Apr 1, 2013

Social Media - Cloud Tools - blessing or curse for the Quality Field - Quality in Unusual Places

Quality Management needs and Social Media Tools in the Cloud often seem totally unconnected. So is finding a long term quality tool in the social media cloudy universe probably asking too much or not ? I chose this as my theme when ASQ's Paul Borawski asked the ASQ Influential Bloggers to explore finding Quality Tools in Unusual Places as their theme for March 2013.

Both Quality and Social Media share a focus on improvement and innovation. However Quality Management requires procedures with documents and records to be kept for extended periods - whereas the Social Media in the Cloud paradigm is more rooted in ephemera and the ever ephemeral - also seemingly all too trivial to some.

Nearly 5 years ago, as the Global Financial Crisis exploded onto the world stage, I found my Quality Manager role totally shaken up. For the previous two years it had mainly required a "steady hand on the tiller". But as my company wanted to expand its export efforts it faced an ever increasing number of non-tariff barriers aka Technical Barriers to Trade aka TBT's. As Quality Manager I was tasked with working through the maze and getting the certifications in place.

The amount of information I had to sift through to understand the global trade and standards system of each country or region that I was dealing with seemed insurmountable - as various countries fled increasingly into the use of the TBT's to protect their domestic economy. The US Trade Representative's report of 2010 showed how the number of TBT's experienced exponential growth. So a lot of work for me, but when you consider each boatload of steel sent to Europe was worth 15 million Euro's - it became quite compelling to get on top of those evergrowing mountains of information.

Coincidentally in late 2008 I had attended a National Knowledge Management Conference in Canberra Australia where newly emerging social media tools were being enthusiastically shared. Initially hesitant, but by March 2009 I had decided to dive in head first into the social media tools pool to help deal with the TBT information overload :
  • storing & sharing favourite websites aka bookmarks - (thenYahoo's) Delicious
  • scanning for information - Twitter & Hootsuite microblogging tools plus Google Alerts, groups in LinkedIn and powerpoints in Slideshare
  • blogs - although back then the number of Quality related blogs was still quite low - initially I used Google's Blogger but then moved over to Posterous which was a little friendlier to use
  • RSS feeds & RSS reader - when great sources of information were located I could feed them into Google Reader where I could read them in one place without doing Google searches or going to individual websites - a great time saver - and the articles could be tagged eg Quality, Records, Audits, TBT's etc. And it was all searchable and shareable. Over the following years I evolved to become one of Google Reader's Power Users.
  • and I managed to get them inter-connected and talking to each other - my own beautiful little Quality ecosytem.
  • I then shared the information in a Company Sharepoint site via a wiki - a great tool for on-boarding a new team member. And to also minimise a whole lot of people going off and doing the same Google searches over and over again. My new team member soaked up the knowledge and information on that wiki like a sponge.
Togther these tools all made up my electronic Quality Personal Knowledge Management System Toolkit.
My company achieved certifications for several Asian countries and for the European CE Mark Construction Products Directive & Regulation. Using the Social Media tools helped save my sanity back then. And over the following couple of years, more folks in the Quality space began using these tools too, as well as ASQ, ISO, SAI Global etc - so it was all a great resource as my Quality Manager role expanded.

Then a few ripples and ructions.

I was headed to an ISO TC 176 SC2 Working Group meeting in Sydney Australia looking at the future of ISO 9001, when I heard that Yahoo decided to drop Delicious in December 2010. I had so many Quality related websites favourited in Delicious so I was definitely shaken by the news. A few days later I moved to Diigo along with quite a few others. Delicious was subsequently reincarnated - so I decided to use both - a sort of back up plan if either should fall over again.

Twitter bought Posterous Blogging and there were whispers that the end might then be nigh for Posterous - although this was denied - so I started moving copies of my blog articles over to Blogger as a backup just in case. I also began using Wordpress in late 2012 when I set up the social media tools for a local resident community group, but I hesitated to copy all of my own Posterous articles to the Wordpress Blog site - wouldn't copies of the same article in three places have been overkill ?

And then in February 2013, on the day I was heading out to South America for 6 weeks vacation, Posterous's demise was announced by Twitter's CEO - with no access available from May 2013. I was relieved that I would have time on my return to make sure all my article posts had gone to Blogger. And I began to re-think posting them all into Wordpress after all.

Finally in mid March 2013 when I was still vacationing in South America, Google announced it was retiring aka axing Google Reader as part of its "spring clean" - now that had me worried. So much of my Quality related information was in there. Previously I had put aside niggling thoughts of what to do if this ever happened.

By the time I was back home in Australia, possible solutions were emerging - 500,000 people had moved to Feedly - which looked prettier, but didn't have all the functionality of Google Reader although it is promised. Will it make the July 1 2013 deadline ? Who knows ? However it seemed the best of what was on offer.

Two other big guns, Digg and Wordpress have promised to develop solutions - and there is an alphabet soup of other products out there - but many were anchored in Google Reader so how they will go once it is axed - then again, who knows ?

Google advised of a tool to download your stored data from Google Reader, cutely entitled "Takeout" - unfortunately for some of the power users like me, we had to wait for even more tinkering to get our information downloaded.

Various folks began to remonstrate - can you trust Google - can you really trust social media tools in the cloud? Is it wise to develop such a reliance on them ? (Harold Jarche and John T Spencer). Others were like ... just get over it and move on - Beth Kanter - with references to Spencer Churchill's 1988 "Who moved my Cheese?"

Indeed the pace of change in this field of Social Media Tools in the Cloud is so great - such a very short half life. But for some of us, we need a much longer information half life - eg for Quality certification requirements or operation of physical infrastructure like power stations, highways and dams etc. Finally, I read, a couple of days ago, that some folks were beginning to recognize these differing half life paradigms.

I liked the comments on educationalist John T Spencer's blog post  on Google Reader's demise. He ended up agreeing it's worth using these tools - but make sure you have educated the students to understand change - and be sure you have a back up plan in case the plug gets pulled on the tool.

I would still advocate the use of these tools for the finding and sharing of supporting information in the Quality Management field - and definitely agree you need a back up plan to ensure continuity of this information. But for that key information, documents and records needed for Quality Certification, I would contend that they be kept in a place where you control their destiny - and not the boards of companies like Google, Yahoo and Twitter.

1 comment:

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