Luis Suarez of IBM — the 2.0 Adoption Council’s 2010 Internal Evangelist of the Year — mesmerizes the hapless interviewer. His enthusiasm for one of his favorite topics, life without email, bleeds into several records and information management-related disciplines — a fact he's only too happy to acknowledge and gleefully share with everyone.
Mimi Dionne: You joined IBM thirteen years ago. What’s your background in the company?
Luis Suarez: My background is in Knowledge Management. I’ve spent the past eight years dabbling in community building and collaboration, but only in the past three years has social software behind the firewall and social software evangelism become a full time job.
MD: How long have you known Susan Scrupski?
LS: Oh, for a few years. While I’ve practiced internal evangelism, I’ve also maintained a strong external presence for four or five years now. You know, we meet at E2.0 in Boston at least once face to face each year. We always get together with those thought leaders who attend and one evening Susan brought up the idea of the community. Her suggestion was to learn from what we’re all doing.
We said, “Yeah, absolutely.” Susan said to me, “Hey, want to be a part of it,” and I said, “Yeah, of course!” I’m proud to be a founding member. You know large enterprises have one or two reps each. Another colleague and myself, we share lessons learned, experiences, know-how, further insights and different collateral.
MD: What benefits have you derived from your relationship with the Council?
LS: It’s invaluable to have the opportunity to learn and share the same passion, especially with those from different companies. It’s all a learning experience with others. It’s great to know I’m not alone — that’s huge.
These small teams tapping into that network and the opportunity to rely on a wider network of people to share what you know is wonderful. For example, we do these Q&A. We have bold dialogues to move forward in a safe environment. We know exactly how each other feels and it’s helped us to build awareness for what we’re doing. From an award perspective, people inside my company expressed congratulations. They said, “Woah, we didn’t know you were doing this! And I said, “Yeah, I’ve been working on social software tools full time for three years!”
MD: Having listened to "This Week in Lotus" from 12.03.10, as you described your role in the IBM project, I’m struck by your description: it seems to be more of a custodian, working to get colleagues to know who they are and what connections they share. Is this a fair assessment?
LS: I don’t feel comfortable with the term “custodian”, me, I feel I am more of a connector, a facilitator. I help connect the dots. If a colleague is looking for an expert in some area, I encourage both to come out of their silos. My role is to ensure people understand key concepts like facilitated serendipity or they find experts.
I work for an email-driven company. My message is there’s a whole new life outside of your inbox. Engage. The way you have collaborated in the past is good. But let me show you better ways to become more eminent, to develop your personal brand, so when you really need help yourself, you can find them. We must work smarter, not necessarily harder.
MD: What do you feel most proud of in regards to the implementation?
LS: Recognition of the program. I share the work with my team. This has been my personal, private passion for several years, but to develop into a full time job — I feel very proud.
Nearly three years ago, I was only researching it in my own private time different ways of tackling some of the main inhibitors knowledge workers had on adopting widely social software tools. So I began telling my colleagues, if you want to work with me you will have to work with me outside of email. I showed people how. They thought I was completely crazy. Fast forward to today, people have reduced substantially the amount of emails they send and receive. I feel vindicated.
There are better ways of doing things and we’re all walking the talk. It’s always been an opportunity to find the best (social) tool for a particular task based on the context of that interaction with others. Email just doesn’t cut it any longer.
MD: I appreciate that you acknowledge the heritage of Knowledge Management for this project. What do you say to those in KM who shun the technical portion of a KM implementation as important?
LS: The message I want to send to them is you’re doing the same thing with a different name. Look, there are KM people and E2.0 people. E2.0 appears chaotic, unstructured, messy to Knowledge Management and E2.0 people just feel too uncomfortable with the word “management”. When KM came on board fifteen years ago, it was about people, technology and process.
We made the mistake of concentrating ONLY on technology. We’re repeating the same mistake today — only now the sole focus is on people. I say it’s the whole three things together. My message is: don’t fight, but blend. Then you have balance. THEN you have the real social business.
MD: Why is there a value judgment from the E2.0 evangelists that draws a line in the sand against those C-levels who don’t blog/microblog/tweet, etc.? It seems the evangelists say, “those who don’t get it…this social revolution is coming anyway, companies might as well embrace it, or they’ll be out of business in a few years.” Isn’t it too soon for such arguments?
LS: I think you’re right, it’s too soon to say that, but it’s about provoking the conversation and creating some kind of healthy controversy so we can guarantee this will be talked about eventually. We want people to use these tools, but you can convert only those who drink the water. It’s about finding the sweet spot for those people.
I can’t force a CEO to blog, but I can find other ways, find some other social behavior that resonates with them. I reverse mentor several executives. I say, “Tell me what you really like, not about business.” Those who love writing, I show them how to blog. I help them find their passion and share it across. For example, one of our VPs moved from the US to Shanghai, on assignment. She took her entire family. We know she likes writing, so to communicate with us, she decided to start a blog and tweet.
That openness is transparent. That’s inspiration at the C level, that’s facilitating an inspiration versus custodian. Here are the options, here’s how we get going.
MD: The E2.0 war cries seem to be, “shared knowledge is power!” and “jump the firewall!” In the short term is this a responsible approach from the evangelists? Is a better role for E2.0 evangelists picking and choosing what information is shared outside the company? Is this a stronger way to resonate with a CIO plagued with sleepless nights worrying about the E2.0 “anarchists” who may or may not respect corporate boundaries?
LS: Does the firewall have a place in interaction? Yes, protect and prevent. As more employees are going outside the firewall, the more the firewall will change in the next two to three years. Of course it will continue to protect intellectual capital and property that you drive revenue with. We all know there are levels of interactions. Share already.
Just because I’m not on FB, doesn’t mean I’m not using other tools. At the end of the day, what is my business objective? More happy customer base, more business profit, empowering your knowledge workers to take more control and share that responsibility to make a difference; to me, that’s what social software is all about. If your customers are on Facebook, then you need to be there, but if not, go beyond the echo chamber. If you don’t direct employees how to use tools effectively and wisely, there are some risks.
My company has guidelines — telling employees you’re more than welcome to use the tools, but here are the limitations. So far, colleagues have said, well, it’s all common sense, and I say, yes, of course it’s all common sense. Those social evangelists who say that the company needs to join the movement or you’re missing out, I say there is such a thing as social network fatigue. E2.0 pundits who deny that need to re-evaluate.
MD: Indeed, is the CIO role as interested in changing behaviors as it should be? Or is it a responsibility of the CSO?
LS: Yes, the CSO will need to be interested but should not be worried. Corporations have a false sense of controlling the message. Control is an illusion. Always has been… People will leak and share information regardless, if they would want to. Tech should not be blamed for that. The HR department should ask, “Why are our employees sharing what they shouldn’t? Do we trust our employees to be the professionals we thought we hired in the first place?”
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