Enterprise 2.0 – You can’t win or lose in the first inning

It really amazes me. We are still predicting failure/success, trying to figure out exactly what Enterprise 2.0 is. Why? Not because I know the answer, but because our expectations are off. It’s like trying to predict the winner of the ball game at the end of the 1st inning.

There has been some great blogging over the last week, mostly spurred by Laurie Buczek’s wonderful post, The Big Failure of Enterprise 2.0 Social Business. This has inspired many reactions, from the likes of Denis Howlett, Dion Hinchcliffe and even Andrew McAfee re-tweeted the piece. But, I think people are missing the point, we are very early in the game. It’s roughly equivalent to having a baby and knowing they’re going to be a doctor at age 3.

Reflection of History

As we look back historically to the evolution of communications, the inventions that are truly revolutionary were not overnight successes. Why? People do not accept change very well overall. They would ask questions like, “Why would I ever want to do that?” Instead of going back through every discovery, such as the printing press, the telegraph, telephone, etc., let’s focus in on the one some of us may even have been a part of: e-mail.

The Early Days

The first e-mail system to be known was MIT’s CTSS mail which was created back in 1965, although Unix mail was unveiled in 1972 which was generally more available. These text-based systems meant you could send electronic mail to anyone on the system with an account. It was not until 1978 that Unix mail was network-enabled so you could send messages to people on other Unix systems.

Even after people started to be able to communicate across the network, they were mainly limited to people on the same server infrastructure because it wasn’t until the mid-90’s that the SMTP protocol was ratified as the standard for systems to interact.

Taking it on the road

Research in Motion is largely responsible for the next large innovation in e-mail when they introduced the BlackBerry in 1999, enabling you to take your e-mail on the road wherever/whenever you wanted. This was followed up by Apple releasing the first iPhone in 2007 which basically enabled mobile e-mail to the masses.

Not without its cost

Let’s not overlook some of the inherent problems with e-mail that have sprung up along the way. Viruses, Spam, Spyware, Scams and the like. Not to mention this information travels across the internet in clear text form making it easy for people to intercept e-mails intended for other people.

During this time, it was in 2007, where people were starting to blame e-mail for Information Overload. The New York Times, wrote, Is Information Overload a $650 Billion Drag on the Economy? This was focused on all of the invasive communications that we are forced to deal with in our daily jobs, but focused a lot on e-mail.

A lifetime

E-mail, which we all take for granted, took over 20yrs to gain mainstream adoption and interoperability, yet I can’t imagine a business today that doesn’t rely on it as a business critical function. In hindsight, we can look back at e-mail and finally answer the value question, although this won’t be without pauses, guffaws, etc. E-mail has improved the way we communicate and helped us communicate faster.

Enter Enterprise 2.0

Andrew McAfee is credited with Enterprise 2.0 in 2006, although many credit Web 2.0 with the capabilities that are being used behind the firewall. Andrew talked about using Web 2.0 technologies to streamline business processes. What’s different, is we are changing the way we consume information from that of what others think you need to know, to what you feel you want to know. We go from “push” technology, to “pull” technology.

Early successes

Even back at my first Enterprise 2.0 conference in 2008 (the 2nd year under that name), the focus was on success and use cases. In those days, it was around the CIA and it’s Intellipedia (a wiki). The message was clear, if an intelligence organization was able to improve results via sharing, then anyone can. In subsequent years, there were more and more case studies which could be cited from companies such as Booz Allen Hamilton, CSC, even Alcatel-Lucent where I worked. But, these are indeed companies that are visionary, the “early adopters”.

Here come the settlers

In early 2011, Jeffrey Mann and Carol Roswell from Gartner declared we are on the brink of mainstream adoption. I must admit, it was through my attending the Gartner Portal, Content & Collaboration conference back in March, that reminded me of the fact that not everyone understands the possibilities of social computing. What I love about the mainstream audience, is they are pushing for the things early adopters kind of glossed over: analytics, integration & standards. Today, there are emerging standards that will lead to tighter integration between platforms. Both Open Graph Protocol and activitystrea.ms promise to make it easier to develop systems that can talk to each other.

We’re getting better

What took e-mail almost 20yrs to accomplish is being done in 5yrs. Many vendors have mobile solutions out of the gate and have learned these are table stakes. We have learned much from e-mail’s success and its shortcomings. We are avoiding some of the mistakes, but are still repeating some just because many involved with e-mail in the early days have retired and taken their experience with them.

