Sustaining Start-Ups: How the Local Business Structure Impacts Growing Companies

February 14, 2009

Here are some thoughts on the Nobody Told Me posting on Lance’s Force of Good Blog (that Lance posted regarding Mike Schinkel’s Startup Atlanta #OnStage event).

I believe that the best part of all of this is the number of conversations that have started and continued (see Scott posting on The Answer is Blowing in the Wind).  Some may say/think that all of this chatter is keeping us from getting ‘real work’ done, but I would not agree.

Whether you’re a Fortune 1000 company or a couple of guys in a garage, or basement or down at Ignition Alley – the business of business is relationships. Those relationships do not happen in a vacuum. They happen when like minded people meet, dialog, and connect (find a common interest or purpose).

With the exception of a few people, groups and organizations, I have found that Atlanta’s technology and startup communities are not very well connected – not as well connected as they could/should be.  And I am not alone in that opinion.
Last year Dan Breznitz presented the results of his study the ‘communal roots of entrepreneurial-technological growth’.  The study showed that the leaders (board members and C-level/SPV exces) of the Atlanta’s technology companies are not well connected.  The leaders had few, if any, significant business, personal, fraternal relationships with leaders in other organizations.  And this included local ‘technology’ law firms/lawyers and venture/angle capital firms.
The key premise of the study/presentation (and much of the questions and discussions) was that ‘unless a local high-technology industry develops rich multiple, locally centered social networks (which embed companies in the region) [technology] cluster development will stagnate’.  Furthermore, those factors are more important to the development and growth of technology clusters than ‘factor availability’ such as the supply of highly educated labor, availability of capital, infrastructures and environment.
You may not completely agree with the conclusions of Dan’s work, but his premise and argumentation were compelling.

I do agree with the observations that have been made by Lance, Paul and others that we need to focus on “things like creating products, getting customers, and building companies” and on “the nuts and bolts of building startups”.
However, when we have our sleeves rolled up, our heads down and are burning the midnight oil we need to bear in mind that the success of our endeavors depends as much on the wise cultivation and utilization of our personal and business relationship as it does on our own creativity, ingenuity and industriousness.


Application of Social Computing to the Enterprise

October 4, 2008

Initiatives, programs, and day-to-day business operations are critical to the success of the enterprise.  Large companies have invested a significant amount of resources in IT tools, business processes, and technologies to gather critical information from a variety of sources about their business operations and business processes. 

Businesses rely on people to receive and analyze information, make decisions, and initiate and coordinate the appropriate tasks and activities.  Managers are responsible for assimilating information, managing/supporting their key personnel, marshaling resources, making decisions, following up to verify that the appropriate tasks and activities were undertaken, and insuring that objectives and milestones are being meet.

 

Individuals, managers and workers are facing a cognitive overload.  It is estimated that a Sunday newspaper contains more information than the average 17th century citizen encountered in a lifetime. Today, the amount of worldwide information doubles approximately every 1.5 years, and corporate files double every 3 to 4 years.

The one biggest challenges to the enterprise is making better (smarter, faster) use of information about its business processes.  The problem lies in the large volume of information that is presented to managers, the wide range of disparate sources from which it comes, and the fact that it is too often dispersed in ‘information silos’ across the enterprise.  All of this makes it difficult for managers to assimilate information and data, and rapidly make (informed/accurate) decisions.  Also, managers are getting so much ‘information’ that they are having difficulty keeping informed (up to date) about key topics and issues.

 

Information gathering, communication, collaboration and decision making in most companies relies on a ‘conventional’ set of tools and processes: conversations, meeting, emails, voice mails, basic messaging, conferencing, and office documents mailed as attachments. 

In the increasingly rapid pace and the complexity of today’s enterprise, the use of conventional tools and processes leads to inevitable latencies in business processes, activities and decisions.  Delays in communication and decision making and slow response to critical problems and issues can have a significant impact on business performance.

Dependency on Email has put up fences to efficient communication and decision making.  Consider the manager that has hundreds of unread Emails in their InBox; how quickly can they be expected to respond to a request for information, provide guidance and feedback, or make a decision? 

Meeting and conference calls can have less than optimal efficiency – they can create bottlenecks as managers may wait until the meeting to discuss and resolve issues.

Person to person communication can induce latencies.  If the contacted party is busy then the request is put in a queue.  If may people are trying to contact the same person then that person becomes a bottleneck.  How much time, energy and effort are expended (often wasted) playing ‘phone tag’ to get in contact with a key resource to have an important discussion or make a critical decision.

 

A large percentage of business data and business information is stored in ‘information silos’.  In general, these systems cannot exchange information with other related systems within its own organization, or with the management systems of its customers, vendors or business partners. The same can be said of the knowledge and experience of individuals within an organization or an enterprise.  Their knowledge and expertise cannot be easily shared (exchanged) with other individuals within the enterprise or with their partners or vendors. The skills, knowledge and experience cannot be easily shared for a number of reasons.  People have few ways of making their knowledge and experience known outside their peer group, unit or department. And, individuals that have need of specific knowledge and expertise have few channels to find or discover those individuals.  There is no framework for connecting individuals, sharing information and knowledge, managing the utilization of resources, affecting the successful resolution of a problem or issues, and ultimately, successfully completing tasks and projects

 

As the pace of business accelerates, the use of conventional tools and processes are becoming less and less efficient and effective helping business communicate, collaborate and make decisions.

We need to enhance the competiveness and responsiveness of the enterprise by improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the enterprise all levels:

 

Connections and Communication

More efficient communication – finding and connecting to the ‘best resource’ (most appropriate & most available) to address our problems and/or issues. 

Targeted Collaboration

Creation, sharing and utilization of business knowledge and expertise.  Leverage internal and external knowledge and expertise.  More effective utilization of enterprise resources. 

Knowledge Access

Timely and universal access to resources, information, knowledge and solutions (from both internal and external sources).

Organization, Visibility and Management

Single location (space) where information associated with task, project, or program can be viewed and managed.  Provide a framework for the management of tasks/projects

Responsiveness and Resolution

Faster and more productive response to problems & issues.  Better (more accurate/informed) decision making and problem resolution.  Link people processes to business processes. Sustaining progress; drive tasks and projects toward completion.

Accountability

Link business decisions and actions to work flow and processes.