When Enterprise 2.0 first hit the radar, many of us were excited by the new social collaboration tools and their power to usher in new collaborative behaviours. Some of this promise has indeed been realised. The market for Enterprise 2.0 software is strong and growing, with social computing functionality such as profiles, wikis, blogs, microblogs, tagging, and presence now widely available, both in specialized Enterprise 2.0 products and embedded into office productivity and unified communications suites.
Organisations that are happy with their Enterprise 2.0 platforms find that they actually do lubricate interactions in ways that earlier, more rigid, groupware and content management solutions did not.
Sustaining participation in Enterprise 2.0 is harder than it first appeared
While some organisations naturally embrace the collaborative paradigm that lies behind Enterprise 2.0, others remain recalcitrant. Participation in Enterprise 2.0 platforms can be slow to take off and fragile once the initial burst of enthusiasm from the passionate is over. It is becoming apparent that many organisations find it more difficult than it first appeared to sustain an architecture of participation in the workplace in the way that it appears to happen naturally in the Web 2.0 world.
Challenge the myths
One theme that is emerging more clearly is the folly of assuming that innovations and behaviours that work in the consumer realm will simply self propagate in the enterprise. In the consumer realm anything goes, and whatever survives and prospers is deemed to be “good”.
The enterprise realm, however, is more constrained in its purpose and population. Enterprises exist to pursue their mission, and are rife with processes and behaviours that stifle the social dynamics that exist in the wilds of the internet.
It is time to confront some common myths. Enterprise 2.0 is not just about appealing to “Generation Y” and digital natives – we must engage workers of all ages. Not all people will leap to Enterprise 2.0 platforms without training and support. Not everyone in the workplace loves hyper-transparency. It is not OK that 1 percent write, 9 percent comment, and 90 percent passively consume; workplace collaboration needs more pervasive participation to be useful. Not everyone is naturally collaborative – collaborating, or not, is a learned behaviour at work. Collaboration doesn’t necessarily “just happen” when a platform is provided.
Web 2.0 is a survival-of-the-fittest jungle, where people opt in to sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn for their own self-actualization and entertainment. Enterprise 2.0 is a designed, purposeful space, where particular behaviours and activities need to be created and nurtured.
Think like a gardener, not an engineer
Enterprise 2.0 requires a different approach to traditional IT systems implementation. Implementing a transaction processing system can be viewed as an engineering task because the users really have no choice. They must use the system to do their jobs. User participation in Enterprise 2.0 platforms, in contrast, is entirely voluntary.
People choose to collaborate, or not.
Organisations that are experiencing disappointing outcomes with Enterprise 2.0 need to take a fresh look at how they are going about it.
Thinking like a gardener rather than an engineer is helpful. Choose the right business problem to solve, create the initial structure sensitively, seed the conversations, moderate them carefully to stimulate engagement and shape behaviour, show commitment to “feeding and weeding” the collaboration, acknowledge good behaviours, and manage the lifecycle of topics and threads to keep things vibrant.
Successful implementation of an Enterprise 2.0 initiative is a social thing. It is all about changing people’s behaviour. Enterprise 2.0 platforms are simply the gardener’s tools – if the garden dies it is seldom the tool’s fault.
Dr Steve Hodgkinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is research director, public sector, at Ovum.
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