Enterprise 2.0: let's be careful out there

Anyone remember that phrase: 'Let's be careful out here' from Hill Street Blues? I feel the same way in reading Hutch Carpenter's piece on CloudAve entitled: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Enterprise 2.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

Anyone remember that phrase: 'Let's be careful out here' from Hill Street Blues? I feel the same way in reading Hutch Carpenter's piece on CloudAve entitled: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Enterprise 2.0 ROI. At one level it is a first class read. There are plenty of solid use case examples to exercise the mind and the narrative is persuasive. But as I dig into this and try imagine what it would be like sitting in front of a CEO explaining what this means I'm starting to get that 'silver bullet' thought.

The topic arose during an interesting exchange between Sameer Patel, Mike Gotta and I over the weekend. Mike said:

@SameerPatel @dahowlett @amcafee@pgillin we need to identify what E2.0 doesn't solve. If it means everything then it means nothing.


@dahowlett @amcafee @pgillin people have stuffed so many things into E2.0 it looks like a goodie bag at a kids party :)

One reading of Hutch's piece would suggest that Mike is right and I agree that if what the pundits are saying is that E2.0 represents a magic/silver/all-solving tech trend then we really are in trouble. I can see how E2.0 can enable bits and pieces of the hierarchy and I do like the way the hierarchy diagram describes what looks like a journey. That would accord with conversations I've had with Euan Semple where he talks about the time it takes for organizations to change and adapt and how technology acts as the enabler. Whether it should be expressed in pyramid terms is another matter. I'd argue that by doing so, there is an inherent reinforcement of the hierarchies that much of E2.0 would seek to displace.

In thinking more about this, I went back to the piece where I talked about the difference between effectiveness and efficiency. In a back channel conversation with Susan Scrupski, she argued that what the 2.0 Adoption Council is advocating IS about effectiveness rather than efficiency. Let's examine that in the light of both Hutch's thesis and Sameer's post on the topic of productivity.

Hutch limits his early discussion to cost savings noting that this is where the lowest impact is felt. While there is little doubt that topic is top of mind for many C-suite occupants, are the cost savings enough to make E2.0 the focus of IT investments? Sameer notes problems around productivity:

Productivity has generally been one of the central themes when it comes to showing benefit from social and Enterprise 2.0 concepts. Often adopted from Knowledge Management. If you’ve read this blog since its inception about 15 months ago or you’re one of my clients, you’ll know that I have a fever-invokingaversion to casting productivity as goal of Enterprise 2.0 design (as opposed to an enabler). This, IMO, results in the colossal short sell of the promise of Enterprise 2.0. Its always been about performance acceleration here, where enterprise 2.0 concepts we know of today are enablers toward established performance goals.

He then goes on to point out the...wait for it...cultural understandings of what 'productivity' means in different parts of the world. Commenters come back and discuss this in geo-political terms. Emanuelle Quintarelli makes the point that:

...the entire enterprise 2.0 concept and many enterprise 2.0 platforms have been invented in and for an american centric culture. As suggested by the latest privacy related study from the 2.0 Adoption Council, this reality adds significant hurdles to market adoption and many european managers are simply not yet exposed to the enterprise 2.0 discussion (language and missing international scope being some of the most relevant points here)

- the mainstream organizational culture in most large european companies is not really aligned with bottom-up, people centred, horizontal, participative approaches. While this is surely true also in US, from my own experience in different european countries here the way power is handled and distributed deeply differs from US (lack of meritocracy as a main point)

All good stuff which can be nuanced further by making distinctions between what happens in different EU states. Given those differences imagine what it must be like if you're a global organization trying to parse what E2.0 might mean across international boundaries? I'm told the same can be said for distinctions that can be made between east and west coast USA. This is where I think the hierarchical view starts to break down.

Viewing this through a distinctly EU lens, I would say that Hutch's order of play needs re-ordering and simplifying. Here's my (somewhat more simplistic - sic) alternative:

By arguing that employee and customer satisfaction go hand in hand while having an eye on cross organization collaboration, you're paving the way towards improved revenue generation coupled with the more responsive, agile business as articulated by Hutch. This is different to taking the step ladder approach. Here's why I think it works.

In all the businesses I've been engaged with, employee and customer satisfaction are inextricably linked. Happy employees makes for smiley faces. You see that in the UK TV advertising for ASDA where employees express pride in what they do and communicate that as a benefit for consumers. If you're working towards customer satisfaction then having employees that feel good about the company should be a good starting point. One should lead to the other in a flow like rather than step like manner, If you can get that far then cross-organization collaboration ought to be easier than is currently thought. That's a horribly simplistic view I know and should be caveated with 'all other things being equal' but it is a starting point designed to recognize the potential for angst in the business. It is an anticipatory way of looking at improvement rather than seeing things in discreet steps.

One of the main sticking points practitioners identify when trying to move this discussion forward to collaboration is associated with organizational defense mechanisms. Oliver Marks talks about this a lot on his blog. The flip side is that there are different models of collaboration. Ross Mayfield provides an excellent example of consensus building prior to assertion from Japan at around 1 hour 23 minutes into this video. Are organizations yet ready to learn from the variety of collaborative styles that exist? That's a question to which I'm not sure we have any real answer other than to point out those differences.

Taking a deep breath and assuming that the numerous hurdles that make for the fun of consulting in this space have been knocked over, then we should see the emergence of the kind of breakthrough revenue generation and agility that sit at the top of Hutch's hierarchy. Note that I'm not mentioning cost reduction. Neither am I mentioning innovation. To me, these are a natural fall out of the work done in improving employee satisfaction. Revenue generation/agility arises because it doesn't make sense to work inefficiently in organizations where collaboration is fruitful and where employees are satisfyingly engaged. Innovation arises because people want to do things better. It sounds like Nirvana and perhaps that's true for many large organizations but I have seen this way of viewing the world reap remarkable results.

Returning to the top of the post where Mike Gotta asks the 'magic/silver bullet' question. The missing link in nearly all discussions around E2.0 has been that of tying content and context back to process and ultimately back to performance feedback mechanisms. This is where things get sticky. Today, all of the tools to which the E2.0 folks refer have no real connection back to what management see as determining value: the output from the ERP and supply chain systems, i.e. the numbers.

As is mentioned by Anshu Sharma in the video I referenced above, simply slapping a 'social' component onto the front of an ERP or CRM isn't going to cut it. I think that will change and in much short of a timeframe than we might imagine today. I have seen some early examples where cross functional conversations go to the heart of problem solving in a financially contextual manner. There's a lot of value to be mined at that intersection. Improved cash flow, bottleneck elimination in contract negotiation and patterns of activity that impact both profit and cash management are just three areas where I see real dollar value that are relatively easy sells in the C-suite. That's where old meets new and in my view at least lies at the heart of what it will take to move E2.0 forward in a way that is directly meaningful to management. Paradoxically, that is also the intersection between different intra-business cultures. It will be a line requiring the most delicate and sensitive handling.

Regardless of how anyone defines hierarchies, potential benefits and the like, no amount of E2.0 technology, whether enabler or otherwise will substitute for what I suspect might be bitter experience. Stamping out the hard benefits will oil the implementation wheels but may well require a much more agile transactional framework than currently exists in many organizations. That's a discussion for another day.

In the meantime - let's be careful out there.

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