posted 18 Dec 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 4
Enterprise 2.0: not just about software
By Lee Bryant
More and more organisations are now experimenting with the use of lightweight social tools to improve internal communications and knowledge sharing – a phenomenon some are calling ‘enterprise 2.0’. The explosive growth of blogs, wikis, social networking, tagging and bookmarking outside the firewall has now reached the point where demand for better tools and networks inside organisations has become a serious driver for change. But the next stage of adoption – beyond pilot projects and into mission-critical infrastructure – poses some questions for companies about how they procure and sustain social-knowledge-sharing systems to support their work.
In 2006, the market matured. Today, we see organisations of all sizes with social-knowledge sharing or internal communications projects underway. As with any emerging technology, there has been a rush to codify the new techniques and design patterns of social knowledge sharing into a growing product set. Companies can now choose from a vast array of blogging platforms, wiki engines, RSS [really simple syndication] aggregators, social-networking systems and collaboration tools, both open source and commercial.
There are some fantastic tools available at low cost to stimulate organisational social networks and encourage better sharing, collaboration and collective action. However, the value of such software is not just in the tools, but also the eco-system of data and services that join them together – and the social networks they spawn.
Enterprise 2.0 projects typically involve a diverse mix of lightweight tools, connected infrastructure, external services and social-network development, with a generous dose of user involvement. They are grown from below through pilot projects rather than ‘rolled out’ from above, like some kind of heavy log that crushes the undergrowth beneath.
The question is, how can large companies take advantage of this new approach, since they are used to a diet of software products as high-ticket, IT-intensive waterfall projects with a beginning, a middle and an end.
Major deployments can be planned years in advance and IT’s reliance on the product roadmaps of major vendors sometimes amounts to handing over the keys of the enterprise to Microsoft, SAP or Oracle.
The challenge is how to manage diverse, iterative projects that balance the opportunity for rapid innovation with the need for stability. How can companies take advantage of the innovation in tools that is occurring outside the firewall, bring the best of them inside, and join them together using smart infrastructure, RSS, application-programming interfaces and all the connective goodness of enterprise 2.0?
Part of the answer, I think, lies in changing the way we think about software. Instead of seeking a single system to rule them all, the role of internal IT should be to provide the infrastructure, plumbing and support for other people to run whatever combination of social tools and networks they need to get their jobs done well.
Also, we need to think beyond software as a product and recognise that what we have is an ecology of tools, services and data. Many of the previous generation of knowledge-management tools failed partly because it became a software vendors’ tea-party and lost sight of the real value. Even though the tools are much simpler and much better this time round, let’s not assume that enterprise 2.0 is all about the software.
Lee Bryant is founder of social-networking consultancy Headshift. He can be contacted at email@example.com.