Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why McAfees definition of Enterprise 2.0 is flawed



I have been involved in a discussion on Twitter yesterday with Sameer Patel (@SameerPatel), Dennis Howlett (@dahowlett) and Tom Graves (@tetradian) regarding the following:
  • Signs that Enterprise 2.0 is being hijacked by vendors
  • Andrew McAfee's technology-centric definition of Enterprise 2.0
Both of these things are counterproductive to what many of us want to achieve with Enterprise 2.0; boosting productivity, innovation etc. Once again, we might forget to pay enough attention to the key dimension in any effort aimed at improving of the operations and management of a business: the human (social) dimension. Just as Knowledge Management (1.0) has been declared dead due to the numerous technology-centric KM initiatives that neglected the human dimension of KM and hence failed, if we see enough Enterprise 2.0 initiatives making the same mistake, Enterprise 2.0 will most likely face the same destiny. Unless we do something about it now.

Today, Tom Graves published some of his reflections from this discussion in a post called "Annoyed at ‘Enterprise 2.0′":
"To me, a core aspect of an enterprise’s architecture revolves around the role of conversation in collaboration and cooperation - the human side of business knowledge, as expressed within the broader enterprise that extends beyond the organisation’s borders. Hence a natural interest in what’s been labelled ‘Enterprise 2.0′, which, on the surface at least, is about the centrality of those conversations, and active support for them within the enterprise."

"The catch is that that isn’t what the ’standard’ definition of ‘Enterprise 2.0′ by Andrew McAfee actually says. Instead, it’s all about the software...//...People are not even mentioned in the definition at all. Neither is the enterprise - nor the actual purpose of any of this. It’s just about software, and characteristics of that software."
In order not to forget the human dimension, we need to constantly remind ourselves about it. So, the least thing we can ask from a definition of Enterprise 2.0 is that it does just that. In this sense, McAfee's definition of Enterprise 2.0 is flawed. It is missing what made the social web to the social web - the people, not the technology.

10 comments:

  1. The point is: Do anyone outside the software/tech-focused consultants take notice of the enterprise 2.0 discussion. Up to now only few ppl look deeper into all these strategy, organizational development, change management stuff that comes along with democratizing conversation inside enterprises. The best way to stop all the stuff one could change ist ye god ole discussion about busienss culture. btw, do anyone is able to persuade the board by telling them it will take years to succed in this new approaches? nope. the software friedns do have the better arguments: some wiki here some blog there and there we go enterprise 2.0...

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  2. some wiki here, some blog there won't help you gain competitive advantage by taking the social web in an enterprise context. If not accompanied by a top down approach and long term vision, looking at all dimensions of an enterprise, Enterprise 2.0 initiatives will fail (not deliver to the promises). If you can't convince the board about the need for Enterprise 2.0 and that it will require a transformation over many years, then sell any shares you have in that company and place your bet on a better horse.

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  3. Dr Marie Puybaraud and I co-facilitate a research and learning network for senior IT, HR and Facilities Management executives. Our meeting back in January 2008 tried to grapple with what did enterprise social networking mean for knowledge management?

    It was an ambitious undertaking, which we documented here:

    http://www.thesmartworkcompany.com/pdf/KMESN.pdf

    We combined Tim O'Reilly and Professor McAfees' definitions into:

    “a suite of emergent technologies, which should adapt and get better as more is understood of how people use them, which are deployed within and beyond the four walls of an enterprise to harness the network effects of collaboration (collective intelligence)”.

    We noted that "The focus of these definitions are on technologies, their characteristics and deployment - albeit with the objective of facilitating and harnessing the dynamic outcomes of social relationships and engagement."

    Having analysed the executives' thoughts, we said:

    "Synthesising the O’Reilly / McAfee definitions with the network members’ definitions, enterprise social networking might therefore be seen as:

    dynamic, loosely-coupled, self-organised informal communities reaching and sharing knowledge across the formal structure of an organisation and
    supply chain, enabled by technologies and organisational structures, policies and processes that harness collective intelligence for effectiveness and competitive advantage."

