Who needs Web 2.0?

Who needs Web 2.0?

Some thoughts on whether you should jump on the enterprise 2.0 bandwagon.

Web 2.0 platforms are changing the way we think about information, collaboration and intellectual property. We marvel at the net-generation’s use of MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and Wikipedia, but how relevant really are these platforms for the ‘serious’ business of work? It is fun observing the different personalities creeping out of the organisational farmyard when the conversation turns to ‘enterprise 2.0’, or the use of Web 2.0 platforms in a private or public sector organisation.

Toad, Eeyore and Chicken Little.

The first, and most charming, character is Toad of Toad Hall. Toad is famous, in the book The Wind in the Willows, for his irrational exuberance for shiny new motor cars. ‘Poop poop!’

Proponents of enterprise 2.0 exhibit Toad’s boundless, and slightly crazy, enthusiasm and optimism. They see an inevitable flow of Web 2.0 style wikis, blogs, profiles, tagging and social networking behaviours from the consumer realm into the enterprise. Enterprise 2.0 will be demanded by net-generation employees and will act as a catalyst for increased information sharing, collaboration and innovation.

Then there’s Eeyore who, in the Winnie the Pooh stories, is famous for his despondent outlook. Eeyore sees enterprise 2.0 as inherently naïve and sure to stumble upon the harsh reality of hierarchical organisation culture. Not everyone in the farmyard is equal — to mix story metaphors. Eeyore is sceptical about the ability of technology or software platforms to cut through structural and cultural barriers to collaboration. Eeyore sees collaboration as an un-natural act between non-consenting adults in the harsh, competitive corporate world.

Even more negative is Chicken Little, famous for her hysterical, and ultimately mistaken, belief about an impending disaster in the fable The Sky is Falling. Chicken Little sees enterprise 2.0 as creating security and operational threats and risks much greater than the speculative benefits of social networking. Risks include network penetration, authentication, data ownership, disclosure of sensitive data, publication of unauthorised positions, proliferation and integration headaches, problems archiving and versioning information, identity theft and general time wasting. Phew!

Who is right?

It is not obvious which of Toad, Eeyore or Chicken Little offer the right perspective on enterprise 2.0. The ‘right’ view, of course, depends a lot on the type of organisation, or part of an organisation, you are working in and the type of work being done.

The primary purpose of enterprise 2.0 platforms is to lubricate the social networking effect of collaboration to stimulate knowledge sharing, idea exploitation and innovation. This begs the question, “to what extent does an enterprise need, or desire, this lubrication?”

‘Open’ and ‘closed’ organisations

Ovum has developed a framework to assess the receptivity of organisations to enterprise 2.0 platforms. Factors include: Pressure to develop new products and services, customer/stakeholder intimacy, inter-relatedness with other organisations, reliance on creative processes to solve novel problems, the culture of abundance, brand and reputation flexibility, data anonymity and intellectual property openness.

A large financial institution or public sector service delivery agency, for example, may have a relatively closed social character in terms of Web 2.0 thinking. It seeks to optimise and control a mature set of products and services. It manages a range of serious brand, data security and compliance risks. An over-riding efficiency bias means that staff often see opportunities for promotion through the lens of internal competition — typically in a near constant climate of budget squeeze and restructuring. Such organisations are more into tuning for efficiency and predictability, than lubricating for innovation.

A creative design studio or public sector policy agency, on the other hand, may have a more open social character — seeking to solve novel problems, manage complex interactions with many parties and harness creative energies. There is typically little at risk in terms of customer data or brand sensitivity. Staff see an abundance of opportunities in the creative and policy industries and network widely to do their work and develop their professional careers.

These two examples illustrate the extreme ends of a continuum, upon which any organisation can be placed to examine the extent and nature of its social interactions — its ‘social character’.

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

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