Enterprise 2.0 - Giving the Hype a Second Thought

By Shahnawas Khan

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Remember the late '90s? The Internet boom when every organization worth its name was scrambling for an Internet strategy, presence and initiative. "You have to be on the net or you are toast" was the underlying sentiment. It s very similar these days with the Web 2.0 buzz.


The Internet boom forced organizations to get online and looking back it was much simpler compared to making an organization Web 2.0 ready because this involves understanding of an abstract concept called Enterprise 2.0. Such has been the euphoria around everything 2.0 (Web or Enterprise) that organizations are feeling compelled, driven, pushed to adopt Web 2.0—even if only to say, "Oh, we have a Web 2.0 strategy in place or we are already 'doing' Web 2.0."
While the advantages of Web 2.0 in an organizational context can't be denied—agility, responsiveness, employee empowerment, improved sharing and collaboration—Enterprise 2.0/Web 2.0 is an abstract concept and organizations need to comprehend and understand this abstract concept and then translate it into corporate reality. This article highlights some of the key points that organizations need to be aware of before embarking on the Enterprise 2.0 journey.



Enterprise 2.0 is an Abstract Concept


Let s face it there is no one definition of Enterprise 2.0. There are several definitions, theories and jargons floating around ranging from pure technology- centric to user-centric. Too often organizations fall into the trap of equating an Enterprise 2.0 strategy to a technology implementation because of the perceptions, and advice from consultants and geeks. While technology is a very critical component of Enterprise 2.0, organizations need to understand that technology alone will not make Enterprise 2.0 successful. Corporate culture, consisting of open communication, trust, honest feedback, sharing of knowledge and self organization, are key enablers and need to be in place before the technology solutions can deliver on the promise of Enterprise 2.0 .


An organization planning an Enterprise 2.0 strategy would benefit if it clearly understands that Enterprise 2.0 is a concept, an abstract concept at best, encompassing several tracks: culture, anthropology, sociology, politics, technology and much more.


Takeaway: An Enterprise 2.0 implementation is not equal to Wiki + Blogs + RSS + other “cool” applications.


Web 2.0 vs. Enterprise 2.0

Most organizations have proponents of Web 2.0 who evangelize and give examples of how it is revolutionizing and transforming the Internet and that their organization should also adopt Web 2.0. Often, one will hear examples of how:


       Tens of thousands of people are mass collaborating to create Wikipedia, without any top down structures and hierarchy; out of their own time and passion.


       Thousands of programmers are contributing to Linux, again without any command and control structures, out of their own time and passion.


       Millions of people are sharing and collaborating on YouTube, Flickr and thousands building mash-ups, add-ons to Amazon, Android and Google.


While these examples are true, it is important to note that all of these have occurred in the Internet space which is much different from corporate space. Blindly buying into these examples without understanding them in detail and trying to replicate them within an organization is a surefire recipe for disaster. The saying "The devil is in the details" is very apt for these examples.


Wikipedia has a very robust and established list of processes and layers of user participation. It has evolved from years of review, moderation, editing and approvals. It is important to know and understand this minor yet important aspect because it is easy to get carried away by the romanticism of idea of tens of thousands of people mass collaborating to create the perfect knowledge base.


A complex set of robust processes and structures govern the contributions to Linux. While everyone is free to contribute to Linux, a central team decides which contributions to accept and which to reject. Command and control structures do exist even in the Linux world. There are layers of users with varying degrees of rights, privileges and accountability.


Takeaway: Organizations need to understand that the Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 are different animals even though both may utilize similar underlying components and plumbing, the environments and the context in which they are implemented are very different.


Organizational Culture

The real obstacle to Enterprise 2.0 may very well be the corporate culture existing within the organization. Cultural resistance is something real and can determine the success of failure of any initiative. Organizations need to reflect on this in great depth: Is the organization heavily controlled and a top down driven organization? Is open communication the practiced norm? Are there existing social structures available for employees to express themselves? Etc.


Organizations need to be aware that adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools and platforms will be quite challenging as most of the Enterprise 2.0 toolset is based on the user-driven, self-fulfillment, self-expression, social-needs premise and any amount of forced usage is not likely to yield results. In the Internet world, people join communities out of their own choice. Individuals decide the terms, means, frequency and scope of their interactions. Relationships in the Internet world are usually informal and based on voluntary participation.


For an organization to be successful in leveraging Enterprise 2.0, it has to recognize, understand and appeal to the multiple personas, intelligences and personalities that employees have. The organization has to touch the social, individual, collective, emotional and cognitive chords within its employees to be able to make any fruitful use of the Enterprise 2.0 platforms.


Takeaway: The cultural readiness of an organization will go a long way in determining the success of Enterprise 2.0 initiative.


Usage Context


As I just stated, in the Internet world, Web 2.0 is driven by an individual's personal context meaning that the usage is determined by an individual's interests, passion, needs and convenience. In an organizational scenario, the usage of Enterprise2.0 platform and tools would be driven and governed by a work related context. Therefore, organizations need to identify this context. For example, making a blogging platform available for everyone to use for whatever purpose they deem fit is a surefire recipe for disaster.


Organizations also need to realize that Web 2.0 tools within the organization, without a properly identified business usage context, will not transform the enterprise, flatten the hierarchy, create an open communication culture or make the organization democratic. Enterprise 2.0 can make the organization more agile, responsive and efficient, however, organizations need to identify the business context first and then make use of Enterprise 2.0 toolsets to address that business context, rather than the other way round.


Takeaway: "Build it and they will come" may not work in an organization. Identify the business usage context to leverage the promise of Web 2.0 within the enterprise.

