I was fortunate to meet up with Andrew McAfee from Harvard Business School (blog.hbs.edu/faculty/amcafee) last week, discussing the growth of social networking software inside organisations - commonly called Enterprise 2.0 - so I thought I would add some content here on my observations, leanings and views. Most of you will know from my posts on "learning from my kids" and "facebook" that I am quite keen on this topic
About the best definition I can find so far for this stuff is "... the use of existing and emerging social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers." So that basically covers blogs, wikis, content tagging, social networks, RSS etc
Despite the hype, these are genuinely new technologies which offer the potential for an organisation to be far more effective around innovation, collaboration, knowledge sharing and collective intelligence. Unfortunately the bariers to adoption now seem to be the lack of foresight or draconian policies of the IT department (or maybe even the irrational fears of some CIOs) rather than the willingness of the customers to embrace the solutions on offer.
There are some simple trends that seem to be driving the adoption of E2.0 solutions
- Software has become simple, social and inclusive. Technology is now actually being used to connect rather than alienate or frustrate people.
- Network effect – all of these solutions improve with scale so its in the interests of participants to promote use and "market" their new found information and connections
- "Platforms" are replacing channels - Web 2.0 promotes the move from channels to platforms (email is a 1.0 channel - a one to one conversation that has no interactivity or contribution). In a web 2.0 world the platforms aspire to be universal, visible and open to the broadest possible interaction.
- Most Web2.0 tools have a distinct lack of upfront structure but they have mechanisms in place that allows structure to emerge. This is a really new (and potentially frightening concept for IT folks) - get out of the way of the customers and almost give them a blank slate. Conventional IT has lots of rules and structure. It slots people into roles, assigns privileges to roles, define workflows and data formats etc. This is not wrong, but applying this approach universally can be barrier to collaboration and innovation. Web 2.0 tools (praticularly inside an enterprise) requires a bit more sublety - segmentation if you will - making sure that the appropriatre tools and services are available to the right people. Wikipedia is a great example of managed collaboration - with great self selection and editing. Del.icio.us allows you to store bookmarks online and share them but people tag their entries, not based on any predefined lists, but entirely on the words they choose themselves.
I've already mentioned the potential "fear and loathing" from your all controlling IT Department, though happily these now tend to be in the minority. However, the biggest challenge for any new solution is usually down to surplanting what already exists. Email is the most prevalent collaboration tool - however bad we think it is !! - and for anything new there will always be a level of personal evaluation between an incumbent technology and a prospect technology. Remeber that customers rarely make rational lists to come to a decision. What invariably happens is that the incumbent solution is over-weighted - often by a factor of 3 and the prospect is under-weighted by a similar amount. So new concepts often have to be at least 9x better than existing systems.
So what do I think...
I think Enterprise 2.0 is going to be the difference between innovative and laggard companies. The ones who can embrace and harness the potential from a connected and collaborative organisation will simply be streets ahead of their competritors.