Sunday, October 12, 2008

Is the business case for E2.0 enough?

"Is it enough? Is this any different (or any more successful) than the business cases we’ve been making for intranets?"  
I’ll start with answering the first question, if the business case is enough. Well, obviously it is not be enough for any purpose or audience. But hopefully it says enough for the purpose of getting someone in management interested in listening to what kind of value that E2.0 can bring to their business. For someone in management who is not really aware of the potentials of E2.0 but rather sees it as a hyped buzzword, then two minutes is just about what you can get of their attention to make the case. They certainly won't read a book or even an article that expands on the business case. 
Regarding the second question I would say that it is more or less the same business case as has been made for intranets. What is different is that it will be more successful. 

Traditional intranets have certainly helped to improve (primarily one-way) communication and access to (a rather limited set of centrally selected) information assets. But we all know that there is a lot of room for improvement and that we need both new solutions and new ways to improve real-time communication, content-centric collaboration and many-to-many conversations. Intranets are not very successful in any of these areas. An intranet site or portal is primarily a communication tool for the organization, not for the coworkers. It is only natural to look around for new solutions to (almost) the communication and collaboration problems that enterprises face (Enterprise 2.0).

It is important to understand that previous solutions to the problem of communication and collaboration - such as intranets - have not really addressed the social dimension of communication and collaboration. They have neglected how important it is to motivate people, to encourage and reward them for contributing, and to help establish the trust an informality that is needed for people to communicate and collaborate with each other. Traditional intranets have not really been very successful in motivating people to communicate with each other. They have not trusted coworkers enough to let anyone get access to information and contribute with their own, or to have free-form conversations about just about anything. Intranets are still perceived as tools designed, controlled and used by the management to provide them with information that has been approved by the management. If intranets would have been designed for people, as places where coworkers are free to communicate and share information with each other, then the whole Enterprise 2.0 thing would not be such a big deal.  


  1. I agree that intranets have traditionally neglected collaboration and two-way interaction, and that these new tools provide new opportunities.

    In fact, I've argued that there are four fundamental purposes of an intranet: content, communication, collaboration and activity. All four must be in balance.

    It's also good to explore the business case for these types of activities.

    That being said, I don't see that we've progressed much from where we've always been. Focusing on "information" and "findability" is a pretty weak basis for a business case, as the executive just don't care.

    Instead, I've been arguing for some time that we need to go beyond this to directly address business needs. Let's stop talking about "intranets", "collaboration" and "enterprise 2.0", and instead talk about nothing but business problems and business solutions.

    This has been the emphasis in our Intranet Innovation Awards, with 40% of the scoring related to business benefits. Winners are still struggling to put concrete numbers on their improvements, but at least their focus is starting to shift.

    An important discussion, happy to continue it on my blog or yours...

    Cheers, James

  2. Hi James,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I very much like to continue this conversation as I find it to be a very important and interesting one.
    First of all, I believe that giving new things new names is important. The term "intranet" has been worn out and as it was coined long before we were aware of the principles of Web 2.0 and Social Media it is ill suited to describe the things included in the concept of Enterprise 2.0. I believe that most people still think that the term "Intranet" stands for something else.

    Secondly, as most organizations already have an intranet today, it is hard to convince them to invest a lot in an intranet again just because we have redefined what we mean with an intranet. Most of them will think we are selling them more or less the same thing as they already have. We have to highlight the differences, what is new.

    All organizations I have talked to about their communication and collaboration challenges have heard about Web 2.0, Social Media and Enterprise 2.0, but they many of them do not really understand what these terms mean, or how to approach them. What they can see is that a lot of organizations are doing things in this area, but also that their own employees are taking initiatives on their own to use social tools and technologies such as wikis, RSS and social networks.

    The last couple of decades, organizations have been focusing heavily on optimizing processes. During this time, many organizations have become very knowledge-intensive and are now dependant on rapid and efficient exchange of information and knowledge between individuals to be able to development competitive services and products. Still, since the focus has been on automating and optimizing processes, they have not been very good at addressing this need. Much of this exchange simply cannot be described with processes or solved with the solutions they have used before as it occurs ad hoc, informally and spontaneously. Hence it is also quite inefficient since we do not have the proper tools, culture or behavior to support it.

    What we see now is how Web 2.0 and social media rapidly changes how individuals communicate and collaborate with each other. There is a considerable shift in power from institutions and traditional organizations to social networks which in turn is changing society, organizations and even how we live our lives as individuals.

    Organizations need to address this force proactively to stay competitive. They need to analyze and explore how they can use it to their advantage instead of trying to fight or neglect it. Any of the latter strategies are lethal simply because the force is stronger than the sum of all organizations - it is the sum of all users on the web, which is growing rapidly day-by-day. The paradox is that coworkers, customers and partners of the organization are part of this force.

    Intranets are still seen as tools which are designed for, controlled by and used by "The Organization". They still have a strong reason for existence and can still be improved considerably. But organizations must also equip their employees with tools that brings them the same kind of powers to communicate and collaborate as on the web, powers which can be multiplied thanks to network effects. That is in essence what Enterprise 2.0 is about and why it is different from intranets.

    I agree with you that we should talk more about the business problems and business solutions, but it often helps to label them. Hence I think it is inevitable that we will have terms such as intranets, collaboration and Enterprise 2.0. We must just work hard on explaining what they stand for and demonstrating the potential benefits and how to realize these benefits - here we obviously have a lot of work to do.