Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What is Enterprise 2.0?

In his comment to yesterday's post about Enterprise 2.0, Doug Cornelius posited that:

I do not think it [Enterprise 2.0] is using Web 2.0 inside the enterprise, it is tools like Web 2.0 inside the enterprise.

However, a previous comment, from Xyzo, took what appears to be the exact opposite position:

Enterprise 2.0 is not just web 2.0 in an enterprise. You first need a change in culture, which means adopting new processes.

So which is it? Is it web 2.0 tools and technology inside the enterprise or (if I can be allowed to paraphrase) web 2.0 philosophy inside the enterprise?

Well, not being a fan of the 2.0 craze, I am probably not in any position to insist on a particular definition. So let's go back to the source, Andrew McAfee and see how he defines it:

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.

Hmmm... that doesn't seem to resolve anything. But if you read the rest of his definition, it appears he is siding more with the latter definition. I won't quote the definition in full -- it is a great read so I recommend it to everyone -- but some key points of his definition are the distinction between platform and tool and his use of the term emergent:

Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contains mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people's interactions become visible over time.

So if I interpret this correctly, the definition of Enterprise 2.0 is a little bit of both: it requires both the technology (i.e. the platform) and the philosophy (implied by emergent and freeform).

So are blogs inside the firewall Enterprise 2.0? It depends. It depends on how the technology is used. If it is simply used as another way to push executive news and announcements to the masses, then the answer is no. If it is used as a mechanism for managers to communicate and interact freely with their employees, or for the employees to develop their own interactions, then the answer would be yes.

Which gets us back to web 2.0 and process: intent and the process that embodies it is essential in the classification as any specific tool or technology as Enterprise 2.0. However, too much process is in itself a problem. Remember, McAfee speaks of an emergent platform; too much predefined process will tend to inhibit the emergence of patterns and structure over time. (In other words, there needs to be enough process or intent to act as a catalyst, but enough room to allow the emergence of the true purpose -- McAffee's patterns and structure -- from its usage.)

So, for example, as I read it:

  • Blogs inside the enterprise are OK, but not in and of themselves E2.0
  • Blogs used for project-based communication (as one example) are closer to the definition
  • Blogs used by project leads to post weekly status on each project (particularly if comments aren't allowed or encouraged) push beyond the freeform and the process starts to inhibit the interaction -- becoming purely web 2.0 technology used for traditional top-down project management purposes

It all depends on what is required, what is allowed, and what is supported.

But the interesting question for me -- particularly when talking about the practical application of these emergent platforms -- is looking at what are the characteristics of the platform that tend to lead to success. Which, of course, presumes the thornier question of how one defines success...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Why Enterprise 2.0?

There is a lot of hype about Enterprise 2.0 (or "web 2.0 inside the enterprise"), but what is the buzz all about? There is certainly sufficient cause to be excited -- the exponential growth of social networking "in the wild" and the success of web sites like MySpace, Flickr, and del.icio.us demonstrate a transformative power that any corporate executive would be crazy not to envy. But can that power be harnessed in a corporate environment?

You can have philosophical debates about the revolutionary impact of web 2.0; how the "wisdom of crowds" can change the way business is done, harnessing the combined potential of thousands of employees, etc. But for the time being, these arguments are completely theoretical. Speaking pragmatically -- from a purely practical perspective -- what are the pros and cons that would cause a corporation to deploy social software internally, beyond simple speculation?

The Cart Before the Horse

The fact is, attempts to utilize web 2.0 within the corporate firewalls have -- from all reports -- been sporadic and slow to develop thus far. It is easy to see why.

  • Despite all the predictions that younger employees -- Gen X, Gen Y, and millenials -- will expect or insist on social software at work, the fact is they might not. Those employees who have already embraced social networking outside the company will have no great impetus to create a separate social network inside the firewall. The potential audience -- and therefore benefits -- are dramatically smaller and require duplicate effort. For example, if I am using del.icio.us for bookmarks, why would I want a separate, incompatible set of bookmarks just for work-related data? It's just too much effort.
  • Employees not using social software today have no experience with it and so will feel little compunction or interest in using it internally.
  • As mentioned before, the difference between millions (or hundreds of millions) of users on the internet and a few hundred or thousand employees inside the firewall is non-trivial. It is unclear whether there is sufficient critical mass within a company -- even a large company -- to make social software "work". There is simply not enough of a "crowd" to get wisdom from.
  • Finally there are all the usual disincentives for using new applications within a corporation: not part of my job, overlaps with existing apps, can't waste time on pilots or prototypes that might go away...

