to question the status quo of care processes.

  • T_krishna_kumar

    These tools will be definitely useful in environments whereever there is a convergence of lots of skills to create something – R&D or in areas where there is Cult kind of following (technology cult that exists like – SAP, Open Source, Cloud etc) .

    Moreover sharing different experiences help to get more mature solutions for the user community in the next solution they build.

    The IT industry definitely has all the above ingredients to make these initiatives a success (Surprising only TCS is doing it) and am not surprised that the leadership in the usage is emanating from here.

    But in the same breath it is tough to imagine why in Automobiles, the Manufacturing and Assembly guys cannot contribute to the R&D thinking that is going on for new models. Here too there is convergence of technology and experience exists. But What is missing is – these become exclusive domains and information is not shared openly. It is definitely possible to leverage and get participation – but how do you build the trust into that is the moot question.

  • http://twitter.com/mekalav mekalav

    Good one Andrew,What is not clear is it mandate that’s set from the top that this tool has to be used?or has it genuinely generated lots of enthusiasm among the employees?Fundamentals of Knowledge Management systems is finding information in a easy way and also reuse the existing artifacts i.e code,documents or marketing materials etc.Is there an Incentive towards contribution?

  • http://twitter.com/GladwynLewis Gladwyn Lewis

     I’ve seen such implementations, and the massive changes in the work culture, style and most importantly speed and passion of both adoption and usage.  Very few companies yet are on the bandwagon, and especially now it’s like the budget allocated for this project or implementation is too high, I don’t care if this changes the way my business operates, blah blah. Managers in many organizations are too used to the silos around them, and hate the possibility of sharing information probably because it might make them accountable for not doing enough, or nothing at all!! 

  • Anonymous

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  • http://thesoftshops.com thesoftshops.com

    Everyone has his mind.

  • Social_App_Success

    In the TCS Q&A & similar case studies, it is important to answer following:
    1) Has the platform helped the company’s business in any way? Has this been measured in any form OR in the shere enthusiasm & excitement of being front runners in implementing a good looking, usable Enterprise2.0 platform, measuring the “success” of such “enterprise social” app has been forgotten?
    2) Considering the % of just-out-of-the-college young engineers present in the Indian IT companies like TCS (which is a large number), it will be worth to analyze whether such a Q&A platform is getting (ab)used as just a timepass, fun platform where 90%+ questions are about movies, actors, sports and other fun/non-work topics?
    3) Are the “Subject Matter Experts” actively participating in the platform OR is there any (lose/tight) governance in place to encourage such participation?
    4) Are such “popular” platforms proving to be a “productivity killer” for the company in any way? e.g. if majority of the content is related to “fun things” like movies etc.?
    I am not against such platforms, but would like to measure the “real success” of such platforms against above, or similar, parameters & data points rather than measuring (& concluding about) their success based on just a “discussion” with someone who him/herself has designed and developed the platform (marketing?)

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