Critical connections

Critical connections

What is becoming clearer is that the real opportunity in enterprise 2.0 stems not from the knowledge, but from the power of social interactions and connections.

Enterprise 2.0 is all about putting consumer market internet innovations to work — wikis, blogs, social networks and user-generated, mashed-up, content. Most of us are by now pretty familiar with the workings of Wikipedia, Facebook, YouTube and Blogger etc. The core value to organisations of these sorts of technologies is to lower the trade barriers at the borders, lubricating the flow of ideas both internally and externally. A wiki creates a neutral space outside existing organisational, technical or behavioural borders where people can digitally mingle, converse and share. The crowd can be invite-only or all-comers.

Examples of common uses of enterprise 2.0 platforms include:

  • Customer service forums — eg Skype’s community forums and public chats engage people in dialogue about services, including mutual support and problem solving.

  • Product/service development forums — eg homeware store Ikea’s platform for engaging with customers around product feedback and new design ideas. Also, there is the Dell Community website, featuring an IdeaStorm forum for new product ideas and improvements.

  • Tapping expertise/knowledge — eg the use of wikis by global services companies such as Accenture and IBM to find out ‘who-knows-what’ around the world and to source and share expertise and information… and gossip.

  • Project/task collaboration — eg Cochlear’s use of a wiki for global collaboration in product development and the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s Pfizerpedia — an R&D collaboration platform. Dow Jones also makes extensive use of wikis for collaborative document authoring.

  • Knowledge creation and sharing — eg the use of Intellipedia for knowledge sharing by the CIA, enabling both highly secure/secret and open dialogue around a shared repository of intelligence information.

  • Recruitment — eg Deutsche Telecom subsidiary T-Mobile’s use of Facebook to build communities of potential graduate recruits.

  • Induction/training — eg Westpac’s experimentation with virtual worlds and wiki content as an induction and training delivery platform.

The enterprise 2.0 club

The 3rd annual Enterprise 2.0 conference was held in Boston in June, with a record attendance.

While the enthusiasm of the vendors, evangelists, early adopters and merely curious was strong, there is still a sense that Enterprise 2.0 is only simmering gently. It’s boiling nicely in some organisations perhaps, but stone cold in others.

Lowering the barriers to collaboration and information sharing is all very well, but just because the borders are open doesn’t mean everyone wants to rush the frontier. Most are perhaps quite content in their village and others are worried about the unknown perils out there in no-man’s-land.

Sticks in the mud

Many conversations at the conference puzzled over why some people and organisations are slow to adopt enterprise 2.0 behaviours — slow to either invite customers to dialogue or to themselves leap into digital collaboration.

A number of speakers observed that ‘management’ is not the main problem any more — most executives, it seems, ‘get’ the need for better collaboration and are at least tolerant of enterprise 2.0 innovations. The main problem is the users (ie all of us). Come on… get with the programme!

The root of the problem is the persistent preference for folks to work in isolation or small groups and to create walled gardens of content, furiously throwing lumps of it back and forth across the walls by email.

There is also an interesting theme developing on the futility of grounding enterprise 2.0 thin-king in knowledge management culture. Isn’t it a sign of madness to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result? Enterprise 2.0 technologies are a powerful new tool for knowledge management, but we have had many new tools… yet most of us still cheerily practice terrible forms of knowledge mismanagement.

It’s the connections, not the knowledge

What is becoming clearer is that the real opportunity in enterprise 2.0 stems not from the knowledge, but from the power of social interactions and connections. IBM is on the money with its Lotus Connections product (winning the crowd at the conference vs. Microsoft’s Sharepoint presentation). While knowledge is becoming ever more of a commodity, the right connections are increasingly precious. Enterprise 2.0 is scratching the surface of a new paradigm for more purposeful social interaction in organisations.

Now that we have some better tools, we need to look more deeply at our own selves and our organisations in terms of social character. What motivates and de-motivates us to behave collaboratively with our peers?

Peers or competitors: Are we predator or prey in the corporate jungle? The managerial barriers to enterprise 2.0 are not to do with executive enthusiasms for technology innovations, but rather to do with the way leaders shape an organisation’s culture and the behaviour of its people.

Dr Steve Hodgkinson is research director, public sector for Ovum in Melbourne.

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