Enterprise 2.0 year in review

Summary:Though the eponymous title of this blog refers to the application of all aspects of Web 2.0 to the enterprise both large and small, the big story this year has really been about a collaborative subset of Web 2.0, something referred to as Enterprise 2.0. Though the definition has continued to expand in some circles, Enterprise 2.0 describes the use of the latest freeform, emergent, social software tools that hold the promise to significantly improve the ways that we work together and collaborate. As an example, the liberal use of internal blogs and wikis with discoverable content frequently forms the foundation of an Enterprise 2.0 software strategy.

Though the eponymous title of this blog refers to the application of all aspects of Web 2.0 to the enterprise both large and small, the big story this year has really been about a collaborative subset of Web 2.0, something referred to as Enterprise 2.0.  Though the definition has continued to expand in some circles, Enterprise 2.0 describes the use of the latest freeform, emergent, social software tools that hold the promise to significantly improve the ways that we work together and collaborate.  As an example, the liberal use of internal blogs and wikis with discoverable content frequently forms the foundation of an Enterprise 2.0 software strategy.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my coverage of Enterprise 2.0 throughout 2006 and by all indications 2007 is very likely the year that it will significantly break out into the enterprise.  CIOs, and more importantly, technology savvy workers are increasingly applying Enterprise 2.0 within their organizations because it can often be adopted very inexpensively, is by its intrinsic nature easy to use (requiring little if any end-user training), and many believe that it can be applied incrementally. This makes Enterprise 2.0 IT-friendly on numerous fronts to deploy by already harried, budget-pressured IT departments that are eager to deliver some low-risk wins.  And informal data does suggest that many organizations will indeed be trying next year to get at the promise of productivity that Enterprise 2.0 tools offers.

Read my original write-up that describes the key differences between Enterprise 2.0 apps and traditional enterprise apps.  Includes the link to Andrew McAfee's original MIT Sloan Management Review article describing Enterprise 2.0. 

But the whole story is not entirely as rosy as all that and there have been concerns raised around Enterprise 2.0 technologies including, but by no means limited to: the fears of a loss of control of communication within organizations; worries over the "dumbing down" of corporate conversation; the available means of determining the accuracy of information captured and shared by employees using Enterprise 2.0 tools, and even concerns over productivity, which usually boils down to whether users will spend their time socializing on non-work related topics.  With some of these questions unanswered, the more risk averse are taking a wait and see attitude on Enterprise 2.0.

 

Google Trends stats for Enterprise 2.0 technologies like blogs and wikis

However, in print and in the blogosphere, Enterprise 2.0 has been getting considerable attention including a small but quickly growing set of software products that have self-identified themselves as Enterprise 2.0.  There is even the upcoming Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston in mid-year and O'Reilly's new Web 2.0 Best Practices document, probably the leading and most rigorous description of Web 2.0, now heavily references Enterprise 2.0 throughout. As you can see from the Google Trends chart, though fairly unscientific in absolute terms, it clearly shows that demand for information on user-controlled collaboration platforms such as blogs, and particularly wikis, has continued to rise compared to the platforms we've had with us for decades, such as e-mail or even newspapers (best exemplified in a collaborative sense by things such as classified ads). 

With all of this discussion, the burgeoning Enterprise 2.0 community has raised awareness, uncovered a lot of issues, and even begun capturing some lessons learned.  Thus, given that we're at the end of the year, here's a round-up of the most significant or interesting events related to Enterprise 2.0 in 2006.  Please keep in mind that no list like this could ever be exhaustive and any omissions are mine alone.  Do however feel free to contribute your own items in the TalkBack section below.

