Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
Imagine your manager offered to eliminate much of the red tape, bureaucracy and distractions you encounter daily.
Imagine eliminating the hours spent in meetings to discuss the need for more meetings. Imagine your manager were able to distribute the workload more evenly among colleagues, or even recognize the need to hire additional personnel.
Now imagine your manager offered all these things, and all you'd have to do is let him read your email.
Enter the Social Enterprise
That's the promise behind VoloMetrix's Social Enterprise Intelligence, an automated, software-based plugin that extracts data from corporate IT collaboration applications including email, calendars, messaging and various social networks.
VoloMetrix then uses that data to analyze exactly where and how much time, energy and costs are being spent on day-to-day operations and on strategic initiatives.
"Think of it like a 3D networking topography," says VoloMetrix CEO Ryan Fuller. "A general organizational chart is flat -- it shows who reports to whom, but it doesn't show who's collaborating across departments and divisions and with whom, who's working together on certain projects, the dependencies and the connections. This is a great source of untapped data," Fuller says.
CIOs and other C-level executives have plenty of access to data "after the fact," says Fuller, in the form of financial and revenue metrics, call center logs and data, and customer tracking through CRM systems. However, it's difficult to gain real-time insight into how employees are connected, how resources are being used and how time is being spent.
Social Analytics: A New Form of Business Intelligence
"This kind of enterprise social analytics technology is a hot commodity right now as enterprises look for new ways to leverage these social connections for business," says Glenn O'Donnell, principal analyst, Infrastructure and Operations Professionals at Forrester Research.
"They already see value in Facebook, LinkedIn, even Twitter's proprietary algorithms that can see connections and then infer what people are interested in, can see how they're connected with other folks, and make sense of your network," O'Donnell says.
Using social analytics on previously unused data sets -- reading email headers, calendar data, instant messaging logs -- can deliver a lot of business value, especially for large, distributed enterprises that aren't on a first-name basis with most of their employees, he says.
"If you're a small organization, everyone's already intimately involved with each other and those connections are well-known. There's really no need to track who's interacting with whom, how often and why, because chances are, you already know all too well," O'Donnell says.
"But in a large organization," O'Donnell says, "It's really important to map who is connected, how intimately, what they're working on and to what extent. This is where the value is -- resource allocation, time management, asset utilization."
Though it looks like a piece of abstract art, this enterprise sociograph is actually showing concrete connections and collaborations between employees. Each color represents an initiative, vendor or customer. And each line represents an instance of employee engagement with that particular initiative, vendor or customer.
VoloMetrix is designed to let managers and decision makers customize an organizational chart, strategic initiatives and customers to provide a unique, custom-tailored, weekly or monthly report that details how much time employees are spending in meetings, handling customers, dealing with administrative processes, Fuller says. "It's a way to see how many employees are engaging with each customer, and how much time each vendor, project or initiative is taking from your organization to make sure they're not either getting shortchanged or you're not going overboard."
Another Hit on Privacy?
As far as user privacy and confidentiality, VoloMetrix pulls only header-level data, not attachments, email content, contact names, specific calendar data, Fuller says. Privacy and confidentiality policies vary from customer to customer and even from country to country, but the bottom line is that the data streams used are completely anonymous.
"Conspiracy theorists and the uber-paranoid folks will always latch onto the issues of privacy and assert that they're always against this sort of thing," says O'Donnell. "They'll say, sure, the powers-that-be will tell you 'We're not actually reading your email,' but how do you know they aren't actually reading your email?'" O'Donnell said.
In fact, there's no legal expectation of privacy when dealing with corporate data from company owned systems like email, he says.
Fuller says that the solution is less about individual actions than it is a way to aggregate data to better view 'bigger picture' issues.
In fact, in many of VoloMetrix customers' deployments, Fuller says the product has opened the door for managers to better address employee concerns and to better distribute workloads, increasing productivity. (Fuller says VoloMetrix currently has eight-to-10 "very well-known, large, global enterprise customers." However, he added, they do not want to be named.)
Giving Insight Back to Employees
"We found that many CIOs and managers wanted to take this data and give it right back to their employees so they could see where their time and energy is going, and where the distractions, the obstacles to productivity were coming from," Fuller says.
The reports can quickly identify where bottlenecks and pain points are in an organization, and can actually empower employees -- especially junior employees -- to better their situations, he says.
"The more junior you are, the less control you have over where your time goes. Without hard data to back up your complaints, let's face it, often times, it's just brushed off as an employee whining," Fuller says. "But with these kinds of reports, employees can say, 'Look, I really am being pulled in a billion different directions, and let's figure out how to address that so I can be more productive and have better relationships.' It can be very empowering."
In fact, Fuller says, when one customer described VoloMetrix to its approximately 8,000 employees and gave them the choice to opt-in or opt-out, only 2 percent (about 160 people) chose not to participate, he says.
CIOs are great at knowing how to allocate IT resources -- storage and networking, software, infrastructure and all the related costs, but this can really help identify more of the "soft" opportunities to redirect energy, personnel and time, Fuller says.
VoloMetrix has almost doubled in size over the last year, Fuller says, and while the company started out aiming for a pretty horizontal customer base, they're now focusing on areas like IT, sales and post-merger integration.
O'Donnell notes that the solution is accessible for almost any large organization, and while it's not exactly plug-and-play, implementing the technology doesn't require a whole lot of up-front investment or highly technical skill sets.
"There's a generic plugins for Microsoft Exchange, but from there, it's so customizable that the skillsets vary insofar as you need to be able to tie it into different systems," O'Donnell says. "Project management, for instance, would require a different skillset than if you were using it to track finance, or sales, so, at the end-user level, each implementation will differ slightly between departments."
Of course, O'Donnell adds, one crucial piece of the puzzle is having a skilled data analyst on hand who can take the data provided, read it and use it to make the business run better and more efficiently. It's best if at least one employee has experience handling and analyzing large data sets, he said.
"CIOs are looking to be strategic enablers for the entire business, and this is a great way to go to their peer executives and say, "We've been providing you these technology tools -- email, messaging, collaboration -- for years, and this is how you're using them, but now we also can give you analytics to better understand how you can use them more effectively," Fuller said. "That's the real business value."
Sharon Florentine covers IT careers and data center topics for CIO.com. Follow Sharon on Twitter @MyShar0na. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook.
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