Webciety and Enterprise 2.0: A snapshot of today's social computing conversations

Though smaller than in year's past, Germany's CeBIT trade show in Hanover this week remains one of the giants of the industry and is a must-attend event for much of Europe's technology leaders. For the last two years, I have been participating in Webciety, a show within a show that explores the emerging 21st century digital lifestyle.Here is a breakdown of how Europe is looking at Enterprise 2.0 adoption and how it affects us as well.
Written by Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

Webciety 2010 at CeBIT in Hanover, Germany with Simon Wardley, Sascha Lobo, Natasha Saxberg, and Jeff Schick
Though smaller than in years past, this week's CeBIT trade show in Hanover, Germany remains one of the giants of the industry and is a must-attend event for much of Europe's technology leaders. For the last two years, I have been participating in Webciety, a show within the show that explores the emerging 21st century digital lifestyle.

Webciety has a focus on both consumer and enterprise applications of Web 2.0 technologies as well as closely related trends such as cloud computing. Given its access to a wide cross section of attendees, it's also a good crucible for gauging the latest trends, albeit in a largely tech-savvy audience.

At the moment the use of consumer social Web tools is as big here in Europe as it is in the United States, even it doesn't always involve Facebook or Twitter, though those social networking services are widely used too. Social sites that are popular here currently include what is often referred to as Germany's Facebook, studiVZ and Europe's version of LinkedIn, XING.

What is slightly more of a hurdle in Europe, but is nevertheless making inroads, is the rising use of social tools in the workplace. Business leaders here -- and make no mistake, in the United States as well -- still want to be convinced that enterprise social software is a good way to improve communication and collaboration for their organizations. Although the wide adoption of social tools in private life globally is starting to underscore the urgency for many decision makers, much of the discussion here this week in Hall 6 on the gigantic CeBIT fairgrounds is over the specific issues and concerns of the business adoption and ROI of social tools.

Related: What will power next-generation enterprises?

As the eponymous title suggests, Webciety itself is a fascinating experiment in bringing both topical and bleeding edge topics in culture, society, and technology to the often-staid and buttoned down European IT industry. The content itself is organized by Kongress Media's Bjoern Negelmann (who in the mode of full disclosure is my host here at the event this week) and is a well-known figure in the Enterprise 2.0 space in Europe. The result this week has been, by most accounts, an intriguing and successful mix of consumer and enterprise perspectives on today's increasingly Web-driven society.

Focusing on adoption and ROI for Enterprise 2.0

The last few days of panel discussions amongst practitioners, vendors, and customers has captured a snapshot of where businesses are in terms of their mindset and overall readiness to begin adopting social and cloud technologies largely coming from the Web. Many organizations I talk to here seem to clearly be somewhere in the adoption phase, either just starting or trying to understand how to improve the early results of their efforts.

Though some corporations have been employing Enterprise 2.0 here on the continent for a while now, such as DrKW, T-Systems, and Vodafone, one does occasionally wonder where the executives are from McKinsey's global study of Web 2.0 adoption last year, which stated that an impressive "69 percent of respondents report that their companies have gained measurable business benefits, including more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues."

Related: Determining the ROI of Enterprise 2.0

Thus -- as is the culture here -- interested skepticism is the norm. Yet, it's also evident in my discussions with attendees that many organizations are currently having to deal broadly with newly arrived and often competing social technologies at the departmental, division, and enterprise-wide level. Like it is in the rest of the world, the Social Web seems to be moving inexorably into today's European workplace. How companies respond will likely define the possibilities in terms of how well their employees will be able to communicate and work together with the rest of the world.

IT organizations in Europe are generally regarded as more organized and disciplined in their use of information technology. They've classically been large-scale adopters of highly structured IT solutions including enterprise content management (ECM), document management (DMS), knowledge management (KM), enterprise portals, unified communications (UC), customer relationship management (CRM), ERP, HCM and the whole alphabet soup that makes up today's in-house IT systems, 3rd party products, and associated enterprise architectures.

