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Enterprise 2.0: Avoid Ready, Fire, Aim...

In the movie "The Graduate", one of the more famous scenes occurs when Dustin Hoffman is given some very proactive and free advice regarding "plastics". Today, that advice might go like this:

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Enterprise 2.0.

Technically this might count as two words, but I saw this quote recently while reading an article on innovation. It reminded me of the situation we face today. There are many people proactively offering advice to business and IT strategists concerning market, organizational and technology trends under the banner of "[insert term here] 2.0".

Whether it's Web 2.0, Enterprise 2.0, Office 2.0, or something else, those with advice to offer parallel that scene in "The Graduate". It's an answer to a question but we're really not sure what the question is and we're pretty sure that no matter what question poor Benjamin might have come up with, the answer was going to be the same - "plastics".

Today, that answer is a little more varied but seemingly always ends the “2.0” meme. The “plastics” secret word has been replaced by "blogs", "wikis", "social networks", "RSS", "tagging", "social bookmarks", "Ajax" and so on. In many cases, those terms are tossed around by vendors who also just happen to sell either technology or professional services in that very same space. Shocking.

So off we go, chasing the "[insert term here] 2.0" technology hammer to whatever poor nail happens to get in the way.  What comes to mind then is another famous quote. This time, however, I'll go back a little further in history and point to Homer: "To the Sirens first shalt thou come, who bewitch all men, whosoever shall come to them."

It's important to point out that my disagreement with what has become almost conventional wisdom surrounding all-things-suffixed-by-2.0 is entirely directed at the irrational exuberance some experts have in recommending technology as a silver-bullet and panacea to problems faced by large enterprises simply because it falls under the “2.0” umbrella. More often than not, I find serious gaps in what fails to be mentioned. Namely, issues related to security, identity, compliance, records management, integration, interoperability and other concerns.

So my plea is as follows: If you are going to point out the benefits, please take the time to point out the risks. If you are not aware of the risks, then at least put a disclaimer on your presentation or posting to point out that such issues need to be addressed. That's a key message I think needs to come across more often. A balanced argument aids credibility.

But it’s not all negative. On the positive side of all-things-labeled-2.0, I actually am quite excited that the industry is finally prioritizing the importance of understanding the behaviors, motivations and activities of people, groups and networks of all kinds and how those interactivities and inter-relationships influence "work" (productivity, performance, innovation and so on). Our industry in general has over-prioritized formal structures (e.g., process, taxonomies), intricate infrastructure (e.g., web services) and centrally controlled technologies (e.g., enterprise portals) and under-delivered solutions that enable people to serve their own needs in a simple, informal and collective fashion. It’s not an either / or situation. We need to do a better job at connecting the emergent technologies that favor “the edge” with the institutional scaffolding that runs “the core” of large enterprises.

I am constantly looking for examples of studies where practioners have taken the time to examine organizational dynamics beyond the 2.0 technology tip-of-the-iceberg. Some of the work I've read does a solid job at observation, analysis and recommendations. Sometimes, the solutions are driven by changes at the organizational level and include no technology at all.

Shocking. No blog, no wiki. How can that be?  

I honestly believe that the more transformational 2.0 solutions will be driven by a focus on the organizational dynamics that address issues related to leadership, followership, decision rights, human capital management, community-building, converging work/lifestyles and so on - not technology per se.

And when technology does become an enabler to the solution (e.g., blog, wiki or mashup of some sort), due diligence regarding security, identity, compliance, records management, and alignment with existing infrastructure investments will still be required (and viewed as a best practice).

While it is important to enable users themselves to construct their own communication, information sharing and collaborative environments, they need to do so within policies and structures that do not put the enterprise at risk. And that's a key message to also get across. Technology needs a context; the history of IT is littered with mistakes when we fail to learn from history (perhaps we need to think of this as "Repeating History 2.0" in order for it to catch on).

What I am most happy about though is how Enterprise 2.0 (and its extended family) is helping the discipline of socially-oriented methods of research and analysis (e.g., ethnography, anthropology) to become more commonly accepted and recognized by traditional IT groups. Over time, IT groups will need to be as competent in these areas as they are in disciplines related to data, information and process. And that's another takeaway in this post: Elevating people, groups (teams, communities) and networks to the same level of importance as data, information and process is long overdue.

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