From the Director
Information Development Productivity Trends or, How Can Social Technologies Buy Back Writing Time?
Each year, McKinsey & Company, a global management firm advises senior management about various industry trends, including trends in technology. I find it, therefore, useful each year to review the McKinsey trends reports for issues that may affect information development worldwide. In 2012, McKinsey published a report1 specifically discussing what they labeled social technologies, those technologies that enable people’s use of and devotion to social media. The trends they outline are interesting in their implications for information development.
McKinsey reports that 72% of companies use social technologies in some form to interact with customers. Most companies we work with through CIDM have Facebook and LinkedIn pages and a presence on YouTube. They collect information about their customers from these sources, as well as providing information to the customers. Innovative information development managers enlist staff writers to follow customer comments on company-oriented blogs and wikis to better understand their information needs. Some ask writers to take an active role by participating in the conversations with customers using social technologies. A few publish their technical content through wikis that solicit customer feedback.
At the 2012 Best Practices conference, we heard from Bob Lee, Symantec Corporation and others how they have used social technologies to address customer information needs by identifying and enhancing highly sought-after topics and then using blogs, wikis, and tweets to alert customers to the new content’s availability.
Despite the focus on social technologies to interact with customers among the 72%, however, McKinsey reports that few companies have fully reaped their benefits by deploying them internally.
“… the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) finds that twice as much potential value lies in using social tools to enhance communications, knowledge sharing, and collaboration within and across enterprises. MGI’s estimates suggest that by fully implementing social technologies, companies have an opportunity to raise the productivity of interaction workers—high-skill knowledge workers, including managers and professionals—by 20 to 25 percent.”
In their report, the MGI find four areas that could benefit from the use of social technologies internally:
- Reading and answering email
- Searching for and gathering information
- Communicating and collaborating internally
- Performing role-specific tasks
Consider their statistics: professionals, people they label “interaction workers,” people like information-development professionals, spend 28% of the work week writing and responding to email and 20% of the week looking for information or tracking down people who might know about something they need. By using social technology to help handle email or make it easier to find relevant information or people resources, interaction workers gain valuable time for real work. And, if they work in collaboration with fellow professionals, using social technologies, even more value can be generated through productivity gains.
Many of the companies that information developers work for have a high percentage of “interaction workers,” individuals whose work benefits from increased collaboration with other interaction workers.
Now, just what are interaction workers?
The McKinsey report defines them as follows:
“Interaction workers include professionals, managers, salespeople, and other business occupations that require complex interactions with other people, independent judgment, and access to information. They perform work that is not standardized, is difficult to automate, and often requires extensive education and training.”
The report differentiates interaction workers from transaction workers who process information and perform repetitive tasks that are easily automated and production workers who perform physical work to develop products. If your organization has had difficulty defining information developers as professional, exempt workers, you might want to refer to McKinsey’s definition of the interaction workers.
By using social media, interaction workers should be able to significantly decrease the amount of time spent on email, the amount of time spent searching for information, and the time spent finding the right people to collaborate with. For information developers, winning back writing time in a more collaborative working environment has obvious benefits. More time spent developing valuable and valued content produces more effective, efficient, and satisfied customers.
So—how might we use social technology to affect a 20-25 percent productivity gain?
First, we need to deploy social technologies effectively. That deployment must include unified and searchable databases of content, rather than content stored on desktops or in forms that are difficult to search. In the recent CIDM survey of companies reaping cost savings from implementing content management solutions, I learned that one major software and hardware developer cites the development of a centralized, accessible content management system as one of the key contributors to their immense information-development savings.
The McKinsey report considers email to be content traps, locked up on desktops and difficult, if not impossible, to search for important information. Emails also, by and large, represents one-to-one communication, rather than many-to-many. They advise moving about 30% of current exchanges that today rely primarily on email to social media so that the information exchanged is available to the entire team and easily available through search.
Of course, opening up such exchanges to social media requires a change in behavior from the “private” world of email. It requires trust
among peers and managers that the social media exchanges will be open. It requires opening information exchanges across the enterprise rather than restricted to functional silos. Such openness is not always easy or welcome when the silos are in competition with one another.
Social technologies have the promise of making information more open and accessible. Information developers who move from content in individual folders on servers have found that topics stored in component content management systems with good metadata support content reuse. Similarly, information made easily available to knowledge professionals should result in a richer information environment that benefits both internal productivity and external customer service.
By deploying well-designed social technologies to support its interaction workers, organizations can make significant productivity gains among their most valuable and expensive workers. By fostering collaboration among such workers, organizations gain in innovative design and robust solutions that support products, brands, and customers.
The analogy with Facebook is apt. What if you could interact with colleagues across your enterprise and gain the information and knowledge you need to be successful in your work in the same way that you interact with friends through Facebook?
Although the McKinsey report makes a strong case for a strong collaborative environment with information disseminated through social technologies, the authors also caution that the changes required are not technical. As we have certainly learned in the deployment of content management systems, simply buying new tools does not change the way our staff creates and reuses content. New practices and processes must be instituted, and with them comes culture change.
The McKinsey report concludes
“To reap the full benefit of social technologies, organizations must transform their structures, processes, and cultures: they will need to become more open and nonhierarchical and to create a culture of trust. Ultimately, the power of social technologies hinges on the full and enthusiastic participation of employees who are not afraid to share their thoughts and trust that their contributions will be respected. Creating these conditions will be far more challenging than implementing the technologies themselves.”