Enterprise strategists have long been aware that the “informal organization” has tremendous influence on business success or failure. A vibrant culture with a strong sense of community and cross-functional network of employee relationships can significantly augment traditional management methods and processes structures. Hierarchy and formal controls can inadvertently result in compliance policies, decision-making roles, and work handing rules that constrain the ability of people to effectively communicate, share information, and collaborate. In many cases, these “gating mechanisms” are necessary business constructs that serve valid purposes (e.g., security), but they have unintended consequences: communication may not be timely, relevant knowledge might not be shared, and collaboration may not occur across departmental boundaries.
Breakdowns in information sharing and collaboration and a poor sense of community within an enterprise can impact a worker's willingness to share insight and pass along experiences. Catalyzing the informal organization is becoming a more complex challenge for business and information technology (IT) strategists as shifting employee demographics crystallize concerns regarding aging workforce trends and expectations of younger employees (e.g., new work models).
“E2.0” as a catch phrase has merit and deserves attention from business and IT strategists. Beyond the meme, however, E2.0 represents new packaging for strategic collaboration and KM. Organizations often rely on collaboration and KM initiatives to attain innovation, growth, productivity, and performance goals. Collaboration and KM efforts can also help address needs of the informal organization when these efforts are properly linked to human capital management programs that improve HR and employee talent strategies.
John Newton has written "A Manifesto for Social Computing in the Enterprise", listing what capabilities are needed in a social computing platform for helping to "empower people to collaborate at any time or place". Here's a few quotes from the post:
Finally, here's the finale in Andrew McAfee's post "Enterprise 2.0 May be Fine for the Business, But What About the IT Department?", commenting on a recent article in InformationWeek ("Growing Pains: Can Web 2.0 Evolve Into An Enterprise Technology?"):
The balance is shifting from contained and controlled companies to engaged and empowered collaborative enterprises driven by Web 2.0-inspired social computing. At the center of the shift from old models of computing in the enterprise to new social models are companies that are inspired to innovate or to engage more with their customers...//...Those using social computing are interested in engaging people, such as customers, employees or partners. They are using new people-centric tools and facilitate creating or extending existing social networks.
This does not mean that the need for traditional enterprise content technologies such as document and records management goes away. They are still repositories of the truth and verifiable information and thus play an important role in sharing knowledge within social networks. However, these traditional technologies lack the usability, empowerment, and breadth of reach that Web 2.0 sites provide. They lack the collaborative nature that invites in people without barriers and restrictions to contribute to the sharing of knowledge and information.
Among the least kind terms I hear used to describe IT organizations are ‘priesthood’ and ‘empire.’ These words imply a belief that corporate IT departments consciously exclude outsiders and outside influences, and are concerned primarily with expanding themselves. If this is the case, then Enterprise 2.0 will certainly be resisted by IT; its tools are cheap, often housed outside the firewall, and require relatively little configuration, support, and maintenance. Enterprise 2.0 comes from outside the priesthood, in other words, and doesn’t expand the empire. As the article says in its opening sentence, "forget outsourcing. the real threat to IT pros could be Web 2.0." I think a larger threat to the continued health and relevance of corporate IT departments might be the worldview underlying that sentence.