Monday, August 31, 2009

Enterprise 2.0 is a process, not a solution

If we take out the less sustainable parts from social media, what do we have left? It’s surely not the tools and solutions. The tools and solutions will come and go, just as they always have.

The real shift that is manifested by social media is that we have taken our attitudes and behaviors from our real world social life to the web. We have the same needs to express ourselves, meet new people and so on as we have always had as human beings (social by nature), but with the web we now have new and more powerful ways to satify them. Thus the web has become an extension of our "real" lives.

The social web (I like this term better than Web 2.0 and social media to describe this development) is being built on values such as informality, dialog, participation, honesty, trust, openness, directness, and so on. But how do these values translate to a corporate context? If we just take the tools and solutions from the social web and implement them in a corporate context, will people start sharing, interacting and collaborating as freely and readily as they do on the social web?

Definitely not.

The values which are dominating the social web are not necessarily dominating at work. Work is often a highly competitive environment. People compete for salary raises and status, and when doing so they don't necessarily act in the same as they do to achieve a higher social status outside work.

Having said this, let's go back to the discussion about the definition and meaning of Enterprise 2.0.

I believe we are at a point where we can take either one of the following views on Enterprise 2.0: either we see it a solution, or we see it as a process. I'm with Gil Yehuda (and Sameer Patel) on this one. As Yehuda writes in his post “Denial is a river full of crocks” (great post by the way):
I don’t believe “Enterprise 2.0″ is a solution, I believe it is a description. I agree with the bold statement in Sameer Patel’s post: Enterprise 2.0 is a state that Enterprises achieve by employing an appropriate set of social computing concepts. I word it my way: “Enterprise 2.0 describes a transformed organization.”
Enterprise 2.0 needs to be seen as a process, not a solution ("process" is a better term than "state", which I previously used - see comment below by Tom Graves). As a matter of fact, I think it quite useless otherwise because when the tools and solutions have gone, Enterprise 2.0 will be an empty vessel without either destination or direction.

What we need to do now is to define the transformation which is needed, and when doing so we should put the emphasis on the values and principles needed to be successful in this transformation.

You might agree or disagree on this point, but nevertheless I think it is safe to say that Enterprise 2.0 since long has got a life of its own, independent of the person who originally coined it. It is up to us together to fill it with purpose.


  1. Mostly agree, except that as a systems practitioner I'm always very wary about any notion of 'state'.

    Nothing is static: there is no state. So might a more accurate term might 'focus' or 'emphasis' or 'direction'.

    For 'Enterprise 2.0' itself, it may be more useful to go back to the core terms, 'enterprise' and '[Web] 2.0'. 'Enterprise' is a social structure; 'Web 2.0' is a primarily about a particular style of interoperation - in essence, two-way/multi-way interaction between peers rather than one-way transaction from 'producer' to 'consumer'. Some aspects of '2.0' do describe specific characteristics that typify '2.0'-style tools, but they're actually technology-agnostic: the 'technology' might be online, but could just as easily be a physical market or face-to-face information-sharing community.

    As Jakob Nielsen makes clear in his review of 'Social networking on intranets' ( ), the main factor limiting success with 'social intranets' is not the technology but the organisation's culture. Hierarchical models ('Enterprise 1.0', in a Taylorist sense) can clash horribly with peer-to-peer models. Hence yes, one way to view 'Enterprise 2.0' is as a process of transformation, with the 'social computing' tools as interventions on behalf of that transformation.

    But as Gil Yehuda puts in "Denial is a river full of crocks", it's naive to think that social-computing tools will automatically bring on a peer-to-peer organisation, or even to assume that such a structure is even desirable in every case. ("Definitely not", as you put it.) Instead, we need to move back at least a couple of steps, and consider more carefully why we would want such a transformation, and where in in what aspects of the enterprise we could and should implement it.

    Just as Taylorism has real value in specific parts of the enterprise but is a disaster-area when applied rigidly to the whole, exactly the same applies to the 'sharing and caring' myths about 'Enterprise 2.0'. Sometimes we need strict hierarchies; sometimes we need to impose defined standards; and sometimes we don't. We just need to be very clear as to which is which, and where each applies. Which is where enterprise-architecture comes into the picture - by which I mean a real 'architecture of the enterprise', not solely of the enterprise IT.

    We do need a replacement term for 'Enterprise 2.0': McAfee's definition is too IT-centric and too misleading to be in any way useful in the real enterprise, and has now slumped to the level of a meaningless buzzword for vendor hype (if it was ever anything more than that?). But even 'social computing' is suspect, because the emphasis needs to be on 'social' rather than 'computing', and, as you say, it needs to take more account of the differences between the broader society and the more constrained world within the organisation.

    Seems to me that the (misnamed) 'Enterprise 2.0' is more a process than a state: and a definition itself seems too static for what we need. In an interesting recursion, is the debate about terminology itself the term that we need? :-)

  2. You are right, nothing is static. Your feedback and a second thought makes it obvious. I've updated my blog post to adjust this err.

    Enterprise 2.0 needs to be seen more as a process, a way to transform enterprises by leveraging their social capital so they can become more agile, productive, innovative...whichever the objectives of the specific enterprise.