The state of Enterprise 2.0

by Dion Hinchcliffe

Industry analysts, CIOs, and business leaders around the world are continuing to try to read the industry tea leaves in 2007 when it comes to the subject of Enterprise 2.0, the increasingly popular discussion of using Web 2.0 platforms in the workplace. The primary topic of interest? Whether Enterprise 2.0 brings real bang for the buck by making the daily work of organizations measurably more productive, efficient, and innovative. Investors and executives are just not going to make significant bets on Enterprise 2.0 in terms of resources and risk exposure without good information on the likely returns of implementation.

Up until recently, the lack of mature Enterprise 2.0 products, good case studies, and feedback from early experiences that successfully dealt with some of the challenges that these frequently disruptive and occasionally subversive tools introduced. This immature state of affairs was often holding back even corporate pilots of highly promising candidate Enterprise 2.0 technologies such as enterprise blogs, wikis, and even mashups.

However, increasing evidence abounds that Enterprise 2.0 adoption has begun in earnest with a typical example being Wells Fargo taking the plunge, having rolled out Enterprise 2.0 platforms to 160,000 workers. It has become clear that we’re moving out of the early pioneer phase to a broader acceptance phase. From the production side, a brand new analysis indicates that the business social software market will be nearly $1 billion strong this year and over $3.3 billion by 2011. In these and other ways, such as the growing collection of success stories, Enterprise 2.0 has arrived.

The big question for many of those on the fence now is: 1) Do we now have the right capabilities in terms of ready Enterprise 2.0 products? And 2) Do we generally understand how to apply them properly to obtain good returns on our investment in them? Knowing the answers to both questions will almost certainly tell us if we’re ready for mainstream adoption of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 any time soon.

Enterprise 2.0 redux

Professor Andrew McAfee of Harvard Business School famously introduced the term and concepts behind Enterprise 2.0 last year and it’s had a heady ride across the industry and in the press ever since. Initially defined by McAfee as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers”, the broader global community has attempt to expand, reinvent, and co-opt Enterprise 2.0 with varying degrees of success. But the essential, core meaning has largely stayed the same: Social applications that are optional to use, free of unnecessary structure, highly egalitarian, and support many forms of data.

McAfee even coined a menmonic to make it easy for everyone to remember what appeared to be the key aspects of these social platforms. Called SLATES, it was an easy checklist to verify that the tools you were considering had the right essential ingredients. Under this initial definition Web 2.0 poster children blogs and wikis were identified as Enterprise 2.0 platforms (provided that they provided reasonable support for SLATES) as well as more sophisticated tools such as prediction markets and even vertical business applications like customer directed taxi cab dispatching were given as early examples of richer Enterprise 2.0 applications.

Examples platforms that failed to make the cut as Enterprise 2.0 because they didn’t have the qualities that were believed to be important for business business outcomes? These included most corporate intranets and portals, most groupware, as well as e-mail and “classic” instant messaging. Why? They either didn’t provide access to a voice for workers to communicate and collaborate with or they didn’t create results that were persistent and globally visible. In the end, Enterprise 2.0 takes most of the potent ideas of Web 2.0, user generated content, peer production, and moves them into the workplace.

Did the original articulation of Enterprise 2.0 have the right focus and point us in the best direction? And has the conception of it evolved from this vision to reflect that which we’ve learned along the way? Going back again to our two questions that will inform us as to the state of Enterprise 2.0; what have learned from our experiences with the early platforms and initial rollouts of Enterprise 2.0 and what does it teach us?

state of Enterprise 2.0 – Fall 2007

Here is what appears to be what we’ve learned about Enterprise 2.0 up to this point in time. There is of course no way to make this list complete though I believe it covers most of the big lessons. Also, entirely in the spirit of Enterprise 2.0 itself, I strongly encourage that you add anything that you think I’ve left out in TalkBack below or in a link from your own blog.