Top Down vs. Bottom Up


A large majority of experiments, to bring Web 2.0 elements into the enterprise have been bottom-up efforts, in small scale teams and departments where the participants shared lots of commonalities around work, reporting relationships, interests and passions. This is expected in any emerging concept. Not many of these bottom-up experiments have percolated enterprise-wide or scaled to engage the enterprise as a whole. At best, such experiments can spawn more small scale experiments leading to more chaos and very little benefit.


In a few organizations where attempts at bringing Web 2.0 concepts to the enterprise have been successful, it is clearly visible that these experiments are supported with active engagement, involvement and driven from the senior management. This is very critical as Enterprise 2.0 entails cultural, hierarchical and process changes across the organization that are very difficult, if not impossible, to implement.


The magnitude of issues and challenges involved in making change happen in small teams or departments is considerably different from making change happen across the organization and bottom up efforts to make change happen may not stand a chance.


Takeaway: Be wary of basing your Enterprise 2.0 strategy on the basis of one or two experiments with Enterprise 2.0 in small teams.


Critical Mass

The Web 2.0 platforms in the Internet world derive value from numbers—called the network effect—the power of the network grows exponentially in value as more and more people become a part of it. The value derived from the number of users in the platform also helps in creating the tipping point required for the platform to be successful. Organizations may find it difficult to replicate the network effect with the absence of a critical mass required to create it.


Even in the Internet world, the majority of the users of Web 2.0 platforms are passive bystanders, occasional contributors with only a miniscule percentage of users actively contributing. While this may not be an issue in the Internet world, because of the long tail phenomenon, in an enterprise scenario this is something that organizations need to be aware of.


The absence of a critical mass may result in Enterprise 2.0 platforms being utilized in a sub-optimal fashion and not yielding the desired results. Delays in expected benefits and impatient senior management can cause platforms to be shuttered without ever getting a chance to reach the tipping point.


Takeaway: Does the organization have the required critical mass to leverage the

network effect?


Workforce Composition and the Generation Gap


Organizations where a large number of employees are from the GenNet—people born after 1980 and have grown on MP3, Napster, iPod, broadband and blogs will have higher chances of Enterprise 2.0 adoption compared to organizations where majority of the employees are Baby Boomers. The cognitive and social development for the GenNet employees is molded in highly interactive and social communication environments compared to the rigid, command and control, top down environments of the baby boomers.


The leaders in most organizations still belong to the baby-boomer generation for whom the world of Orkut, Facebook, YouTube, Blogger is alien. This means that these leaders can t grasp the full potential of these tools for business context. And, even when these leaders pledge support for Enterprise 2.0, it can be without a full understanding of what Enterprise 2.0 actually means.


Takeaway: Identify if Enterprise 2.0 toolsets are suitable for the workforce composition in an organization.


Technology Inertia


Even in technically savvy organizations, document sharing is predominantly done through emails. Some people are only comfortable using Excel for various business needs—even after various collaborative platforms and productivity enhancement tools are made available. There seems to be considerable inertia within organizations when it comes to new tools.


Apart from email, ERP, centralized- and approval-based systems if people have not been exposed to other collaborative platforms the challenge will become even more complex and Enterprise 2.0 tools will be of little help.


Takeaway: There will be existing tools within the organization that overlap with the Enterprise 2.0 toolset but an organization needs to plan on addressing the areas that are beyond the normal, collaborative scope of their existing tools.


Technology Platforms


There are very few, if any, vendors who have a real Enterprise 2.0 offering that can easily integrate with the existing infrastructure of an organization. The choices for Enterprise2.0 toolsets—Wiki, blogs, collaboration and social networking—range from open source to niche, stand alone vendors, to SaaS offerings, to the large document management and ERP vendors.


An organization planning for the Enterprise 2.0 journey should keep in mind the following:


       Users are going to benchmark the Enterprise 2.0 solutions against those available in the public domain.


       The expectations on usability and feature richness will be very high and a mere feature up tick will not help. (The open source and the niche vendors seem to score higher on this front than the traditional large document management and ERP vendors.)


Enterprise 2.0 toolsets have to be integrated into the existing solutions and their place and role needs to be clearly thought through. Having a standalone Wiki will not do any good and, at best, will add to information clutter and silos. (The traditional large document management and ERP vendors seem to score higher on this front than the open source and niche vendors.)


Takeaway: Evaluate and choose the technology solutions for Enterprise 2.0 platforms with the same rigor as you would do for an ERP.


Security Issues, Knowledge Leakage and Regulatory Compliance


Ironically, the same principles that serve as the basis for success of Web 2.0 in the Internet world can be a cause for concern within an organizational context. The free, open and uninhibited sharing of information, ability to reuse and mix content and applications, mash-ups and micro-formats, widgets and APIs—the backbone in the Web 2.0 successes can be an issue for IP sensitive organizations.


Enterprise 2.0 toolsets and methodologies have significant implications on how organizations should plan for IP protection, access controls, legal and regulatory compliances such as SOX. For example, a services company providing similar services to competing clients should have a well defined policy on what its employees can write and share in their corporate blogs, corporate Wiki and the like.


An absence of a well thought out security, IP protection plan for Web 2.0 applications can severely hurt an organization.


Takeaway: Web 2.0 within an enterprise brings its own set of IP and security issues that have to be thought through in detail.


Shahnawaz Khan is associate director, Knowledge Management, with MindTree Ltd. and is responsible for conceptualizing, designing and implementing KM Platforms around collaboration, reuse & innovation. He can be reached at shahnawaz_khan@mindtree.com.