Enterprise 2.0: Lively conversations driving change

Last week’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston has been over for a few days and coverage continues to pour out in the mainstream press and the blogosphere, including here on ZDNet where fellow bloggers Dennis Howlett, Oliver Marks, and others have had excellent coverage. I was there early in the week and there was a palpable sense of interest from attendees to understand the current state of this emerging industry.

Last week's Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston has been over for a few days and coverage continues to pour out in the mainstream press and the blogosphere, including here on ZDNet where fellow bloggers Dennis Howlett, Oliver Marks, and others have had excellent coverage. I was there early in the week and there was a palpable sense of interest from attendees to understand the current state of this emerging industry.

How well software providers address the needs of this growing marketplace is one of the open questions as a host of startups bring fresh new products that are full of the latest Web 2.0 ideas arrive on the scene, unhindered by legacy baggage. These new offerings are facing off against the "old guard" of established software vendors such as Microsoft and IBM that have enormous operational experience and an amalgam of offerings aimed at the Enterprise 2.0 audience. Unfortunately, the aforementioned baggage means they frequently lack some of the most important aspects of Enterprise 2.0 applications such as being truly social or enabling emergent structure and behavior, though the gap is also closing fairly quickly in most cases.

However, like many Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 verticals such as social networking and mashups, there are currently few market leaders and a lot of players, something that's very common in any newly formed product space. This by itself isn't too interesting, except for those who have made the decision to start using blogs, wikis, and other social computing tools in the workplace which, as we'll see, is starting to happen.

Enterprise 2.0 Vendor and Products Spectrum and List 2008

What was most fascinating about last week was the stories from the field that I heard at my workshop on the first day of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference as well as subsequently at Web 2.0 Strategies in London on Thursday where I gave a keynote and heard even more stories from those in the trenches that are grappling with Enterprise 2.0. These stories relate what people are actually facing as the forces of emergent collaboration begin to "rewire" their organizations and connection people and information together in a similar way to what we've seen in the Web 2.0 world, but with it's own twist.

Get a full perspective on what Enterprise 2.0 is and why it's important in The State of Enterprise 2.0.

As we often discuss, wisdom of crowds tells us that "all of us is smarter than one of us", and so here's some of the collective intelligence on Enterprise 2.0 that I gathered from both events combined with my own observations on the leading edge of what happening out there:

Enterprise 2.0 Lessons from the Field

We are past the early adopter phase. A survey of Enterprise 2.0 conference attendees that I gave back in 2006 (when it was called the Collaborative Technologies conference) resulted in only three people out of nearly 100 saying they had "ready access to blogs and wikis" at their workplace. This year the same crowd survey resulted in over two-thirds of attendees present reporting that they now have them within easy reach. This jibes well with my contacts with clients across a broad swath of industries from mid-Western banks, hospitals, government agencies, consumer products, and insurance companies that have been rolling them out internally. This also correlates with a broader survey I conducted on Facebook a few months ago. While emergent, social, freeform collaboration (aka Enterprise 2.0), hasn't hit the early majority yet, it's poised to from all indications.

Many organizations still actively discourage social computing, particularly across the firewall. A number of intriguing Enterprise 2.0 access tales emerged from people I spoke with last week. These included the typical stories such as the widespread use of site blockers that restrict worker access to everything from Facebook and YouTube to LinkedIn and other business-oriented social networks such as Plaxo. But a considerable number of people I spoke to also reported a very traditional view of the Web as a place that has little business use and ranged from people reporting that using Enterprise 2.0 tools would result in serious disciplinary action to organizations that regularly publish the top Internet users and what they are doing internally to the rest of the organization.

Many of these latter stories were for companies outside of North America and often represent cultural differences that will make Enterprise 2.0 adoption quite difficult for some organizations. This goes hand in hand with a discussion I had with many folks last week, in particular Euan Semple, that the blurring line between the Intranet and the Web will increasingly bring this issues to the forefront and force many organizations to seriously reconsider the large amount of intrinsic value that's forming on the edge of networks these days. This value, in the form of vast quantities of peer production information and the Global SOA, is becoming more and more important to tap into and leverage. Organizations that cut their workers off from access to them will begin to feel the consequences competitively.

