The above clip comes from Only Fools and Horses and despite its vintage, remains to this day, one of the few pieces of comic TV I can watch again and again and still curl up with laughter even though I know exactly what will happen. I sometimes have that same feeling about Enterprise 2.0. The incessant and sometimes hysterical handwaving is at a point where I believe some commenters have lost touch with reality. The notion for example that the Facebook metaphor should be glibly applied to the enterprise is beyond laughable.
"When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed".
This is a good way to have an open debate while protecting individuals. Think of it as a kind of non-disclosure but with the ability to talk to the generality of what was said.
The premise for our discussion was my Enterprise 2.0: what a crock story. My expectation was to hear answers around questions about the reality of delivering Enterprise 2.0 style technology from those who are hip deep in this stuff. I was not disappointed, rather I was relieved that this group expressed a pragmatism almost entirely absent from the E2.0 hype.
The attending group are all early adopters. They represent way mark organizations from which we can all learn. The characteristics of this group (and I stress THIS group) were such that I would expect to hear success stories. The kinds of organization represented were those where the sharing of knowledge should be a requirement to do business. Even so and as expected, I learned that organizations where you'd anticipate high levels of collaboration experience their own issues. Highlights from the call:1995 revista
There is a feeling that much of what we see in the public domain resonates with the excitement of the mid-90s where the fear was expressed that Amazon would totally disintermediate traditional forms of (at the time) book distribution. Guess what: 15 years on and while Amazon media sales for 2009 topped $12.8 billion (PDF), total book sales for 2009 were projected at $35 billion. It should come as no surprise then that those on the call are wary of the hype.
The notion that collaboration will occur freely under all circumstances is not true. Where knowledge is highly recognized then cultural change that allows the general exploitation of that knowledge is a challenge. I see this in my domain of financial and professional services where highly specialized knowledge is actively hoarded as it is seen as having significant personal value. I have argued that sharing such knowledge across departmental silos opens the door to delivering massive value. Getting people to believe that is an extremely tough nut to crack since reputations and careers have been established on the basis of the knowledge that individuals own.
Organizational conflicts need parsing
Despite the general willingness and desire to see organizations become more collaborative, what top management thinks needs to happen and how that is seen from the bottom up are not necessarily the same thing. However, as practitioners go through adoption iterations, the levels of friction reduce.
Solving the middle management pinch point
The middle management 'inversion layer' represents a significant pinch point. Those that have built power centers can easily derail otherwise well intentioned initiatives. This is a common problem in the adoption of many technologies. The current economic recession has created conditions where one might expect that middle managers would be more willing to concede some level of control in exchange for an enhanced ability to be successful. However, that's not necessarily true.
Power is one heck of a management aphrodisiac. We have seen that in the development of call centers for example. The hope among practitioners is that traction in the lower levels of management will provide sufficient impetus for there to be a dissipation of objections among middle managers. But...as those on the call accept, much depends on the propensity of organizations to foster collaboration in the first place.
Top down and bottom up
For those on the call, the combination of strong top down support and involvement in 2.0 adoption is regarded as just as important as bottom up adoption trends. Research conducted by the 2.0 Adoption Council (PDF) shows that the most successful initiatives share both top down and bottom up characteristics. This lays to rest the myth propagated by some that this is all about bottom up adoption that impacts in some revolutionary manner. Bottom up adoption demonstrates the groundswell and desire for collaboration but it isn't a done deal without top down support.
This is exactly what I would expect given that most businesses remain organized along hierarchical lines. The notion that E2.0 techniques and technologies magically flatten an organization is unfounded, even among the more aggressive 2.0 adopters. Rather (and this was unsaid), organizations may see the development of hybrid models of management where the strength of power levers are more evenly distributed as positive outcomes from collaboration are recognized in the results achieved.
One encouraging example talked to what happens when bottom up adoption starts to take hold. In those situations, positive outcomes capture top level adoption. There is a potential sting in the tail. Accelerating bottom up adoption among individual projects can lead to chaotic situations that require a light management layering. The analogy with 'herding cats' works well here.
Spend levels allow failure
2.0 budgets are typically 1/10 of a percent of IT spend. That reduces the need to justify ROI and at the same time provides practitioners with the ability to openly predict failure in what remains a very new space. This is not something to which I had paid a lot of attention but is a point very well made. If you can turn to management and show that the cost of a failed E2.0 project is likely to have almost no financial consequences then the chances of getting approval (but not necessarily acceptance) are much higher than going cap in hand for a large budget. At the same time, it opens the door to iterative spend based upon success. My one caveat relates to the disruptive nature of such projects. Even if the direct spend of a failed project is minimal I'd like to know the impact on the organization more generally and the ripple effect that has on management styles and techniques.
People like myself 'live' on the social web but many of those in the trenches do not. By inference, while they will be influenced by the marketing hype, they are much more persuaded by what is going on inside their organizations and responding accordingly. While adoption patterns vary, the way in which these work out will be determined by the organizational DNA. I got the distinct impression that unlike other forms of enterprise technology such as ERP or CRM, there are as yet no consistent patterns of adoption or adoption techniques that can necessarily be transposed from one organization to another without taking proper account of what makes the organization 'tick.'
This ought to be obvious but often seems missed in the rhetoric of attempting to imply that procedural, step by step formulaic implementation will bring positive results.
The bottom line
The biggest lesson I learned is it is much more important to listen to those who are living this stuff than simply reacting to the hype. That's always the case but in the past, organizations have been reticent to speak, especially if they're seeing breakthrough value. Undertaking conversations that use the Chatham House Rule work because they allow communities of interest to speak with those who have questions in an open manner in the knowledge that they will be fairly reported without giving away commercial secrets. To the specifics:
- This group are refreshingly honest in their assessment of where success is achieved and where it is not. That's vitally important to threading a path for those that follow on.
- This group are naturally enthusiastic about their achievements but pragmatic. That's welcome and may yet serve to help organizations avoid ski-sloping into the 'trough of disillusionment.'
- Despite that, they are both mindful and watchful for road blocks without necessarily having immediate answers to some of the organizational issues that can derail 2.0 adoption.
- They're highly aware this is 'new stuff' and that they are early in the game.
- Results remain sporadic but there are signs that 2.0 adoption is having tangible bottom line impact. More research is needed and more case studies published before mainstream adoption can take hold. That's to be expected but I encourage more public exposure of what's happening as an antidote to overly zealous hype.
- There is much to be learned and the topic remains something of a moving target.
- The notion that unwary enterprises might need to 'brace themselves' holds true.