Why Henry Ford Would Want You to Podcast

By Ethan Yarbrough posted 12-27-2010 18:35


UPDATE: Thanks to what I can only assume is the magic of Google alerts, Paolo Tosolini contacted me after seeing this post. He wanted to share this Microsoft white paper reviewing the ROI of Building a Company-wide, Video Podcasting Portal Using Microsoft SharePoint 2010. Thanks, Paolo! Now I wonder if I'll hear from Henry Ford...

Enterprise 2.0 and Three Key Business Drivers

As you know, business leaders are driven by three primary goals: to increase revenues, to decrease costs and to improve customer service.

There are other goals, but these are the balance sheet issues that span from era to era. And these are the three hurdles that, in my experience, innovations in business management need to clear. Henry Ford’s introduction of the assembly line in his automobile plants is a classic example. The equipment needed to build a factory is not cheap, but the savings available by streamlining production and the higher revenues available by being able to produce more saleable product made the investment in the equipment worthwhile.

We are many generations past the debate over whether or not to use assembly lines in the production of automobiles and other heavy equipment. Nonetheless, we are involved in our own “should we or shouldn’t we” debate about introducing new technology into our modern production environments.

Should we invest in Enterprise 2.0 technology or not? And it comes down to the same questions Henry Ford had to answer: does the technology help us reduce operating costs? Does it help us increase revenues? Does it help us serve our existing customers better than we otherwise could?

We’re all learning how to answer those questions in favor of Enterprise 2.0. There is ample evidence that, done right, Enterprise 2.0 can benefit the company in these three areas of the balance sheet.

Corporate Training: Better ROI Through Enterprise 2.0

As just one example, I can introduce the idea of corporate training. Regardless of the industry you’re in, training your employees is a vital element of your success. Training new employees in the skills they need when they join your company. Training veteran employees in advances, evolutions and changes in technology or techniques so they can remain relevant and continually improve their ability to serve your customers.

Training is an expensive proposition. You have to dedicate physical space to it. You have to pay the fee or salary of the trainer. You often have to transport employees from one place to another at your expense. And even if employee transportation costs aren’t a concern, it’s still true that time employees spend in your training facility is often time during which they are not producing for your company. So it’s expensive time, even if it is necessary.

But here Enterprise 2.0 can help. I’m particularly interested in how video can help address training needs in a company and deliver financial benefit by reducing the overall cost of transferring knowledge. There will always be the need for some training to occur in person with a professional, certified trainer at the helm. But user-generated video now provides another alternative that can be put to use to aid peer-to-peer training efforts.

Thumbnail Case Study: Microsoft Academy Mobile

My favorite example of this approach is Microsoft’s Academy Mobile podcasting platform. Paolo Tosolini, whom I know through the Seattle chapter of the Social Media Club, was instrumental in launching and evangelizing Academy Mobile within Microsoft. Paolo describes it as a “YouTube for the enterprise”. Academy Mobile is built on a SharePoint platform and utilizes the SharePoint Podcasting Kit. Its benefit, to hear Paolo tell it, is that it puts the authority for both the creation and the evaluation of content into the hands of the employees. Employees can easily produce their own video content using Flip cameras and even record audio podcasts over the phone. Then they can rate content which helps the best and most useful content rise to the top. The result of that is that there’s a greater likelihood that the content available will be current and relevant. Content produced by more traditional training methods can be relevant, but there will always be a lag time built in since the production of formal training is time consuming. Because employees can turn their cameras upon themselves wherever and whenever it strikes them to share an idea, Academy Mobile represents a much more immediate alternative that can be a dynamic supplement to more traditional training methods. And it can help employees make productive time out of hours that would otherwise be wasted. As an example of that, I’ll point you to Mike Ganotti, a Microsoft employee who started recording his thoughts on implementation and use of Microsoft technologies while he was driving from one customer visit to another throughout the southeastern region of the U.S.

He had to spend that time. He just figured out a way to use it to benefit his peers.

Within Academy Mobile there are thousands of videos produced by employees. The audience for those videos is other employees. And while the platform’s ability to help employees educate one another is enough to justify its existence, as far as I’m concerned, Paolo has pointed out another, unforeseen benefit that has emerged. At Microsoft, which we all know is a global company with a corporate headquarters and regional subsidiaries all over the world, there has always been communication flowing from corporate to the field. But now, with Academy Mobile, there is new communication flowing into corporate from the field.

Now the field tells corporate what is happening in the company.

Old Goals, New Tools

Social business practices are, on the whole, a bit messier than the orderly Henry Ford assembly lines. But in this new era, in which ideas are now the component pieces of our success, the tools that aid the flow of ideas from place to place deserve consideration. Henry Ford himself might approve of video podcasting if his business today was to improve the financial performance of his company by making more efficient ways for information to get from the people who have it to the people who need it.

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