Enterprise 2.0: Totally Unacceptable

Totally Unacceptable. Those were the words that greeted me on Christmas Day as Barack Obama responded to the Nigerian Pants Bomber aka Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his attempt to blow up a Detroit bound plane.

Totally Unacceptable. Those were the words that greeted me on Christmas Day as Barack Obama responded to the Nigerian Pants Bomber aka Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his attempt to blow up a Detroit bound plane. Lambasting the security services, Obama said: "It's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date. We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake. I consider that totally unacceptable."

Hang on a minute. In my pre-holiday parting post I said:

Much is made of the intelligence community’s Intellipedia efforts post 9/11. On face value it is a compelling story. An inability to ‘connect the dots’ where there was ample evidence in stovepiped organizations is said to have worked against the US intelligence community from being able to prevent the 9/11 attacks. Today, we are told that information sharing has made a demonstrable difference to analyst effectiveness.

Who's kidding whom here? I went back to Andrew McAfee's New Enterprise 2.0: Collaborative Tools For Your Organization’s Toughest Challenges to check out exactly what was said. Throughout the analysis which spans pages 104-117 the emphasis is on the ability to make new connections. From page 114: "Most of the responses...stressed the ability of ESSPs (emergent social software platforms) to convert potential ties into actual ones, as well as the novelty and value of this ability." Nowhere in the analysis can I find examples of exactly how Intellipedia has improved the nation's security services' ability to counter terrorism. Perhaps that would be asking too much given the sensitivity of the topic.

A New York Times post sheds light on what is likely to have happened:

Last week's failed plot to bomb a U.S. passenger jet has exposed lingering fissures within the U.S. intelligence community, which had information from interviews and clandestine intercepts but did not put the pieces together, officials said.

Turf wars between U.S. spy and law enforcement agencies are nothing new. But lapses that allowed a Nigerian suspect to board a Detroit-bound plane with a bomb on Christmas Day, and the finger-pointing that followed, have raised questions about sweeping changes made to improve security and intelligence- sharing after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The NYT goes on to say that a combination of internal conflicts and gaps in processes designed to red flag individuals contributed to failure. This sounds horribly familiar and represents a key problem when considering technology introduction.

Too often I hear Enterprise 2.0 positioned as a technology set that represents a better way of getting things done. It doesn't. Despite what mavens may say, it never has and never will. That's because of itself and even with technology adopted, you gain nothing of substance without context and process. All you gain is more content. That is why I have always argued that content without context in process is meaningless.

What we have so far is content and some context. We're missing process strategically designed to achieve business goals muddled with vague or sloppy thinking. Here's an example from the Dachis Group blog:

The Controller is billing out expenses for a customer and Yammers at a couple folks known to be working on the project however, the message is seen by two others who also had some time and expenses with that customer. The email solution to this would have been an almost blanket email to the practice group or a series of forwards through the team.

The theory underpinning this example is that Yammer will make a difference compared to email. Perhaps so in a small business but what about project processes or project management software? Doesn't that achieve the same effect? What's wrong with using tried and tested solutions that already solve the problem, augmenting where necessary? Where's the process that guarantees 'two others' see the message at the right time? Why hasn't the information already been captured? Why the implied temptation to throw babies out with the bathwater?

Assuming you believe that E2.0 can make a significant difference then how best to move forward? David Armano of Dachis Group talks about 'social business design.' He says:

Imagine if a company like GM, was at the core "social". Not just participating in "social media"—but through every part of their business ecosystem, were connected—plugged into a collective consciousness made up of ALL their constituents, from employees to consumers to dealers, to assembly line works etc. What if big organizations worked the way individuals now do. We're actively using cloud services, mobile, networks and applications that offer real time dynamic signals vs. inefficient and static e-mail exchanges. In short, imagine if what makes "Web.2.0" revolutionary was applied to every facet of an organization transforming how we work, collaborate and communicate? We think this is possible. And we're calling it "social business design". In its purest form, it's a shift in thinking—less about media and more about tapping the benefits of being a social business in a purposeful way.

