Jun 25

Social Networks and Corporations

In the past I’ve talked quite a bit about hiring people for their networks and the potential advantages in it. The premise of it is that interviewing and hiring people for their networks is an idea whose time has come. For example, if I were still programming my network of programmers would very likely be a more valuable asset to my employer than my coding abilities. Like all programmers, when I was programming I maintained a wide array of topics that I was pretty familiar with and a more limited number of topics that I was truly expert at. That expertise and familiarity defined the breadth of my competence for writing solid code, coding outside one of those areas would have resulted in either me spending time researching techniques or me writing less sturdy code. When someone hired me, they were hiring me for the areas I was an expert at – and that was the limit of what I was expected to provide. But here’s what only one interviewer has ever asked me about, and that interviewer was Paul Allen, “What kind of network do you have among your peers?”.

Now, it just so happens that I’ve been practicing this philosphy for a while (I think a lot of programmers especially do this) so my answer was actually in line with what Paul was looking for. I have a fairly large network of friends who are in the technical fields, from programmers to sysadmins, dba’s, hardware geeks, etc. I utilize LinkedIn as much as possible for maintaining connections with others, for several years I’ve been tapping that network whenever I needed to. It is not uncommon for me to initiate an IM, phone call or email to drop a quick question on a friend about the best way to do X. I maintain that kind of network and tap it regularly to help me out with issues that arise. For example, do you have an extremely confounding and complex problem with SQL Server that your staff can’t figure out and is critical to moving your business forward? Well, I’m not your guy. BUT! I can pick up the phone and call one of my best friends, who probably isn’t your guy either, and talk to him about the issue. He in turn can pick up the phone and call the SQL Server MVP for our area and get him on the job. Sure, it’ll cost you some money, but do you know which people I’m talking about? Do you have the ability to make that first phone call? The power of a good network is massive. There have been several times when someone is describing a problem to me and I’ve been able to pick up the phone and get their problem solved or addressed by someone in just a few minutes.

This isn’t to suggest that a persons network is the only or best reason to hire someone. They definately still need to know how to do their job, but the added benefit of hiring someone who’s good at their job AND has an amazing network vs. hiring someone who’s just good at their job is huge.

So all that is a recap/preface to my (mine and Paul’s) latest line of thought, Corporate Networks, Business Mashups and Consultation. We are, of course, looking at this from Provo Labs perspective but the idea can be applied to any company. Corporate Networks in this line of thought refers to the type of network that a company has access to and the people in that network. It looks at the resources of the company, the people in the company, and the ability of the company to tap into their peoples networks. Depending on company culture and makeup, the company can potentially be in a position to utilize the combined network of all its people. In addition to that, each employee at a company represents an area of expertise and the makeup of the company may be such that the overall area of expertise may be very large. Finally, the resources of the company (including hardware, very large internet pipes, content, software – both proprietary and purchased, specialized equipment, intellectual property, etc) may be extremely diverse and even rare or exclusive. Corporate Networks looks at the overall resources that a company has available and considers the amount of free time or non-maxed out time that those resources have.

At this point, lets take a look at how most companies behave and what they do with their Corporate Networks. Typically, a company will operate as an isolated island. They will hire the best, most talented people they can and assign them to a position within the company – while that employee is at the company they are contributing only to the company and nothing else, even if their job has significant downtime. They will purchase the best servers they can and get nice fat internet pipes, the bandwidth usage of each will most often be below 50%. They rarely if ever utilize their employees networks and even more rarely find out who their peoples networks contain. So in summary, most companies take the best talent they can find off the market and isolate them, don’t fully utilize their resources and don’t tap into their peoples networks. They effectively have NO Corporate Network.

But what if it didn’t work that way?

What if companies hired the best talent they could find, optimized their time at work, then marketed those employees as a group that was available for other companies to utilize? What if companies purchased or developed resources, identified their own usage rates of those resources and marketed the non-usage to other companies? What if companies actively explored employees networks and identified the people in those networks and their talents, made arrangements with them as third party contractors, and marketed the skills of the people in those networks? In other words, what if companies acted more like a resource, person and network loaded entity and offered/marketed services based on those areas?

What if things did happen that way?

That’s what we’ve decided to find out at Provo Labs.

