Avenue A | Razorfish recently held a summit. Below are some thoughts on two of the blog posts reflecting on the event. Note, the "Key Point" comments interwoven through the posts are mine:
The conversation quickly turned into the debate about how important enterprise 2.0 technologies are within the enterprise with Andrew being the strongest proponent while some members of the audience playing the skeptics.
Key Point: It is not just a technology discussion. Any strategy to improve organizational communication, information sharing, collaboration, community-building and social networking without addressing (in parallel) the cultural, structural and governance aspects of the enterprise should be viewed very skeptically.
Some of the key points covered included what are enterprise 2.0 technologies actually good for? Some wondered how much of a difference enterprise 2.0 technologies make while others emphasized that they are good for only certain business scenarios and aren't meant to displace every other technology in place. That's important to recognize, don't expect Enterprise 2.0 technologies to solve all your problems. They do a few things really well within the collaboration and unstructured content domain but aren't designed to solve a lot of other problems.
Key Point: What is an Enterprise 2.0 technology? From what I read - virtually all technology post-2006 and some earlier are now labeled as "E2.0" without any agreement on the attributes of such software or how pre-existing software can be classified as E2.0 if it delivers some level of functionality.
If "Enterprise 2.0 = Everything 2.0", then does it matter
We tend to jump to E2.0 = blogs, wikis, tag/bookmark systems, social networking, and XML feeds - perhaps more depending on what you read. But right now, it is all hyperbole. What I would to see is a list of stuff that is NOT E2.0.
Another subject that came up was why aren't enterprise 2.0 technologies making us collaborate a lot more. Adoption of these technologies and continuous use appears to be a major issue in most organizations. Here's where the panelists encouraged the audience to start small, with small expectations and trust the community to do what's best. They felt that the less rules that are in place, more the potential for growth. Some felt that the difficulty in getting the employees to collaborate is more an organizational behavior and sociological issue than just an Enterprise 2.0 one. You may have enterprise 2.0 technologies but that doesn't mean you are an Enterprise 2.0 company.
Key Point: Wow - technology does not necessarily make us collaborate more - again, tools enable collaboration but do not conscript collaboration. Yes, certain business activities direct participants to collaborate because some "joint work" is defined a sales team must work together on a proposal). So "directed collaboration" sometimes leaves people with little choice but the richness of that collaboration is still dependent on how much participants want to volunteer beyond that which is needed to satisfy the task. There are many different collaboration patterns - a community collaboration pattern (which might be influenced more by social contracts between members) can differ from a directed collaboration pattern (which perhaps is more influenced by the roles institutionally assigned as part of a workflow process).
A key worry highlighted during the panel was that Enterprise 2.0 technologies maybe misused. Audience members worried that an HR policy on a wiki maybe edited at whim or that important company information maybe vandalized. The panelists and other audience members highlighted the history features in wiki and also argued that vandalism and misuse can happen with email, in file servers, at the water coolers and everywhere else too. Its not an Enterprise 2.0 issue per se.
Key Point: Very true - this is an age-old problem. That does not mean that organizations need to revamp policies and procedures. It also means that a certain level of due diligence is required to make sure tools support features for moderation, audit, compliance, etc. It also means that permission models need to be applied to certain content.
Andrew made an important point when he polled the audience asking them how often they engage in collaborative authoring versus primarily writing documents alone. Practically everyone answered with collaborative authoring. In fact, I strongly suspect that the one person who raised his hand for sole authoring, misunderstood the question! Andrew then asked why we use sole authorship tools like Microsoft Word versus the ones that have collaboration more deeply integrated into them. He had a point. Our tools have a lot of catching up to do. Old habits are hard to change.
Key Point: Again - we need to define terms. What do we mean by "collaborative authoring"? There are many ways to define the phrase:
- Same time / same place editing of a common artifact (e.g., page)
- Same time / different place editing of a common artifact (e.g., page)
- Same time / same place editing of different artifacts in a collection
- Same time / different place editing of different artifacts in a collection
- Same time / same place feedback on a common artifact
- Repeat for above (feedback rather than edit)
This is just a quick example. Sometimes we do indeed author alone and just want comments at a later stage in the cycle. Sometimes we do indeed want to collaboratively author but at a collection level (multiple pages, multiple chapters) but not on the "same page"). We need to get off the idea that if you are not using a wiki to author (or a blog) there is something wrong with you. Tools and containers matter less over time as content flows in and out of those point-in-time constructs. Also, if tools supported round-tripping - I could author in Word, and save to Wiki and then highlight a page in the Wiki and "open" it as I would a file-based document. If you look at Windows Live Writer - what if I could post to a blog or wiki?
But it is true - "what I know is what I use" and "what I have is what I use". Habits are difficult to break.
Some key points raised during the discussion included:
1. Employees should be trusted to do the right thing. Andrew McAfee took up this point, echoing a position taken earlier in the day by Jimmy Wales. Jimmy's supporting anecdote is an apt one - one doesn't put cages around tables in restaurants to keep folks from stabbing each other with their knives; rather one depends on civility and learned behaviors. Although I agree with this in theory and practice, Rob Koplowitz provided a much needed subtle slant - one takes the knives away from children. He didn't mean to equate employees to children but rather highlight different levels of understanding and ability with new tools. Michael Idinopulos leveled out the debate with the insightful comment about there being a necessary distinction between discussion and decision. In other words, let discussion happen freely amongst employees but don't mistake open discussion for a mandate of consensus decision making. Instead clearly communicate how discussion will be incorporated into a final decision making process.
Key Point: Employees lack "perfect knowledge" and are not always aware of what the right thing is - look at the security space and how often people make poor choices on data to keep on laptops or to give out passwords to people pretending to be a co-worker. In some industries, compliance and other regulatory guidelines need to be pervasive or else people can end up "dressed in orange" (i.e., jail).
Time and time again, I find that people are making blanket statements regarding the need to tear down walled gardens - some walled gardens are absolutely necessary and are not the result of politics. We want to teat down the inappropriate walled gardens and we want to shift mindsets from a "need to know" mentality (which often leads to stove pipes) to one where we think about "need to share" and "right to know".
Sometimes, an organization also need to be careful about groups talking to other groups - financial institutions come to mind - but also certain franchise business models where "corporate" needs to be distant from the employees of its franchisers to maintain a proper separation (the employees of a franchiser may not be "employees" from a corporate perspective.