Reflections from the 2010 Enterprise 2.0 conference (#e2conf)

I’m just back from the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston. Fortunately, there were a number of bloggers more proficient than I at tweeting and reporting on the action as it happened. Bill Ives, Mary Abraham, and Patti Anklam all provided excellent blog posts, while the tweet stream at #e2conf was rich.

What follows are some reflections provoked by being simultaneously immersed in the virtual and physical experience. I expect all will be topics that I will return to here and with clients.

Enterprise social software platforms

The feature sets of the various social software platforms are now effectively identical and are also essentially mash-ups of Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, MediaWiki, and Documentum. The problem i have with this is that feature sets aren’t terribly relevant in whether enterprises will succeed in efforts to derive value from these platforms.

I’m reminded of something that my wife regularly finds extremely annoying. She’s a photographer and an excellent one at that. When people see her work, they always want to know what kind of camera she uses. What she’s taught me, of course, is that the equipment is largely irrelevant. What matters is the photographer’s eye for composition and for the moment.

We’re in a similar situation with enterprise social software and are still working out the relationship between tools and creators. At the moment that appears to mean a bit too much focus on tools and not enough on the creators and their practices. There was certainly a lot of talk about the importance of understanding and influencing behavior in the hallways. We actually know quite a bit about individual and group creativity; it’s time we spent more effort to integrate that knowledge into the user experience. I expect we’ll see some interesting collisions between technophiles and organizational designers.

From workflow and process to light weight coordination

The notions of business process and workflow that we’ve developed over the course of deploying ERP systems and other large-scale operational systems don’t translate well to the realm of knowledge work. Unfortunately, like the proverbial hammer, they are the only notions most have and the results are painful for those of us who don’t happen to be nails. Greg Lloyd of Traction Software has been using the term "light weight coordination" and his colleague Jordan Frank has been talking about Social Process Reengineering and has coined the term Emergineering, which is at least a provocation in the right direction.

The problem with process and workflow is that they lead you into trying to nail down with precision activities that only work with an appropriate degree of looseness. They also emphasize translating judgment calls into hard and fast business rules. The goal in enterprise 2.0 is not to extend process/workflow concepts to the ends of the enterprise. The goal is to offer a degree of transparency and appropriate support to the judgment calls that continue to exist.

I don’t think this issue is widely recognized yet, but I predict we will find our existing concepts about process and workflow are too inflexible and constraining to help with knowledge work arenas.

Making the case for Enterprise 2.0

What’s the ROI is still a perennial question. Not, however, a terribly useful one when framed in this seemingly business-like shorthand. ROI is a tiny piece of mathematical machinery at the tail end of a complex organizational process of allocating scarce resources.

Enterprise 2.0 is in much the same place we were in the in the early 1990s when organizations were debating the merits of email and local area network investments. Back then we talked about "stealth infrastructures" and about how to piggyback investments on top of big efforts that had the necessary organizational backing.

Resource allocation in organizations is a political, economic, and occasionally theatrical process. Better to acknowledge this from the outset than to continue the search for the perfect spreadsheet.

Unpacking organizational culture

Organizational culture was another shorthand term that was in frequent use last week. Organizational culture is an amalgam of which behaviors are celebrated, encouraged, tolerated, risky, and forbidden. It encompasses who has power and influence and who does not. It’s the stable patterns that emerge when you observe all the instances of individual behavior in the organization.

Organizational culture is not a variable that you manipulate. It sets the context within which the behaviors you would like to promote will be evaluated as desirable, undesirable, or neutral. Culture is malleable over time, but the change emerges from the accretion of new behaviors.

Does the CIO have a role in successful social media adoption?

Like everyone else who’s awake, my long-time friend and colleague Keri Pearlson and I have been trying to make sense out of the uptake of new "social" technologies into organizations. We are noodling on the hypothesis that the CIO represents the best choice if an organization wants to develop a social technology strategy that is both effective and reasonably efficient in the demands it exacts on the organization.

