Healthcare Organizations are All a-Twitter

May 6, 2009

Just a Tweet Away | Articles & Archives | Healthcare Informatics.

Key article in the May, 2009 Issue of Healthcare Informatics.

AxisPortals’s favorite passages:  

I don’t want them just to know what our strategic plan is or what our IT plan is.  People like to work with people, and so this is a mechanism of letting my personality show, along with what we’re trying to accomplish as a healthcare organization, and as an IT organization.–Will Weider, CIO Affinity Health System, and Ministry Health Care.


Some might argue that e-mail is sufficient for staying in touch with employees, and that social media is just another obligation for already busy executives, but Weider, who receives hundreds of e-mails every day, says he can better manage his time with sites like Twitter by more quickly sorting through messages.  By limiting posts and direct messages to 140 characters or fewer, the site forces users to communicate as efficiently as possible.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  Social media personalizes communication, and supports institutional growth and education.


Social Media Meets Main Street–Or Does It?

April 16, 2009

Don’t miss Robert Scoble’s great piece on how leading tech bloggers and tech gurus often utterly fail to communicate effectively with Main Street businesses.  Here’s his question, which is part lament: 

It’s to the point where I’m wondering if I’m missing something. Is anyone doing a good job of explaining how to bring a business into the modern age?  

AxisPortals suggests taking the time to read the ensuing comments, as well. There, Ken Camp proposes a provocative alternate take:

I’m not convinced every business needs or wants the web. It’s a tool and has value, but if the return on the value is minimal for a business doing well . . . the ROI/ROE may not be worth the investment to embrace social media.

Five minutes on Twitter means encountering scores of tweets pointing to web sites and blog posts about how to increase social media followers or how to transform a blog into a money making venture.    That can get to be a long five minutes.

In many respects, tech blogs and the tweets that relentlessly point to them form an enormous (and growing) echo chamber of tech-to-tech noise. There’s not much opportunity for a Main Street type business owner who is not interested in becoming the latest and greates tech guru to learn anything of specific value to his or her business enterprise.  Worse, the chatter can be confusing.  

It strikes me that to the extent that tech bloggers really aren’t connecting with business owners, this is true because tech bloggers deal in broad trends and issues. Conversely, how (or whether) a blog, a Facebook presence, or other embedded web interactivity can serve a given business is all about particulars.  

Exploring those particulars with a business owner, and guiding a given business toward building an overall IT profile that is effective,  economically feasible, and flexible enough to evolve along with the business requires rolling up the shirt sleeves and digging in.  It’s a matter of nitty gritty details. It’s a matter of practice.  

Often, too, it’s a matter of teaching.  

It can be difficult for tech leaders and trend setters who are wont to focus on a much bigger picture to manage this down and dirty teaching effectively. Imagine your favorite tech guru taking on the following teaching tasks: 

