Monday, November 19, 2012

My take on the state of Enterprise 2.0



A simple, but rather narrow, definition of Enterprise 2.0 is to define it as the introduction and use of social networking platforms to improve collaboration (and many-to-many communication) within and across organizations. While collaboration traditionally has been restrained to a small group of people, it can now extend far beyond the traditional team to involved large networks of people from within and outside the organization.

The characteristics of this new breed, or generation, of communication and collaboration tools allow for people to communicate and collaborate more freely at a greater scale, with a higher degree of participation, and with more immediacy and richness than was previously possible. Collaboration can now happen more dynamically, allowing anyone from anywhere inside or outside the organization to quickly start communicating and collaborating around an idea, goal, problem, or opportunity. This kind of collaboration becomes increasingly important as the business environments changes more rapidly, competition increases and customers expect faster and better service. You can even involve other customers in the collaboration, allowing them to help each other with support or so they can contribute to the development of a company’s products and services.

Is anyone there yet?

If you take this simple definition and purely look at the implementation of tools and technologies, then many organizations are well on their way if not already there in some business processes or parts of their business. But if you look at what is required to reap the full value from this kind of collaboration in terms of improved agility, innovation and productivity increases, most organizations have still a long way to go. Many organizations are just paving cow paths with the new technology, clinging on to existing practices and not developing better ones with the use of the new technology.

There is also, besides adjusting existing structures to allow this kind of collaboration to happen freely, a need for a corporate culture than is more open and transparent and less controlling and hoarding, a culture that allows for and encourages greater participation and autonomy among the workforce. This is the tricky part, because it requires a change of people's mindsets, attitudes, and behaviours. To change these, we need to change many of the things (systems) that have shaped the corporate culture, such as how employees is incentivized, how authority and accountability is implemented in the organization, and how leadership is being practiced.

Some organizations will (and some have already) experience a backlash and disappointment with the new technologies not creating the expected benefits. Often this will happen because there is too wide a gap between their readiness for this kind of working and the change they want to see. But, the good thing is that these new technologies themselves help to accelerate such a culture change since they make it simple to create, share, have conversations and connect with other people and information from anywhere.

What about the tools?

Typical tools labeled with Enterprise 2.0 are tools such as micro-blogs, social networking sites, blogs and wikis, social bookmarking, activity feeds, and so forth. But we see that new kinds of tools and solutions that have been designed based on social principles and that uses social mechanisms (such as tags, links, search, ratings, comments) are being introduced all the time. The innovations are to a large extent driven by the innovations on the commercial web and consumer markets, and they give rise to new ideas on how to use the new technologies inside and between organizations. When we apply the thinking and design principles behind the social web in a business context, new solutions will emerge.

So, what we are currently seeing is only the beginning of this new generation of communication and collaboration technologies. We are only beginning to scratch the surface on how we can improve knowledge worker productivity and collaborate better to improve operational performance. As I’ve mentioned before, the biggest part of this potential can only be unlocked by changing other aspects in how organizations are being managed and operated today.

I believe we can expect a lot of innovation happening in this space in the years to come, with enterprise applications being integrated with social tools and also being redesigned based on social principles in order to enabler enterprise-wide collaboration. But the greatest change we will see in how we approach new technologies, as we will have to work much more with changing our cultures and existing practices and behaviors, not just rolling out new technologies to users.