Putting « Enterprise 2.0 » in perspective

The entire buzz around Enterprise 2.0 starts sometimes to seem a bit unrealistic and even boring to some, including me, and some relative perspective is needed.
It is true that Web2.0 is ill defined in general and that enterprise 2.0 means different things to different people. It is actually part of the issue: undefined words cover fuzzy realities and do not help. But in most cases “Enterprise 2.0” means the use of collaborative tools, developed in the world of the society itself — in particular in that universe called Web2.0 — and imported into the corporation. The aficionados of web 2.0 would like to think that the Web2.0 will in itself revolutionize the organization by creating corporate collaboration cultures of a new breed where hierarchy would disappear; collaboration would bring harmony and progress; etc.

It is even demeaning for the current revolution happening to corporations to pretend it to be mostly or even only related to the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Something much deeper is happening. Many of the changes to happen within corporations will have other sources than collaborative technologies.

Let’s be realistic, Enterprise 2.0 seen as the sole center of the management revolution is a fallacy, the revolution happening to the enterprise is much more interesting than just the part of it related to web 2.0 elements even if I am one of those pretending that a good implementation of collaborative elements within the organization can bring a competitive advantage.

Just to start, let’s note that the world is not yet on Web2.0. Just think that Linkedin has only 30 million members and Facebook only 90 millions. It looks big for Social Networks but these are drops in the bucket of the world of work. No surprise then that most employees in the world, even in OECD countries, just don’t really know what Social Networks and collaborative tools are.

Then, even if everybody would be familiar to these new tools, like more or less today they are to mobile telephony (although again the owners of mobile telephones are “only” half of humanity) this will not mean that corporations are all going to become Enterprise 2.0 or, if they are, it will be because they will have found the tools convenient or necessary to use, not because they will have changed out of the very pressure of the web 2.0.

Those putting all the change requirements on the Web2.0 revolution miss the point and fall into the old trap of seeing every problem as a nail because they hold a hammer.

What are the major changes a CEO currently has to look at for planning his organization’s future?

•    Energy scarcity and cost
•    Talent scarcity and cost
•    Ageing of his workforce and of his customers
•    Economic crisis and uncertainty
•    Environment crisis
•    IT revolution (in particular the Big Switch of Nicholas Carr and the implications on data management, storage and interpretation)
•    Terrorism
•    Internal and external social disparities
•    Migrations
•    Etc. this is not an exhaustive list, by far.

Most of them are not related, or just via indirect ways to Web 2.0

In front of these issues the questions a CEO asks himself about his company are of three orders

1.    Which strategy in times of uncertainty?
2.    Which organization can provide a competitive advantage?
3.    How to guarantee that execution will follow?

The web 2.0 plays mostly a role on the second one. I will not address one and three here. They are out of my immediate objective for this post.

If we look at how to transform the organization itself into a competitive advantage, one must again realize that the Web2.0 issues are only secondary, i.e. one of the tools helping to solve some of the issues.

What are the most important organizational issues that trouble a CEO’s sleep?

•    Where to produce the product or services? here (on shoring), or there (offshoring), or on the cloud (cloud shoring) when international trade is at stake for several products;
•    Should one company produce oneself or outsource and externalize? An even more important question in a world of cash scarcity and where “stick to your knitting” has suddenly a different meaning;
•    Which systems and structures to put in place to attract, recruit, develop, and retain the right talents when talents really are the scarce resource? This include managing the NetGens and their Web2.0 habits but also more fundamentally managing four generations working together in the same corporation with different expectations and practices;
•    How to build the newly required CSR, environment issues, and energy efficiency into the organizations weaving and not only within the communication toolkit?
•    How to build flexibility within the organization? In particular in order to be able to respond to brutal unexpected crisis like terrorism or to further degradations in the economic climate or to brutal changes in the value of assets or the cost of commodities;
•    How to build the next global-local work organization maximizing the use of talent available (what I call Net-Taylorism)?
•    How to organize internal and external collaboration in ways productive for the corporation (yes, this one implies some web 2.0 technologies, among others)?
•    How to build practically customer loyalty at a time when they will be harder and harder to motivate?
•    How to manage huge databases and mine them in order to build a competitive advantage based on ones capacity to better understand and target users, employees, targets, etc.? Which is mostly a question of systems and algorithms, not of Web2 .0.
•    Etc. again this is not the place to expand too much on that issue.

What I want to convey as a message here is double:

Let’s not the blame of all the changes that corporations need to put in place on the web2.0‘s revolution only. The collaboration culture created within the society at large, at least at the Netgen level, is a fascinating element, and it is important to understand more deeply the practical implications it will have on management. Agreed and let’s go on working on it, but…

Let’s recognize that the changes required are actually much broader and much more interesting that the simple web 2.0 approach would let believe. Let’s work on them as a holistic system change, what actually is the very notion of paradigm shift.

This is what the Boostzone Institute (www.boostzone.fr), is working on.

Dominique Turcq 25th November 2008

Leave a Reply