I was with one of my chemical customers this week in a strategy briefing around improving their innovation processes and external R&D collaboration. The topic of Web 2.0 (or social computing) capabilities - roughly translated to online communities, blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc... was a big topic of conversation. A big part of the briefing was having our Microsoft folks show how chemical and other industry customers are using the Web 2.0 and social computing capabilities we provide through Office SharePoint Server. The customer shared with us occasions where potential new hires (chemists, biologists, IT workers, etc.) asked to see their internal tools, and ended up declining their offer because of antiquated tool sets. They are not the only customer to share this with me over the last 6 months - the problem is real.
The chemical industry is in an interesting time. The industry, in general, has taken a very disciplined and conservative approach to IT technology adoption over the years. More so than most any other industry, reliability, security, and safety come long before end-user capabilities. But now, they are in a position where their science and technology folks are leaving faster than they are arriving. Part of the challenge runs far deeper than any discussion on technology adoption inside their company, but many chemical companies I have talked to know that their own pace of technology adoption is a determining factor of their attractiveness to young professionals choosing an industry and a profession. Can I do exciting work? Can I connect with my peer community across the globe and contribute in a big way not only to my own company, but to the industry and to the rest of the world? And, do I have the tools I need to be leading edge and make that huge difference? These are questions young professionals are asking.
One of the first actions the industry can take is to do a better job connecting with the younger audience online. You see some of this happening, but the approach could be much more coordinated than it currently is. Just take something as simple as a blog. How many chemical companies and industry associations are blogging regularly, and connecting with the community in different ways? ChemWeek launched its blog earlier this year, and it has been a great addition to their traditional coverage. You get to see a different, more approachable side to the industry with the more informal commentary from Rob Westervelt and the others. And I thank ChemWeek for linking our blog to their blog. By linking the known blogs together, you drive greater awareness and traffic, and start to really build community.
I'm on the look-out for great chemical blogs. Whether they are written by my peers in other technology providers like Microsoft, industry blogs by the associations and press, or science and technology blogs from the chemistry, biology, chemical engineering community...wherever. If you are out there and reading ours - let me know about yours. As we head into the holiday season, and my travel schedule starts shore up, I will start to do more research into the chemical communities that exist, and how we all can better leverage these communities to raise the visibility of the industry.
Alright - I guess I need to turn my attention back to the Michigan-Ohio State game. Michigan is down 14-3 right now...but, there's still time.