Lesson #1: Enterprise 2.0 is going to happen in your organization with you or without you. Enterprise 2.0 is now happening on its own in many organizations and it’s up to the business and IT to not so much take control but to enable it with things such as effective enterprise search and which helps prevent silos and duplicate, yet unsynchronized data from forming.

Lesson #2: Effective Enterprise 2.0 seems to involve more than just blogs and wikis. The discussion often starts with these simple freeform tools but should progress beyond this to other platforms that are better for specific situations such as enterprise mashups which enable for user-created Web applications what enterprise blogs and wikis for user-created content and structure. Predictive market products such as HP’s BRAIN platform and online innovation facilitators such as Innocentive are other potentially more sophisticated examples of Enterprise 2.0 platforms. Social bookmarking is also starting to gain speed in the enterprise as way of providing a rich information discovery mechanism internally.

Lesson #3: Enterprise 2.0 is more a state of mind than a product you can purchase. While a widely covered report from Forrester earlier this year clearly showed that CIOs would prefer to buy one single Enterprise 2.0 suite instead of cobbling together a combination of point solutions for blogging, wikis, RSS consumption, and social networking, the reality is that even the best Enterprise 2.0 suites will be missing key pieces for a long time. To get decent returns from Enterprise 2.0 implementations, organizations will require really good enterprise search, access to enterprise data from within Enterprise 2.0 tools, the ability to create mashups at a low level to the more sophisticated Enterprise 2.0-style products at a higher level. That’s not to say an Enterprise 2.0 suite such as SuiteTwo or Microsoft SharePoint can’t form the core of your Enterprise 2.0 strategy, but other products and integration work will be required to make it provide real business results in your local IT environment. This will include products that will make your Enterprise 2.0 suite support single sign-on, work in your portal environment, provide management and moderation controls, as well as integrate with your ECM and other traditional enterprise platforms.

In other words, by the time you’ve installed, configured, customized, and integrated all of the ingredients you’ve brought together, if you’ve lost sight of the specific reasons why Enterprise 2.0 is supposed to work better, your effort will have been in vain. I see this often when Enterprise 2.0 projects don’t provide, say, read access to RSS feed readers to workers or fail to make it easy to create a blog post or wiki page from the Intranet and a dozen other minor decisions made on top of the Enterprise 2.0 tools selected, yet contrary to their spirit and that will be significantly detrimental to the outcome. Best advice: Clearly understand the benefits of these news tools and ideas and then do your very best to ensure they aren’t negated.

Lesson #4: Most businesses still need to educate their workers on the techniques and best practices of Enterprise 2.0 and social media. Just like the previous generation of workers received computer literacy classes en masse and learned how to use business productivity applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, and email, the same will be required for the current generation of workers and Enterprise 2.0. The hurdle is making sure that workers have a clear understanding of the specific techniques of how to apply Enterprise 2.0 tools to their daily work. Social media information formats such as project status wiki pages to departmental news blogs are still foreign to most workers today and proactive worker education will be required to make sure the investments in Enterprise 2.0 are being appropriately reaped.

Lesson #5: The benefits of Enterprise 2.0 can be dramatic, but only builds steadily over time. One major benefit of the open, globally visible information in Enterprise 2.0 platforms is that organizational retention of knowledge actually begins to accrue on a wide scale. But it’s a continuous, linear build-up and almost never a sudden and pronounced business benefit. Adoption and habits also take time to form and it’s quite typical to see 6 months go by before significant activity begins to take place in the Enterprise 2.0 platforms in an organization. Do not expect big immediate wins but carefully measure your rollouts and make sure their network effect is being established. Particularly if your tools aren’t following SLATES, and many platforms, such as SharePoint often don’t follow SLATES by default, then growth and uptake can require a great deal of work. But like compound interest, it doesn’t take forever to begin achieving respectable results on a regular basis and all the best rollouts we’ve seen have given their Enterprise 2.0 strategies the time and support to work organically.