Saying the Dell or P&G has a social technology strategy is a common shorthand that obscures a more important truth. There are real people in specific roles who take on the responsibility for developing and deploying the collection of initiatives and programs that get labeled as an organization’s social technology strategy. The specific people and the particular functions involved greatly influence the success or failure of these initiatives

Some manager in marketing experiments with Twitter or a fan page on Facebook. A lawyer in the general counsel’s office raises a concern about whether an employee comment on Twitter creates a liability for the corporation. A divisional general who still has his assistant print out his email traffic creates a task force to develop a corporate social media policy proposal. While there may be no right answer for how an organization handles social media, these choices matter. The hypothesis that we are considering is this:

The CIO represents an excellent choice for who should coordinate an organization’s approach to social media/social networking.

Why we think this is a reasonable hypothesis

From an IT manager’s perspective, the technologies of social media/social networking appear quite simple. They are either web services hosted outside the firewall or they are very simple new capabilities hosted on internal servers. Compared with the complexities of a global ERP system, a distributed point-of-sale system, or a terabyte-scale data warehouse, social media/social networking capabilities are technologically trivial. Why then are they a problem relevant to the IT function? Why not simply let ownership and management of these capabilities reside in the business?

First, much of the value in social media/social networking lies in the masses of data they generate. Whether in the content of employees at Microsoft blogging internally or publicly about their work or in the network linkage data embedded in the interactions among customers and customer service staff using @ComcastCares on Twitter, there are masses of data to be managed and manipulated. IT knows and understands the issues that arise when dealing with data on this scale. Moreover, they understand how to filter through and extract insight from this data.

Second, there is huge potential value in connecting activity in social networking venues to specific business process steps embedded in the current enterprise support environment. This too constitutes an area where IT’s existing perspectives add value as social media/networking activity moves from experiment to operating at scale.

Third, many of the issues with social media/social networking cross functional boundaries in the organization. IT as a group routinely handles cross-functional issues in designing and deploying other technology around the organization. They will have established relationships with the right people around the organization and they will be sensitive to the kinds of organizational issues that arise in cross-functional undertakings.

The general point is that experiments with these technologies will occur naturally in multiple spots throughout the organization. As these experiments grow in scale and scope the particular management challenges that will appear fall squarely in the sweet spot of the IT function.

What we’re doing next

Organizational work is messy and complex. Social technologies are messy and complex. Put the two together and you have mess squared.

What that means is that there aren’t any maps and there aren’t any checklists. There is no cookbook or operating manual to follow. Not yet, at any rate.

The appropriate research strategy now is to capture and start to understand the messy stories of what is actually going on. It is too soon to strip the story down to its essentials, because we can’t yet differentiate critical step from colorful detail.

We are looking to develop case studies of what organizations are actually doing. At this point, it is premature to be distilling these stories into a coherent and over simplified narrative. For now, it is enough to get multiple stories of successful, failed, and too soon to tell efforts. Comparing and contrasting those stories will begin to reveal the patterns of what matters. if you’re interested, drop one of us a line or leave us a comment.

Cast a vote and give me a reason to visit Boston in June

Keri Pearlson, a long time friend and colleague, and I have proposed a session for the Enterprise 2.0 conference scheduled for this June in Boston. Your votes could help determine whether our session makes the cut. We’d both greatly appreciate it if you’d go take a look at our pitch and give it a thumbs up.

Here’s the link where you can vote: Enterprise 2.0: Can IT Lead the Social Business Strategy Formulation Process? 


Cisco as an emerging Enterprise 2.0 case example

Cisco Systems, Inc.

Image via Wikipedia

[cross-posted at FastForward blog]

The current issue of Fast Company has a cover article on Cisco and their ongoing efforts to reorganize into something that is an excellent case study of what Enterprise 2.0 may look like in an established organization. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the quintessential networking company is on the leading edge of network thinking applied to organizational design. At the same time, Cisco is a large, successful, hierarchical, engineering-centric organization that isn’t likely to be terribly interested in organizational fads.

