The Boston US Enterprise 2.0 conference, which I'm heavily involved in organizing as an advisory board member, has concluded for another year. This edition had a more mature business feel to it on multiple levels but aside from the keynote stage presentations and expo floor it's still primarily a practitioner conference.
There's a slightly bipolar aspect to this: the vendors understandably want to pound away on shaping, capturing and defining the market, while clusters of end user employee evangelists are keen to parade their experience in the field as best practice. Some of these end users are working within vendor platforms, notably Jive Software's 'Social Business Software' toolset, resulting in occasional mutual ego massaging between them.
For first time conference attendees and particularly those not heavily involved in internal initiatives I found some bemusement about the core values of the technology solutions. Despite the rich product feature lists on the expo floor, tire kickers had a hard time understanding what core business values would accrue from purchasing and installing these technologies.
A former engineering focused work colleague of mine, now based in Boston, was checking out the expo floor vendors in his capacity of IT SVP at a large console games company, and was bewildered by the many similar products in the space and what their specific utility was. It's easy to forget when you're close to a space how those outside the 2.0 bubble experience it.
A couple of other session attendees commented on the 'cult like' confidence and inner circle of some of the large company community management employees dominating the proceedings. This isn't particularly healthy if the conference is to grow into the type of larger trade show where large sized enterprise deals are conducted based on clear value benefits.
For vendors like Cisco - who finally unveiled their new Quad voice, video and collaborative networking offering at Enterprise 2.0 - Microsoft's Sharepoint, IBM's Lotus and other large players this space is going to grow and mature regardless. The question is whether operations employee experiences are relevant at this scale: they are a valuable part of the conference experience but individual career advancements are a very different voyage to strategic planning against core business processes and goals, at scale and over time.
These are what sell large scale enterprise software: clear solutions to successfully solve known business problems. 'Adoption' arguments don't hold much water for me: business doesn't typically make expensive decisions to implement equipment because they are impressed by the promise of social movements and ideas.
The fact that it's currently fashionable to socialize and share personal information online using free-to-the-user communication and community technologies, (Facebook, Twitter etc) funded for profit by data mining advertising models, doesn't map directly to the way we work together during the working week.
Viral, grass roots adoption of low cost 2.0 collaboration was briefly all the rage before the world economy collapsed, typically flying under the radar before being cruelly stamped out by those whose management careers felt threatened by apparent self organization.
The core problems businesses are interested in solving are fundamentally based on making more money: supposedly altruistic behavior 'adoption' is rife with psychological realities and hierarchy challenges which can actually make companies more inefficient. The enabling technologies are the last part of this equation and there is no human change management button in the admin consoles that can make employees break work lifelong habits to stop knowledge hoarding, offline document creation and one to one communication.
As we covered during our Strategy and Tactics track sessions, It takes a concerted effort to identify and strategize desirable, achievable business goals, and then identify the people, process and technology decisions to realize enduring uptake by the workforce towards their successful execution.
Our complicated social life collaborative activities often involve mobile technologies to keep friends informed on location and decisions about what to do and where to go. Our 'social networks' are often online journals of these activities, with photos, video and comments.
Our work life typically involves being told what to do and where to go to make it happen. We have some self organizational opportunities within certain management boundaries but historically most employees are not comfortable with experimentation within new, unfamiliar technologies.
Obviously hopeful ideas that 'young people' coming into the workforce will work in the same way as they socialize is optimistic, particularly around organizational direction where contextual awareness decisions and direction is everything.
While we can make mistakes and experiment on our own terms in our own time, there's a lot at stake gambling with your career and company fortunes by trying new ways of interacting and collaborating together.
While some individuals are a terrific fit as collaborative 'Swiss Army Knives', adept, intuitive and facile at multitasking with modern 2.0 tools, most work at a slower, less intuitive pace within safe, familiar boundaries. It's these lowest common denominator workers who are so hard to convince change is real and enduring, particularly if they've lived though previous initiatives that turned out to be a fad.