The timeline is shortening, but our lack of patience (or demand for instant gratification) seems to expect this to be instantaneous. Is this view overly simplistic? Perhaps, but the point remains, communications revolutions rarely happen overnight. What is clear is the Internet has created an environment where we have an unlimited number of announcers all trying to out analyze each other.We are still in the earliest innings. There will be hits, strike-outs and home runs and of course errors, but it is way too early to declare whether this a winner or a loser.

When all is said and done, I believe we will say that Social Computing has improved the way we communicate and helped us communicate faster.

13 thoughts on “Enterprise 2.0 – You can’t win or lose in the first inning

  1. To extend your baseball analogy: if you don’t get out of the minor leagues after 5-10 years you’re unlikely to ever make the bigs.

    1. I would agree, but to the fact that Gartner & Forrester are both talking about this to mainstream IT departments I would offer that perhaps we have made it to the big leagues. If you compare investments in e-mail vs. social, perhaps we are still warming the bench.

  2. I enjoyed this post Greg – thanks for writing it.

    People talk about the “failure” of Enterprise 2.0 mostly because many of us have been talking about so many things other than E2.0’s core value: It humanizes the workplace.

    A social intranet gives every employee a face and a voice, something that has never happened before for most companies, online or off.

    Companies continue to invest in collaboration tools and making their intranets more social. That trend is here to stay and is, in fact, becoming the new normal. The real problem is that most businesses aren’t very good at working with humans.

    By this I mean that collaboration is a fundamentally human process, which many teams simply don’t do well. Getting value out of online collaborative tools requires more than learning how to use the tools, it requires learning how to work well with other people.

    From another angle, IT departments and executives aren’t all that good at taking a user-centered approach to planning and design. This is another example of not being good at working with humans.

    The core problem is that when we’re using tools that humanize the workplace, the value a business gets is proportionate to its ability to operate in more and more human ways.

    1. These are really great points. I feel that trust in people is something that makes me successful on these platforms. But, I can understand why it’s hard to run an organization on trust because it’s so fragile.

      I also believe that there is somewhat of a misconception out there caused by Facebook. The fact that you don’t need to be trained to use these platforms. I believe that a good community manager provides “on the job” training for the entire community. Smart companies are also developing curriculum that supplement this information since not everyone learns the same way.

      As for the human element, I couldn’t agree more. Being a former IT person, it was easy to let the technology reign, but it was after I got out of IT that I really see the human aspects of a company.

      1. A whole bunch of good points in here from original blog to comments back and on…

        The point you make here, Greg, about not being trained to use E2.0 platforms…I make the distinction between training on how to search, post, tag, etc. using the platform from training/on-the-job experience/leadership in using these environments to communicate and have conversations…

        Almost intuitive to digital natives and possibly excruciatingly painful to someone else who had years of experience with typewriters and white-out to form habits that we very effective before e-mail or E2.0

        1. Just remember there was a time where we all had to learn to use e-mail. While most people know how to use e-mail, there are still a high percentage that misuse it as well. Hopefully we learn from those mistakes and don’t discount them because they are ancient history.

  3. Nice post, Greg. I agree, we’ve just started and it seems some front-runners are disappointed ‘the world’ isn’t picking up, understanding and using social tools inside and outside the company more quickly. For this reason I think McAfee’s chapter about ‘organizing for the longhaul’ is very important (refer to his book ‘Enterprise 2.0’).

  4. (reviving an old thread, I see…)

    Another comparison to email: How many people who were supervisors had their emails printed off for them to respond to and had someone respond for them afterwards? How long until that only became senior leaders? How many might still do that?
    How many treat social the same way now?

  5. Agree – this thread and all related threads should be revived –

    These thoughts were on target a year ago (Aug 2011) – but fast forward a year, the reality of these things are playing out. Momentum is pushing and the wind is at the back of the technology platforms now.

    Integrations are no longer nice to haves – I can attest in everyday doings as our momentum at AppFusions is also moving very fast with daily validations.

    The fun is about to get a whole lot more fun, to add to that graph of yours Greg – and congrats to great industry thought leaders like Greg and the rest mentioned here who would not relinquish the faith no matter what. (Laurie Buczek, Denis Howlett, Dion Hinchcliffe, Andrew McAfee and many others easy to find on twitter not mentioned here!)

    And why? Because at the end of the day – it makes sense – only logical path forward in today’s day and age.

    Love this post! Thanks for it!

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