Use of Enterprise 2.0 is leading to a new crop of internal experts. Several time this week I was asked, both as questions during my workshop as well as privately on how to motivate internal subject matter experts to contribute their accumulated knowledge to the greater corporate Enterprise 2.0 ecosystem of blogs, wikis, and other tools. This is a hot topic since so much institutional knowledge is trapped in inaccessible places such as inside employee's heads, e-mails, or documents in private file systems, etc.

Interestingly, what we often find is that those with the most institutional knowledge also frequently wish to retain personal control of it, for one reason or another. However, one of the folks from Atlassian, makers of the popular enterprise wiki platform Confluence, reported that they had made an interesting discovery: Those that did contribute their knowledge to a globally visible Enterprise 2.0 community became the de facto recognized experts over time, because of their visibility and willingness to share. This implies that to be credible inside of organizations in the future, one must share and demonstrably contribute useful knowledge to be considered a recognized authority and on the short list as a go-to resource. And it's one of the core concepts of Enterprise 2.0 is that information that can't be discovered is as bad as having no information at all. This is data point just further reinforcement.

The Enteprise 2.0 vendor space has filled out extensively. Only a year ago many of the very best Enterprise 2.0 tools came from the consumer space but this has changed markedly with many new entries and updates from well-established software companies and nimble Web startups alike that focus on the issues that are important to enterprise users of social media collaboration platforms. There are so many products now that it's often tough to keep track of every one the players so I've just completed a new assessment that maps out most of the major vendors. You can see this map in Figure 1 above. It displays the capabilities of vendors and open source products along one side and whether they comply with the FLATNESSES checklist which I've previously described in detail as capturing the unique and essential new aspects of Enterprise 2.0 tools which differentiates them from previous generations of collaboration and knowledge management tools. Along the left axis is the maturity of each vendor in terms of Enterprise 2.0 and whether they offer products that are stable, secure, manageable, and otherwise enterprise-ready for use today. Since few of these tools have extensive history, there is some empty space at the top of the diagram but it's important to note that along the other axis many of these tools are well along in terms of offering the potent capabilities that can deliver maximum value to those using them.

With a little trepidation I've also demarcated an Enterprise 1.0/2.0 divide for those companies that really seem to be having some difficulty to offering products that offering "true" Enterprise 2.0 capabilities (see FLATNESSES above) in their products. These tend to be older companies that don't appear to have the DNA of the 2.0 era and are offering much more traditional flavors of collaborative tools under the aegis Enterprise 2.0. That doesn't mean they won't cross over, they may very well at some point but there are probably more compelling options elsewhere.

Successful pilots sometimes lead to turf battles along with real engagement within organizations. I spoke with a number of the folks behind the successful pilots of Enterprise 2.0 within various organizations and discovered an interesting common thread: Once participation levels rose and visibility increased within the organization, the effort could no longer be ignored. Most organizations consist of well mapped out political boundaries and fiefdoms, which are not very respected by the gregarious, egalitarian, and organizationally fluid activity that takes place in most Enterprise 2.0 communities. This can come as unexpected news from those that aren't familiar with the outcomes of non-hierarchical, self-organizing collaboration those that can't or aren't able to pave the way will encounter issues as they achieve success.

I've recommended for a while that all parts of the organization should be consulted for an Enterprise 2.0 initiative, including HR, legal, and compliance. But deciding when the right time to do this can be an art form and your mileage will vary considerably depending on the flexibility and understanding of management. Shifting away from push-based systems to pull-based systems can be a shock to the system, and the lesson from early practitioners to set expectations while being ready to hit sudden, unexpected turbulence as you get on the radar.

One of the other factoids I presented in my session was that an large sampling of the companies I've had contact with that have discovered relatively robust adoption of the tools at a grassroots level, with little or no support from the top of the organization. This is confirming that network effects can take hold within the firewall and even push out traditional IT systems as we've seen in a number of companies. While long term this can only occur with IT's help, adoption is really driven by tools that workers embrace. And the story is increasingly that users will solve the adoption issue themselves if they are allowed. Smart organizations will let them do so constructively.

What are you currently seeing as obstacles to the use of Enterprise 2.0 in your organization?