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.