Enterprise 2.0 Conference: Let's Focus on Business Value

I'm in a drizzly, blustery Boston Massachusetts on the eve of this year's Enterprise 2.0 conference.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

I'm in a drizzly, blustery Boston Massachusetts on the eve of this year's Enterprise 2.0 conference. Where last year the conference weather was hot and humid, and the economy still pretty overheated, the weather this year fits the economic cycle pretty well.

Enterprise 2.0 was not well understood as a concept this time last year in most circles; twelve months on and many enterprise vendors have absorbed the core concepts, if not always the actual experiential benefits, into their offerings. In the last couple of weeks I've seen a presentation called 'Semantic Enterprise 2.0 - Enabling Semantic Web technologies in Enterprise 2.0 environment' by DERI at the 2009 semantic technology conference, replete with a faithful opening section of Andy McAfee's concepts, SuccessFactors offering enterprise 2.0 functionality within their core SaaS Employee Performance Management Software, and Autonomy discussing web 2.0 and collaboration in the context of their products, which essentially extract the core concepts of unstructured data and organize them in searchable, organized ways.

While it's great that there is now widespread understanding of the concepts of Enterprise 2.0, I find it is still an uphill battle to get people to understand the experiential side. There are plenty of people and companies who talk around the concepts without actually using them.

Getting collaborators to use tools that are core to speeding the flow of their work, and demonstrating that the older technologies such as email should be above the flow for specific uses (such as formal personal notifications, for example) is still challenging.

I'm hoping this week's conference will show a new maturity about the needs of the enterprise: In the current sober economic climate we don't need 'checked the boxes' enterprise 2.0 components grafted onto existing product suites, which don't demonstrate enterprise 2.0 at its best, anymore than we need focus on lightweight tools such as Twitter and freebie throw away collaboration solutions.

Getting to the core of the value Enterprise 2.0 brings to business is incredibly important. While all the hoopla about 'free' products with no business model is of some interest, there is also the reality that the casual observer's impression is that all this stuff is free and therefore ephemeral and valueless.

Think of it this way: if you and I start a business and print color brochures which wind up costing us five dollars each to give away, do you think the person you give a brochure to understands that? Now imagine you're that person who's just been given the brochure: do you value it because of its production values or glance at it and toss it in the trash later that day?

Value and relevance is at the core of any proposition in life. 'What's in it for me?' is the other way of looking at that.

Tom Foremski has written a terrific post called 'The Internet devalues everything it touches . . .'  today which goes through the almost sickening way price points are ruthlessly driven down in any industry the internet touches.

'The chief characteristic of Internet-based disruptive business technology (IBDTs) is that it is at least 10 times more effective at one-tenth the cost', says Tom...'However, our society is not set up for sharing — even though the Web 2.0 world is all about sharing every online photo, text, video, song, etc'.

At the heart of Enterprise 2.0 is the ability to make knowledge workers much more efficient, which has real value. Let's not confuse that with selling the tools that could enable that to happen, they are two very different things.

Setting businesses up for sharing and collaborating as part of work requirements is central to the successful adoption of appropriate tools to perform processes more efficiently.

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