SLA's and the Real World

There's a solid post by Jevon McDonald (who has long questioned whether there is a viable 'Enterprise 2.0' market) this weekend, titled 'Understanding the role of Enterprise 2.

There's a solid post by Jevon McDonald (who has long questioned whether there is a viable 'Enterprise 2.0' market) this weekend, titled 'Understanding the role of Enterprise 2.0 and moving towards a Social Business' on the 'Fast Forward' blog, which is focused around the FAST search technology Microsoft bought in April 2008 and their sponsored discussion of Enterprise 2.0.

Jevon believes the Enterprise 2.0 movement needs to 'move past isolated and highly technical thinking towards a larger conceptual model which can be referenced to make both technical purchasing decisions, but also strategic business decisions'.

He also says 'Enterprise 2.0 purchasing decisions are not at all differentiated from other IT purchasing decisions' and cites Harvard Professor Andrew McAfee's origination of the term 'Enterprise 2.0' and the various elements associated with his work contained in mnemonic acronyms such as SLATES & FLATNESS.

In a macro view however, these elements only address one component of the more significant need to change the organization.

How can we take these concepts of social leverage and apply them to Governance, Management, R&D, Measurement, Markets and also IT? What are these themes that run through each element of transformation and which are unique? Which elements are missing and which should be left out?

We also need to redefine the roles played by each major component of an organization:

* How do the roles of People in an organization change? * What is the role of Technology in this new organization? * How is the idea of Process affected?

I'm greatly in favor of any discussion of the bigger business use-case picture around collaboration, which by definition is all about connectivity and efficiency between divisions, units, partners, groups and individuals.

I'm not a fan of calling anything to do with business process 'social' however, and that is primarily because a) the word social is being heavily used by marketing practitioners of varying wattages both clued up and clueless and b) because it's essentially a transient fad word.

The Major Plumbing

Dennis Howlett wrote last week

If there’s a way to squeeze another dime out of YOU Mr Customer, you can bet that Microsoft, IBM, SAP and Oracle will be there with the ‘cuffs out and the equivalent of the extortionist’s baton.

Avoiding vendor lock in to software and services with inadequate functionality for business needs is an ongoing chess game, and one of the weapons the customer has to fight back with is the Service Level Agreement (SLA).

The Global Technology Services division is in rude health on the IBM balance sheet as they charge handsomely for achieving the service levels agreed to make internal operations functional at countless companies. Service level terms are also key internally for business units negotiating with their own IT departments for needed functionality - international extranets or SaaS/SOA plumbing for example.

All of this takes time and negotiation, and the goal is to make sure nothing is going to fall over once the show is running. Strategic decision making is as old as business itself where Enterprise 2.0 is a moment in time. Methods of human communication and collaboration are older than business and there are a myriad numbers of ways people engage with each other on hundreds of levels.

The Minor Plumbing

At this point Enterprise 2.0 is the more agile connectivity and cross pollination that the previous generation of enterprise class software is too brittle and inflexible to provide. As the movement matures and use models start to take root two things are happening. Understanding and uptake of this new technology and more importantly  contextual value is understood and seen, and the bigger vendors are rolling up that demonstrated value into their next generation offerings.

Enterprise 2.0 isn't going to upstage or supersede enterprise class software. Enterprise 2 technologies generally get paid for by line of business at a departmental level at this point in time, essentially to provide the flexibility and communication lacking in existing enterprise plumbing.

Coming up hard against the machine age thinking that perpetuates the use of one-to-one electronic mail, telephones and document silos, the really hard work is in changing these unthinking lowest common denominator collaboration techniques to be more efficient and effective.

The Rewiring Needed

Hierarchies, org charts and organizational styles vary widely, even in different divisions of a single larger business. Rewiring organizations so they take advantage of modern techniques and associated technologies is going to take time and is likely to come from areas of the business other than IT.

The populist 2.0 movement is essentially blue collar in the same way as Toyota's continuous improvement model; valuing all input from everyone.

The non marketing usage of the word 'social' appears to imply this sort of approach. My gut feeling is that at a strategic level, top down understanding and tactical application, which empowers and celebrates grass roots adoption will be the way organizations get rewired over time.

Technology will play a supporting role in this transformation and IT governance will give a lot of 'risk versus reward' presentations as they point out the tactical insecurities of the 'new way'. No one wants to be responsible when someone slips up in full view of the crowd, so their SLA's will be adjusted accordingly.