Enterprise 2.0: what a crock

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?

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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

Dennis Howlett

About Dennis Howlett

Dennis Howlett is a 40 year veteran in enterprise IT, working with companies large and small across many industries. He endeavors to inform buyers in a no-nonsense manner and spares no vendor that comes under his microscope.

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34 comments
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  • Enterprise 2.0 is a label, not a revolution

    The key is one's definition of Enterprise 2.0.

    If one defines E2.0 as a revolution in the way people do business, of course it's a crock. There is rarely anything new under the sun in the world of management, and technology certainly isn't going to change that.

    But if you think of E2.0 as a shorthand for a specific set of technologies (e.g. wikis, microblogging, employee connections), one can certainly argue for the business value of each of the components.

    It may very well be that E2.0 evangelists are doing their cause a disfavor by treating it as, well, a cause.

    Far better to simply identify and solve business problems, regardless of the label on your technology.
    chris.yeh
    • Chris, don't be so rational ...

      Of course it's all about definitions. It's easier to fulminate against a label (and evangelists) than it is to look at the success or failure of individual components.

      Some people make a living by evangelizing something difficult to define, and others make a living by taking pot shots at same. 'twas ever thus. (Plus -- as I should know -- it's much more fun being a curmudgeon!)
      ddmcd
  • What, corporate wiki's don't a blissful haven make?

    Surely you jest, Dennis. This is the age of openness and free-thinking, just like the late 90's when all the kids were making millions in the technology world.

    We have Facebook, where you can make lots of customer and networking contacts - and you can build a fantasy farm and do some drug smuggling on the side! It's the perfect place for corporate America to call home.

    And Twitter, with it's 140 characters of pure conversational glory - this is the new form of communication, man! Everyone will be talking through tweets and status updates and comments, and the world will be a much better place.

    You just watch - hierarchies will crumble even at the largest of the "old school" businesses (Exxon, GM, Coca Cola - I'm talking to you!) and openness will prevail.

    I mean look at the other "Open" world - open source is everywhere! SAP, Microsoft, Oracle, Adobe, IBM: all obliterated by the Open Source world. Windows is not top dog anymore - Linux is. No more Oracle, DB2, or MS-SQL running corporate America, it's all MySQL and PostGres now.. JDEdwards, Dynamics, SAP - all of them have been replaced by Compiere and SugarCRM.

    (this rant brought to you by the same people who believe that Star Trek is actually based on scientific fact and Enterprise software begins and ends with Word processors and spreadsheets)
    daftkey
    • Heard it all before

      ...there is good argument in what you say but in truth I've seen it all before - hence ny ref to WD and the forum stuff...of course I am the Arch Curmudgeon so could easily be wrong...I doubt it - at least not in my lifetime, what's left of it.
      dahowlett
      • I remember an article in a business magazine back in 2001...

        The headline read something like "Welcome to the new NEW economy" with a subcaption "..also known as the OLD economy - you know, the profitable one".

        Nothing wrong with being a curmudgeon - somehow it seems the most successful companies in the world are still run by people more like you and less like Zuckerberg.
        daftkey
        • Fair do's but....

          ...much as I'd like to endorse the consumery view of the world, it's not what I am seeing in the enterprisey world. Any good stories most welcome.
          dahowlett
          • Is this not consumery?

            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.

            And then - "At the time - it worked. It had nothing to do with customers but everything to do with efficiency." Nothing to do with customers??? If the customer didn't like the product all this efficiency you talk about is bunk.

            I agree that E2.0 is a crock. But your post seems contradictory at times.

            I think the main problem with E2.0 is that tech is trying to change tried and true practices that made this country and its economy great. Social networking is trying to replace face to face interactions. Most want to implement it because it is tech and not because it is good for business. So much of today's tech is being implemented because it is tech. Not because it is good for the business. Tech is trying to drive square pegs in round holes. They are trying to make success without the hard work, without the leg work that made the successes of the past. If you want proof, look at the economy. Is the fact that it's in the toilette at the same time that tech is trying to change the rules a coincidence? It isn't the tech per se that is driving the economy down hill but it's the attitude that is driving the tech that is driving the economy down the hill.
            bjbrock
    • yes, but...

      daftkey makes some good (and fun) points ... but I'll share one vector from xTuple, another open source ERP vendor.

      We set out to build an ERP software company, focused on building a better product - and we use open source (as well as a bevy of other technologies, buzzwords, and TLAs) as stragegic tools to help us do that.

      There is no doubt in my mind that xTuple ERP is a dramatically superior product because of the input and involvement of our global community - not just paying customers and partners, but free users from around the world, many of whom we have no business relationship with at all.

      I also firmly believe that our customers, who participate in that community, benefit from what some might call E2.0 ruboff as well. It's a fairly common thing to have someone in a completely different industry shine a light on a business process question (in a forum, blog, issue/bug, or other application on the website) that can have a real positive impact on your business processes.

      I don't know that makes us fully buzzword-compliant, but I do think it makes all of us better.

      Cheers,
      Ned Lilly
      CEO, xTuple
      www.xtuple.org
      xtuple
  • RE: Enterprise 2.0: what a crock

    Star Trek isn't based on scientific fact? Damn, there go my holodeck plans.
    chris.yeh
    • That makes 2

      ...dang - and there I was thinking....except that's possibly a bad idea in my case.
      dahowlett
  • RE: Enterprise 2.0: what a crock

    Yes, Enterprise 2.0 is a label. So was Groupware. Remember that? New things will always be given labels by the people trying to educate the market. Get over it.

