Web sites vs. beer – guess who wins?

24 09 2009

It’s time for an update.  Vacations and a flurry of event activity has gobbled up most of my time recently.  And that’s a good thing!  Further pricing discussion will wait another few days while I write about the launch of a new idea that’s been hatching over the past few months.

SAP for Utilities 2009

This is a top-notch event.  This year I was lucky enough to be involved in the mechanics of a new extension of the event itself – a new, utility-centric collaboration and social networking community.  The event’s theme was “Collaboration Fuels Innovation”.  More specifically – cross-company collaboration. Nobody has to reinvent the wheel or solve the same problem twice if they work on common problems.

The event itself draws a very high level audience.  At the event itself, CxO’s, chief architects, and anyone involved in creating the next generation (pun intended) utility company all rub shoulders and share stories.

Utility companies (generation, transmission and distribution, retailers, and operators of all types) show up to talk about their plans for working with new demands in the marketplace as well as any new governmental mandates.

Our objective was to keep those conversations going beyond the event.  So, we created the UtilityCollaboration community.  The idea was first envisioned by the event organizer, Eventure Events.  I just helped figure out how to do it with them.

Face-to-face collaboration

The draw of most events is usually the people and relationships.  The content is great, and of course you’ll want to see it when you get back to work, but the breaks and receptions are equally valuable. 

Social networks are pretty much the same – the content is second to having the people there that you want to work with and track.  The problem with launching an online community at an event is that you have to compete with the face-to-face interactions that gather around the refreshment dispensaries.

It’s a double-edged sword.  The event is the best time to promote a new tool in the toolbox, but it’s also the worst time to train people on the tool itself.  No matter how sexy and cool a web site is, you’ll never compete with beer.

It’s like Stone Soup

In one of my keynote demos, I wanted to draw parallels between the story of Stone Soup and any social network.  Time was tight though, so all I got to say was that social networking software is just a tool.  The value comes from the people who participate.

The issue is that many utilities (and any process industry) have a “me second!” mentality.  Meaning “you go first, I’ll be right behind you.  Maybe.” 

It’s like another saying – “the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

We chose CubeTree as the infrastructure because it revolves around the concept of conversation and is fairly intuitive to use.  It also has a lot of depth to it and looks nothing like “that portal thing IT put together at work.”

Creating trust means having a walled garden specifically for the member companies.  Motivation comes from having “lighthouse” members (to adopt an SAP term) that can lead the way and show how the community works.

No conclusion yet…

The event was a great success overall.  We have looped the UtilityCollaboration community into the fabric of the event so that it hosts discussions, presentations, and helps promote further interaction around hot topics like smart grid or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), aging workforce, and enterprise asset management (EAM).

The community is growing daily and members are testing the waters.  We need to make a “there there” for members to feel it’s worthwhile.  While that means we need to help it along during the first portion of its life, we want to watch it grow up into a big strong community that’s mostly self-sufficient.

There are a lot of great brains and personalities in the community.  I’m hoping they stick around and make it a great party!



2 responses

24 09 2009

Hi Gregg, this sounds great. How do I sign up?

6 10 2009

Well, that’s a good question. We designed it initially for the attendees of the conference so they could continue their conversations. However, we do have people that want to bring in more of their co-workers (who did not attend), so we’re working out a plan to grow the community.

For now, you may want to wrestle one of your co-workers for an invitation! 🙂

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