Enterprise 2.0 Year in Review

  • Harvard's Andrew McAfee introduces Enterprise 2.0.  In a Harvard Business School blog post in March, 2006 announcing his article in the Spring 2006 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, professor Andrew McAfee describes Enterprise 2.0 as "simple, free platforms for self-expression" that remove the last remaining barriers to sharing information using Web technologies, given that even very trivial barriers can drastically reduce creativity and contribution.  To support this, McAfee cites the story of Nupedia which added a small wiki feature in January 2001 and 10 short days later had picked up over 600 new entries says McAfee.  The result -- which eventually became Wikipedia -- has since blossomed into over 3 million entirely user contributed entries.  In the Enterprise 2.0 article, McAfee also emphasized the value of "emergent structures, rather than imposed ones."  Good tools are general purpose enough to be applied to a variety of situations and pick up enough structure along the way to make repeated use in a given situation continually richer and easier.  This is the kind of adaptability that makes a good application a true platform that can be built upon and (re)used many ways.  Thus blogs and wikis can be used in a virtually limitless number of ways to track tasks, people, projects, budgets, or just about anything else.  And Enterprise 2.0 tools are fundamentally social, letting them exploit the power of Reed's law which says that the social use of a network is by far the most powerful.  McAfee soon followed up with a second definition of Enterprise 2.0 that has since stuck fairly well: "Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers."
  • Nicholas Carr says "some skepticism is in order."  New technologies can frequently realize some early, exciting successes in the enterprise but all too often ultimately fail to satisfy or deliver on most of the promise.  In my personal experience, it's due to the fact that early adopters in an organization are often the most technologically proficient and their needs and skills are often very different from the average worker that an IT system must effectively service to succeed.  In response to the early hoopla around Enterprise 2.0 subsequent to McAfee's article, Nicholas Carr, the famed curmudgeon of IT and author of IT Doesn't Matter, threw his usual dose of cold water on the idea in April 2006, noting that: "Managers, professionals and other employees don't have much spare time, and the ones who have the most valuable business knowledge have the least spare time of all. (They're the ones already inundated with emails, instant messages, phone calls, and meeting requests.) Will they turn into avid bloggers and taggers and wiki-writers? It's not impossible, but it's a long way from a sure bet." This highlights one of the biggest ongoing concerns with Enterprise 2.0: There must be incentive to use public, social tools to capture your knowledge, but will the time spent doing so result in yet more useless paperwork?  Or will Enterprise 2.0 finally reduce a worker's growing communication inundation because the information that people want from you can now be discovered in your blog and wikis entries?
  • The first Enterprise 2.0 labeled products appear.  As with Web 2.0, many people have co-opted the term Enterprise 2.0 for their products to appear buzzword compliant.  At the same time, many explicitly Enterprise 2.0 products (such as Microsoft's Sharepoint) have not decided to apply it all yet. An instance of the former, KnowNow, was probably the first to announce explicitly Enterprise 2.0 solutions, though I confess that it also seems unclear how their solutions are a self-contained Enterprise 2.0 platform.  I bring this specific example up to show the seriousness at which the industry began to take Enterprise 2.0 by mid-2006, and also how the term began to get used and reused in additional ways and contexts.  This began the (probably inevitable) blurring of the preciseness of the term as defined so clearly by McAfee a few months earlier.  A significant number of software products have since been released this year labeled as Enterprise 2.0, or have been aggregated into Enterprise 2.0 software lists.
  • Social Media Value Creation Pyramid
    The challenges and issues of Enterprise 2.0 get largely bounded.  The fundamental shift of control posed by Web 2.0 technologies in general, whereby users on the ground have easy access to tools that allow them to share information publicly, is one of those trends that goes fairly straight across the grain of the hierarchical control model of most traditional businesses.  As such, far beyond some technological challenges to deploying Enterprise 2.0 in an organization, there are also numerous cultural barriers. To capture these, Jerry Bowles brilliantly wrote up a list of Enterprise 2.0 management fears in July 2006 that is worth a close peruse, particularly in the comments section.  Top among his issues is one that probably keeps Chief Security Officers around the world up at night in the Web 2.0 era: "How can I be certain that the information that is gathered and shared behind the firewall stays behind the firewall?"  In addition to these concerns, McAfee identified the 9X rule, backing it with some rigor, which states that a new set of tools must offer nearly an order of magnitude of improvement before users will switch to them.  Finally, Microsoft's Alex Barnett wrote up a terrific summary of challenges of cultural change with Enterprise 2.0 that highlighted the fact that personal value must precede network value (in other words, there has to be something in it for the contributor to use social tools.)  The point here: All of these posts were representative of industry-wide Enterprise 2.0 discussion in general, namely that it's easy to kill the goose that laid the golden egg of user contributions, and that business culture may very well be one of the major obstacles to successful Enterprise 2.0 deployment.  And finally there is the issue of the scale of contribution:  On the Internet perhaps only 1% of users are active creators of knowledge.  Scaling that down from the size of the Web to the size of an enterprise or department could leave many Enterprise 2.0 rollouts with hardly any contributing users at all.