    So is Enterprise 2.0 trying to solve a problem? No. Because it's just a label. Is it a thing you can go and buy? No. Because it's just a label. Is it going to change the world? No. Because... you get the idea.

    But the tech that sits under this label isn't just about creating community, as this article seems to be implying. There ARE real business problems that this tech can HELP solve (but like any tech, not solve in itself).

    Things like streamlining internal communication in businesses when information overload is the norm - in order to ensure employees are informed, engaged and motivated.

    Things like getting sales people to share best practice from the field with the product and marketing people - in order to keep the product line relevant.

    Things like improving collaboration amongst people who have never spoken to each other before, or work in different countries, cultures and time zones - in order to secure that vital piece of business.

    Things like connecting people with each other and information (answering questions like "do we work with this prospect anywhere else in the world?" that no other piece of tech I have seen can do quite as well), and between information - in order to ensure that the company knows what it knows, what it knows it doesn't know, and what it doesn't know it knows.

    Should tech vendors in the space start focusing on how their products solve some of these real business problems and stop evangelising Enterprise 2.0 as if it is some kind of panacea to cure all ills? Absolutely.

    Is Enterprise 2.0 a crock? No. Because it's just a label.
    niall3
    • Donald... is that you?

      'in order to ensure that the company knows what it knows, what it knows it doesn't know, and what it doesn't know it knows'

      ;-D
      iTeaBoy
    • Enterprise 2.0 is a Label

      Niall's comments strike a very strong chord with my thoughts...speaking very well to the subject that E2.0 is comprised of many things, especially new approaches to methods and very importantly new tools. What seems so important to me is keeping in mind that how people choose to work and inter-act is the basis for productivity - the tools (software, communications technology, etc.) just support that. Sharing intrinsic or tacit knowledge, as one example as Niall mentioned, is a process, how a company chooses to implement that process - through which tools and methodology - is where E2.0 can come into play with great benefit.
      There is a tendency to have great fear of change by some, as well as a tendency to over-actively embrace change by others. Between these extreme arcs of the pendulum lies rational consideration of what works and has benefit, and what is a passing - or very importantly - a transitional phase or product. Radical embracement or dismissal of E2.0 serves no-one; open discussion and study does.
      ataylor999
  • RE: Enterprise 2.0: what a crock

    I heard the same BS when we were implementing supply chain management solutions (focused on people and technology). There were a lot of detractors like this author that were eventually fired or quickly set out to pasture. Even in the face of high ROI, these folks made every excuse imaginable to avoid implementing a supply chain management tool. They didn't like change and they didn't want to spend a few extra hours a day implementing these proven systems.

    E2.0 does have ROI, it will change how we're working today, and the author can't do anything about it. The use cases are there if you'd simply look. Have you checked out Best Buy?
    fidelman
  • Seems to me that it's little more than an excuse...

    ...for expensive reports, seminars and expense-
    paid junkets to attend them. In the end, the
    successful companies pick and choose the
    individual technologies that get the job done and
    ignore the rest.
    JohnMcGrew
  • I agree 100%. Most of the "new" I see

    is a solution looking for a problem to solve. As a consultant I hear from CEOs and managers that read some article about the "latest thing" and fear they are going to be left behind if they don't jump in with both feet. My main task in the last 3 years has been to reign that in and keep them focused on tech that adds to the bottom line in a meaningful way.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • My favorite Dilbert cartoon illustrates the plight we face...

      ...with this phenomenon: http://dilbert.com/fast/1995-11-17/

      Mauve has more RAM.
      JohnMcGrew
      • ROFLMAO!!!

        Thanks, I loved it! (If only it were not so true.....)
        No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Controversy Sparks Conversation!

    Despite all the hyperbolic counterpoints, I agree that much of the Enterprise 2.0 discussion is hype. But I think the place to start would be defining what we all thing E2.0 is...or is supposed to be. I do not agree that customers do not matter, nor do I agree that a top-down approach to development and design is always rights. But, I DO agree that if left to their own thoughts, communities will not always follow the most efficient paths to needed ends.

    I think that regardless what Dennis believes, a certain amount of market power HAS shifted to the customer...in all industries, and that businesses that fail to monitor and harness the conversations they engender with their products and services risk a lot. As simple an idea as Microsoft getting chastised two days ago for "localizing" an online ad due to run in Poland by removing the black person in the ad, demonstrates how much more transparent corporate process is. That requires new thinking and new behavior. Perhaps we should open the E2.0 concepts on simple things that we can all agree on.
    jcioban
  • RE: Enterprise 2.0: what a crock

    The version of E 2.0 you describe -- the hype-driven, emergence-by-fiat approach -- is indeed a crock. But that's just how hype cycles work. I would hope not all of its proponents would be that way, but the bigger the hype the higher percentage of believers who don't actually get it.

    The reality of "E 2.0" is just that it's a handy (though clunky) label for a confluence of stuff that's happening on its own: *some* people in *some* enterprises are experimenting with or trying to acquire social-software capabilities, so they can have conversations and share knowledge across silos. *Some* of them are discovering a great deal of value for their particular mixture of culture and work. And the trend will likely grow.

    But anybody who seems to think just turning a bunch of employees loose on some blogs & wikis and overturning the management paradigm is the way to go is living in la-la land.

    In sum: there is something real happening in many enterprises.
    Watching it, learning from it = valuable.
    Investigating how you may need to evolve your infrastructure and management model to accommodate the phenomenon as time goes on = not a bad idea.
    Trying to bottle it and replicate it from the top down by fiat = probable failure.
    inkblurt