Grand sounding but is it rooted in reality? Maybe for small businesses where the lines of communication are relatively easy to see and parse or where process can be easily flexed. Even then I can think of examples where islands of competitive power emerge to undermine collaboration. From my perch, social business design as articulated is rooted in a marketing fantasy that fits a delusional mindset. Harsh? If, despite the introduction of new ways to collaborate we find the nation's security is subject to the whims and fancies of those pulling the levers of power then what hope for industry? Seriously.

Does anyone truly believe that the structural issues faced by the nation's security services are unique? They are commonplace. And therein lies the rub. MRP helped concentrate plant floor management power. ERP concentrated power in the CFO's office while CRM gifted sales chiefs a deck of power aces both in the field and call centers. Supply chain management didn't quite cut it because it was obvious that collaboration among departments would be essential and yet has proved a genuine sticking point. Instead of solving those problems we are now encouraged to dismantle or re-arrange existing siloes based on an altruistic theory of business organization? I can't see it happening. Existing investments are too deeply embedded, value has still to be fully extracted and organizational hierarchies too well established for such a radical view to make rational sense.

There are claimed exceptions. Check out the FAST Forward series that discusses Booz Hamilton's Hello program. But then dig deeper. Apart from vague statements like:

Much anecdotal evidence supports the connection of this improvement with efficiencies generated by Hello. For example, many Partners find it easier to create project teams with the right experience to both win work and delivery it.

I find little that gives me hard benefit numbers although there is reference to Booz leveraging its experience in winning new business. Such vagueness is not uncommon in case studies but it is no excuse, even if the technical 'i' in ROI is relatively small. Surely we are deserving of something more concrete, especially when much of the real investment lies in solving organizational issues?

Sig Rinde narrows the discussion to one that refers to Barely Repeatable Processes. It's a topic I've referenced since early 2008. Sig proposes that most examples he sees represent band-aids for broken legs:

Grasping at the term "collaboration", then stitching collaboration tools together hoping for some process structure to ensue. Some early examples, before the serious stitching and slapping-on has commenced, are Salesforce and their Chatter, SAP with 12sprints and misc. creative plug-in uses involving Google Wave...

The process result is equal to sending mail from Word. And back again.

Instead of approaching the issue from the bottom up, creating one core that orchestrates all tasks and activities with a single data model for everything that happens, they slap something on the top like bandaid applied to broken legs.

Sucking data from one application, via APIs, applying local logic, then sending off to the next application with another data model and logic looks fine on the surface - some illusion of process ensues.

But process illusion is not process reality!

It's a view with which I have some sympathy. Sig's model is more representative of what is required in our fast paced world: i.e. leave what works alone and concentrate on fast track solving of defined problems in a way that short cuts organizational constraints but is rooted in process. If that sounds similar to what some in the E2.0 world might argue then you'd be right. It is the emphasis that is different and one that I believe will be readily understood and accepted in large organizations.

Where Sig could give more credit is in seeing the early technical examples as experimental rather than definitive solutions. Chatter for instance may be amusingly named and less than fully formed or understood. But the notion of embedding it within the context of a sales process looks intuitively right. 12Sprints is unquestionably an experiment with the developers working through use cases to figure what might work and what should be discarded. It may never come to much but it is a worthy attempt at probing the limits of community based content creation, aggregation and contextualization while tipping a nod towards process.

Where to next? Organizations will continue to experiment with E2.0 but the success stories will likely remain thin in articulating declared benefits. Now that we've seen attention drawn to limitations in one of the well publicized examples perhaps we'll see a sharper focus on organizational issues. Whether that includes a shift of emphasis towards process remains to be seen. Hopefully it will mean a more rigorous examination of the limiting factors which bedevil technology introduction and for which the answers to date have at best been glib and at worst cynical denials of reality.