Blogger Euan Semple recently highlighted a key point about Enterprise 2.0 adoption that ZDNet's own Dan Farber also found worthy of note over the weekend. And that is that Enterprise 2.0 will happen in your organization entirely by itself, whether you encourage it, discourage it, or even consign it to benign neglect. Euan actually laid out three strategies in semi-tongue cheek form likely meant as a shot across the bow of complacent IT departments; whether you get out of the way, actively encourage it, or do absolutely nothing, Enterprise 2.0 platforms like blogs, wikis, and related social, emergent, freeform Web 2.0-style apps are coming to your company, and in fact are almost certainly there already.
This is the call to action to IT departments where they can actually do the most good and use their top-down influence to find ways to embrace Web 2.0 by eliminating the intrinsic barriers to it without compromising the integrity of enterprise systems or our businesses.To reinforce that this isn't mere speculation, at the end of my last post I cited an instance of one large firm I worked with discovering that isolated wikis had begun to proliferate like crabgrass internally, with no impetus from from IT at all. I could relate a half dozen more anecdotes of the same kind: A worker that needed a wiki to collaborate on a project on-the-fly and couldn't wait for IT to provide it and used his own credit card to get access to one on the Web. Or a department within a large Fortune 500 firm installs a solitary wiki server on a developer workstation and the rest of the company's departments jump on board and start adding to it, almost displacing the existing ECM system.
Though these are just two anecdotes and not rigorous case studies, I find that most people I speak with have started noticing the same thing; a marked consumerization of the enterprise that is resulting in employees using their Internet skills and the latest low-barrier Web tools and -- as Prof. Andrew McAfee says -- voting with their feet to use them at work.
But the enterprise is not the Web
However, while I completely agree with Euan and even witness grassroots, bottom-up Enterprise 2.0 happening myself, there is some serious issues with the do nothing strategy, which will be relatively common as the default stance. While heavyweight top-down IT can certainly do a lot of good for a certain class of business problems, it's not the right answer to everything. At its basic level, IT is good for ensuring some basic level of consistency to enable interoperability between corporate systems, safeguard data compatibility, the provide long term safety of corporate knowledge and systems, and as it turns out, give us the ability to access and exploit the vast, unique, and competitively vital repositories of knowledge that have built up inside most organizations.
Data is the Next "Intel Inside" is a key aspect of Web 2.0 precisely for this reason. The growing data build-up on the Web, far from being a form of network arteriosclerosis, has made the Internet the most valuable information resource that any of us have access to, and the same for many fundamentally data-powered Web sites. And if our corporate data, unlike most of the software behind our firewalls, was entirely lost tomorrow we simply could not buy more data to get back into business; our corporate information is a unique and irreplaceable asset that powers our businesses.
And this is the one of the first indicators that the way Web 2.0 works in the consumer space is fairly different than the enterprise space. For one thing, the entire Internet is basically flat and is -- by in large -- kept in the same open formats. There are few silos or large systems of data with entirely different structures and rules that help power the Web. This is in marked contrast to the enterprise where the information landscape is much more complex and varied, with relational databases, proprietary systems, complex custom XML schemas, and the list goes on. Corporate information tends to be standalone, less mobile, and not connected with other, related information.
On the other hand, the simple, open standards of the Web have allowed all public viewable information on the Internet -- ranging from corporate and persona Web sites to the newer blogs and wikis -- to be found with a just few keywords in your favorite search engine. The power of this can't be understated and allows the vast majority of the content of the Web to be fully exploited by us.
If you want the benefits of the Web inside the firewall, you must partially replicate it
Contrast this to the scenario I outlined in the beginning of this post, where wikis (which follow Web principles like page structure and hyperlinks) proliferate on their own on corporate servers and subnets. If you're very lucky, you'll not have to go to 40 different wiki sites to find the information you're looking for and your enterprise search engine will aggregate it all for you. In practice this rarely happens well, for reasons I'll explain in a moment, and the result is the further balkanization and duplication of corporate information. Why? Because the flatness of the Web just doesn't exist in the enterprise, even when grassroots IT takes root. Partially this is because there is no entity like Google behind the firewall whose very lifeblood is digging up information and making it available to others. But it's also because there aren't enough deep connections between corporate information (links) to relate content together to make sense of the whole and provide the ability to locate it and rate its relevance.
All the reasons for this seem complex but it's essentially because the enterprise is a much more controlled place, has discrete political boundaries which create unexpected structure, is usually much less open than the Web (true, often for good reason), and with security, governance, and other requirements that also don't apply to most of the Web.
Then there's a significant technical obstacle: the accretion of pre-Web enterprise systems, often for 30 years or longer, many of which still run the business. These systems currently can't play well with Enterprise 2.0 systems (participating in things like tagging or federated search) without a lot of rethinking and retooling. BTW, this includes the PC and all the information that gets accumulated private, unshared, and unleveragable in personal directories and office productivity applications.
The good news is that it can be fairly easy to add "Webness" to enterprise IT systems, it just takes some thinking out of the box.
Enterprise 2.0-style IT requires a shift to much more openness using a Web model, a shift in preferred end-user tools, and flat collaborative space in order for it to work and get reasonable returns. Or we'll just replace Microsoft Office and e-mail with E2.0 apps and mostly be right back where we started. Those that represent to be doing Enterprise 2.0 solely through tool rollout and no infrastructure remediation will almost certainly be among those reporting less encouraging results.
Note that the standard checklist for Enterprise 2.0 systems is the SLATES mnemonic (covered in more detail here), with the S standing for Search. The concept basically is that if you can't find the information on your Intranet search engine, it might as well not exist. Just like the Web, search is the starting point for the Enterprise 2.0 value proposition because if Intranet search doesnt work and have full, relevant access to enterprise content, it doesn't matter how open or participatory blog, wiki, or other Web 2.0 platforms are; employees won't see the result or use them. Never mind the submerged iceberg of other enterprise information that can't be found with search either
The unique power of the Web that makes it so compelling is that's solved a lot of the problems in effective production and consumption of information in an emergent, organic fashion using all of us a sort of living laboratory to find out the best way to build applications. But our enterprises don't look like the Web. So this is the call to action to IT departments where they can actually do the most good and use their top-down influence to find ways to embrace Web 2.0 by eliminating the intrinsic barriers to it without compromising the integrity of enterprise systems or our businesses. Enterprise software architects, CTOs, and CIOs must start thinking about this, or they will have to become the policemen to stop the movement en masse to outsourced systems, SaaS, mashups, and other self-service on-demand applications that meets users needs. The Do-It-Yourself era has arrived and it's flowing inside the firewall fast.
Where is Enterprise 2.0 heading? Read my 10 predictions for E2.0 in 2007.
What's a likely sweet spot for applying Enterprise 2.0 inside the firewall? Keeping adoption of your preferred tools simple within the complex landscape of your organization so users won't prefer theirs; flatten your network as much as you can, open your systems using simple, open standards, and push the tools out fast (the network effect is pronounced with these tools so speed does matter). Make Enterprise 2.0 as simple as humanely possible for your organization in this framework, but no simpler.
Are you seeing grassroots adoption of Enterprise 2.0 type applications in your organization?