McAfee and Davenport debate the value of Enterprise 2.0

This morning I moderated the debate between Andrew McAfee and Thomas Davenport on the merits of Enterprise 2.0 (watch the video of the debate).

This morning I moderated the debate between Andrew McAfee and Thomas Davenport on the merits of Enterprise 2.0 (watch the video of the debate). The two professors agreed that Enterprise 2.0 is in its infancy, but disagreed on the potential for it to transform how people work in corporations.

McAfee, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, coined the term “Enterprise 2.0” which he defines as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.” In his definition, 'emergent' means that the technology offers “mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people's interactions become visible over time.”

The Enterprise 2.0 Debate: Tom Davenport, Dan Farber, Andrew McAfee

More practically, Enterprise 2.0 is about the deployment of blogs, wikis, social networks, and more freeform, egalitarian collaborative technologies that tap into the collective mind within enterprises. McAfee further identified search, links, authoring, tags, extensions and signals as characteristics of Enterprise 2.0 technologies.

During the debate McAfee acknowledged that Enteprise 2.0 is at an early stage, with few proof points to substantiate his theory at this juncture. Davenport, a professor at Babson College and the President’s Chair in Information Technology and Management, contended that Enterprise 2.0 transforming proof points will remain elusive--it won't overthrow the traditional hierarchies and power structures that have governed corporate culture for centuries.

He has expressed that view in his blog, "Most of the barriers that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won't be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone."

McAfee agreed the transforming culture is a significant challenge, and said that enlightened leadership would pave the way to Enterprise 2.0 deployments. He said that Enterprise 2.0 technologies would continue to seep into companies, and that the new generation brought up on digital technologies coming into the workforce, could be an accelerator to acceptance of the technologies and culture changes. McAfee suggests that Enterprise 2.0 provide managers with the opportunity to foster lateralism, egalitarianism, crowd sourcing, innovative ideas and collective intelligence in a corporate setting.

Davenport countered that Enterprise 2.0 doesn't offer much new and it's not revolutionary. Tags, search, knowledge management, email and links have been around for years, and haven't done much to democratize corporate cultures, he said.

That's like saying the Internet is not new. Yes, it's been around since 1969, but in the last decade the Internet has revolutionized communications globally. That's new. Enterprise 2.0 doesn't have to be completely new to have a significant impact on corporate culture, productivity and competitiveness. Imagine Facebook in a business context, mashing up people and information in ways that help companies run faster, smarter and more efficiently.

In the end, and as a user of Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 technologies and services, I have to side with McAfee's sense, as opposed to empirical evidence, that Enterprise 2.0 will eventually become mainstream.

John Eckman transcribed some of the action on his blog. Here is an excerpt:

DF: Is there any proof that [Enterprise 2.0] is enabling true changes?

AM: No. But how many technologies can we really do this for. IT is a leap of faith. But that doesn’t stop us from spending millions/billions of dollars on IT.

TD: I’d agree there isn’t much measurable benefit - that’s part of my concern with the revolutionary fervor in this space. My focus is now on analytics, and I can point to real examples - P&G, Harrah’s - they are seeing real benefits from applying this technology.

AM: But we’ve been doing analytics forever.

TD. Well, take Search, Links, Authoring, Tags, and Extensions - all of these have been around for some time as well.

AM: Tagging? Social, emergent, metadata - that’s clearly new.

TD: Well tagging is an old thing - but the way you’ve described it. So maybe some of this stuff is new - but not all of it. How long have these technologies been around.

AM: True, but not combined in this way - innovation is not just invention.

TD: One of the interesting things about e2 is that stuff keep getting added - predictive markets, for example, aren’t really in SLATES and aren’t really emergent. The definition is stretching.

AM: Predictive markets - this is a fascinating technology. Even if you don’t have a large set of active traders or high volume of trades - these turn out bizarrely accurate predictive. They are self-organizing, egalitarian. They generally trade anonymously.

DF: What about the emergent audience for these technologies? What impact will the new generation(s) entering the workforce have on adoption of E2 technologies?

AM: The short answer is we don’t know, but I think the impact of the new audience will be large. I feel about a quarter step ahead of my MBAs - these are folks generally who graduated from college in 2001 - which is around the time many of the web2.0 properties emerged.

DF: Tom, will that have an impact?

TD: I would like to think that they will. We really don’t know. Lots of people using Facebook, but what are they using it for? They will be used, but I think more for social purposes than for business purposes.

AM: Why does that have to be a bright line, though? Collaboration borders on social activity. The story of the facebook demo at a recent conference at Harvard - the organizers asked the presenter to explain the difference between how he uses facebook for school versus for social activity - he didn’t see the difference.