Monday, March 22, 2010

Enterprise 2.0 and our tendency to think and talk in terms of efficiency

In Mark Fidelmans recent analysis of the most influencial individuals in the Enterprise 2.0 space, he made Dennis Howlett a Enterprise 2.0 referee "because he’s never afraid to call foul. In fact, we need more referees like him that keep the industry from going out of bounds."

Friday last week, Dennis Howlett called foul at Susan Scrupskis post "Enterprise 2.0: The Next Narrative". Susan does a great job describing a number of themes for a series of Enterprise 2.0 case studies from large enterprises that The 2.0 Adoption Council and MIT’s Center for Digital Business will be co-producing. I really look forward to the case studies and personally like the list of themes, especially how they pinpoint the potential benefits that Enterprise 2.0 can bring to enterprises:
Innovation: Leveraging collaboration and social activity to spur discovery, idea generation, and breakthroughs for the organization or customers
Time-to-Market: Accelerating the time to bring products/services to market by collapsing artificial silos/boundaries and time zones
Cultural Reinvention: Using the philosophies of 2.0 to reshape the organizational DNA, embracing transparency, collaboration, trust, and authenticity
Visibility: To provide a real-time view into operations and business process by connecting people and ideas.
Cost Reduction: Substituting more agile, lightweight tools for connecting and sharing that are easier to manage and significantly reduce operational cost.
Knowledge-sharing: Harvesting institutional knowledge of the enterprise for the purposes of retaining it, exposing it and providing easy access to it.
Expertise location: Indexing and surfacing hidden and known talent in the Enterprise.
Productivity improvement: Providing socio-collaborative tools to the workforce for measurable gains in productivity.
Talent Retention: Providing tools that add to workplace satisfaction and positive employee work experience, especially germane to retaining GenX and GenY talent.
These themes really draw the map of potential business uses and benefits of Enterprise 2.0, and I've already found use of it in a business sales pitch. Still, I think Dennis Howlett has a point:
With the possible exception of innovation, you can look at all of those ideas and tick the ‘efficiency’ box. For example: improving productivity is rarely about making the business more effective but about getting more out of the business inputs.
...if topics above are indicative of what business is expecting then they’re missing the point. me thinking about the importance of language and the difference a few well chosen words can make in the discussion around topics that should be helping us.
If they can change the focus to one that talks about effectiveness and less about efficiency I am willing to bet they will see truly astonishing breakthrough value. The question is - are they up for the challenge or are they prepared to continue trying what amounts to Band-Aid technology application?
Dennis reflection was partly triggered by Sigurd Rinde's excellent post "Organizational Effectiveness v Personal Efficiency":
It's all about organisational effectiveness. How fast, efficient and correct all information is disseminated, how effective hand-overs in the workflow happens, how visible and easy to understand the process is, how effective the capture and subsequent dissemination of knowledge is and how little time you spend on making the flow happen.
He also points us to Hutch Carpenter's equally excellent post "Maslow’s Hierarchy of Enterprise 2.0 ROI" where Hutch describes and arranges key potential Enterprise 2.0 business benefits in a Maslow-inspired pyramid model to indicate their inpact on organizational success as well as their measureability (the higher the impact on organizational success, the softer measurability of the benefits).

In an Enterprise 2.0 event that my company Acando arranged together with AIIM in Stockholm last fall (with NewsGator and SAP as sponsors), my friend Hanns Kohler-Kruner used Donald Marchand’s Strategic Information Alignment Framework, or SIAF, when describing the business benefits from Enterprise 2.0:

I had previously seen his collegue Bob Larrivee use the same model when explaning Enterprise Content Management (ECM):
Marchand suggests that organisations focus their attention on information in 4 key ways:
  1. Minimise risks
  2. Reduce costs
  3. Add value
  4. Create new reality
Pursuing multiple facets of Marchand’s framework AT THE SAME TIME helps keeps balance so that no single area of focus stakes all of the attention. After all, the objective is to maintain and increase revenue while in pursuing of cost cutting. It is to add value and create new realities that help sustain you today and help you grow tomorrow.
I think that all us in the Enterprise 2.0 space need to realize that we are all - like it or not - under heavy influence of Frederick TaylorHenri Fayol et al, and the dominating management paradigm that focuses almost entirely on efficiency. We need to listen to Dennis Howlett when he blows the whistle, and do our best at trying to adjust the balance so that we don't get stuck in the efficiency corner with Enterprise 2.0. I personally believe that the greatest potential business benefits from Enterprise 2.0 lies in doing things that weren't possible to do before social software, such as accessing and aggregating the expertise of every co-worker in an organization and thereby improving our decision-making, not just making it easier to find the ones formally appointed as experts.

Marchand's tool is definitely useful in this context. It is one of the tools we have at hand to fight our own bias towards efficiency when thinking about business benefits of Enterprise 2.0 or any other kind of business improvements. We also need to fight the tendency to always say things that we think other people want to hear. The real challenge that we need to take is to, bit by bit, message by message, try to change other people's efficiency-focused mindsets. To do that, we must start with trying to change our own.


  1. Great post Oscar,

    I think the reason why we're focussing on Taylor or Demings values when trying to sell Enterprise 2.0, it really is to smooth the disruptive nature of E20 not to scare executives out of it.

    The unique nature of collaborative platforms and what you can achieve with them is quite challenging to envision if you're not familiar with it.

    It will naturally emerged as the tools/approach is deployed. The culture will naturally evolves as a result of it.

    But if you want executive support to start such a project in the company I guess that the best way is to talk about current problems, how E20 can solve them and the business value it will bring to the company.

    Starting with cultural issues, disruptive technologies, transformation of the enterprise may work with some but not with the vast majority of executives.

  2. First, it seems as though we're finally digging a bit deeper into the purpose and meaning of E2.0 and the great citations you make here are a great indication of that. Second, the reason we focus on efficiency and productivity is because that is something that most organizations are tuned to - its the wedge that brings the rest in. It is the one thing that most organizations have the capacity to understand without taking a leap of faith.
    Further, it is a first order effect of collaboration and improved communication - the others are secondary effects that come from compounding those excellent outcomes and communications.

    So, while I agree you are quite right to suggest its a one dimensional view, most will continue down this path.

    The exception is in military and intel where "connecting the dots" is mission critical. When we see how success emerges there and other places, we'll begin to see orgs be able to digest a broader view of the benefits.

  3. Hi Oscar. Dennis and I were chatting about this on Skype yesterday. He said "efficiency" means something different in the UK, so perhaps that's where there is somewhat of a disconnect.

    Regarding the "themes" on the case studies, if I had known they'd receive this much play, I would have put more thought into them. :-) Because of my journalist training, I'm not approaching these themes as fixed. My interest is to "discover" the true themes that emerge via the interviews. We've already had a lot of discussion around the themes in the Council, and they're already shape-shifting.

    Regardless of what themes emerge, I can certainly guarantee the emphasis is on organizational effectiveness.

  4. Aha, the curse of language... ;-)

    As I wrote in the post, I was personally inspired by the themes and found use for them almost immediately. I think the themes are great as a starting point for a lot of discussions about the business uses and benefits of Enterprise 2.0 What I would like to do is to map them to Marchand's framework and see which dimensions we have some gaps to fill. I think there is lots of Enterprise 2.0 use cases to position on the the "Add value" and "Create new reality" axis.