Take a peep at smarter companies

This is bad news for newspapers. Most of us are still using Microsoft Office 2003 and woefully inadequate proprietorial publishing systems in an open source and matrix world.

A recent report by McKinsey & Company provides evidence of just how important it is that newspaper companies align their IT behind their business strategies and get out of the crippling mindset we have had for too long: that IT is an overhead that needs to be minimised.

Over the past four years, companies that have fully embraced the practices of social networking and network mapping, blogs, messaging, videocasts, tagging, user tracking, information markets, polling, wikis and shared workspaces, have shown a significant advantage in terms of dominating in their market share and producing higher profits.

“A new class of company is emerging – one that uses collaborative Web 2.0 technologies intensively to connect the internal efforts of employees and to extend the organisation’s reach to customers, partners and suppliers,” writes McKinsey in its paper, ‘The Rise of the Networked Enterprise: Web 2.0 finds its payday’.

The report’s authors, Jacques Bughin and Michael Chui, call these new market dominators “the networked enterprise”.

The research shows that the less a company embraces internalised networking as part of its business processes, the lower their performance and efficiency. Newspapers tend to fit into this category.

This is because embracing Web 2.0 is not just in the content that we share with our readers – we’re good at that.

And while we understand the need to use new technologies to tell stories to readers and allow them to comment on what they’re reading and viewing, for some reason we haven’t seen the imperative or value in changing how we communicate and collaborate inside our companies.

We have adjusted some publishing methods to allow the monetisation through selling advertising and earning revenue, but we’ve never seriously embraced the productivity and efficiency gains that internalising these tools allow.

Why? Ironically, we’ve been too busy trying to cut costs by reducing our IT spend.

And yet, it is the Web 2.0 companies such as Google, YouTube and Facebook that newspaper publishers now look enviously upon and ask “why can’t we have businesses like that?”

Why? Because many of us are too busy talking the talk to walk the walk.

A second, earlier report from McKinsey from February 2009 captures perfectly the revolution that Web 2.0 offers to newspaper companies – and ideas on how to embrace it painlessly.

“The latest web tools have a strong bottom-up element and engage a broad base of workers,” write Michael Chui, Andy Miller and Roger P Roberts in ‘Six Ways to Make Web 2.0 Work’.

“Successful participation requires not only grassroots activity but also a different leadership approach: senior executives often become role models and lead through informal channels.”

Web 2.0 technologies allow employees to collaborate, share and participate more fully in our businesses.

It makes it less necessary to jump on a plane, saves time and energy, and connects diverse locations and skill sets.

They help us unlock the “cognitive potential” of our staff, turning them from bodies doing publishing work, to brains engaged in creative and productive thinking on new ways to publish.

But Web 2.0 is about networking and connection in an industry still fiercely hierarchical.

McKinsey’s identifies that the fear of a lack of control is a key issue that management must overcome to allow productivity and efficiency to flourish by using these tools.

Dictating how technologies will be used is also a major mistake.

The lessons learned from successful organisations is that employees will gravitate towards those technologies that are genuinely useful and easy to engage with, especially if they are fun.

Technology that creates apparently meaningless process or bureaucracy will be ignored.

“Efforts go awry when organisations try to dictate their preferred uses of the technologies rather than observing what works and then scaling it up,” they write.

So it is time for newspapers to abandon archaic thinking that IT is a

hefty overhead that needs to be controlled and see it as the cheap and inexpensive glue that connects us.

Good IT makes life easier, not more difficult. It streamlines our processes, it does not dictate them; it boosts our creativity, it does not stifle it.

If we are to embrace the ideas of social networking on our publishing platforms, we must also embrace it internally. Otherwise, we risk heading down a path where it is easier to communicate with your peeps* than it is with your peers.

(*Peeps , n.pl. Your people, your friends .

. . Facebook 101).

Kylie Davis is the national real estate editor at News Ltd and former owner, publisher and “entreprenette” at The Village Voice newspapers

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