Lesson #6: Enterprise 2.0 doesn’t seem to put older IT systems out of business. In fact, this seems to never have happened. In fact, instead of competition, enabling connections to existing IT systems can provide significant benefits and allowing reports, views, and documents to be hosted by or connected to Enterprise 2.0 tools and can help make sure that there isn’t another silo of content in the organization. Having a blog post on the budget for FY 07 with the actual current numbers being displayed in an HTML table live from an RSS feed from the budget system is an example of this. In this way, Enterprise 2.0 seems to work better when it lives in close contact with existing IT systems than in isolation. The biggest impact of this lesson is that these new tools are so different and generally support such different types of knowledge than usually captured, that impact to existing systems seems to be minimal. Interestingly, you might see a decrease in the use of e-mail or ECM when the conversations that formerly happened on those platforms make a more natural home in Enterprise 2.0 platforms.

Lesson #7: Your organization will begin to change in new ways because of Enterprise 2.0. Be ready. Beyond simple productivity gains, other sorts of more subtle returns often accrue around Enterprise 2.0. McAfee has recently noted that these types of tools tend to create many more links between workers and different groups in an organization and that these types of links tend to provide better benefits than the stronger, more frequent links between organizational entities and individual workers. For this reason and others, Enterprise 2.0 platforms seem to foster a new type of collaboration that exhibits more innovation, creativity, and cross pollination. And because these tools are generally so freeform, they will regularly be used in ways they were never originally intended. Blogs and wikis in particularly can be put to just about any use in terms of accumulating knowledge and collaborating over a network and increasing I’ve seen Enterprise 2.0 initiatives finding them being used in entirely unexpected ways. Enterprise 2.0 enables a rich canvas for workers to think about and construct their information landscape and anything is possible.

Conclusion

It’s still quite useful to read Nine ideas for IT managers considering Enterprise 2.0. Almost exactly a year later, all the advice still rings true despite what we’ve learned in the interim. Nevertheless, we’re just now beginning down the road of Enterprise 2.0 and an enormous amount has yet to be learned. The increasing pervasiveness of the tools and knowledge of Enterprise 2.0 will continue to have a growing impact on our businesses for better and worse. Success stories will continue to emerge as well as the first major issues such as information spills, IP theft, and other potential problems when so much critical business information is made so much more leveragable. How to access the benefits while minimizing the risks will continue to be a major topc in the Enterprise 2.0 community.

In the meantime, I’d like to try an experiment and extend the SLATES mnemonic a bit. My biggest issue in using it in its present form to communicate Enterprise 2.0 is that it doesn’t itself capture the social, emergent, and freeform aspects that we know are so essential and so I’ve added these. I know SLATES is supposed to be capability based but it also needs to convey the intended outcomes clearly, and social capability in particular is missing. Thus, I’ve used an anagram generator to create another (hopefully) pithy mnemonic, FLATNESSES, which itself captures yet another important aspect of Enterprise 2.0, its egalitarian nature. FLATNESSES is depicted in the diagram below containing these three key aspects added to SLATES as well as a fourth which I discuss below. I hope you find this a useful conception to discuss the vital elements of Enterprise 2.0 in your efforts and would love your feedback.

Finally, I’ve also added one more capability to the new mnemonic, network-oriented, to reflect that all these aspect of Enterprise 2.0 must apply not only to applications that are fundamentally delivered over a network but that their content be fully Web-oriented, addressable, and reusable. The atomization and portability of information, such as what RSS has enabled, has been vital to the successful growth of communities like the blogosphere and one vital point about Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 that many organizations don’t yet fully understand: Our enterprises are NOT the Web. And to get the full benefits of the Web 2.0 era, we must begin adapting our organizations and their information and IT resources (with suitable enterprise context) to this network-oriented model that has worked so for us globally on the Internet these last 15 years.

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2 Responses to The state of Enterprise 2.0

  1. [...] E20 practice gets under way. (For some recent extension suggestions from Hinchliffe check here.) This past February at FASTforward in San Diego, Andy’s keynote session, in addition to [...]

  2. [...] The state of Enterprise 2.0 « TechBizWatch Analyses SLATES definition, adds stuff and puts into context. (tags: enterprise2.0 dissertation) [...]

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