Social Networking Goes Mainstream At Enterprise 2.0 Conference
More businesses are embracing social tools to build internal and external communities, improve communications, and delight customers.
When the Enterprise 2.0 conference, a UBM TechWeb event, opens in Boston next week, corporate technology and community managers hope to shift some of the conversation away from potential applications and toward real achievements.
Conference track organizers for Enterprise 2.0 say they expect to spend less time selling a vision for enterprise social networking and collaboration because the vision is more widely understood. Turning it into a reality for more people is still going to take some work, however. The Enterprise 2.0 conference is sponsored by our publisher, UBM, and brings together technology and business leaders exploring the potential of Web 2.0 and social media in the enterprise.
"One thing that I think has changed is we've kind of entered the mainstream--most executives at most companies are kind of intrigued and exploring," said Rachel Happe, who is chairing the conference track on managing communities to engage external audiences. Some of those business leaders are still seeking to establish a business case for moving forward, she said, "but we're not having to convince people that it's interesting, or that they should pay attention to it."
Happe has organized her track around more effective community management, including a discussion of some of the risks of engaging consumers on the Web. "The opportunities outweigh the risks, but people don't know the risks--and you do need to have a risk mitigation strategy," she said.
Ted Hopton, who will be running a parallel track on internal community management, sounded a similar theme. Hopton, who runs the internal communities for UBM's staff, said that as software products mature, enterprises can shift more of their attention to managing more effective online communities.
"Technology is almost fading into the background," Hopton said. "It's still important when you're starting out because you've got to pick your platform." Products have gotten easier to richer and easier to use, with capabilities like activity streams that are available from multiple vendors. "It doesn't matter as much what you choose because you're going to have a lot of options available." With that, he believes it's time to devote more attention to what makes a Web community thrive and produce business results. One of the presentations he is most excited about is by NASA's Kevin Jones and concentrates on what can go wrong: the "Enterprise 2.0 Failures And What We Learn From Them."
"We're taking a little bit of a risk with it," Hopton said, but he hopes the audience will learn more by also having a discussion of failures than by a focus only on success stories.
Tony Byrne, of the advisory firm the Real Story Group, organized the programming on architecture and social apps and platforms, said he only half agrees with the idea that Enterprise 2.0 technologies have entered the mainstream.
"If the question is, 'Should we be investing in this or not?' for most organizations that has been answered with a 'yes.' The only thing I would caution is that a lot of big organizations are still just putting their toes in the water," Byrne said. Yes, some technology companies and consulting firms have embraced these technologies to their fullest extent, but "when you get beyond certain verticals, the case studies start to get thinner and a lot more departmental."
Byrne also says that a lot of Enterprise 2.0 products remain immature. Those that have grown up around departmental use and small businesses often experience an "enterprise surprise" when a large organization tries to deploy them more broadly and runs into scalability issues, he said. "Even SharePoint, to a certain extent, is designed to be a lot of little installations rather than a single enterprise-wide one," he said.
The market for Enterprise 2.0 tools also is divided between the innovation associated with startups and niche players, versus the slower moving but more systematic enterprise platform technologies from the likes of IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle, Byrne said. His track features a discussion of apps versus platforms, as well as one specifically focusing on SharePoint as a social platform. Additionally, he and other panelists will be looking at the state of standards in 2011, as specifications such as OAuth, Open Social, and Activity Streams become more widely implemented. "These are things people have been talking about in the abstract for many years, but customers are beginning to see where these can help them in some very concrete ways," he said.