The internet boom forced organisations to get online and looking back it was much simpler compared to making an organisation web 2.0 ready as this involves understanding an abstract concept called 'web 2.0/enterprise 2.0'. Shahnawaz Khan, program director, knowledge management at MindTree Ltd explains enterprise 2.0 and how it can aid business.

Such has been the euphoria around web 2.0, that organisations are feeling compelled, driven, pushed to adopt web 2.0 - even if to say 'oh we have a web 2.0 strategy in place' or 'we are already doing web 2.0'.

The advantages of web 2.0 context can't be denied - agility, responsiveness, employee empowerment, improved sharing and collaboration. However, 'enterprise 2.0 / web 2.0' is an abstract concept and organisations need to understand this and then translate it into corporate reality'. This article highlights ten key points that organisations need to be aware of before embarking on the 'enterprise 2.0' journey.

Enterprise 2.0 is an abstract concept diagram

Enterprise 2.0 is an abstract concept

Let's face it - there is no one definition of what 'enterprise 2.0' is. There are several definitions and theories floating around on what constitutes enterprise 2.0 - ranging from pure technology centric to user centric jargon.

Too often organisations fall into the trap of equating an enterprise 2.0 strategy to a technology implementation - based on perceptions and / or advice from consultants and geeks. While technology is a very critical component of enterprise 2.0, organisations need to understand that technology alone will not make it successful.

Corporate culture, consisting of open communication, trust, honest feedback, sharing of knowledge and self organisation all have roles in being key enablers and need to be in place before the technology solutions in order to deliver the promise of 'enterprise2.0'.

An organisation planning an enterprise2.0 strategy would, therefore, benefit if it clearly understands that enterprise2.0 is a 'concept', an abstract concept at best, encompassing several tracks - culture, anthropology, sociology, politics, technology and much more.

Web 2.0 vs. enterprise 2.0

Most organisations will have proponents of web 2.0 who will evangelise as to how web 2.0 is revolutionising and transforming the internet world.

Often, one will hear examples of how:

  • Tens of thousands of people are mass collaborating to create the Wikipedia, without any top down structures and hierarchy, out of their own time and passion.
  • Thousands of programmers are contributing to Linux, again without any command and control structures, out of their own time and passion.
  • Millions of people are sharing and collaborating on YouTube and Flickr and thousands are building mash-ups and add-ons to Amazon, Android and Google.

While there is nothing wrong with the above examples, it is important to note that all these have occurred in the internet space, which is a lot different from 'corporate' space. Blindly buying into these examples without understanding them in detail and trying to replicate them within an organisation is a surefire recipe for disaster.  The saying - 'the devil is in the details' is very apt indeed.

  • Wikipedia has very robust and established processes and layers of user participation - one that has evolved over the years for review, moderation, editing and approvals. It is important to know and understand this small yet important aspect because it is easy to get carried away by the romanticism of the idea of 'tens of thousands of people mass collaborating to create the perfect knowledge base'.

  • A complex set of robust processes and structures govern the contributions to the Linux. While everyone is free to contribute to Linux, a central team decides which contribution to accept and which one to reject. Command and control structures do exist even in the Linux world.

Organisational culture

The real obstacle to enterprise 2.0 may indeed be the corporate culture existing within the organisation. Cultural resistance is something 'real' and can determine the success of failure of any initiative.

Organisations need to reflect on their existing culture in some depth - is it a heavily controlled and a top down driven organisation or is open communication the practiced norm? And, are there existing social structures available for employees to express themselves?

Organisations need to be aware that adoption of enterprise 2.0 tools and platforms will be quite challenging within organisations - as most of the enterprise 2.0 toolset adoption is based on the 'user driven, self fulfilment, self expression, social needs' premise and any amount of 'forced usage' is not likely to yield results.

Whereas in the 'internet' world, people join communities out of their own choice and individuals decide the means, frequency, scope of their interaction. For an organisation to be successful in leveraging enterprise 2.0, it has to recognise, understand and appeal to the multiple personas, intelligences, personalities that employees have. The organisation has to touch the 'social, individual, collective, emotional and cognitive' chords to be able to make any fruitful use of the enterprise 2.0 platforms.

Usage context

In the internet world, the usage of web 2.0 platforms and tools is driven by an individuals 'personal context' i.e. the usage is determined by an individual's interests, passions, needs and convenience. In an organisational scenario, the usage of enterprise 2.0 platform and tools would by and large be driven and governed by a work related context.

Organisations, therefore, need to identify the context for usage of enterprise 2.0 tools and platforms and then identify the suitable enterprise 2.0 tools and platforms for that context. For example, making a blogging platform available for everyone to use for whatever purpose they deem fit is a surefire recipe for disaster.

Organisations also need to realise that web 2.0 tools without a properly identified business usage context, will not transform the enterprise, flatten the hierarchy, create an open communication culture or make the organisation democratic.