  • Defining Social Networking: Never mind that “Web 2.0” is a term so overused that many of us are loathe to invoke it yet again.  There are still plenty of folks who just don’t get it.  At all.  A person who wants to persuade a business to have a go at the thing will often have to begin with the basics, and then to cope with the inevitable fears and objections:  Won’t interactivity open my product up to criticism?  Won’t this all be terribly time consuming?  Won’t this entail giving away ideas and approaches that I should be selling?  Won’t my competition too easily be able to take my measure?  
  • Defining Blogging:  Yes, most folks have at least heard the term, but an incredible number of them still haven’t the faintest clue, really, about what a blog is or what one can be.  Even the bits and pieces that typically make up a blog will likely have to be explained.  Then comes the challenge of explaining and demonstrating that blogs can actually function in many different ways–practically as many as a person can dream up.  
  • Explaining Search Engines:  Again, everyone uses Google, but few grasp even the basics of how to get a site to show up in search results.  I’ve seen business owners spend hefty sums on web sites that are not only poorly organized and difficult to navigate, but also unlikely to yield desirable results in any popular search engine. Often, these sites are, at first glance, rather pretty.   Not many folks are really equipped to lift the hood and kick the tires, and that lack of technical knowledge makes them vulnerable to the allure of sweet little flash effects that ultimately can’t hide a paucity of content.  The secret?  A person really doesn’t have to be able to make heads or tails of the “neath layer” to make smart administrative decisions.  It’s enough to grasp what ought to happen when the name of the company or its chief operatives are entered into a search engine.  Still, even acquiring that basic end-user ease and confidence can require instruction.
  • Pushing Past Text-Based Understandings:  Not long ago, a business acquaintance who was working on developing a new website proudly informed me that, because he’d selected the basic “look” of his new site, he was essentially finished–well over half way home, he figured, and he couldn’t wait to be done. When I asked about the content and how it would jibe with the look he noted that not a shred of content had yet been developed.  In my experience, this colleague is fairly typical of business owners who are actually attempting to engage with today’s web.  In short, as these things go, his understanding is fairly advanced.  Notice, though, the difficulties.  First off, he’s thinking that a web site is the whole of the task, and that web presence is something that can be finished.  You create the look–just a container, really–and then you stick content inside of it, and then you publish the thing, pass the web address around, and that’s it.  I suggested that there was a good way to go yet, and explained that, unlike a print publication which is developed in toto and then distrubuted, web presence (of any sort) is never really done, and is constantly being distributed even as it’s in the process of being constantly developed.  Sounds simple, but that’s a great big new idea for lots of business owners, who are often deliriously happy just to have a reasonably sharp looking website up and running, and who often pay a pretty penny for sites that will be designed once, published once, and entirely forgotten about for a few years, when the whole process will begin again.
  • Halting the “Just Throw Money At It and It Will Be Okay” Phenomenon:  It’s all too easy for folks who are just looking to make money to take advantage of the technologically interested but overwhelmed.  It does seem to me that someone who is really interested in helping businesses discover how to thrive with today’s web tools has to begin by being ethical.  Not everybody really needs every single shiny new toy, and there are plenty of free and inexpensive tools that are well worth exploring.  The deeper cost of becoming a technologically sophisticated business–taking the time to explore these things first hand, to seek the support of more experienced users, and  to develop an approach that suits the business’s goals and culture–is intimidating.  It can seem easier to write a check.  Plenty of folks out there will take that check and leave the harder work undone.
  • And so on:  Working with a group of partners or a sole proprietor?  A former C-Suite type gone entreprenuer or a self-starter from the get go?  A family business or start up? Are there any tech savvy folks among the trusted employees, or no?  Has the owner historically managed his or her own web site?  What other kinds of advertising and marketing campaigns are or aren’t already underway?  Is there a dream of rapid growth, here, or a happily boutique mentality? How clearly defined are the product or service lines?  What kinds of networks (digital or otherwise) have already been established?  All of that really matters.   Which basics to teach and which services to champion depend on the answers to such questions, and no matter which direction proves best, sheparding a business into the technological present requires tact, patience, and a deep appreciation for what it means to be a beginner in this sphere.

There are plenty of folks out here who are, indeed, working hard to bring businesses  into the modern age. That’s the very service AxisPortals sells.  It’s fun and satisfying work, but in some essential ways, it’s not really a tech blog deliverable.  

(AxisPortals is, though, a huge fan of CommonCraft’s series of “In Plain English videos, which promote exactly the sort of learning that’s wanted here, and in delightfully approachable fashion.)

AxisPortals Aphorism:   Bridging the chasm between the Tech Bloggers and the Main Street Merchants requires remembering the very beginnings that Tech Gurus all too easily forget. 

A Study in Online Collaboration: Open Mosaic

April 2, 2009

Open Mosaic makes for an interesting study in the ways of collaboration. Earlier this evening, AxisPortals visited the site to add a tree.  The tree was all branches and leaves.  It wasn’t fruit bearing, and it had no background.

