Generation connected looks for clues

For 'Generation Connected', talk about what is possible and trends are dime a dozen, but everyone is looking for evidence of practical, experiential business successes
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor on

Last week saw the east coast Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston, where I organized and chairing the HR & HCM track and also moderating a couple of sessions. Organizers TechWeb added the strap line 'building social business' to the conference title this season, and the conference was twinned with 'Mobile Connect', which focuses on the exploding but complex mobile space.

The challenge with catch all conference titles and buzz phrases of course is that topic areas quickly fragment into various categories over time, like watching one of those fascinating fractal zoom-in videos.

(On the Analytics and Metrics track Zubin Dowlaty, VP of Innovation and Development at Mu Sigma, did a fascinating talk titled 'Tools and Techniques for Visualizing Data' which featured some terrific graphical displays of data, and which could be attractively mapped to illustrate this evolution and fragmentation point).

Enterprise 2.0 as a movement and term is now mature enough that the larger software vendors have mostly come to grips with the challenges to their past hegemony around the ways we work digitally and attempted to roll up the promise of the new 2.0 wave ideas into their product suite features. The larger challenge to these same vendors remains that their limitations  were the reason for the movement in the first place, and that the world is rapidly gravitating away from the desktop to a work anywhere and anytime mobile model.

There is plenty of enterprise financial scar tissue around the cost of seat licenses and maintenance contracts for rigid, process oriented ways of working, while the appetite for fresh, more fluid, flexible and agile ways of working together continues to build, fueled in part by our individual social networking experiences in our personal lives. 'Generation Connected' was a phrase I heard around the conference that best represents the age independent people who are digital natives and accepting of continuously evolving ways of working.

The best of the Enterprise 2.0 conference tends to be first person and team briefings about practical experiences driving business collaborative initiatives by people who have actually done it, a useful counter to the vast amounts of verbiage published by people who have a one dimensional experience of this type of work-  or even just their views, ideas, opinions and perspectives. The cargo cult behaviors I discussed around this conference three years ago  continue unabated in this area online and now in books  with much aggregation and curation of other people's work. Inevitably this has has muddied the waters for those exploring the business value propositions of Enterprise 2.0 - a topic that's deceptively easy to discuss and conceptualize around but much tougher to execute over time in order to achieve well defined given objectives.

It's the formative hard work that gets the ball rolling to create collaborative networks, and it's very easy for senior figures in companies to subsequently take credit for and present approaches that now seem to be going well. Designing a collaborative environment has to accommodate the reality of how fluid workforce participants are now. With people constantly joining and leaving companies which are expanding and contracting in size, creating an enduring cultural fabric that's not reliant on a few evangelists and promoters to remain relevant in flows of work requires planning experience and insight. Depending on the culture of a company, this organizational psyche varies widely: process oriented workers tend to be very literal and need to be told exactly what to do and in what order, while at the other extreme innovation capture amongst creative free thinkers within free floating environments seems nebulous to the literal thinkers. It all depends on the business goals that need to be achieved, rather than the imposition of a fashionable framework that is of the moment.

We had a terrific and very well attended session on my HR track with Andrew Carusone, Director of Integrated Workforce Experience (IWE) and Community Governance at Lowe’s Home Improvement, during which he discussed their use of collaborative technologies in all parts of the business to foster commitment to transformational change and drive higher levels of enterprise performance.

Carusone described his role in the design, care and feeding of their collaborative environments as being like a concierge, keeping the place tidy and facilitating Lowe's internal information sharing, which currently is built around IBM's Lotus Connections. Meanwhile the old 'contender' Enterprise 2.0 spirit continued with cheeky Huddle (who had previously sent a marching band to last fall's Sharepoint conference) emailing Boston attendees on a very hot Wednesday with an offer of free ice-cream round the back of the exhibition space, their sole participation apart from a sponsored tweet riding the #e2conf hashtag.

Practitioners like Carusone notwithstanding, the old line software vendor tail increasingly tries to wag the strategic body for strategic initiatives, with many prospects effectively picking a suitable looking technology and rolling out the advertised attributes to their workforce to see if it will appeal and stick.  Big vendors today have an approach like the Staples 'yeah, we've got that' ad campaign or the Burger King 'Have it your way' messaging I embedded above as they roll up the innovations of the past few years into features of various product line permutations.

IT is used to provisioning software based around 'checked boxes' on their list of desired attributes, without realizing the subtleties in use model which can make or break the effectiveness of the approach. This is because Enterprise 2.0 is fundamentally experiential for all participants: only by practical participation in sharing information and collaborating, in what are still very new ways of working for many people, can the cumulative value be found.

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