At Provo Labs, we employ a lot of very talented people in a large array of expertise. Almost all of our people have fairly large networks and almost all of us are very concious of them. We have a lot of resources and generally use less that 50% of their abilities. We are also unique in that we have several companies, each focussed on an expertise. We have: a Funding Company, and Internet Marketing company, a video production company, a podcast production company, a Call Center and several content companies – which cover audio, video, textual and E-Book types of media. We also have a very talented internet development team, a content acquisition team, Web 2.0 gurus and Internet Marketing gurus. We also have several different proprietary software packages that inlcude: a Search Content Managment System, a web crawling and analysis system, a content distribution system, and several other tools. We also have a podcast studio, video editing studio, several servers and open racks, and a huge amount of bandwidth. We also have people serving in every major corporate role: CEO, CFO, CTO, CMO, etc. So, what happens when we take every one of these, mix them all together and offer them as a componetized solution?

You get Provo Labs Consulting.

This is the latest offering from Provo Labs, it is essentially a business mashup with integrated social networking. With Provo Labs Consulting, we are providing API type access to all of our business processes, employees, resources and networks. If a company has any kind of problem we can provide the solution, whether the solution comes directly from Provo Labs or we outsource it to someone in our vast network. I’m not overstating – any kind of problem, we can provide the solution.

Here is an example from last week. A company I was meeting with wants to buy one of their suppliers but they need funding in order to do it. After discussing and reviewing their needs (they had no business plan, financials or anything done), I created a mashup just for them. The next morning Funding Universe had a business plan expert onsite, I brought a 3rd party contractor who is well known for being the best in the state at pre-funding financials preparation onsite the next day as well, I arranged for an extremely well-known investor to provide 3 hours of independent review of the entire plan and interviewing of the principals once things were prepared, I arranged coaching and preparation for them from Funding Universe as well. That company just went from not knowing anything at all about getting funded to likely being one of the best prepared companies seeking funding in Utah. And that isn’t even what the main topic of our meeting was – it was about some software they need done.

So, if your company needs a problem solved, if you plan on outsourcing anything, if you need consulting from outside experts, if you need software written, or if you just need some experienced advice on which products are the best for your needs – Provo Labs Consulting can provide a custom solution for you.

Oh, and if you are interested in getting hooked into our networks or if you are interested in being on our approved list of 3rd party contractors, send me an email.


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  1. Richard K Miller

    One of the challenges I see in fully utilizing a network is being proactive instead of reactive. It’s easy to say, “I know someone who can help us with that,” when a problem comes up. But it’s a lot harder to think strategically and answer the question, “How can I orchestrate my network of connections to build something great?”

    Offering your network to your customers seem like a good way to begin using it proactively.

  2. ayodele

    i am interested

  3. Bart Gibby

    Sounds great. I have a client us already!

  4. Connor Boyack

    I think this is a great idea you point out, and one that is growing more and more valuable as the world gets smaller through advancing technology. Tools such as linked.com and others illustrate the power your network can have for finding and hiring people, and getting new clients.

  5. Jason

    interesting – very 2.0ish. I read this before I went to a job interview and thus put a reference to my own network on the follow-up letter – wondering what they would think about it. I think it is a great concept that may american businesses cope with (or survive) the mass offshoring movements. I bet 98% of allcompanies have too much crap to actually incorporate this into their bus. model – as Miller says, this will be way more obvious in a reactive setting than a proactive setting. More on this at my blog :)

  6. Regina Mullen

    I’ve been thinking about how to build a team in practical terms.

    As an ADR practitioner, this occupies my thinking day and night.

    The skill of it is in helping two or more people (who may well hate each other) discover whether it is to their benefit to work together. Usually, if they are locked in battle it will be to their advantage, sometimes, the agreement is to disagree peacefully….which is still an agreement, but a rational one that doesn’t stop either from moving forward.

    Would be VERY interested in seeing how you do this, and possibly consulting with you if 50% of my abilities are of value to the collective! ;o))

    Fantastic post. Stumbled upon your blog. Glad I did!

  1. GoodRecruits

    Pay Per Click Consulting?

    to build relationship-equity with your own employees, why not allow them to be farmed out on occasion when an interesting project or need arises?  Encourage them to beef up and use their LinkedIn network.  Encourage and enable them to bl…

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