Development of Social Collaboration Tool Gets a Woman’s Touch from a CIO

Don Tennant

Question: What do you get when you combine social networking, project collaboration and a woman’s touch from a high-profile CIO? Answer: Kona.

The project-oriented social collaboration tool is the brainchild of Deltek, a Herndon, Va.-based  provider of enterprise software for project-based businesses like government contractors and professional services firms. Kona became publicly available last fall after an in-house development effort, aided by Deltek’s IT department and CIO, was initiated to help address the need internally for a better project collaboration tool.

That CIO is Deb Fitzgerald, who moved to Deltek in 2009 from VeriSign, where she served as vice president of information technologies. Now, she’s responsible for developing and implementing the technology vision for Deltek worldwide. I spoke with Fitzgerald last week to get a better sense of what Kona is all about, and I found the backstory she shared especially interesting:

A couple of our product managers who had created some of our ERP and CRM applications for our user base in the past had realized that projects, both internally at Deltek as well as externally with our customers, had continued to fail, and not fail necessarily for reasons having to do with the software and things like that. It was the people factor—the fact that people had trouble collaborating, and we weren’t effective at doing it. So they took an approach in terms of what could we do to leverage the power of social [networking] and our knowledge [of project management], because Deltek is really at the heart of delivering business solutions for project-based businesses. What could we do with our knowledge of projects, and really help to solve that [collaboration] problem with a social tool in some way? So those insights coming together in a user-centric application have led us to develop Kona into what it is today. So it is slightly different from some other things that were built in social [networking] for social purposes. This was built for social purposes for teams to really get something done faster and more effectively.

I asked Fitzgerald what role she played in the development of Kona. She said she wasn’t on the product development team, so her initial involvement was as a user:

In the early days, I was just a user, like other internal folks as well as external folks, and was just giving feedback in terms of how I was seeing it being used. And then I was partnering with our development effort in later stages. In addition to me continuing to be a user in various parts of my personal and professional lives, I also helped the team look at it from a corporate perspective. One of the things we’re enhancing and getting ready to launch very shortly is our Kona Business Edition, which is focused on some more corporate requirements, so I was helping them flush out what we needed to lean into more in that area.

So while she wasn’t actually on the product development team, Fitzgerald clearly had the ear of the team in her capacity as the high-profile leader of Deltek’s technology vision. I noted that I’ve found that it’s generally understood and accepted that males and females communicate and collaborate differently, so I asked Fitzgerald whether there’s anything about Kona that would be different if Deltek’s CIO had been male. Her response:

I think my view of being a CIO is probably slightly different, and that might be shaped in terms of me being a woman, vs. a man. I’m really about treating our internal organization as if they’re customers, and partnering with them, and really trying to understand the pain points, and trying to use technology to help with those pain points, and making others’ jobs easier. So if you look at it from that perspective, I think that’s a little bit of my woman’s point of view maybe influencing that to a certain extent. So I think if you look at the value of collaboration, that we’re not just using social collaboration to see who can talk loudest, but how can we partner together to get things done? That’s definitely one of the things I focused on in terms of helping them shape that.

Fitzgerald also elaborated on the role that Deltek’s IT department played in the development of Kona:

We’re obviously one of the early users of this; I’d say Deltek in general was customer No. 1. So IT rolled that out internally, across the organization and within IT itself, and really had to be an early adopter in terms of how could we see certain sweet spots of the tool really helping us, and jumping on some of those types of things. Were there things that we would be concerned about as this type of tool got rolled out internally that we would want to ask questions about? What did we see as some of the strengths and weaknesses?

I asked Fitzgerald whether there’s anything about Kona that makes it especially well-suited for collaboration within an IT department, compared to other products in the social collaboration space. She responded with a little background that focused on Deltek’s previous use of Yammer, which had emerged as a grassroots effort of Deltek employees to address their need for a collaboration tool:

Yammer has never really taken off, and one of the reasons for that is that it’s more about talking about things. The unique thing about Kona is it’s not just that conversation—the conversation is so important at its core in terms of helping to recreate that virtual teaming environment, and virtual work environment. But it also brings in and passes files in a unique way that really helps us increase the velocity on our projects from an IT perspective, as well as looking at it in some unique ways as to where we can take that power of collaboration. Some of those things can be done with some of the other tools, like a Yammer or a [] Chatter. But that unique ability to bring in projects, and bring in the conversation and collaboration together into one, makes Kona able to fit so many more of those sweet spots and use cases. Allowing it to become kind of a center of gravity for us.

In the interview, Fitzgerald also elaborated on the features and the technical aspects of Kona. I’ll cover that in a subsequent post.

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