    Well, it is a start :-)

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  4. Anne Marie: your definition it is definately in the right direction. It places technological capabilities where the should be - enablers. Most customers I work with are striving to be more responsive, innovative and flexible in addition to being productive and efficient. I think it should be easy to make a connection between those things and the definition of Enterprise 2.0. If we can show how Enterprise 2.0 helps them to achieve those things, then Enterprise 2.0 will not be declared dead for long.

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  5. You're right. It is the Enterprise 2.0 discussion is too much techy. Th topic should be how social tools can better support existing activities, enable new ones and retire outdated practices.

    There seems to be something inherently tricky about the term "Enterprise 2.0":
    - it easily devolves into a tech recipe, where the goal is to tick the wiki, blog, forum and network boxes. If you've got the tools, everything's fine, right?
    - it comes across as a destination or state that companies should move towards, without talking about how these new social tools affect how we work, our core competencies, our work processes and so on.

    Have you read Morten T. Hansen's Collaboration book? It came out a little while back and offers a very straightforward examination of what helps and hinders collaboration, without much tech talk.

    Had Hansen invented a neologism that could outpace Enterprise 2.0 (like "Collaboration Networks" or "Adaptive collaboration"), we might have seen a more substantive discussion that put value-creation first and tools second. Alas; we'll have to set things right ourselves :-)

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  6. Fredrik Matheson: I will put Morten T. Hansen's Collaboration book on my reading list. If you haven't read "The Culture of Collaboration" by Evan Rosen, you should. It looks beyond the apparent (technologies) and provides many examples of what makes collaboration happen.

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  7. And also all this must be embedded into new approaches of strategies like directed evolution and the like. Because command and control and strategic planning aren't capable of coping with the pace in the era of social media. And a also retention management in HR is in need for better tools with more ease of use like ppl are used to with facebook, myspace and stuff. We will see, if Google's Wave will be a revolution to all these heavy featured enterprise 2.0 suites...

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  8. The reason why we have no definition is because nobody can agree on the balance of tech, people, and process. Yes process.

    People have to know how to use the tech. Guidance is required. This isn't a process flow, but a new way of working.

    People have to be ready to accept "Enterprise 2.0", just like they had to be ready to accept "Knowledge Management". Without acceptance, the tools fail.

    We are looking at new ways of collaborating together. However, if people aren't willing to collaborate in the old ways, the new ways will fail.

    -Pie

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  9. Oscar cites some statistics on social media and asks "How much would you attribute to technology for this development, and how much to human attitudes and behavior?"

    But this question only makes sense on the assumption that we can cleanly separate "technology" from "human attitudes and behaviour", and I challenge this assumption.

    See my post Understanding Technology.

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  10. Richard: you have a point regarding the meaning of technology. You also assume that I see technology as being separated from use:

    "Both McAfee and his critics appear to use the word "technology" to refer to the software devices independently of their use...This is an extremely common view of technology, but it is also highly problematic, as social critics of technology have long argued."

    The problem here is that when trying to make my point - which is that people don't see what part human attitudes and behavior plays in the adoption of new technology - I have to use a definition of technology which is the most common.

    Since most people aren't sociologist and instead tend see technology as a thing, a technology-centric view can be very dangerous since it exclude human attitudes and behaviors. That is what I mean with technology-centric, and also what I would say most people would mean with "technology-centric" (although not sociologist).

    To ensure that the human aspects are not forgotten, we have to talk about them explicitly and remind ourselves how important these are. We can't rely on that people will suddenly get enlightened and adopt the definition used by sociologists.

    I would argue that humans tend to look for the simplest solutions in almost all situations. Seeing technology as a thing is much easier than seeing as a complex concept, inextricably intertwined with human attitudes and behavior. If you say "telephony" most people think "phone", if you say "computing" most people think "computer", if you say "Internet" most people think "web browser". And so on.

    So when we say that "Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers", then most people think that it is all about using Facebook at work.

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