Enterprise 2.0: what a crock

Summary:I've been following the so-called Enterprise 2.0 meme for some time and you know what?

I've been following the so-called Enterprise 2.0 meme for some time and you know what? It's a crock. Forget Dion Hinchcliffe's pretty failure pictures or Mike Krigsman's guest post of failure. Examine the basics and look back at history.

Some years back I was a hack attending an IDC (I think) conference where Western Digital presented their use of forums as a way of getting customer feedback on what they were offering plus improvements they could make. At the time it was deemed a success. No-one bothered calling it Enterprise 2.0 or anything close. It was part of doing business. Fast forward to the present. We're regaled with reasons to 'do' the E2.0 thing. But what has changed out there in enterprisey land?

We're in a recession the likes of which no-one under the age of 75 has seen. That means unless you've got access to people who lived through the depression of the 1930's you've got no idea what is going on in corporate America - or in the Global Corporate Environment. Pretending otherwise is a lie.

Regardless of what you're told by the E2.0 mavens, business has far more pressing problems. The world is NOT made up of knowledge driven businesses. It's made up of a myriad of design, make and buy people who -quite frankly - don't give a damn about the 'emergent nature' of enterprise.  To most of those people, the talk is mostly noise they don't need.They just want to get things done with whatever the best tech they can get their hands on at reasonable price. That doesn't mean some wiki, blog or whatnot. More likely they'll be investigating sensor tech.

In 2008 I attended Enterprise 2.0 and spoke with Andrew McAfee at length. He admitted that case studies for his notion of the emergent enterprise were thin in the ground. Nothing I've seen in 2009 changes that perception. Business wants to find the most efficient ways of satisfying customers - and if you think that's going to come from some new fangled community then think again.

Example: regardless of the failure of the automotive industry, Ford was one of the first to create an internal business community capable of delivering value back to customers. The result was the Ford Focus (in the UK/EU) where the design was initiated from the US, the drive train and the engine came from other manufacturers. It was a model that Honda - as both designers and supply side builders followed. They understood they couldn't do everything and were prepared to outsource the pieces that mattered to achieve a coherent whole. At the time - it worked. It had nothing to do with customers but everything to do with efficiency.

Let's think about another industry - pharma. This is an industry that lives and dies on innovation. But can you imagine inserting a new process to pharma without FDA sanction? It would cause a hissy fit in Washington and rightly so. There is a reason why processes exist to validate what pharma wants to do. Can community oil those wheels?  Perhaps but I've not seen the proofs to suggest that is a long term win.

Communities are driven by passionate community evangelists who, for the most part I see as driven people. They don't have an allegiance to the company or brand but to the idea of community. There's nothing wrong with that but I have to ask the question - what happens when they move on or become tired of batting their head against a brick wall? As someone engaged with community building as a stepping stone to transformation I understand the challenges.

Then there is the question of rules v judgment. In my accounting world that is best manifested by the debate among professionals re: the introduction of IFRS v US GAAP. This is all about rules v. judgment thinking. Herein lies the biggest conundrum. If you allow people to express what they really think, which, will no doubt suggest value, then how do you parse that against enterprise corporate policy - or the legal department? These are not insignificant issues but ones the mavens brush aside. Why? Mostly they've not had to traverse the minefield of public corporate responsibility. Having spoken to a few of these people, their experience is in small business where life is less restricted. But ask them the solution? It's mostly wrapped up in what many management would describe as anarchy.

Like it or not, large enterprises - the big name brands - have to work in structures and hierarchies that most E2.0 mavens ridicule but can't come up with alternatives that make any sort of corporate sense. Therein lies the Big Lie. Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all. Yet none of that thinking has a credible use case you can generalize back to business types - except: knowledge based businesses such as legal, accounting, architects etc. Even then - where are the use cases? I'd like to know. In the meantime, don't be surprised by the 'fail' lists that Mike Krigsman will undoubtedly trot out - that's easy.

In the meantime, can someone explain to me the problem Enterprise 2.0 is trying to solve?

Topics: Enterprise 2.0, Outsourcing

About

Dennis Howlett has been providing comment and analysis on enterprise software since 1991 in a variety of European trade and professional journals including CFO Magazine, The Economist and Information Week. Today, apart from being a full time blogger on innovation for professional services organisations, he is a founding member of Enterpri... Full Bio

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