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Defragging Enterprise 2.0

Day two of the Defrag conference started with Harvard Business School Associate Professor Andrew McAfee's giving his latest twist on Enterprise 2.0, a term he is credited with inventing.
Written by Dan Farber, Inactive

Day two of the Defrag conference started with Harvard Business School Associate Professor Andrew McAfee's giving his latest twist on Enterprise 2.0, a term he is credited with inventing.

For reference, he defines Enterprise 2.0 as "the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners and customers," and the technologies include wikis, blogs, social networks and prediction markets, as well as RSS, links, search and tags.

What McAfee has come up with is a new way to frame the value of Enteprise 2.0 based on tie strength, moving outward from strong ties to no ties. "At each different ring of the picture the knowledge worker has a different agenda, and there are different kinds of technology at each ring of the bullseye," he explained.

He broke down tie strength in four areas:

Strong ties: At the center of the bullseye is a fairly small group of people with strong ties, deep bonds formed working over a long time, McAfee said.

In a blog post, he articulates how strong ties connect to wikis as an ideal collaborative tool.

A wiki is the classic Enterprise 2.0 technology for a core of strongly tied knowledge workers who are collaborating on a deliverable. They can use it to generate documents, to debate their contents and structure, track project status, link to other resources, etc. Google Docs and Spreadsheets, Zoho, and other online office productivity suites are similar to wikis in that they allow egalitarian editing of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations by all group members; they’re just not currently as extensible as a full wiki.

Evidence suggests that wikis let strongly-tied collaborators get their work done better, faster, and with more agility than was previous possible. With a wiki, what’s emergent is the document itself, with ‘document’ defined broadly.

As I wrote earlier, enterprise social networking software lets our prototypical knowledge worker stay in touch with a large network of colleagues, allowing her to keep up to date with that they’re doing, working on, and producing. It also lets her tell this network what she’s up to.

Weak ties: This the large universe of people with whom individuals are strongly tied, and who are likely sources of non-redundant information, McAfee said. (He cited the "The Strength of Weak Ties," a research paper written in 1973, by Mark Granovetter.)"Weak ties are critically important. There is business value in building and exploiting a network of weak ties inside an enterprise, McAfee said. "Facebook has wonderful tools to keep me on top of what that network of people is doing, and there is a small but growing set of tools that exploit the network, sending out questions,collecting answers and polls," McAfee said.

Source: Andrew McAfee's blog post, November 3, 2007

Potential ties: A large group of people within an organization would be good colleagues, who could help to minimize reinventing the wheel and provide answers questions, but you don't have an introduction or connection to them, McAfee said. This is where internal blogs come into play.

"Blogs are one of least exploited Web 2.0 technologies inside companies. You can stay on top of topics and meet people you would have never come across. At the enteprrise level with large geographically distributed companies a lot of blogging is going on. With decent search and discovery tools, you can monitor what the company is doing. It's a way to find weak or strong ties. Like social networking software, the dominant thinking about blogs is that they don't see the value,and they are marginally time wasting. But if you invert that perception and think about broadcasting and harvesting information, an internal blogosphere is one of first things a company should be doing. You get innovation, serendipity and bridging, and the emergent behavior is teams."

He gave an example of Intrawest, a resort construction company in U.S., with internal blogs. An employee blogged about saving money ($500,000) in pouring concrete for a radiant floor at one project. A colleague saw the post and was able to apply the cost saving ideas to another project.

He pointed to Avenue A/Razorfish as an organization that is using technoloigies from all levels of the tie strength bullseye--blogs, wiki pages, documents, an internal tag cloud, bookmarks, links, feeds to external information and Facebook.

None: This is the group of people you have no need to interact with, just co-workers, not potential colleagues, McAfee said. Prediction markets are a way for strangers to come together, pool their collective intelligence and arrive at accurate answer about the value of a security or company, McAfee said. For example, the Hollywood Stock Exchange is a virtual stock market where participants can buy,sell or hold their favorite movies and stars.

"There is a missing play here," McAfee said. "I can't think of a single reason not to deploy predictive markets."

"This idea of tie strength is a good foundation for thinking about Enterprise 2.0," McAfee said. Applying the framework and the technologies associated at each ring can help increase the strength of people already strongly tied, help people exploit weak ties, form ties that would not have happened otherwise and get answers from the wisdom of the crowds.

In terms of selling corporate managers on Enterprise 2.0, McAfee said the work is still embryonic, but those managers want a playbook on how to deploy the technologies and ensure adoption and exploitation. "They are not so concerned about ROI, but want some good way to articulate the value delivered by these," McAfee said."They want help in making selection decisions, differentiating among the tools."

McAfee underscored that applying the various technologies isn't meant to create one happy family of close ties. "The net effect of all these technologies isn't to going to be to homogenize ties in an organization, creating an undifferentiated mash of kinship and ties."

In the context of his tie strength, Enterprise 2.0 model, McAfee referenced Nick Carr's "IT Doesn't Matter" and Tom Friedman's "The World is Flat," which posit less differentiation and more homogenization globally due to technology. "The flip side is that these technologies are differentiators. As you deploy the technology things do not get more homogenous, they get more differentiated and spikey."

Most corporate environments are definitely not flat, but should lean more in that direction to enable a more differentiated and spikey environment from which innovation, discovery and profits emerge.

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