Wednesday, May 6, 2009

About failing Enterprise 2.0 initiatives



Bertrand Duperrin always have a lot of good things on his mind which he shares with us on his blog. The following is an excerpt from his latest post “Enterprise 2.0 : what’s the missing link?” (make sure to read the full post):
Knowing why enterprise 2.0 sometimes failed to deliver its promises is now a mainstream issue. I’m talking about turning the promise into results because the question of knowing whether the promise is well-founded or not has already been answered. Many examples, such as Cisco’s, show that it’s possible and that it actually works. But some other, with the same technologies used for the same purposes, show that the results are hard to bring

Recently, Harold Jarche told me that the missing link was management. Even if it can sound provocative, I’d say it’s people (paradoxical, isn’t it ?). The one is the consequence of the other…

Yes, it is definitely people. People, people, people – and people. People in the management, people “on the floor", people in every corner of the enterprise. PEOPLE. You. Me. Everyone.

I get a little puzzled and worried when I hear about Enterprise 2.0 failing to deliver to its promises. Already? Wow, when did thoseorganizations start with their transformations? In the 90ies? 80ies?

Seeing Enterprise 2.0 as a number of short-term initiatives that will immediately boost the productivity of knowledge workers, improve collaboration and fuel innovation will do us more harm than good. There are definitely quick wins to be made, but we need more time to make the large and persistent wins. Harvesting the potential business benefits of Enterprise 2.0 requires insight, motivation, commitment, patience, perseverance, flexibility - and a large doze of good old-fashioned stubbornness. Why? Because it is about making people change.

We must not forget that social software technology is disruptive in the sense that it requires a shift in our mindsets, attitudes and behaviors before we can realize the biggest and most persistent of the promised business benefits. Even though most of the tools and technologies that we put under the social software umbrella term are not new, they just recently became boring enough to reach something that we can begin to call mainstream adoption. I would say that we are currently in the early majority adoption phase for blogs and social networks, but in early adopter phase for micro-blogging and RSS. And although people are getting used to use these technologies for private purposes (which took over a decade), it is likely that it will take some time until they figure out exactly how to use them at work, and much more time before they are able to "reprogram" their old ways of working and behaving at work. They will need help in doing so and they will need someone to tell them over and over again how to do it the right way (or in a better way than they are currently doing it).

Enterprise 2.0 can and should be seen as an opportunity for organizations that want to gain competitive advantage by using the Web 2.0 practices and technologies to boost the productivity of their knowledge workers, cut waste and fuel innovation. Harvesting the business benefits of introducing social software in a business context is not about technology. It is about people. It is about transforming an organization's culture towards openness, transparency, inclusion and sharing, and about getting everybody in the organization to change mindset and behavior. It is a tremendous challenge just to make people start reflecting on why and how they communicate with each other instead of doing it out of habit. But it can be done, it needs to be done, and those who find out how to do it will thrive. Cisco and Cisco CEO John Chambers have understood this.

So, you might have a social (professional) networking platform with blogs, wikis, rich profiles, and so forth up and running in a few months. But transforming the corporate culture and people's attitudes, behaviors and ways of working will take years - unless you do all that you can to accelerate the transformation. The opportunity for businesses is to figure out smart ways to use social software both as enabler and as catalyst in this transformation.

Organizations must realize that Enterprise 2.0 is not an isolated initiative. It is about embarking on a journey that aims to boost the productivity of knowledge workers, reduce waste in knowledge work / tacit activities, and fueling innovation. After centuries of focus on improving transformational and transactional activities by automating activities, shortening cycles and reducing headcount, we now need to focus on empowering people so they get better at what they are doing, and get better at doing things together. Social software is a key component, an important enabler and catalyst (if used in a smart way), in this transformation. But in the end, the main challenge is the same as always - it is ultimately we who need to change.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Oscar, hightlighting what we should already understand - it's all about the people. Unlike much of the technology investments through the 1970s to 1990s that focused on improving process efficiencies, Enterprise 2.0 is about changing corporate cultures. Changing processes require people to change their behaviour; whereas cultural change requires people to change not only how they behave, but also how they think, communicate and interact with each other on a social level. That's a much deeper level of change that requires real personal internalization, and as a result we can expect real adoption at the organizational level to take time.

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  2. You forgot some things from your list of requirements - "insight, motivation, commitment, patience, perseverance, flexibility "

    You also need energy and passion. Lots and lots of the stuff.

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  3. Thanks for your comments.

    Rich - I agree to 100% with your analysis. We must never forget stating the obvious (for some people), because people have a tendency to look beyond the obvious (and focus on technologies) and forget about it.

    John - I could have made the list VERY long, but passion is definately one of the key requirements which should have made it to the list. As long as we do not allow ourselves to be blinded by passion ;)

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