Given these issues, the question ought to be: is it more beneficial to "roll your own" social network or could companies be more effective by really embracing change and using the existing public services? For example, why not just create a separate FaceBook group for your company and encourage employees to use it?


The fact is that there are at least three significant reasons for a company creating their own web 2.0 infrastructure internally.

  • Security. First and foremost, the "network" inside the firewall can be far richer -- but at the same time more sensitive -- than the generalized social networks on the public internet. Corporate employees already have a point of connection, their employment, to tie them together. But there is a significant danger of proprietary -- or at least embarrassing -- information being exposed if a company's employees use an external service to develop company-based social networks. For large companies, in particular, this is likely to be a show-stopper requiring an internal infrastructure even if it is purely a replicate of externally-available services.
  • Consistency. The corporate intranet is neither a democracy nor a competitive marketplace. Any good idea on the web has imitators and so individuals have several choices for social networking (MySpace, FaceBook, Orkut...) or bookmarks (del.icio.us, ma.gnolia, reddit...), or video (YouTube, Veoh, Flixya...). Sheer volume can allow each to be successful. But they can also create problems, as people often need to create multiple profiles to connect with friends who are on multiple services. Within the corporation you can insist on a unique service for each, significantly reducing confusion and the dilution of the crowd effect. Whether this uniqueness makes up for the significantly reduced overall audience is unclear, but it may.
  • Integration. Perhaps the greatest advantage companies have implementing web 2.0 inside the firewall is the ability to integrate the services. For companies with single sign-on (i.e. unique digital identifiers for their employees) it is possible to automate the connectivity between multiple web 2.0 technologies as well as traditional corporate data. Rather than separate accounts (one for a social network, one for bookmarks, one for photos...) inside the firewall a person's identity are tied to a single ID, which can be used to merge content. When creating a profile, all of someone's basic information (location, email, role, etc) can be pulled automatically from the corporate directory. Only personal preferences and context needs to be added. In the same way, a person's membership in internal groups, forums, or businesses can be automatically linked to their profile. Photos can be entered once and used throughout the corporation etc. This type of linking has always been possible. The change with web 2.0 is giving the individual control of what that data is that is shared.


For small companies (100 employees or less), it may be possible to embrace the openness of social computing and utilize external services such as FaceBook* for all of their social interactions. But for even moderately sized companies, the need for privacy and security will drive them to institute social computing (if they do at all) inside the firewall.

Despite the drawbacks to internal deployment, the ability to integrate multiple social applications -- along with existing corporate data -- though unique IDs provides corporations with an opportunity to build social networks that are more technically powerful than anything currently possible outside the firewall.** However, even with this potential value, there are some realities that any company must face implementing web 2.0:

  • Adoption will not be anywhere near as "viral" internally as equivalent services on the public web (for all the reasons given above).
  • Implementing only one web 2.0 service as a "pilot" has little if any chance of success (again, for reasons previously mentioned).
  • The previous limitation might be overcome by piggybacking web 2.0 functionality on top of existing corporate services. For example, adding personal biographies or tagging to an existing company white pages provides the new services with a large, pre-established audience. Similarly, adding social functions such as tagging and bookmarking into the corporate intranet banner (where standard banners exist) allows the services to reach the majority of intranet web sites with no additional work for web masters.

* footnote: In fact, for small companies, their entire infrastructure could be built on free services such as Facebook, Yahoo Groups, GoogleDocs, etc. Although I don't know of any companies doing this today, it is clear that an infrastructure-less company is possible, even without paying for commercial SaaS offerings.

**footnote: OpenID offers some of the promise of unique IDs in the public realm. But its potential is still nascent and seriously offset by competing services. For example, I receive requests to "connect" on a regular basis from at least three separate professional networks similar to LinkedIn . The benefit of any one of these networks is significantly diminished by the existence of the others. Thus far I have chosen to simply ignore requests from services I do not already have a profile on because it is too much trouble to maintain multiple profiles for a single purpose.