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.

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