This is the next interview in the continuing series which is featured here “first” in the Canadian IT Managers (CIM) forum.

Sean O'DriscollIn this blog series, we talk with Sean O'Driscoll: Global Senior Director for CSS Community and MVP Worldwide, Microsoft Corporation.

We started our chat with Sean on Friday where I profiled Sean’s background. We continue our discussion with Sean…

Stephen: Provide your predictions of future trends and their implications/opportunities?

Sean:

Trend 1: Communities

Implication/opportunities:

In some ways, the implications are the other 3 trends below. As I said before, I think the first key concept to accept is that this is not a “fad” – it is not going to disappear. The web didn’t create the concept of communities or the need for them, but it has accelerated them dramatically and made them infinitely more discoverable and accessible. This topic of accessibility is interesting. The relative anonymity of communities enables people to participate in ways they wouldn’t within physical communities. On the whole, I think this is good. There is a problem side of this too (“trolls” and “flame warriors”), but on the whole I think the more even playing field for thought leadership is good for everyone. These communities will become ever more global in scope and for companies that are successful in tuning their listening systems to these communities, they will realize significant efficiencies. Ultimately, the opportunity here is in the “listening.” Your users are going to talk about you, your products, your policies, your decisions and your licensing, etc., with or without you. You really don’t get to decide this. More importantly, you don’t get to control it – in fact I think there would be an inverse relationship between your level of control and the effort you put in trying to control communities. To be successful, (as a manufacturer or service provider or whatever your business), you have to become a participant in your own communities – not a controller. This is counter intuitive for many organizations, but in my mind a clear requirement.

Trend 2: Social Networking blends online/offline

Implication/opportunities:

This is already happening and happening faster every day. What will be fascinating to see is what sticks and which have successful business models. There are those who historically thought of community in very traditional sociological ways – ways that had some physical/offline construct. Over the past decade, this notion has been challenged by the emergence of online communities and the ability for people to develop very personal relationships online. I’m not talking about dating services here, but about real person to person, many to many connections about issues and topics that are very “personal” to people. The anonymity contributed to this and without question there are some dangers in this area we must be extremely vigilant about. The arrival of mobile devices, location based services and omnipresent broadband/wireless really change the game for how people interact with each other. Howard Rheingold has done some great work in this area I think are worth reading for those interested: “Smart Mobs” and “The Virtual Community.” Online communities can quickly transcend to offline connections through these devices and services that enable people to find and connect very quickly with others they “know” or who have been “tagged” by people they know.

Trend 3: Corporate transparency

Implication/opportunities:

The implications are huge, but again, the trend is pretty clear. This is another really tough area.  I’m sure many employers are nervous about employee blogging. At Microsoft, we’ve really embraced blogging…hundreds (if not thousands) of Microsoft employees are blogging. They are talking about their work, about the company, about the technology, etc. Employers will be nervous about this openness. They will worry about legal, liability, privacy, intellectual property, competitor intelligence, etc. But in the end, I think a choice has to be made and I’d like to see the choice made from the statement: “Why not be more transparent?” vs. “Why be transparent?”  Again, the fundamental truth is that users will talk about you no matter what you do, so go engage – join the discussion. Along these lines, one of the most interesting things we’ve done is Channel 9 (http://channel9.msdn.com/). Check out the readme.txt on channel 9 at http://channel9.msdn.com/about.aspx and I think your readers will get an idea of what I mean about this corporate transparency. The other element of this that I really like is the opportunity to humanize your company. What most people know about you is learned from formal communication (web site, documentation, PR, etc, etc). This isn’t bad, it’s just a very singular and structured way to communicate that embodies certain norms. Transparency gives a company a new avenue to personalize and transmit something different about its people. Again, take Microsoft as an example. Think about the kind of communication you expect from Microsoft, and then go read the Channel 9 readme.txt. I’d love to hear initial reactions.

Trend 4: Consumer empowerment

Implication/opportunities:

We will continue to see a proliferation and democratization of information and access to peer expertise - across every topic, language, culture, product, service and opinion. In the end, I think this is the critical change when it comes to businesses today. The consumer will have more knowledge as part of their decision process than ever before. They will be in the driver’s seat. This is a very different supply chain than the traditional one most of us are used to, and it has big implications for how companies organize and go to market. Personally, I think this will impact almost every industry in dramatic ways and it’s an exciting time to be part of that evolution.

These trends will also put a lot more “noise” into the system and we will ebb and flow in and out of information overload, but I am more of an economist than a technologist, and the economist in me believes the overall value equation will go up dramatically and the “noise,” while always present, will get managed to the fringes.

Stephen: Sean, how can we further connect with you and your ideas?

Sean: That’s a great question…how would you like me to? I’m happy to participate here in your community if your readers are interested. Perhaps a podcast or chat? You’re also welcome to share my contact info with your readers – it would be fun to read their thoughts on this interview. I know I learn more about communities every day, so I certainly welcome any new insights.

Stephen--Closing Comment: Sean, we thank you for sharing your time with us and we wish you continued success for the future.

Sean: My pleasure, I love to talk to people about this topic and I’m particularly interested in the social dynamics and behaviors of communities, so perhaps this was a little different take on the topic than usual.
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I also encourage you to share your thoughts here on these interviews or send me an e-mail at sibaraki@cips.ca.
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Thank you,
Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P.