Arguing About the Collaboration Toolkit: Cisco's Enterprise Collaboration Platform

In the aftermath of last week's San Francisco Enterprise 2.0 conference there's been some lively debate about what constitutes '2.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

In the aftermath of last week's San Francisco Enterprise 2.0 conference there's been some lively debate about what constitutes '2.0', including some great comments on my previous post.

Meanwhile Cisco have literally just announced their Enterprise Collaboration Platform, which will be broad set of new tools for instant messaging, e-mail, social networking, videoconferencing, document and video sharing.  John Chambers will present Cisco’s Vision for Collaboration and 'its power to transform business and the future of work' online on the 10th at the 'Cisco Collaboration Summit'.

More on these new developments, which appear to go head to head with Microsoft's (Live Meeting, Exchange messaging) and IBM's enterprise collaboration tools when we've had a chance to digest the details this week.

This announcement, along with the Sharepoint 2010 launch last month, throws into sharp focus the realities of business users deploying Enterprise 2.0 technologies to solve their problems and increase efficiency.

Where the industrial strength solutions above from Microsoft, IBM and now Cisco are rolled out internally after serious executive level strategic planning and budgeting, agile Enterprise 2.0 solutions are in danger of being relegated to useful gadgets used to do busy work in executive minds.

The reality is that to senior management what tools are selected from the toolkit to solve a problem is the final execution step of a logical planning process. While big ticket items will be expected to perform as advertised, the cute 2.0 gadget syndrome may well render the best of 2.0 thinking invisible to all but operations folks working with them.

This would be a shame because there is real business value in strategising around these more agile and modular concepts, not least around financial cost.

As my colleague Sameer Patel states

The problem is that, in the context of E2.0, there’s little discussion around performance objectives where social computing constructs and technologies can move the needle on discrete but large scale business solutions. Equally bad is that there’s little thought and discussion around the optimal solutions architecture and combination of process + social that can solve large scale problems that keeps the c-suite awake at night. Instead, the discussion is dominated by suites vs. platform debates, more technical gobbldygook (to an executive at least) about feature superiority, endless back-to-the-drawing-board definition debates, and post deployment adoption difficulties that in actuality might not have been so bad had the requisite execution planning been considered in the first place.

A comment on my previous post by Scott Quick:

Quoting you: "...E20 is very valuable for capturing unstructured data, typically the exceptions to repeatable process. This can be a hard concept for people to get since it's highly experiential..."

Let's debunk that notion for a moment and look at a real world use case for a moment:

Situation: The CMO for a HUGE athletic apparel/equipment manufacture located in the Pacific Northwest is given the mandate: Grow U.S. Sales x2 within 5 years without significantly increasing costs to the Global Brand Organization. GBO for this corporation is geographically dispersed, a highly matrix internal organization and relies on a network of agency partners from a myriad of disciplines. It across nearly every line of business and interacts with multiple IT departments.

Challenge: The creative staff that serves the GBO (internal and external) is awash in unstructured data located on desktops, departmental servers and outside the firewall on their partners' IT systems. Inefficiencies include multiple re-working of final artwork (labor costs), courier and shipping fees, and missed deadlines for important product launches.

I won't dive down into the solution for NDA reasons but the scenario is real ... and several years old. The magic to "selling" this multi-million dollar software and services engagement was to connect the corporate imperative to the tactical realities backed by a solid ROI analysis.

The situation for E2.0 implementations haven't changed. The consultants just aren't deep enough into the corporate woodwork to credibly connect the dots for the execs who authorize the funding.

And from Bob Thomson

...To gain a competitive advantage, you have to deliver something that more innovative or operate much more efficiently than competitors or create better experiences that create an emotional bond with customers.

I'm sure that collaborative technologies can help, but the approach that E2.0 evangelists are using is along the lines of 1) implement the tools and therefore 2) magic will happen. Doesn't anyone remember what happened with ERP and CRM?

The strategic value of E2.0 lies in its ability to make the value chain work better. I really don't see how "saving 30% of email messages" is going to do that.

Three hard hitting comments from Sameer, Scot and Bob all focused around realizing business value. One of the challenges around Enterprise 2.0  'grass roots adoption' is that informal usage is effectively below the radar, and worse case scenario used by mid level staff who are regularly moved around and reorganized. To senior execs the technology is often as expendable as office supplies, even if those ring binders actually contain pure gold for competitive advantage. Add to this the usual middle ranks career advancement self promotional behavior and it's easy to see why in some cases modern Web 2.0 technologies are merely viewed like a free Facebook account with little tactical value by the steerers of enterprises.

Back to Cisco's announcement: you can bet the new products will be considered as a strategic business solution from day one, just as Sharepoint 2010 is being planned for in countless businesses as I write this. I'm in Germany keynoting the Enterprise 2.0 Summit this week and I'll be beating the drum for those of us who see the business value of high level strategizing processes around these tools and technologies.

All the collection of tools in the kit have specific utility for the myriad of tasks needed to successfully execute, from large to small. It would be a shame if in the future all the focus is on the tool cabinet rather than how to use what's in it to the best effect.

Toolkit image from Sears

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