Enterprise 2.0 can, for sure, make the organisation more agile, responsive and efficient, however, organisations need to identify the business context first and then make use of enterprise 2.0 toolsets to address that business context, rather than the other way round.

Top down vs. bottom up

A large majority of experiments to bring web 2.0 elements into the enterprise have been bottom up efforts and in small scale teams where the participants have shared lots of commonalities. Not many of these bottom-up experiments have percolated enterprise wide and scaled to engage the enterprise as a whole.

In the few organisations where attempts at bringing web 2.0 concepts to the enterprise have been successful, it is clearly visible that these experiments are supported with active engagement, involvement and drive from the senior management.

This is very critical as enterprise 2.0 entails cultural, hierarchical and process changes across the organisation that are very difficult to implement. The magnitude of issues and challenges involved in making change happen in small teams or departments is considerably different from making change happen across the organisation and bottom up efforts to make change happen may not stand a chance.

Critical mass

The web 2.0 platforms in the 'internet' world derive value from numbers - called the network effect. Here the power of the network grows exponentially in value as more and more people become part of the network.

The value derived from the number of users in the platform also helps in creating the 'tipping point' required for the platform to be successful. Organisations may find it difficult to replicate the network effect if they don't achieve the critical mass required.

Even in the internet world, the majority of the users of web 2.0 platforms are passive bystanders, occasional contributors with only a very small percentage of users actively contributing. While this may not be an issue in the internet world, because of the 'long tail' phenomenon, in an enterprise scenario this is something that organisations need to be aware of.

The absence of a critical mass may result in enterprise 2.0 platforms being utilised in a sub-optimal fashion and not yielding the desired results. Delays in expected benefits and an impatient senior management can spell disaster for the enterprise 2.0 platform without even giving it a chance to reach the 'tipping point'.

Workforce composition / generation gap

Organisations where a large number of employees are from the GenNet - people born after 1980, who have grown up on mp3, napster, ipod, broadband, blogs etc, will have higher chances of enterprise 2.0 adoption compared to organisations where majority of the employees are from the baby boomer generation.

The cognitive and social development for the GenNet employees are moulded in highly interactive and social communication environments compared to the rigid, command and control, top down environments of the baby boomers.

However, the decision makers and leaders in most organisations still belong to the baby-boomers generation for whom the world of orkut, Facebook, YouTube and Blogger is alien.

This means that these leaders can't grasp the full potential of these tools for a business context and even when they pledge support for enterprise 2.0 implementation, it can be without a full understanding of what 'enterprise 2.0' actually means.

This means that enterprise 2.0 toolsets may not be as 'effectively used' by the leaders belonging to the baby-boomers generation and at best these leaders will only provide lip-service to the enterprise 2.0 toolsets.

Technology inertia

Even in technically savvy organisations, document sharing is predominantly done through emails which people who are still comfortable using excel for various business needs - even after they have seen the availability of various collaborative platforms and productivity enhancement tools.

There seems to be a considerable inertia within organisations to switch and use new tools for reasons ranging from usability and effectiveness to complexity and the steep learning curve.

In an organisation where, apart from email, ERP and centralised and approval based systems are the predominant toolsets and people have not been exposed to other collaborative platforms, then the challenge will become even more complex and enterprise 2.0 tools will be of little help.

Technology platforms

There are very few, if any, vendors who have a real enterprise 2.0 offering that can easily integrate within the existing infrastructure of an organisation. The choices for enterprise 2.0 toolsets - wiki, blogs, collaboration and social networking, range from open source to niche stand alone vendors to SaaS offerings to the large document management and ERP vendors.

An organisation planning for the enterprise 2.0 journey should keep in mind the following:

  • Users are going to benchmark the enterprise 2.0 solutions with those available in the public domain. The expectations on the usability and feature richness front will be very high and a mere 'feature tick' while doing product evaluations will not help. The open source and the niche vendors seem to score higher on this front than the traditional large document management and ERP vendors.
  • Enterprise 2.0 toolsets have to be integrated to the existing solutions within the enterprise and their place and role clearly thought through. Having a stand alone wiki will not do any good and at best will add to the information clutter and silos. The traditional large document management and ERP vendors seem to score higher on this front than the open source and niche vendors.

Security issues, knowledge leakage and regulatory compliance

Ironically, the same principles that serve as the basis for success of web 2.0 in the internet world can be a cause for concern within an organisational context. The 'free, open and uninhibited sharing of information', 'ability to reuse and mix content and applications', 'mash-ups and micro-formats', 'widgets and API's' - a backbone in the web 2.0 successes, can be an issue for IP sensitive organisations.

Enterprise 2.0 toolsets and methodologies have significant implications on how organisations should plan for IP protection, access controls, legal and regulatory compliances such as SOX.

For example, a services company, providing similar services to competing clients, should have a well defined policy on what its employees can write, share in their corporate blogs, corporate wiki, etc.

An absence of a well thought out security, IP protection plan for web 2.0 applications can in fact hurt an organisation big time.