Dion Hinchcliffe did a pretty exhaustive survey of the state of enterprise 2.0 a couple of weeks ago. It’s a great read, if only to get a handle on just what Enterprise 2.0 is evolving into in the minds of people who are thinking about it!
At the core of Enterprise 2.0 is a paradox: What is the best way to incorporate “social applications that are optional to use, free of unnecessary structure, highly egalitarian, and support many forms of data” into a highly structured corporate environment? Hinchcliffe observes
By the time you’ve installed, configured, customized, and integrated all of the ingredients you’ve brought together, if you’ve lost sight of the specific reasons why Enterprise 2.0 is supposed to work better, your effort will have been in vain. I see this often when Enterprise 2.0 projects don’t provide, say, read access to RSS feed readers to workers or fail to make it easy to create a blog post or wiki page from the Intranet and a dozen other minor decisions made on top of the Enterprise 2.0 tools selected, yet contrary to their spirit and that will be significantly detrimental to the outcome. Best advice: Clearly understand the benefits of these news tools and ideas and then do your very best to ensure they aren’t negated.
Of course, the same lack of clarity which leads to installations which frustrate the purpose of the initiative makes training on how to use these tools more complex, too. Hinchcliffe describes the training needs:
Just like the previous generation of workers received computer literacy classes en masse and learned how to use business productivity applications such as word processing, spreadsheets, and email, the same will be required for the current generation of workers and Enterprise 2.0. This is even simple guidance such as should something go into a blog post, a wiki page, or mashup app. Also why and when should workers respond to comments and participate in social networking, bookmarking, and internal/external online communities?
I don’t see this sort of guidance as “simple” at all. It was pretty straightforward to figure out which work should go into a spreadsheet and which into a word processor. The hard part was learning the features and how to activate them. But where, or perhaps more importantly, whether to post one’s thought among a range of new venues for expression, that’s a question of corporate culture. The executive suite is rightfully reluctant to simply adopt wholesale the approach of the early adopters in the org, but they are the only ones so far who’ve done the experimentation and have a feel for what sort of work fits best in which of the new formats.
During this early, experimental time, it’s a little frightening to invest big dollars in a large scale integrated product to support a way of working which is still largely untested. But it’s very expensive in terms of worker productivity and data fragmentation to have critical work scattered among a wide range of different, overlapping applications which don’t have integrated search.
We’ve been working on these issues.
In xPERT Office, we think we have a solution which helps mitigate organizational risk during this time of transition. We offer a platform which integrates a high-powered discussion forum with wiki and blog capability, so users don’t have to learn a new interface as they experiment with each of these new ways to present work. These tools can be made open to everybody, or rolled out gradually as new teams need them. xPERT Office stands nicely on its own as an office-on-the-web, but can easily be integrated with the enterprise HR system to keep user data sync’d. To ease what can be a difficult transition in workstyle, it permits participation via email for those who aren’t quite ready to make the leap out of their inboxes into a more organized environment.
More importantly, perhaps, we have some expertise in helping an org think through just how the corporate culture they have, and the one they aspire to develop, can be expressed through thoughtful incorporation of these tools into the work of their people.
If the power of Web 2.0 is in giving voice to individuals to express their thoughts on the issues of the day, and access to a world-wide readership, the power of Enterprise 2.0 is, we think, in giving individuals more effective platforms from which to present their work and access to exactly the right audience. Doing that well requires much more than experimenting with software.