A Fact-Based Defense of Enterprise 2.0 - InformationWeek

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Commentary
9/4/2009
02:39 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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A Fact-Based Defense of Enterprise 2.0

Enterprise 2.0 is often nothing more than a faith-based attack on hierarchy and organization, or so it must often seem. It's the gist of a recent piece by the estimable Dennis Howlett that was picked up by noted Enterprise 2.0 evangelist and Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee.

Enterprise 2.0 is often nothing more than a faith-based attack on hierarchy and organization, or so it must often seem. It's the gist of a recent piece by the estimable Dennis Howlett that was picked up by noted Enterprise 2.0 evangelist and Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee.Howlett's argument is essentially that Enterprise 2.0 -- corporate wikis, blogs, collaboration tools, RSS feeds and the like -- is essentially an argument against the status quo rather than a set of tools for dealing with real problems.

Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all. Yet none of that thinking has a credible use case you can generalize back to business types - except: knowledge based businesses such as legal, accounting, architects etc. Even then - where are the use cases? I'd like to know.

Without conceding the importance of the technology, McAfee agrees that dogmatic evangelism of Enterprise 2.0

has the effect of increasing resistance to E2.0 among people who really need to be on board. If you're a manager within a stable hierarchy and you get wind of a movement that aims to eliminate management and hierarchy (and stability!), you're almost certainly going to oppose it.

McAfee then offers up good use cases for Enterprise 2.0, but those are more anecdotal than evidential. It's still a wishy-washy concept unlikely to appeal to empiricists.

Fortunately, though, there's a McKinsey study just out that could help settle the matter (at least to those with an open mind).

McKinsey polled 1,700 executives on the effect of Web 2.0 technologies on their organizations' internal processes, customer relationships, and relationships with partners and suppliers, and found that 69 percent avowed seeing "measurable benefits" thanks to those tools. The companies polled said they saw:

more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues. Companies that made greater use of the technologies, the results show, report even greater benefits.

The most successful companies were able to integrate existing work flows with tools like blogs, wikis, podcasts, RSS feeds, social networks and Web video.

Among the tangible effects:

  • more employees were in contact with each other at lower cost;
  • more participation in discussion and knowledge-sharing;
  • improved access to business experts;
  • reduced communications, travel and operational costs;
  • decreased time to market; and
  • improved employee satisfaction.
  • Other positive effects included bringing new hires up to speed faster, and better forecasting, problem-solving and customer service.

    Finally, executives said the tools helped "connect the dots."

    That may be the most intangible element, and perhaps the most crucial. Like the answer to the old quandary of "how do you know what you don't know," Enterprise 2.0 could be an effective way of bridging the gap between tacit and explicit knowledge; it's not a precise science, and that might be why it raises hackles among so many smart and rational people.

    Why spend resources on tools that don't have measurable ROI? Maybe because even things we haven't learned how to measure yet are vital to an organization's success, and maybe those are the tools that get you there.

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