Time is Money: Where's the Beef?
The now biannual US 'Enterprise 2.0' conference is a wrap, but disappointingly there is still little business understanding of what the term means or what the value propositions and benefits are. The general 2.0 suffix is well understood by technology enthusiasts but in the world of the enterprise - or small and medium sized businesses - it's still hard to deliver an understandable and memorable Enterprise 2.0 elevator pitch proposition between the 40th floor bar and the hotel lobby.
The Enterprise 2.0 conference was co housed with VoiceCon at San Francisco's Moscone's center and the unified communications/telecomms crowd attending that event, in my admittedly small sample, had little idea what E2.0 was all about. This is a major problem. Dennis Howlett posted an entirely reasonable 'smell test' - 'Enterprise 2.0: what a crock' back in August here on ZDNet and failed to find much in the way of compelling business propositions. You can bet that Dennis's view is kindly compared to most naysayers, who in North America might bellow 'Where's the Beef?', having been brought up on clear advertising propositions like the brilliant 80's Cliff Freeman Wendy's hamburger TV ad that question is from.
Vendors pay large amounts of money for their booths, people fly and pay considerable amounts of money to attend in an appalling economy, but the succinct value propositions they are ultimately looking for and which will drive market growth are in alarmingly short supply. The good news is this is a rapidly evolving space which will definitely be an important pillar of competitive advantage for post recession business growth, so long as value is identified and unlocked.
Putting my cards on the table, I'm a consultant with lots of internal experience making collaboration work inside large organizations both as an employee and as hired hand: our goal is to make money as a result of helping companies make large profits due to enhanced collaboration efficiencies. I'm heavily involved with the Enterprise 2.0 conference as an advisory board member.
The reason for a conference like E2.0 is to grow the market for vendors and the associated community in the space by demonstrating business value. The 'what's in it for me' value proposition - the 'where's the beef?' question - is unfortunately highly contextual. The executive business strata level I operate at is not interested in the mechanics of how you deliver value, they are interested in what that value is, when it will arrive and how to measure it.
An analogy I sometimes use for collaboration using Enterprise 2.0 is a commercial restaurant. We open tonight expecting 500 customers: we have a menu of 8 possible entres: 2 fish, 3 meat, 2 seafood, 1 vegetarian. A commercial kitchen's tools and technologies are analogous to hi tech collaboration - you could do all sorts of brilliant things in and with it but the goals tonight are those tasks. So why is that guy over there cooking spaghetti on his own stove and talking loudly about what a great chef he is with his colleagues? If it's your restaurant you've got plenty to worry about - is there enough Salmon?, will the rain mean slow trade?, what's going on with the plumbing? - without dealing with the washing up guys who have gone freestyle as chefs with the ingredients.
This comparison may run counter to the knowledge of Enterprise 2.0 sophisticates, but it's a common fear from business users assessing the value of trying E2.0 techniques, and an example of the outsider's perspective. A solid E2.0 strategy will drive to execute explicit business goals enhanced by practical new methods. Taking into account legal, compliance and enhancing existing software (and extracting additional value from it) are all vitally important considerations.
The E2.0 space is still dominated by kitchen sales and chefs, with relatively few enterprise scale restauranteurs showing much interest, to continue that analogy.
Collaboration comes from 'co-labor' and that is the heart of the enabling E2.0 technologies, but organizing that labor with evidence of improved results is arguably the achilles heel of E2.0 as a movement. My colleague Sameer Patel and I ran a track tightly focused on extracting business value from an executive perspective. We started with a three hour workshop which followed a journey from collaboration concepts, through selling the business idea roadmap to management, through launch and into user uptake strategies. The other three sessions were 'Collaboration at Scale' with Cisco SVP Alan Cohen and Cordys Chief Strategy Officer Jon Pyke, where we explored the challenges of large scale interaction, A session on ' Lowering Customer Service Costs Via Social Tools' and a final panel on Launching Winning Products in the Market: How Social Software Improves Your Odds which focused on innovation. I'll drill down on these sessions, as I'm sure Sameer will also, in a separate post - our intent was to reach some cumulative conclusions.
For the Boston June conference earlier this year Stowe Boyd and I organized the 'Open Enterprise 2009' research and award, which was won by Booz Allan Hamilton's Hello environment, after extensive discussions with a broad cross section of the space. Susan Scrupski has done a marvelous job since then in setting up the '2.0 Adoption Council' (whose pin badges and cloth bags seemed to be everywhere at the conference) and awarded an internal evangelist of the year award to Claire Flanagan, who is CSC Sr Manager Enterprise Social Collaboration.
(The 2.0 Adoption Council is a private community of internal Enterprise 2.0 evangelists inside enterprises who have 10k+ employees)
At issue for me, as we touched on in my video discussion with Andrew McAfee yesterday, is that middle ranking employees dominate the conversation on an operational level around the enterprise 2.0 event. The conversation is valuable and needed, but as I'm acutely aware it takes a strong constitution to embark on change management (at more levels than most people realize) inside an organization without clear understanding and strong air cover by and from execs. The 'chefs' are frequently brilliant people performing at a very high level but at risk from politics and lack of well defined overarching business goals to drive towards.
I've deliberately not read the various blog posts around the conference yet, I'm writing this first, but I'll bet most of them will be around operational minutae, rather than big picture value propositions. I'm also pretty sure there will be some cultish group speak, which is admittedly inevitable after a gathering of the faithful.
To the lay person the unprecedented empowerment and value given to individuals by browser based web 2.0 technologies is well understood these days. The collaboration technology architecture in large enterprises is also pretty well understood by everyone in the workforce, as is the use of email at scale.
The application of browser based Enterprise 2.0 technologies in business is just about tangible now to the lay person, but practical method is lacking and frequently clashes with current practice. The problem is essentially one of managing change to successfully deploy Enterprise 2.0 technologies, which are rapidly maturing, to improve existing business precedents.
The friction that happens as this is attempted was painfully reflected by those in the trenches at this and previous conferences, (and here on this blog) but this doesn't move the market's agenda forward.
This may sound unduly harsh: there are plenty of excellent point solutions available with well defined and tangible benefit - with a couple of excellent conference launch pad products demoed yesterday, and I'm sure more on the way.
Will the promise of Enterprise 2.0 technology as transcending business tools that extract more value from happier, more productive individual employees come to fruition? That will depend on the ability of the Enterprise 2.0 market to clearly provide tangible business value propositions and use case validations that are attractive to all levels of business users.
The 'Where's the Beef?' TV commercial was all about mass production of identical hamburgers without much meat: Wendy's provide more...very easy to understand. My 'industrial kitchen as Enterprise 2.0 tools and technologies' analogy demonstrates the world is your culinary Oyster (or Turkey or whatever) with empowering tools. Not so easy to understand, too many variables.
The question is, what's the effective menu/business strategy that will build your business and have users coming back for more - how do you organize to be a better restaurant? How the food is made is irrelevant, the customers are hungry and want a good meal and experience. (When was the last time you went in a restaurant's kitchen before ordering?)
It's these types of broadly accessible 'what's in it for me' digestibles which are lacking at a high level with Enterprise 2.0: improved productivity is a very broad term which you aren't going to write a budget against without specifics. We're currently at a stage where the potential diners are discussing the kitchen and how to use it instead of what can and should be crafted in there, and for how many people.