The Enterprise 2.0 Conference moved venue this year to the huge Hynes Conference Center in the heart of Boston, as befits the central role the movement's thinking and technologies is now playing in the enterprise world, particularly in marketing messaging.
From a technology vendor perspective improving user interface look and feel and incorporating 2.0 web components and mobile are increasingly table stakes (at the dawn of HTML5 browsers are we going straight to 5.0 next?), and the business attributes and values of social graphs and activity streams are key sales components.
Enterprise 2.0 has always been a closely knit community but at this event in particular it felt as though it needed a testosterone shot or two. As I discussed in my previous post, the enterprise world is predominantly a sea of cubicles, Windows XP, old browsers and Blackberries which is struggling with arteriosclerosis of the veins due to clogging with email and documents. I feel for the Enterprise 2.0 sales people who have to prove the value of their products (and frequently set up 'pilot program' tire kicking exercises) often against both waves of indifference and confusion about what the business value actually is.
In my professional life working on collaboration strategy inside enterprises I often get my feet held to the fire with accusations this is all 'fru fru dust' or 'fluffy' from senior execs, typically the result of their having done some due diligence about all this 'stuff', and after wading through voluminous verbiage online and skimming various books (which are all to often aggregations of various blog posts and company case histories which have made the most sense to the author) they don't find anything focused or pragmatic enough to action against. There is now plenty of excellent software that is fit for purpose - the challenge is finding what that purpose actually is in the pragmatic context of their specific business.
I sometimes have to swim upstream with clients in order to first flush out any bum information they think all this 'stuff' is about and then get them dialed in to where the value is for them in the context of their business goals, and sometimes this includes software vendor philosophy and hyperbole. The volume of debate, crystal ball gazing, conceptualizing, buzz words and names creation is increasing around Enterprise 2.0 just as it is on all other topics, because it is so easy to publish your thoughts - or more frequently republish someone else's - online. The blind leading the blind syndrome is exactly what any sane exec wants to avoid being associated with in their company, and of course no software vendor wants to be associated with a venue for low quality dialog.
Employees in 2011 are angry, overworked, frustrated and fearful for their jobs in a down economy, and distrustful of internal initiatives which may be disguised as dead ends or even traps which result in RIFs (Reduction in Force, the euphemism for getting laid off from a salaried position). For every person who is thrilled about greater personal connectivity online through Facebook and the myriad of other 'free' social channels, there is another who is deeply distrustful of exposing their personal details online, and who has contempt for people with social digital diarrhea who they consider overshare online. The percentage of those willing to interact in a corporate social graph is naturally less than in the consumer world, and those who willingly do are initially technology enthusiasts.
Overcoming this reality to unlock the power of greater collaboration, cross pollination and information sharing inside companies is fundamentally about instilling trust, sense of purpose and 'what's in it for me' within individuals - the enabling technologies are the easy part. There are always more than enough tenured folks in business and universities with the time and platform to publish their opinions of what they see happening out there, but there's a world of difference between observations and actually doing, as the grumblers around the water cooler or on their coffee break will tell you... and it's those folks you've ultimately got to empower with Enterprise 2.0 if anything new is going to happen.
The old joke 'An economist is someone who knows 100 ways to make love, but doesn't know any women/men' springs to mind: just as back in the 1.0 world no one knew you were a dog, in the 2.0 era there are an awful lot of people hoovering up ideas and re-presenting them as authoritative 'How To' guides with little or no actual pragmatic, real world experience on the topic on which they are opining. Musicians know all about this lack of control and easy access to their intellectual property with the distribution of their products by 'mpfree' making it all to easy to share... and in some cases attempt to resell with a few minor modifications, as happened to a friend recently.
This is the reality of the web in 2011 and people are also now facile (in both senses of the word) at reactionary commenting on mainstream media stories online. Pick any story in my home newspaper online and there is typically a long list of judgmental comments. Western television is dominated by knockout contests, 'expert' judging panels and crowd sourced voting, and consumers of this entertainment understand - and enjoy - the competitive context without necessarily ever competing for anything themselves.
For this edition of the conference I organized and was chair of the People and Culture track, and taking stock of these realities around how people interact socially outside their jobs have a significant bearing on how we strategize and manage employee characteristics, temperaments and expectations inside business.
Most business users will consider Enterprise 2.0 thinking and technology if there is a compelling, urgent value in their deploying it in the context of the competitive aspects of their business. Some of the more idealistic utopian ideas around the space, while interesting, don't help initiatives get off the ground and staffed up, or software provisioned. As I've said before adoption is for kittens, and I typically have to adopt a more forceful and less tentative approach to achieve clarity around productive, effective deployments aligned against agreed client goals.
There's less of the 'when will they understand us and realize we are the future' attitude these days around Enterprise 2.0 but still not enough understanding of scale and values to win in the testosterone laden business world. A senior executive at a global company told me he considers it the Woodstock of the enterprise conference world - that's fine as long as there is an underlying understanding of the competitive business value of this type of thinking, otherwise the fashion forward and humanitarian aspects of the movement are interesting ideas but unlikely to take root in the real business world.
These are my gut reactions squashed into an airplane seat thoughts after the conference, I'll get into more details of our track and conference events in my next post.
Go Pro drivers perspective view of 55 Chevy winning drag race via Bangshift Here's another exterior view if you need more testosterone