Here’s the argument in a nutshell:

Chambers has greater ambitions, even now, in the midst of turmoil. Or, perhaps, especially now. He has been taking Cisco through a massive, radical, often bumpy reorganization. The goal is to spread the company’s leadership and decision making far wider than any big company has attempted before, to working groups that currently involve 500 executives. This move, Chambers says, reflects a new philosophy about how business can best work in a networked world. “In 2001, we were like most high-tech companies, with one or two primary products that were really important to us,” he explains. “All decisions came to the top 10 people in the company, and we drove things back down from there.” Today, a network of councils and boards empowered to launch new businesses, plus an evolving set of Web 2.0 gizmos — not to mention a new financial incentive system — encourage executives to work together like never before. Pull back the tent flaps and Cisco citizens are blogging, vlogging, and virtualizing, using social-networking tools that they’ve made themselves and that, in many cases, far exceed the capabilities of the commercially available wikis, YouTubes, and Facebooks created by the kids up the road in Palo Alto.

The bumpy part — and the eye-opener — is that the leaders of business units formerly competing for power and resources now share responsibility for one another’s success. What used to be “me” is now “we.” The goal is to get more products to market faster, and Chambers crows at the results. “The boards and councils have been able to innovate with tremendous speed. Fifteen minutes and one week to get a [business] plan that used to take six months!” As storm clouds form for the rest of the business community, he says, “We’re going to gain market share.” [“How Cisco’s CEO John Chambers is Turning the Tech Giant Socialist“, Ellen McGirt]

What makes this case study useful and interesting is its emphasis on organization not technology. There’s an undercurrent in the article that everything is all a bit “socialist” somehow and isn’t that a surprise, which I found annoying at points. The more interesting point is that a bunch of engineers and big-organization executives are essentially concluding that hierarchy isn’t scaling well enough to meet their goals.

More than anything else, this story provides a well-documented case study that is an existence proof to other skeptical executives that the combination of Enterprise 2.0 technologies and the right organizational principles and practices can succeed.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport webinar on viability of Enterprise 2.0

This should be a fun and illuminating interchange this Friday, the 11th. Both Andy and Tom have been paying attention to the realities of how enterprises do and don’t make effective use of new technologies for a long time.

I’ve agreed to moderate their discussion, which will likely consist of throwing in a new question or two if things slow down. I’m also looking forward to continuing the discussion in Orlando at the FASTforward ’08 Conference. Follow the link below to get a special blogger’s discount if you plan to attend yourself.

We re excited to announce we ll be hosting a free webinar discussion next Friday (January 11th) from 11:00-12:00 AM EST between two academics with much to say about Enterprise 2.0: Andrew McAfee of Harvard Business School and Tom Davenport of Babson College.

Join us at 11 AM EST for a point/counterpoint debate about the viability and speed of adoption of Enterprise 2.0 tools within the enterprise. If you re familiar with their writing and thinking, which has been much discussed here on this blog and elsewhere, you know this should make for a spirited and fun joust between two great minds with strong opinions on the matter.

Among the topics that ll be touched upon:

  • Are the barriers to adoption human, cultural and political in nature too large to overcome?
  • Is there enough ongoing momentum to ensure broad-based adoption in certain industries?
  • What processes are most likely to benefit from Enterprise 2.0 tools?
  • How will success be measured?

Join the discussion by registering for the webinar here. We ll be taking questions from the audience at the end of their discussion or feel free to leave questions in the comments of this post.

FASTforward 08

Andrew and Tom (as well as all of the contributors to this blog) will also be joining us at FASTforward 08 in Orlando. The theme of this year s conference, which runs from February 18-20: The User Revolution. Among the other notable speakers: John Hagel, Don Tapscott, David Weinberger, Clare Hart, and Safa Rashtchy.

Find out more at the conference s website and if you register be sure to do so through that link for a special discount for readers of this blog.

Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport webinar on viability of Enterprise 2.0
Hylton Jolliffe
Fri, 04 Jan 2008 16:18:31 GMT