I just read an interesting report from my ex-colleague Larry Cannel from Gartner ("The Post-2.0 Era: Social in the Context of My Work"). It was recently published under the Burton IT1 Research if you have access. My thoughts - not directly in response to Larry's report, just in general concerning Enterprise 2.0 (which is what came to mind as I read the document)...
Are We In The Post-2.0 Era?
Yes. And No.
The term “Enterprise 2.0” (E2.0) has been around since 2006. However, many of the technologies associated with E2.0 have been around longer (e.g., blogs, wikis, RSS) while others emerged post-2006 (e.g., micro-blogging). The most recent definition of E2.0 is on Andrew McAfee’s blog:
Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.
Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities.
Platforms are digital environments in which contributions and interactions are globally visible and persistent over time.
Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contains mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people’s interactions become visible over time.
Freeform means that the software is most or all of the following:
Free of up-front workflow
Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities
Accepting of many types of data
The term has been abused to the point where its definition has been stretched and altered to fit the agenda of vendors, analysts, and media pundits. However, if we are trying to determine whether we are in a Post-E2.0 era, I think it is important to acknowledge definitions and intended meaning from the person who invented to term (Professor McAfee). It should be noted that McAfee I believe also stated that there were parallels his use of the term E2.0 and Web 2.0.
Before getting to a Post-E2.0 era it’s also relevant to think about the Pre-E2.0 Era. Before the term E2.0 emerged, the collaboration market was pretty stable from a technology viewpoint. While people used e-mail to collaborate, technically e-mail was considered a messaging tool. Collaboration technologies included discussion forums, web conferencing, and virtual workspaces. Virtual workspaces were the “hot topic”. They aggregated document libraries, discussion forums, team calendars, and some level of task organization, into a cohesive destination – a single place for people to “go to” when they needed to work together. Other technologies such as portals, search, content management, instant messaging and presence tools helped round out the typical collaboration manifest (even though they were not technically collaboration tools per se). There had been earlier inflection points in the timeline of collaboration tools as well. Expertise location grew out of the KM heyday of the late nineties for instance. Still, around 2006, the technology landscape was fairly stable.
It should also be noted that the idea of “contextual collaboration” had also emerged circa 1999. The idea of embedded collaboration services contextually within line of business applications, like virtual workspaces, would help drive adoption, and increase effectiveness of collaboration experiences. Portals represented the best-in-class capability back then to enable contextual collaboration since application and collaboration portlets could be composed into a single, integrated user experience. While there were plenty of technology limitations, it’s important to historically note that today’s siren call to integrate social tools into business apps and processes is not a new idea. The argument is redundant with the case made over decade ago that contextual integration of collaboration tooling is better than forcing people to go to another place to get work done. That said, we do have better tools, integration methods, architectures, etc to accomplish this goal in a more comprehensive manner.
So when E2.0 emerged, we (as an industry) had already gone through a cycle of tools, suites, and platforms that started out as stand-alone silos and evolved into platforms with development interfaces that allowed people to build collaborative applications, and integrate collaboration services into portals. The tooling was not as advanced as what we have today, but the cycle is similar in certain respects to what we are witnessing happening in the market today re: E2.0.
One thing E2.0 accomplished is that it gave a name to an underserved area of collaboration. E2.0, per McAfee’s definition, targeted emergent collaboration rather than the more activity-centric/document-centric collaboration prevalent at the time. E2.0 identified a more free-form type of information sharing and collaborative interactions where participation was optional, more community-centric, and “free of up-front workflow”. E2.0 platforms made people’s interactions visible over time – a counter to the virtual workspace tools that were often made more permission-based. Even though E2.0 remained a “squishy” concept and encouraged the type of evangelism that often derailed KM efforts, it did open the door to a new array of tools that were categorized as enterprise social software: blogs, wikis, RSS, tagging, bookmarking, micro-blogging, and so on.
Since then, the E2.0 (enterprise social software) market has evolved from an array of stand-alone tools and suites to an environment where platforms are becoming more dominant. Development interfaces are maturing, and we are beginning to see “social applications” (e.g., ideation, Enterprise Q&A) emerge and discussion of how social capabilities need to be integrated with line-of-business applications.
Social platforms that started off as an explicit destination site (mimicking the model made popular in the consumer market) are now becoming an integration hub that enables a distributed social experience across devices, content, and applications as well as a centralized store of people’s social data. This does not mean that stand-alone tools no longer have their place in the overall ecosystem, but increasingly such tools need to integrate and co-exist with infrastructure services that embed social capabilities.
Sound familiar? This is a more advanced version of what was transpiring circa 2006, albeit with better tooling, methods, and architectures, etc. It’s not a perfect comparison – mobile and analytics are much more prominent today than earlier, consumerization of IT, etc. etc. Still, I find the parallels interesting and often not recognized.
So back to the original question – are we in a Post E2.0 Era?
Yes: The technology has become less volatile. We’re not seeing the continued wave of new tools entering the space as we did years ago. The user experience and tooling is becoming more ubiquitous. In some ways, this is the Hype Circle playing. We are also beginning to think less of E2.0 as an end in-and-of-itself and more of a means-to-an-end. Organizations are not doing E2.0 for the sake of E2.0 but to improve certain business and organizational capabilities. The more we talk about the non-technology aspects of employee participation, information sharing, collaboration, etc – then E2.0 has achieved its goal and it’s time to move on. For instance, E2.0 has opened up the door to analytics being an integral part of collaboration strategies – something that was not assumed prior to E2.0. We do need to think in more purposeful ways, adopt a renewed focus on worker experiences – however we need to avoid losing some of the softer goals (e.g., KM-related) of E2.0.
No: While the technology discussion is less prominent, there is much to be learned and applied from a non-technological perspective. We have barely scratched the surface of our understanding when it comes to issues raised by E2.0 pertaining to identity, participation, social networking, social capital, media literacies, and so on. We are also just at the beginning when it comes to understanding the cultural, structural, and change management aspects of what E2.0 dynamics trigger. While it’s fashionable to dismiss the softer aspects of E2.0 and over-generalize / over-simplify that we merely need “to get work done”, that viewpoint will likely result in very traditional approaches when it comes to applying E2.0 technologies to improve worker productivity and business performance.
For me, the issue is not “do we focus on the community and social networking aspects of E2.0 … OR … do we focus on integrating E2.0 into business activities to get real work done” – I would rather suggest that strategsts replace the OR with an AND to find the proper balance. Each side has value and a focus on both is necessary.