However, as modern IT moves into the 2.0 era, many of these very entrenched technologies, which typically have major constituencies as well as higher levels of use than in the United States, are feeling the pressure of Enterprise 2.0 encroachment, which compete with and augment -- though usually not replace outright -- many of these enterprise platforms. As IT starts to find itself in the middle of a new business environment that consists of more open, social, and freeform IT solutions, it is this overlap in particular that's becoming ground zero for the discussions of how to better adopt social computing, which even the more skeptical will grant as being much better at maximizing human (and therefore worker and partner) engagement.

To determine ROI or not?

It was a panel I participated in at the related eLearning and Knowledge Management pavilion on the subject of Enterprise 2.0 that ended up generating one of the most interesting discussions of the week. It included Willms Buhse, OpenText's Craig Hepburn, Blogtronix's Ivan Gruev, IBM's Jeff Schick, T-System's Frank Schönefeld, and myself. While the panelists themselves were clearly proponents of enterprise social computing in general, disagreement emerged around whether or not measuring ROI and collecting metrics on usage and performance was an important success factor.

I'd previously found that many early Enterprise 2.0 efforts had been hampered by lack of measurement of the results and I said so. Other panelists agreed that ROI calculations were needed to justify executive buy-in and investment. Taking the contrary position was Willms Buhse, a well-known figure in enterprise social computing in Europe, who noted that you don't have to calculate the ROI of e-mail to understand that it has value to your business and that the same is true of Enterprise 2.0. The issue wasn't resolved in the debate but clearly one's mileage will vary depending on the local business climate and expectations. In general in my experience, the farther a given organization is from the technology industry and the more traditional its business environment, the less likely that social tools will be automatically perceived as important value adds.

One of the more subsequently repeated facts cited in the panel was by IBM's Jeff Schick. He noted that the global technology and business firm has over 400,000 employees and 75,000 contractors and has adopted Enterprise 2.0 broadly. For example, they achieved a rapid uptake of their new microblogging platform to several hundred thousand workers in a relatively short time period. He also cited that new collaborative technology had reduced the email volume in the company by 28%. I'm generally not that impressed when technology companies adopt new technology well, but this is still a head turning result.

Listening to the audience using social media

Integrated tightly with Twitter, the tweet activity under Webciety's hashtag was one of the better sources of unfiltered information about what people are really thinking here about next-generation business and IT. A representative sample of such tweets below and speaks volumes about the range of thinking about social software, cloud computing, and related topics:

  • "Social networks will be like air. Just always there."
  • "Enterprise social networks will have as little control as do rumors and other group dynamics."
  • "It's funny that no old publishers went into the casual game business... WHY? They have experts inside."
  • "Do social media initiatives reach the whole company or just some departments and how long do they survive over time?"
  • "Enterprise 2.0: Not only collaboration inside companies, but it also opens up the supply chain."
  • "Why should managers use/implement Web 2.0 tools? 1. They are too busy anyway 2. They just delegate search & information managment."
  • "Social Operating Systems will Rule the Future. #ohmygod"
  • "Webciety is 60% Web 2.0, CMS + 30% + 10% unimportant."
  • "Now companies can reach into the Long Tail through social media. But they have not the slightest clues how that one ticks."
  • "Collaborator was once a dirty word"
  • "How transparent is the future of who provides the content in a fully personalized world?"
  • "The City of Boston seeks stolen bicycles on Twitter and Facebook - with great success"
  • "In England, the citizens can actually decide on public budgets. Http://www.participatorybudgeting.org.uk/"
  • "After an election, many politicians have sent not one sentence more into the Web"
  • "Social media is not a tool for extinguishing one's own thinking processes or trial and error"

Note: Some of these tweets were translated from German using Google Translate.

It's been an interesting three days here in Germany and my take is that compared to overall feelings last year is that it's increasingly clear that Europeans are less wondering about "if" Enterprise 2.0 will happen and are now starting to expect social computing in their workplace in some form sooner or later.

Webciety itself has been an useful blend of the consumer and the enterprise and the sessions have run the gamut from collaboration, open government, cloud computing, SaaS, social media, Social CRM, emerging mobile platforms, and even Food 2.0. For those that couldn't make it, not to worry, you can catch the video of every session online at the Webciety 2010 video archive, though only some sessions (including my two panels and a fireside chat), are in English.

Next stop is the Social Business Summit in Austin and the Enterprise Mashups Summit in San Francisco, both next week. I'll be speaking at each event and will be covering them here along with the latest developments.

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