Blogger: Larry Cannell
By any measure, the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, recently held in San Francisco, was a huge success. As an Advisory Board member and someone who has been involved with the conference since 2004 (when it was first created and originally called the Collaborative Technologies Conference), I find this personally gratifying. In particular, I am thrilled to see the 2.0 Adoption Council take an active role (tip of the hat to Susan Scrupski for kick starting the council).
However, this conference also made clear that the “Enterprise 2.0” meme is going through an identity crisis of sorts. Oliver Marks, a fellow Advisory Board member, laments in a blog he posted after the conference:
“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”
In other words, “Enterprise 2.0” is ambiguous (and, therefore, so is its value proposition). However, perhaps the biggest problem is how Enterprise 2.0 is being defined (by both detractors and supporters) under the assumption that corporations must fundamentally change how they are organized before these technologies can be of value.
Questions about Enterprise 2.0 were the subject of a keynote discussion among panelists from the 2.0 Adoption Council entitled “Is Enterprise 2.0 a Crock?” A blog by the same title posted by Dennis Howlett precipitated this debate several weeks earlier, in which he said: “Therein lies the Big Lie. Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all.”
Miko Matsumura astutely compared this to the “SOA is Dead” argument and said this could be a healthy debate to have. However, he too expressed skepticism after hearing panelists saying that the way “business is organized is fundamentally changing,” which supports Howlett’s interpretation of what Enterprise 2.0 “mavens” are saying.
In addition, Tammy Erickson’s comments during her keynote seem to support this everything-has-to-change approach as well when she said: “the organizational designs within our corporations are wrong for 2.0 technology.” Matsumura and Howlett are correct to be skeptical. However, this doesn’t mean Enterprise 2.0 is a crock. In my opinion, a company’s organization may not be optimal for 2.0 technology, but these solutions can still deliver value (and possibly be contributing factors leading to change). But, to claim that companies need to fundamentally change to gain value from using these technologies is as absurd as calling it a crock.
Three years ago when we were first planning the 2007 conference, renaming the “Collaborative Technology Conference” to the “Enterprise 2.0 Conference” was the right move. It gave the conference a jolt of new energy, emphasized that the technology pieces were only part of what is necessary to apply Web 2.0 to companies, and broadened the conversation to a wider audience. But is it clear now that we need to re-examine the “Enterprise 2.0” label and either continue using it (but do a better job of describing it in ways meaningful to business managers) or replace it with something else.
To be blunt, the opportunities enabled by Enterprise 2.0 technologies are worth fighting over, but the label is not. During one of the better keynotes, Andrew McAfee (who originally coined the term “Enterprise 2.0”) said we should stop using the word “social” in selling Enterprise 2.0 since it “has more negative connotations to a busy pragmatic manager.” I agree, but I also suggest not using the words “Enterprise 2.0” when talking with the same pragmatic managers. We should not fool ourselves into thinking we are talking like "the business" when we say "Enterprise 2.0.” It is an insider’s term. Few if any of these pragmatic managers use the word "enterprise" in their everyday vocabulary (unless they are fans of Star Trek).
An underlying challenge with the adoption of any information technology (but is particularly relevant when applying Web 2.0 to companies) is the huge gap between line of business organizations and IT. The business side of companies tends to abdicate information technology decision-making responsibility to IT (treating it like some kind of magic that just happens) and IT tends to focus on making its job of maintaining the technology easier (leaving the “soft” stuff for the business to address). Successful companies address this gap by having both sides work together to apply information technology in ways that significantly improve the business. Any talk of upending or revolutionizing the organization is counterproductive for the people working in the trenches trying to get these two sides working together to improve the effectiveness of their company’s workforce.
The “Enterprise 2.0” label does nothing to address this and can even expose a wider gap if it is overused. If we want to start engaging business managers in this discussion, we need to stop talking about upending hierarchies and start talking in terms both the business and IT can get behind.