There has been much talk recently about Web 2.0 tools, mostly in the consumer market with companies and products such as MySpace, Flickr, Wikipedia, and YouTube. In 2006, professor Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” to describe the principles of Web 2.0 in a business context, defining it as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.”
Professor McAfee established his six “SLATES” to describe the key attributes of Enterprise 2.0 technologies. SLATES stands for Search, something we’re all intimately familiar with; Links, which concludes that the most-linked-to information must therefore be the most relevant; Authoring, which fundamentally says everyone has something to contribute; Tags, which provide emergent categorization of content; Extensions, which use algorithms to find user patterns and make recommendations; and Signals, which alert users of new content and updates. My paraphrasing really doesn’t do McAfee’s SLATES justice but hopefully provides a basic understanding of his principles and insight into why social computing tools and technologies such as wikis, RSS, tagging, and presence will play an increasingly important role to the future enterprise.
Enterprise 2.0 tools are a direct response to a much-needed change in our business communication and productivity tools. Our Enterprise 1.0 systems are largely built around e-mail, a tool that was never intended for such demands. Certainly there are other business applications that have yielded mixed success, but I’ll pick on e-mail at the moment since it is the most widely used — or perhaps misused — business application, despite its many shortcomings.
We have become addicted to e-mail in a sort of love-hate relationship. We check our e-mail obsessively yet dread the ceaseless flow of messages to our in-boxes and, of course, the endless spam. We struggle to find relevant information buried in an e-mail or question whether the right people are copied on a thread. E-mail is a closed communication medium that does a poor job of capturing and sharing knowledge, a key ingredient to success in any business and a key feature of Enterprise 2.0.
Enterprise 2.0 tools offer a chance to break our e-mail addiction and our reliance on other Enterprise 1.0 applications. These tools unlock new value in the form of transparent, contextual communication; ease of access to information; and more effective use of data trapped inside applications, on desktops, or embedded in e-mail attachments. They allow us to capture the knowledge and opinions trapped in the minds of our knowledge workers through simple participation. The early adopters of Enterprise 2.0 tools and concepts are finding them both powerful and liberating.
But with any new technology, user adoption is the key to success. This could not hold truer than with Enterprise 2.0 tools. Their ease of use certainly will help with user adoption, but there must still be a willingness to break a decades-old addiction to e-mail. There must also be a willingness to work more transparently and in more public forums with the use of wikis, tags, or blogs. For these reasons the shift to Enterprise 2.0 is as much about enabling the right business culture as it is about providing the right tools for users. The shift to Enterprise 2.0 will also happen organically, over time. As new generations enter the workforce, they will expect and demand a Web 2.0 experience from their business applications. This generation is more accustomed to IM and Facebook than to e-mail or restrictive business applications. They have embraced transparency, sharing information, and participating willingly in public, digital conversations.
All of this presents both a challenge and an opportunity for businesses. These changes are taking place often unbeknownst to IT and with little regard for company IT policies and controls. This presents an alarming reality for companies with potentially sensitive information or in heavily regulated environments. IT is faced with bringing some level of control and aligning Enterprise 2.0 with corporate policy while not stifling the benefits that Enterprise 2.0 tools can yield. Striking that delicate balance is a key ingredient to success with Enterprise 2.0 and is sure to be a subject for much continued discussion and debate.
But the role of IT can and should not just be reactionary, shoring up and adapting to changes already under way. IT is held more accountable to tangible business results than ever before. There is a real opportunity for IT to drive the Enterprise 2.0 agenda as a strategic advantage and with adherence to corporate policy. This will become easier as business-grade Web 2.0 tools continue to reach the market and best practices are established. New vendors are emerging in droves to address this need, providing all the functionality of Web 2.0 tools, but with the security, integration, and scalability required for commercial deployment. Existing software platforms and tools are also rising to meet these new demands, adding Web 2.0 features and functionality while providing a bridge from our familiar business-grade applications.
A race is ensuing that will include incumbent and startup vendors alike. If the consumer market for Web 2.0 tools is any indication, we are in store for some radical changes ahead, with new rules, new technology leaders, and most certainly new efficiencies and value from our business applications and knowledge workers than we’ve ever seen before. Brace yourself for the shift to Enterprise 2.0.