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How widgets can dismantle your silos

Mark Szabo
How widgets can dismantle your silos Mark Szabo

Picture this. You have a senior executive who is responsible for your digital initiatives. She is extremely bright, knowledgeable and savvy. She even spent hard-earned political capital to secure your budget. But she is extremely busy. She is not trained in analytics or user experience metrics. She does not place priority on the minutiae of your many worthy projects. Neither does she have time to keep up on digital-related reading.

Now multiply her by 10.

How do you keep all of these execs informed in a timely, relevant basis?

A widget can successfully provide this information in an efficient little package. At Critical Mass, I've had great success utilizing widgets to share knowledge with clients and I'm willing to bet you can too.

You can create a widget that will display key performance indicators (KPI) from various initiatives, current status on projects and updated industry news. The widget can be attractive, easy to use, and have a bit of cool factor. I promise, pitch this simple idea to your senior client contacts and they'll love it. Here's how:

Step one: Decide what information goes in, and what stays out
This is the hardest part, because everybody wants everything and soon you end up with something completely overwhelming and useless.

HINT: Treat each page of the widget as an advertisement of your value. The analytics page should advertise how much value you are adding to the company. The project update page should advertise how organized you are. The updates page should advertise how smart and plugged-in your team members are. Keep it simple, graphic and relevant. And simple. Did I say simple? I want to hear you say this to yourself repeatedly until you mean it: "My widget will be simple, simple, simple." I won't let you read any further until you say it a few more times. Now SAY IT LIKE YOU MEAN IT.

Step two: Decide who is responsible for the raw data
Your analytics should come from the analytics team. It may even be easier to get the relevant information and directly feed it in by hand as opposed to using your analytics tools. Or you may find differently -- the more robust the KPI, the better. Senior executives love to watch visits, but you'll want to include conversions, engagement measures and other indicators of your true value. You could point them to your analytics tool directly, but they're too important to mess with that, and you want to keep them in the lovely environment you've created for them. They have people to look at the analytics program for them. That's you.

Your account service team should prepare the project status. Project managers and tech-focused people are a good resource, but they're not usually responsible for communicating to the client. The same rules apply as above -- simple, graphic and relevant. You can use little icons to denote Ahead of Schedule, On Track and Needs Attention, and it makes the page easy to scan.

Your entire team can be useful for coming up with relevant industry reading. If you're digital you're plugged in anyway. Set a rule that nobody on the team is allowed to forward an article without doing a summary, including a relevant quote and adding a "so what" to why the person thinks it's relevant. Not only does that cut down on the forwards, but it provides regular fodder for the widget.

Step three: Appoint a keeper of the widget
The trick is to make sure just one person is responsible for widget content.

Step four: Build it
Obviously there are plenty of options here. I've experienced building widgets in Action Script 3 and packaging in Adobe Air -- this way it is compatible with PCs and Macs and you can add lots of shiny things to it down the road. You can then set it up so it will be fed by an XML file that the keeper of the widget can easily update. The widget pings the XML file at regular intervals and updates automatically. That's as geeky as I get.

Step five: Brand it
Getting a widget on the desktops of senior executives requires some selling, so make it compelling, useful and fun. Create a fun name for the widget and get it to stick. It's gratifying to hear senior executives refer to your pet name in a very serious tone. Knowledge is power, and senior executives know power.

Step six: Work it, baby
Once people are paying attention, keep it fresh. Change it often to keep their attention. Update content regularly. Force them to look at it -- instead of sending out emails with articles, for example, just tell everybody to look at the widget for the new content. Hide Easter Eggs in the widget for people to find and see who finds them. Have fun with it.

Above all, be proud of the work you're showcasing. I recently had one of our very senior executives ask me why we moved a hash-mark in the analytics section -- now that's user engagement! You will make a big difference and you'll prove your ROI in ways never imagined.

Good luck!

Mark Szabo is VP, managing director, Critical Mass.


to leave comments.

Commenter: Michael Leis

2008, May 15

Excellent article, Mark. Great use of widgets/portable technology internally, which a lot of people miss.

Another point is that executives will become ardent widget ambassadors with a presence like this built for them, telling their colleagues (executives at other companies, board members), and ultimately championing a corporate transition to a distributed technology platform -- or helping position widget offerings on that c-level with clients or other business-unit leaders. It's not uncommon for an executive to race right back and say, "This is incredible. Who else can we do this for?"