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Jun 13 2008   12:14PM GMT

What are the characteristics of enterprise 2.0 technologies?

GuyPardon Guy Pardon Profile: GuyPardon

At the Enterprise 2.0 Conference this past week in Boston, Dion Hinchliffe offered a three-hour workshop focused on understanding both the progress of social software in enterprises and then drilling down into the details of implementation and techniques.

In Hinchcliffe’s “State of Enterprise 2.0″ address (hereafter referred to as “E2.0″, he noted that in terms of the hype cycle around the term over the past two years, there used to be “lots of talking, little doing.”

That’s changed. Throughout the demo pavilion at the conference, dozens of of software makers presented competing and collaborative products that are viable tools for bringing social computing within the enterprise. The buzz was no longer so much about “what is enterprise 2.0″ as “how do I start implementing it at my organization” and “how did you apply these tools to your business case.” Two years ago, very few people could create blog or wiki page on an intranet. When Dion polled the crowd for how many attendees could create either of those social software types, many hands went up. The devil, of course, is in the details.

The “blurring of the lines between consumer and social media” and transition from “top down term for bottom up world” presents challenges on both technical and cultural levels. Instead of single locked-down systems, workers can collaborate online — and if the tools aren’t available behind the firewall, consumer versions are being brought in, with associated issues of security, compliance and best practices.
Much of what we’ve learned about how networked applications work best is coming from the consumer Web. This represents  a shift from historic trends, where enterprise architectures were the normal innovative path. In other words, the story begins with  Web 2.0.  There have been subtle changes in the way the Web being used. Software makers have shifts more control to users, in terms of the content created, how it is structured and the processes involved in production or implementation. Simpler software models that embrace the intrinsic power of networks are popping up, including virtually free applications that almost anyone can learn easily. The Web is now a platform, with “data as the next ‘Intel Inside.'” We’re seeing the end of software release cycle and have entered the age of the perpetual beta — just look at Google applications in the cloud.

As Hinchcliffe noted repeatedly, success stories are emerging, with reports of improved communication and collaboration, heightened productivity and cross-pollination between previously “siloed” groups or disparate locations.

Hinchcliffe noted other patterns emerging from enterprise 2.0 implementations, including the need for:

  • Community management, both in terms of technologies to track usage and behavior and community managers to use them
  • Social media guidelines for workers, with respect to the type of content posted and best practices for blogs, wikis or group pages
  • Change management methodologies
  • Driving adoption of E2.0 by commitment at the executive levels of an organization, especially CXOs, CIOs and CTOs
  • Governance of E2.0 communities, like “How do you remove a post or link? Or make one? Which tags should you never use?”
  • Measurement of outcomes, including ROI and social media metrics for usage and

Currently, cultural, infrastructure and security concerns are holding back adoption.  E2 .0 tools are in their infancy — integrated search almost never is integrated, for instance. And organizationss with low levels of knowledge workers will benefit much less from these tools.
That being said, Hinchliffe asserted that the Cluetrain Manifesto was right all along . 10 years later, much of what was contained in those 95 theses was dead on — markets are conversations. He also offered one of the best condensed definitions for Enterprise 2.0 I’d heard:

“Networked applications that explicitly leverage network effects.” — Tim O’Reilly
In this sense, a network effect is when a good or service has more value the more that other people have it too.” (Wikipedia). Examples of this abound, like postal mail, aka “snail mail,” the telephone and telegraph, email, IM, Web pages, blogs or anything with an open network structure, including microblogging hybrids like Twitter. T

There’s an ongoing shift from institutional controls of information and video to collaborative filtering and reporting, as central production is moved to distributed networks of peer production.

So, what is E2.0? Emegent, freeform, social applications for use within the enterprise. The use of blogs and wikis to capture information, with social networks of peers using shared virtual workspaces. Globally-visible persistant collaboration with consistently verified improvements in productivity and innovation.
If this sounds a bit heady to you, it is. The bubble of Web 2.0 hype has moved into big business. The question now is how managers and administrators will implement wikis and other forms of enterprise social software. Fortunately, several case studies emerged from the conference that offer some insight, including Intellipedia, Serena Software and Lockheed-Martin. I’ll be exploring the latter in a later post.

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