Thursday, April 15, 2010

Using Enterprise 2.0

Continuing from my previous post, this one is more in line with the actual talk I gave on the 13th April at The Internet Show in Melbourne. We will be putting the actual transcript and slides of that talk (and video if the quality is good enough) up for people to download in the next week or so.

If you are interested in Web 2.0 and social software then you should have a look at Enterprise 2.0, which could be thought of as just Web 2.0 within the enterprise, although the originator of the idea, Andrew McAfee has a more precise definition for it:

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

He places particular emphasis on the idea that it should be emergent, and for this reason excludes traditional intranets as part of the Enterprise 2.0 toolset.

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.”

The whole idea of emergence is a tricky one, but a good example is the way Google assesses the relative merit of web pages based on the number (and quality) of inbound links, something which emerges over time as people find a page useful and link to it, rather than something pre-planned and orchestrated. A more concrete example is the idea of not placing paths in a garden up front, but allowing people’s actual movement to determine where paths should be placed – hence having them emerge as real patterns of use are known.

A point worth noting is that this means that the early structure or format of an Enterprise 2.0 tool can be expected to change over time. Initially it may seem somewhat useless, and not the sort of quality resource the business hopes it will be. This is a good thing as this quote from Art & Fear illustrates:

“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the ‘quantity’ group: fifty pound of pots rated an ‘A’, forty pounds a ‘B’, and so on. Those being graded on ‘quality’, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one - to get an "A". Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the ‘quantity’ group was busily churning out piles of work - and learning from their mistakes – the ‘quality’ group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

The point about emergence is that it usually leads to a more appropriate and higher quality result than something meticulously planned from “theorizing about perfection”.

It is important to realise that the interactions that will take place, and help the emergence of patterns and structure, will be around ideas and especially the communication of ideas. Any Enterprise 2.0 initiative must have as its basis the ability for people to express, challenge, endorse and modify their and other’s ideas.

It can seem that some of this is a waste of people’s time, creating yet more ideas (some rubbish) for them to have to trawl through and interact with. We should remember that what ultimately matters is how it helps to optimise overall organisational effectiveness, not necessarily the impact on individual efficiency. Efficiency is one of the items that gets addressed as complexity emerges in the unstructured content that Enterprise 2.0 deals with – good tools will help you deal with this complexity.

What Can Enterprise 2.0 Do?

One of the biggest differences in Enterprise 2.0 tools is that they bring broadcasting to the average employee. This means that everyone can take advantage of the virtues of pull versus push publishing. Instead of identifying who should see something, and then pushing it into their email inboxes, or onto their IM clients, pull publishing allows the idea to be pulled into someone’s attention when they want it to be. Key enablers for pull publishing are RSS feeds and feed-readers, easily browsable content and micro-blogging enterprise tools like Yammer.

Another key difference is that most Enterprise 2.0 tools have come out of the consumer marketplace. That means they are highly usable and are designed from the ground up to be easy to learn. It turns out that’s a really important point, because it makes adoption across an enterprise much easier than most enterprise software. One key point is that the tools should address security and legal concerns, unlike most Web 2.0 tools, the content being dealt with is commercially sensitive.

Here are some business problems that Enterprise 2.0 helps address better than many other tools:

  • Bring new employees up to speed
    Wikis allow corporate knowledge to be easily captured, reviewed, edited and re-published as necessary so that new employees can quickly see the latest information. Internal blogs can operate the same way, but have the additional bonus of making it obvious who knows what, which gives the new employee someone to connect with.
  • Accurately forecast something
    Some cutting edge applications of Enterprise 2.0 include crowd sourcing from within the organisation, using internal prediction markets to identify probable issues or forecasting delivery dates or prices.
  • Help customers
    One of the oldest Enterprise 2.0 ideas, and something pre-dating Web 2.0, self-help community forums enable customers to be helped by other customers acting as a volunteer helpdesk.
  • Make things findable
    Blogs (and intranets) that implement folksonomy tagging well allow users to easily tag things to find later and make content more browsable. Good enterprise search solutions that cover blogs, wikis, intranets and other Enterprise 2.0 tools also help make things more findable.
  • Broadcast ideas (pull not push)
    As mentioned above, RSS and Yammer allow users to publish content in a way that broadcasts it outside their normal circle of influence, without creating disruptive interruptions as push publishing tends to.
  • Transparent project progress
    Using a wiki, blog or a simple project management tool like Basecamp to track project progress both allows the emergence of patterns and can make those visible to people outside the immediate project team.
  • Communicate to the rest of the organisation
    Department blogs can act as venues for communications between components of an organisation, and capture the discussions around those communications for future users to review and understand.
  • Helping upcoming leaders network
    It is well established that upcoming leaders do better when their networks are more diverse and cross organisational boundaries. Internal blogs, the comments around them and a good flexible corporate directory tool can help upcoming leaders get noticed outside their existing teams and make the connections they will require to succeed.
  • Enhance employee self-learning
    I’ve mentioned before David Maister’s opinion that most training is useless and the current focus of much etraining is actually on how to teach the individual to become a better learner, rather than pushing particular content at them. Wikis, blogs and social bookmarking all place a part in enabling better self-learning.
  • Improve innovation
    Innovation is done by creative people, usually passionate creative people (see my previous post on passion) and Enterprise 2.0 helps them do this by making it easy for their ideas to be shared with internal audiences to inspire and call forth more ideas from them. Any Enterprise 2.0 tool can help innovation, but the best ones are often internal blogs.

Below is a great slidedeck that illustrates how someone might use these tools:

What Do I Need in an Enterprise 2.0 Tool?

What should you look for in an Enterprise 2.0 tool?

You want to start with one that is more of a toolbox than a single tool, a good start is to look for something that offers blogs, wikis and a well-integrated corporate directory. You want something that is expandable, so you have the option to add more tools later.

Any tool you choose should play nice with other enterprise software, so you should find something that offers single sign-on (SSO) with your particular network, for example Active Directory/LDAP integration and that satisfies your IT department’s security needs.

Playing nicely with other Enterprise 2.0 tools is also mandatory. In this case that is mainly done by providing (and consuming) RSS feeds and integrating with your chosen enterprise search tool, but integration with a corporate directory offering will become necessary.

Basic functionality to allow emergent behaviours is also necessary, at a minimum this requires tagging and the ability to comment on anything, but micro-blogging and social bookmarking are also good candidates for this.

If you want to try something without involving IT, then you can look at various hosted solutions (such as Yammer), but eventually you should make sure that IT is happy with your choice of tools – especially of it ends up being something that you need to host yourselves, or if it will contain content vital to the continuity of the organisation in the case of a disaster.

Do I Need It?

Small companies, or larger ones faced with large amount of routines tasks and few opportunities for passionate creative work, might find that Enterprise 2.0 offers less robust ROI than most IT purchases, but even they may benefit from using Yammer or similar low-cost, hosted tools.

Companies in highly competitive environments, where the ability to be agile and quick to react to change is important, or organisations seeking to ignite the passion of their employees and find more effective ways to work will find that these tools are indispensable in helping flatten the organisation and efficiently distribute ideas.

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