How big a deal is Enterprise 2.0? What do you mean by "Big"?

November 22, 2009 · · Posted by Greg Lloyd

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I'm flattered that Professor Andrew McAfee cites Enterprise 2.0 Schism in his Nov 20, 2009 blog post Enterprise 2.0 is Not THAT Big a Deal, kicking off a neat discussion on serious points behind my tongue in cheek analysis. McAfee agrees that Enterprise 2.0 is a big deal - but "... I don't see E2.0's tools, approaches, and philosophies making obsolete managers, hierarchies, org charts and formal cross functional business processes". There's no need to use a 2.0 version for the Enterprise, but:

I yield to almost no one in my belief about the power and utility of ESSPs [ Emergent Social Software Platforms ], but I just don’t think they’re going to transform the structure or purpose of the enterprise. As I wrote earlier, I don’t see E2.0’s tools, approaches, and philosophies making obsolete managers, hierarchies, org charts, and formal cross functional business processes...

I want to be clear: Lloyd’s post is fantastic: grounded and very thoughtful. He’s not in the enterprise-as-slime-mold camp. And I definitely agree with him that Enterprise 2.0 is a big deal. So what’s the right way to describe its impact?

Here’s my take: ESSPs will have about as big an impact on the informal processes of the organization as large-scale commercial enterprise systems (ERP, CRM, Supply Chain, etc.) have had on the formal processes.

This is not a conservative statement. Enterprise systems have been a huge deal for organizations. They’ve turned reengineering from a whiteboard exercise into an unignorable reality for many, many companies. And Drucker was right when he said that “Reengineering is new, and it has to be done.” - Andrew McAfee Nov 20, 2009

I happily replied:

Andy -- Thank you for the kind words as well as the thoughtful analysis. I agree strongly with your take that the impact on the informal processes will be as large as the impact of large scale commercial enterprise systems on formal processes.

I differ a little by including daily working communication, awareness and alerting (the way people work - not workflow or transactional communication) along with the ESSPs as having a large impact on the informal processes of organizations.

It's an interesting - Peter Drucker style - question to see how this plays out over time see my Drucker Centenary post which really should have been titled: "What questions would Peter Drucker Ask about Enterprise 2.0?"

On the 2.0 question: I always took the "2.0" of Web 2.0 as a tongue in cheek observation that the way people use the web and their expectations have shifted dramatically even though there is no "version" you can associate with the emergent phenomena we call the Web. "Who rolled the version?" on the Web is a funny and enlightening question.

I wouldn't expect organizations to use "2.0" as much more that a rallying cry, koan or plain old kick in the pants to take a look around and see what's changed. That's useful too.

Euan Semple commented:

Great post Andrew. I think what is happening IS a big deal but have been wary of labelling it Enterprise 2.0 as this makes it too easy to make it "other" and ignore it or assimilate it - bit like what happened to KM. I don't think our current methods of organisation are inevitable and I don't think we have even begun to see the effect of networked ways of thinking on how we relate to the world. This is why when asked recently how long I thought it would be before the full impact of what is happening works itself into organisational life I said fifty years.

I replied:

I agree with your 50 years - if you start the clock running with Doug Engelbart in 1968!

More seriously - for a major shift in enterprise use of technology I believe 10 years (from early adopter to common use) is closer : From "We have a Web Page" in 1993 to Web Commerce Bubble of 2001; Rare use of inter-enterprise email 1988 to universal by 1998; "Enterprise 2.0" in the broad sense 2006 to 2016. Pretty close to Engelbart + 50 years!

The evolution of the Web itself is an great example of an emergent phenomena. It started from TBL's very austere protocols and concepts though unpredictable and intertwingled rounds of innovation in how the Web was used the tech layered over it (search engines+), see Reinventing the Web for my view as early Web skeptic.

I believe the motivation for changing informal processes of organizations will come from a combination of: 1) people's expectations on how things can and should work from their direct experience with the public Web (as well as internal examples); 2) a measure of strategic thinking about how patterns of work and management can change based on new technology and expectations - in the spirit of Drucker and Engelbart.

Very few individuals in an enterprise are experts in ERP / MRP / Supply Chain Management etc so the feedback and demand cycles that drive human factor improvement and evolution of these systems are very weak. I have very few constructive comments on improving my payroll system and only whine about its eccentricities and complexity.

However everyone is a social animal and brings that experience to work every day. That's the "social" in social software that will drive evolution and adoption of new enterprise technology - with the public Web as a practical benchmark.

Euan replies:

I'm sticking to 50 years from now! I was thinking of the impact on how we structure organisations rather than just common adoption of technologies. Still think that will take a long time.

If I'm wrong I hope I'm around to settle the bet in fifty years!

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