Monday, 10 November 2008

Why is mainstreaming Enterprise 2.0 so difficult?

There is an increasing acknowledgement within the organisational development and management sector that Web 2.0 can bring concrete benefits to organisations - labeled under the tag "Enterprise 2.0". If you want so see some examples, Mashable.com published a list of 35 corporate social media examples in action and I was also very happy to see that players like IBM indicate a shift to Web 2.0 in their own organisational development. In addition, as a tool for self-assessment, Brett Bonfield compiled a set of indicators whether your organisation is ready to benefit from Web 2.0 approaches.

However, the Web 2.0 community also realizes that something is different, when you want to apply the benefits of Web 2.0 from your personal development to an organisational environment. I found the analogy of the "two tunnels" by Thomas Vander Wal quite striking in this regard. He argues that while Web 2.0 is like building a tunnel through a mountain, where imperfections and leaks will not prevent the tunnel from being useful, Enterprise 2.0 on the other hand would be like building a tunnel under water. Any leak or or inconsistency could cause the tunnel to break and therefore fail.

While this image is very valid, I think the core of the Enterprise 2.0 issue is another one. There is a significant difference between Web 2.0 tools and traditional IT tools in organisations: The success of Web 2.0 is built on voluntary participation. The value of communities of any kind come from people participating because they have an intrinsic motivation to do so. This is the reason why their contribution also tend to be of good quality, as well as of a very open, flexible and innovative nature. And it also acknowledges the fact that Web 2.0 is a style of communication in itself, which not necessarily fits which the personal characteristic and style of any person.

In organisations on the other hand, motivation is rather external. People participate in and contribute to processes because they have to, because it's part of their job. And defined processes and guidelines establish a framework in which employees have to use certain IT systems in order to deliver specific results their are accountable for according to their job description.

Therefore, introducing Web 2.0 tools as a way "colleagues have to work from now on", won't work as such. Web 2.0 tools only work on a voluntary basis. Meaning that we deliberately have to allow people to also choose not to use it. We can see that this then won't work for organisational workflows which try to reflect mandatory business process within the organisation.

What does that mean for Enterprise 2.0? In my view, we need to acknowledge that Web 2.0 tools can always only add value to the extent its usage is not indispensable for a certain business process. However, where traditional IT tools are already in place and support mandatory business processes effectively, Web 2.0 can actually add great value to the process. This is the entry point where we need to come in when we want to advocate for Enterprise 2.0.

Let's encourage colleagues and managers to let the free and dynamic use of Web 2.0 blossom within our teams. But let's not fall for the illusion, that we could at any point introduce Web 2.0 tools as mandatory work flows for our business processes. They can only unleash their power if you don't have to use them.

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