Less than five minutes later, the tree was dotted with apples,  and surrounded by a jaunty teal sky with its very own square yellow sun.  Grass and a hot pink and red flower in full bloom soon followed.  Who knows what’s next?  Before the evening is over, the tree could be part of an entire forest, or it could be entirely gone.

Watching the mosaic evolve reminds AxisPortals that digital collaboration with far flung colleagues often requires a certain je ne sais quoi.  To participate fully in the process, and to enjoy it–and to allow others the freedom to do the same–one must be enthusiastic and willing to chase a vision, but must never be so unyieldingly focused on a single vision that it  disrupts emergence of the always shifting whole.  Yielding gracefully, after all (as gracefully as the digital branches in the mosaic yield to the pixel wielder of the moment) , plays a crucial role in collaboration.  There’s plenty of room for individuality and originality, here, but there’s little room for the fixed or the permanent.

Collaborative Mosaic

AxisPortals Aphorism: Online collaboration isn’t really about thinking outside of the box.  It’s about sharing the sandbox willingly, with good humor, and with grace. (So, wish AxisPortals’ tree good luck, but don’t mourn its passing when it goes–something new is sure to grow there.)

The Delicacy of Balance

January 2, 2009

 “Balance“, Wolfgang and Christoph Lauenstein’s Academy Award winning animated short, is one of AxisPortals’ favorite animated films, and it’s a good one to ponder in January.

After all, balance is a perpetual problem, isn’t it?  We constantly strive to balance the professional and the personal.  When we’re working, we worry that we should be spending more time with our families, and vice versa.  Technology makes the balance both easier and much harder to strike.  If we’re with our loved ones, but constantly checking our Blackberries and iPhones to ensure that we haven’t missed a single professional communication, then are we really focused on our families at all?  It’s perfectly possible to be physically present at a meeting, but totally absorbed in texting our teens about their crises of the moment, or to be physically present at home but so totally connected to our workplace technologies that we might as well not be there at all.

AxisPortals loves “Balance” for perfectly capturing the intricacy and delicacy of any balancing act that involves others (as most balancing acts do), and for suggesting the price we must pay when we attempt to put ourselves (our needs, interests, and passions) too much at the center of things. 

AxisPortals Aphorism One (Courtesy of Confuscious):  Balance is the perfect state of still water. Let that be our model. It remains quiet within and is not disturbed on the surface.

AxisPortals Aphorism Two:  Being thrown off balance is an essential and inescapable aspect of cooperative relationships.

AxisPortals Aphorism Three:  Balance is a Delicate Dance

Technology in 2009: Other People’s Resolutions

December 29, 2008


Remember when New Year’s resolutions always had to do with dropping a few pounds, jogging, or blowing the dust of the exercise bike?  

No more.

Technology plays such a large role in our personal and corporate identities now that the “tech resolution” is widespread. 

Here are few worth pondering, borrowing, or recognizing with a wry grin.

  1. Law Technology News:  A great collection of lawyers’ personal and professional technology goals.  Favorite excerpt:  “To work hard to use technology to maximize the quality of my life.”  Amen. 
  2. CIO Resolutions:   Practical advice for decision makers.  Best of the bunch:  “Manage people as well as tech.” 
  3. DataMotion’s Resolutions for CIO’s:  More practical advice. “Get ahead of the curve and implement efficient technologies that empower your employees to work remotely and securely” gets AxisPortals “that’s my favorite” vote .  Yes.  It’s far past time for all of us to embrace the ROWE!
  4. Spark Readers’ Resolutions:  Off-the-cuff contributions from blog readers.  Spending less time with technology is a common theme, here.  AxisPortals can relate, but thinks “spending technology time more wisely” is a better approach.  Still, if you aren’t sure what that big orange thing in the sky might be, or you find yourself texting your family members while you’re all in the same house, it might be time to holster the cell phone, drop the mouse, and back slowly away from your laptop.

AxisPortals Aphorism:  You should be able to access your tech at the pool or at the beach, but sometimes often it’s healthier to unplug and dive into the pool or walk barefoot along the shore, savoring the moment.