Ross O. Storey, managing editor, MIS Asia, speaks to technology researcher Andrew McAfee about his new book ‘Enterprise 2.0 – New Collaborative Tools for Your Organisation’s Toughest Challenges’, which examines the business value of emerging technologies such as social networking. What is Enterprise 2.0, how important is it to major businesses today and why should they be using it?
Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms by organisations in pursuit of their goals. These platforms include wikis, blogs, twitter and other micro-blogging utilities, prediction markets, Delicious and other social bookmarking tools, social networking software such as Facebook, and many other tools. The main thing that all of these have in common is that they’re emergent; they start out as highly unstructured environments, but then over time, become highly structured as the result of people’s uncoordinated interactions. ‘Structure’ in this case means things like workflow, navigation aids, roles and responsibilities, and authority and expertise.
E2.0 is important because it can do about as much for the informal organisation as large enterprise applications (enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management, supply chain, etc.) did for the formal organisation. These applications, which really started to become available in the mid 1990s, led to big boosts in productivity and performance, and they did so by standardising business processes, making more structured data available, and increasing the authority and power of the people at the top of the organisational chart.
These are all valid and important things to do, but they kind of ignore the informal organisation. And we all know that a lot of work actually gets done via the informal organisation. So I think the impact of Enterprise 2.0 will be large, because it makes the informal organisation more visible and available to everyone. It shows who the ‘go to’ people actually are.
How would you describe the take-up by enterprises of Enterprise 2.0? What is the awareness and use of these systems in the US? How prevalent is their use in the Asia Pacific?
The take-up is real, but spotty. Enterprise 2.0 adoption reminds me of the great quote from the science fiction author William Gibson that “The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”
Some companies are enthusiastically embracing it, others are reluctant or downright hostile.
McKinsey recently published the results of a worldwide survey of Enterprise 2.0, and one of the most surprising findings for me was that adoption rates were pretty similar all around the world.
Large organisations in every region were deploying the new tools and approaches at about the same pace. So I’m encouraged by that.
What specific industry sectors are showing the lead in the use of Enterprise 2.0 and what industries are most suited to these systems?
The high-tech sectors are so far the most enthusiastic about Enterprise 2.0, which shouldn’t be surprising. They’re full of younger, more techno-friendly workers who aren’t shy about speaking their minds.
But E2.0 is not at all confined to high-tech industries. I don’t think it’s oversimplifying or overselling much to say that if people, knowledge, and collaboration are important to your organisation, then you’re well-suited for the tools and approaches of Enterprise 2.0.
What good case studies can you quote relating to major enterprises which are successfully using Enterprise 2.0?
My book discusses the experiences of organisations such as the BBC, The US Intelligence Community, Google, Sony, and BT. The archives of the Enterprise 2.0 conferences also contain many examples from companies including Lockheed-Martin, Booz Allen, and IDEO.
What change in thinking does it require for major enterprises to adopt Enterprise 2.0 approaches and what are the main benefits?
If you want to get the maximum benefit from E2.0, you need to get comfortable with the idea of giving up tight control over your online environments.
They’re no longer going to contain only one, authorised, pre-approved and double-checked, official ‘voice’ of the organisation. Instead, they’re going to contain lots of voices that are speaking and interacting freely.
All my research and experience shows that the great majority of these voices behave appropriately and constructively, and that the risks of E2.0 are minimal.
And the benefits include better collaboration, expertise location, knowledge capture, and the ability to harness the wisdom of crowds. These benefits far outweigh all the costs and risks I’ve been able to identify.
What impact do you think the cultural differences between the East and West will have on how successfully enterprises adopt Enterprise 2.0?
I’m not sure yet. Cultural differences are certainly real and probably important, but the need for better collaboration and the need to improve the work of the informal organisation are universal. And there
are many different ‘flavours’ of E2.0. So companies will figure out which flavours make the most sense for them, and proceed accordingly.
What advice would you give to Asia Pacific enterprises that may not yet be using Enterprise 2.0?
Hope and pray that your competitors aren’t, either.
What do you predict will happen to enterprises that fail to take up Enterprise 2.0, particularly those in the Asia Pacific?
Failing to adopt E2.0 is not an automatic death blow to an organisation. If you own a diamond mine or an oil well, you’ll likely survive with or without emergent social software platforms.
But the pace of competition is clearly heating up, making it important to exploit every possible source of advantage.
Failing to explore E2.0 is the equivalent of turning your back on one of these possible sources of advantage, which doesn’t make any sense to me.
Is there anything else you’d like to add to our discussion of your book and the value of Enterprise 2.0 to big businesses?
Companies have been saying for some time now that people are their most important asset, and that they want to empower their workforces. Some wonderful tools to do just that have recently appeared.
So now comes an interesting test.
Are companies going to practise what they’ve been preaching? I hope so. MIS Asia
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