SaaS and Office 2.0 evolving towards Enterprise 2.0?

Yesterday on the Boston waterfront at the Reinventing the Enterprise summit, a lively panel of industry luminaries discussed and debated the topic of the event: How enterprises are dealing with the powerful transformational forces from the Web 2.0 era that are reshaping the workplace today. The issues and concerns around adoption and governance of Enterprise 2.0 was a hot topic.

Yesterday on the Boston waterfront at the Reinventing the Enterprise summit, a lively panel of industry luminaries discussed and debated the topic of the event: How enterprises are dealing with the powerful transformational forces from the Web 2.0 era that are reshaping the workplace today. The issues and concerns around adoption and governance of Enterprise 2.0 was a hot topic.

Harvard’s Andrew McAfee, SocialText’s Michael Idinopulos, and Forrester’s Rob Koplowitz
The panel conversation (pictured right) between Harvard's Andrew McAfee, creator of the Web 2.0 in business viewpoint he's famously dubbed Enterprise 2.0, as well as SocialText’s Michael Idinopulos and Forrester’s Rob Koplowitz ranged across the intellectual terrain, highlighting the lessons learned so far as well as uncovered some interesting insights. In particular, one key point that came up from the audience several times was whether we really have to move to entirely new models for IT applications such as blogs and wikis or should we also "Enterprise 2.0 enable" our current IT systems.

More on the Enterprise 2.0 enablement of older application models in a moment, since I do believe that is starting to happen and will likely be a significant adoption path for some organizations and types of applications.

First, some other highlights of the panel:

  • Most of us are using the wrong tools. McAfee polled the audience and asked how many of them routinely engage in collaborative authoring. Virtually everyone raised their hands. He then asked, "so how come we are still using sole authoring tools for collaborative work?" He point was that we're still emailing around word processing documents and spreadsheets when Enterprise 2.0-style collaborative tools exist that do a better job. My personal view is that our software consumption habits are still so ingrained from the last 20 years of the tools we've had on our desktops that our migration to better solutions has been slowed. Not to mention that many of these new tools, like Google Docs in my discussion below, are just now getting good enough for serious business use and finally contain enough Enterprise 2.0 ingredients to be a significant improvement
  • Worries on misuse. Another issue that came up was whether the globally visible and persistent platforms for self-expression offered by Enterprise 2.0 tools would be misused by employees. One audience member noted that their organization had discovered an employee scalping tickets inappropriately on their internal blog and it gave them some concern. The panel returned that these kinds of activities already happen in the workplace via e-mail or around the water cooler and Enterprise 2.0 platforms just make it more visible and ultimately less riskier, since inappropriate behavior can better be spotted in this platforms. They also noted that blog posts can be "unposted" but e-mails are much harder to unsend. And this is a key point, since McAfee also noted on the panel that worries over inappropriate use of Enterprise 2.0 tools in the workplace is still a major concern by business leaders. It's that by transforming how an organization thinks about governance by moving it from less central control to more peer control: The business can actually reduce risk overall since public platforms for collaboration allow all employees to see the organization-wide activity of the internal blogosphere and wikisphere, spot inappropriate behavior, and nip it in the bud instead of letting it happen undetected and unaddressed.
  • Enterprise 2.0 goes retroviral? An audience member asked whether it might not just make more sense if the increasingly popular blog and wikis models just be one view on top of our pre-existing content. Traditional business productivity documents could then be exposed as wiki pages and opened for network-based editing instead of trapped in silos. E-mail threads could be turned into blogs, making them more visible, putting feeds on them, adding comments, and allowing them to be discovered via search. This might indeed be a useful approach for user uptake and adoption and one that we might indeed see happening more, particularly as Web-based business productivity applications such as Google Docs and Zoho Suite continue to blur the difference between traditional SaaS and Office 2.0. As we'll see below, they seem to be evolving more into Enterprise 2.0 tools every day.

So it's this last point that's worth exploring in particular: Enterprise 2.0 enablement our existing applications, which certainly something we've begun to witness from the other end as lightweight CRM, ERP, and other business processes previously supported by traditional heavyweight software leviathans move to nimbler Enterprise 2.0 applications such as lightly structured wikis and online spreadsheets and databases.

To test the point, I put the well-regarded Google Docs against the new Enterprise 2.0 checklist I discussed recently in The State of Enterprise 2.0, a checklist which I've called FLATNESSES. This mnemonic contains the key capabilities and properties of Enterprise 2.0 applications and I was surprised at how close Google Docs came to the mark. While missing tagging and extensions and having poor support for things like Web widgets (which gave it the gray checkmark on freeform), Google Docs is actually a fairly good Enterprise 2.0 citizen with extremely powerful search capabilities, zero barriers to authorship and collaboration (anyone in the world can, for free, create a document in minutes and start working together in real-time with their colleagues around the world ), and most of the other things we'd expect from a competent Enterprise 2.0 platform.

Google documents can even be made 100% public and globally visible across the Web with the click of a button. Even RSS feeds and e-mail notifications ensures that network-based information consumption is manageable and gives it a green checkmark on signals, a key component of Enterprise 2.0. In the end, Google Docs is not fully as robust as a wiki in some ways, but it's pretty close.

Evaluating Google Docs on the Enterprise 2.0 checklist: FLATNESSES

This paints a picture of Office 2.0, the term which basically describes business applications that run in a browser as SaaS, that is clearly moving towards the ideal of Enterprise 2.0 and only missing a couple of ingredients. This trend would make sense since most of the ingredients in Enterprise 2.0 are intended to drive the use of network applications for better business outcomes and Office 2.0 apps will generally work better when they have these elements.

Does this mean Enterprise 2.0 principles will be making their way into our traditional applications in future upgrades? Very likely and I think we'll see this happen increasingly with older software platforms such as Microsoft Office and even behemoths like Documentum and other ECM tools as they begin to address and incorporate the best practices from Web 2.0.

Because Enterprise 2.0 applications have such low barriers to adoption -- if you don't have them at work, then you can just start using them free on the Web -- that they are often seen as subversive. Are you seeing them move into your organization through the back door?


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