Friday, July 27, 2007

How to lobby for a pro-skype policy in your development organization

Satish Vangal conducted a survey on the km4dev (knowledge management for development) listserv about access to skype in the workplace. He posted the interesting results back on the list. As you can see from the graph, still 26% of the organisations (56 individuals replied from 46 organizations, and organizations were counted) have a complete ban, but in 7% of those cases, people still use it anyway. Another 15% allowed it, but with restrictions on uses.

He also listed some good points to consider while lobbying for a pro-skype policy in your development organization:

  • NUMBERS: 3 in 5 organizations (that responded to the survey) allow SKYPE with no restrictions. An additional 15% allow a restricted or unsupported use of Skype.
  • MAIN CONCERNS - SECURITY AND BANDWIDTH: The two major arguments I.T. people have against SKYPE are Security and Bandwidth. Invite them out for a drink to make your case! Ask them if their concerns are primarily bandwidth or security.
  • BANDWIDTH – DO A TRIAL: If they say bandwidth, suggest a trial to see if other things like email / web browsing slow down significantly when multiple people in the office are on Skype calls at the same time
  • SECURITY: Most I.T. people have a ‘gut’ reaction to something like SKYPE, which is a bit of a black box and so they feel it is an unacceptable security threat.
  • WIDE-SPREAD USE BY OTHER ORGANIZATIONS: Tell them that 75% of your colleagues are using it – and you can mention organization names from the table above.
  • FAR BIGGER SECURITY THREATS VIA EMAIL: If security is a concern, tell them that a dumb user (like ourselves!) clicking on an unknown attachment or link in an email message is much more likely to get a virus into the system than anything that utilizes Skype.
  • COMPROMISE - VOICE/TEXT ONLY, EXCLUDE FILE TRANSFER: Tell them that some orgs allow voice and/or typing but no file transfer (by blocking specific ports). This could be an acceptable compromise.
  • ACKNOWLEDGE EXTRA WORKLOAD: Tell them that you agree that embracing something like Skype may involve more work for the I.T. person initially – showing people how, etc. and the benefits don’t accrue to them obviously.
  • ORGANIZATIONAL BENEFITS: But benefits to the organization will be significant, and cost savings in phone calls over time will add up. Most importantly, people will be making calls that they would not have dreamed of in the first place – calls between Bangladesh and South Africa for example – and other countries where national monopolies impose high calling costs via normal phone lines.

Personally, I would say that if it is possible to collect data over reducing costs calls from other development organisations, that may be even more convincing than just saying that it will reduce costs.

In the e-collaboration group, several comments were made, one being: "It is a security risk as a black box, especially with all kinds of add-ons. And it hasn't earned a reputation yet.You might want to point your sysadmin to "Skype for Business", a version where you can include Skype in security policies for workstations, to at least be able to control and update everything as part of regular maintenance. " and "A good moment to start with that appreciation for system administrators is the last Friday of July that is "System Administrator Appreciation Day", your chance to express some love for the hard-working and often hard-to-communicate-with individual(s) behind the technology in your organisation :-)

Another person added: "In my opinion skype is very valuable (frequent user as well), but not for making regular phonecalls (skypeout). Skype has been steadily increasing their rates, including a call setup fee of 3.9ct. With general VOIP you can make most (european) landline calls free (for example via voipcheap or similar services) and it can be used by loads of so-called softphones (like gizmo or 3cx).

For all who ARE allowed to use skype, you can still go through our skype tips for the advanced user. If you like to know more about your to use skype in combination with a phone bridge that allows you to call in with a regular phone you can read our experiences with online conferencing.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A collection of stories about e-collaboration experiences

The booklet is ready!

In the past months we collected stories of organisations using e-collaboration in some way, varying from using Moodle as an online learning platform to Teamspeak as a software tool for having an online meeting with partners located all over the globe. Most of these stories can be found on this Blog with the same name as the booklet 'I-collaborate, e-collaborate, we-collaborate'. But we also found it useful to have the stories in hard-copy.

We hope to inspire you with these experiences, stimulating you to take this first step, using your work as a laboratory for experimenting. Or see whether you can make your colleagues, partners in the south, or other people around you enthusiastic for more collaboration at a distance. You can find the pdf of the booklet by following this link:

When you are interested in receiving a hardcopy, please let me know by sending an email to:

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Roadblogs: GTZ Egypt's experiences of introducing blogs for internal exchange

Christian Kreutz worked for two years at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ) in Egypt. The German Technical Cooperation works quite decentralized having country offices in most partner countries. Projects are mostly located throughout the countries. Efficient communication and fruitful knowledge sharing between projects and field offices are a challenge. Regularly, meetings help a lot but are not enough for an effective information exchange. The daily interaction happens mostly through email or a monthly newsletter, which does not always reaches everybody leading to the usual information overload. Valuable information and experiences are lost in individual email folders or are not always communicated outside the project team.

Objective:To achieve a better horizontal communication, promote corporate identity, enhance knowledge sharing, and achieve more efficiency. New incentives throughout blogging will enhance opportunities for cooperation and lead to a better networking.

Set up of a blog on a server with a classical layout of two columns including the full comments on the left side. That is important in order to motivate people to leave comments. Everybody from the staff has read and written (author) permissions. Categories help to filter between different themes and act as communication channels. A group with 5 enthusiastic members built the critical mass for ongoing entries. Email communication for general information (e.g. meeting schedule) was changed to the blog, which was important in order to raise "pressure" on everybody to at least read the weblog. The blog and a policy was presented on all different staff meetings combined with a training on how to use the blog. The overall expenses and resources (time) were quite low for the installation and the training.

Development:The first few months were quite difficult. Many people were skeptical about whether it would work, and criticized it as being a work overload. After four months and a lot of word of mouth propaganda, new authors came into the game. Also important is that some information was only distributed via the blog. As a next stage, people, who did not get specified training, wrote articles. They either learnt it autodidactically or had it explained by a colleague. In the first half year, the blog had up to 10 entries monthly. Now, after two years, there are more than 30 entries monthly from 50% of staff. The type of content is more and more differentiated: announcements, articles, documents, meetings, presentations, invitations, and recent development of projects.

Critical factors:Face-to-face introduction and training was a must. A critical mass of 5 authors was also very important. Patience in the beginning phase is needed. One key factor was to channel some information only throughout the blog, which previously went over email. The management has to support this form of transparent and horizontal communication. Another factor is a solid policy. The introduction of a blog has to be also seen as a power shift. Some colleagues have better opportunities to communicate and are better informed through a blog. The design and layout (usability) has to help in every possible way to navigate and understand the web content.

A virtual meeting place for all employees has been created. The blog is well accepted and is a middle point of common organizational communication. In an internal survey respondents felt they were better connected and saw more potential for cooperation. The blog builts a network between projects and different offices, and enabled a jump in information exchange. The blog has well written articles and summarizes and describes all important activities and development of different projects. Alltogether it is a valuable resource for information, an archive, and helps to get a better picture about the organizational life.