I realize that it has been some time since I broached the topic of my career, and what I do to afford the leisure to pursue this blogging thing. Lot’s of Bloomberg here; just not in this post, sorry!
Faithful reader will remember that what I do is web conferencing, an increasingly useful tool that should be adopted by more and more corporate entities due to its transformative capabilities.
My employer in the Heart of Corporate America (HCA) is a grand old conservative organization, proud of its financial performance measured over generations (a quarterly dividend paid without interruption since before my late father was born!). It seldom moves quickly where infrastructure technology is concerned, rightfully (I admit with admiration and affection that I have come to see it as rightfully) expending whatever fleet instincts it possesses towards the tooth of its tiger, not its tail.
Which is a long explanation for the fact that HCA has only been using web conferencing for a few years, mainly the five-plus years that I have been there. That’s an interesting tale. I found myself “at liberty” after my previous employer, having entered into a “merger of equals” disappeared utterly, as far as most of its human capital is concerned.
I had been part of a vigorous corporate information technology department of 155 people, getting real work done, largely supporting a marketing organization that had just launched a blockbuster product. Our “partners” swept in shortly after the “merger,” and told us there were jobs for each and every one. 1,000 miles away. Five of us took them up on their kind offer; the rest of us took a severance package.
So there I was, with a lengthy résumé, but not much current IT experience, but what was current was useful: Documentum, a complex but growing document management system, and Lotus Notes, the collaboration environment beloved of many large corporations for its rock-solid email system as well as its rapid database development feature.
The Documentum piece got me a 4-month consulting gig at HCA, doomed to frustration as the hiring manager, whose vision had created the opening I filled, cheerfully moved onward and upward (and to another campus) about a week after I reported for duty.
After a two-month interval, I was interviewed for a business analyst position by another team in the same division, and what got me the consulting gig, six months long but renewed several times, was tucked away on page two of the position description: experience with telephone and video conferencing.
I had that experience. Our Documentum team at my previous employer had outposts in several cities in the US and Europe, and, while I didn’t create the bi-weekly telephone conferences (and the occasional video conference) that the head of the corporate team had established, I did a great deal of the heavy lifting there: I published the invitations, agendas, prompt minutes; and led most of the meetings with a relaxed and welcoming style that created esprit de corps among people who had never met. We weathered the Y2K circus with ease, thanks to the cooperation and collaborative successes engendered in those bi-weekly (in 1999, weekly) sessions.
Yes, I could talk the talk about conferencing. And almost immediately after I started, additional to the conventional Lotus Notes business analysis work I had been assigned, I was asked to go see the division’s key contact for a web conferencing pilot then underway, using Lotus’ product called Sametime. The manager in question said, “thanks for coming over. Have a seat at my desk. Here is hard copy of the presentation. We’re about to demonstrate the tool in a web conference. Why don’t you lead it?”
With that sudden immersion, I never looked back. Indeed, I have led countless demonstrations since (with a good deal more assurance than that first, sweaty session). I have taught over 3,000 students the tool, all using the technology to teach the technology, in order to provide tactile, experiential learning, key for adult learners. I have surveys from 130 of the most recent of those classes, going back nearly 18 months, and my composite score is 4+ on a 1-5 scale. I facilitate key meetings, remotely from my desk as well as on location in offices and conference rooms on-site and offsite. And yes, both my corporate email signature, and my business card contain the title, “Mr. Sametime.”
My passion for collaboration created a niche for me in HCA, and by the way, has led to significant cost savings. Using IBM Lotus methodology for an analysis earlier this year, I made a believable case for $5 million in travel avoided last year; a number I think is conservative. HCA has over 60,000 employees in 130 nations around the world. Imagine not having to fly 16 regional managers from Latin America to Miami for training just as effectively delivered and received in one’s office! Just eliminating cross-campus and cross-county travel to meetings large and small in and around Corporate HQ must provide hundreds of hours of productivity savings daily.
Finally, I try to keep my passion pure, as it were. Yesterday, I was asked to participate in a bi-weekly telephone conference with a group of field-based high powered advance-degree technical managers, as there were questions about the web conferencing tool they were concerned about. The upshot? I cheerfully directed them to a third-party outside resource. Yes, a more expensive solution than my in-house one. But in their field application, the outside resource is, I believe, the more effective answer. As I told them, just because I have a (most wonderful) hammer, not every client’s problem is a nail.
Finally, I did apply for my soon to retire manager’s position, as I previously reported I would. And, as is their wont, HR never communicated one word to me beyond the automated receipt of the on-line application (don’t you dare call us — we’ll call you).
I’m not management material at HCA, that is obvious, and of course I’m disappointed, but as I said previously, I do love what I do, and where I do it. Some would ask: why on earth would you screw that up by moving into bean-counting-obsessed management?
It’s it for now. Thanks,