  • Enterprise 2.0 hits the conference circuit.  With interest in applying Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise reaching an all-time high in 2006 and exemplified by major pronouncements from Gartner and from the Sandhill Group/McKinsey, the increasingly popular topic of Enterprise 2.0 began to spill onto the schedules of software conferences around the country.  Interop had Ross Mayfield -- who, with his company SocialText, has been a pioneer in the Enterprise 2.0 space from the beginning -- and Andrew McAfee give a major keynote session together and significant coverage was given at the CTC conference in Boston as well as The New New Internet in Washington, DC (a great podcast of McAfee's speech here), all of which demonstrated the sustained broad interest in the topic.  Unlike blogs, conferences have to sell tickets to events with compelling material and it was yet another useful indicator to gauge how seriously thinkers in the enterprise are looking at this subject.  I attended many of these sessions on Enterprise 2.0 and audience engagement seemed very high.  In 2007 CTC (the Collaborative Technologies Conference) has apparently been renamed the Enterprise 2.0 Conference and it will be interesting to see how popular it will be but the renaming is yet another useful datapoint.
  • Enterprise 2.0 undergoes a minor struggle of definition.  With any high-level term the risk is for others to co-opt its meaning and use it for their own purposes.  As has very clearly happened with many of the 2.0 monikers such as Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0 has had the same challenge.  While McAfee probably has the best summary of the challenges he's had in maintaining a strict, academic view of the term, a good layperson description of the challenges is captured by Anthony Awaida at Sandhill.  The crux is that with prominent mentions in mainstream media including BusinessWeek, the term Enterprise 2.0 currently has the attention of IT leaders for the moment and expansion of the definition allows more people to be involved in the conversation than would be if it's kept to social media tools.  While Office 2.0 is a good example of a very broad umbrella that is quite successful, the term Enterprise 2.0 is generic enough to be reapplied successfully in many ways.  But for now, most people following the Enterprise 2.0 discussion at all understand the core elements such as emergence, freeform structure, and social architecture, but that may change in 2007.
  • Enterprise 2.0 case studies become popular but remain scarce.  McAfee cited an Enterprise 2.0 case study of investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in his MIT Sloan paper but like many fundamentally disruptive approaches, business leaders often want others to bear the brunt of the early lessons and apply them effectively in their own adoption.  Case studies also quantify benefits and risks and provide good fodder for business cases and budget justifications.  But in the emerging story of Enterprise 2.0, there are still just a couple of credibly documented stories at the moment.  Recently however, there has been a little good news on the Enterprise 2.0 case study front, though a far cry from the half-dozen case studies that would be ideal.  Fortunately, 2007 should see at least several more detailed field reports and I do expect the popularity of Enterprise 2.0 to be partially hinged on their outcomes.  

All in all, it's been a wind-up year for Enterprise 2.0 and 2007 will likely prove the year that IT departments really get their hands on the tools, find out what works and what doesn't (yes, letting the right mix of features and technologies emerge naturally), and for the first well-run case studies to report their results.   But you can count on some continued controversy, particularly if there are any high-profile failures of Enterprise 2.0 rollouts, which instead of outright technology failure are at high risk for governance issues of various kinds.

What is in store for Enterprise 2.0 in 2007?  I'll take a stab at that shortly if I have time but I will leave you with Jevon MacDonald's list, about half of which I agree with but which are all thought provoking.

Update: Lots of good feedback to this post that you can see in the trackbacks below.  Be sure to read particularly good coverage from Mark Evans, Jason Wood, Rod Boothby, and Alex Barnett.

Are you planning to make a significant investment in Enterprise 2.0 tools next year?  Why or why not? 

Topics: Enterprise 2.0

About

Dion Hinchcliffe is an expert in information technology, business strategy, and next-generation enterprises. He is currently Chief Strategy Officer at the digital business transformation firm Adjuvi. A veteran of enterprise IT, Dion has been working for two decades with leading-edge methods to bridge the widening gap between business and... Full Bio

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