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Enterprise 2.0: Making the Business Case

The Enterprise 2.0 movement gets an "A" for awareness and technology development, but a "C" for communicating business benefits. This report card, offered today by Harvard Business School professor and keynote speaker Andrew McAfee, sums up the mix of enthusiasm and hunger for practical applications in evidence here at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston.
The Enterprise 2.0 movement gets an "A" for awareness and technology development, but a sorry "C" for communicating business benefits and results. This report card, offered today by Harvard Business School professor and keynote speaker Andrew McAfee, sums up the mix of enthusiasm and hunger for practical applications in evidence here at this week's Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston.In case you're not aware, the term "Enterprise 2.0" encapsulates the idea that mainstream Web 2.0 technologies (blogs, wikis, bookmarking, rss, etc.) and Web 2.0 philosophies (like giving users control over content and collaboration) can be adopted by businesses to drive competitive advantage. It also extends to the trends toward rich Internet application development, mashups and a fundamental shift in which bits and pieces of applications, entire applications and information sources can come from outside the organization.

The nearly 1,000 attendees here are certainly aware of the 2.0 buzz/hype and there are more than 60 exhibitors here (ranging from IBM, Cisco and SAP to little-known startups), but the "storehouse of war stories, benchmarks and case studies needs to expand dramatically," said McAfee. "There's a danger in reaching back to the same half dozen examples, and I also hope we don't fall into the trap of coming up with unbelievable ROI claims."

Fortunately, a few of today's presentations delivered real-world examples of Enterprise 2.0 in action. A presentation detailing a ten-year collaboration initiative at AB Volvo. made the point that you can't just provide tools, you also have to develop and promote collaboration methods and best practices. The company now shares product and process research, metrics and best practices across business units as well as geographic boundaries. "Before everything was done in an isolated way within individual business units, but now what we learn is applied enterprisewide so we can save money," said Volvo's Carole Boudinet.

Enterprise 2.0 tools and approaches are particularly useful for highly distributed organizations, said presenter Sujatha Bodapati, president of software developer ProdexNet. With headquarters in California, development in India and customers located all over the world, the company has learned to use a combination of e-mail (for HR and customer communications that need to be retrievable and auditable), message boards (for technical collaboration among engineers), wikis (for product and service documentation), and online chat (for quick clarifications and real-time collaboration).

One of ProdexNet's current development projects has been in process for more than 19 months - successfully, according to Bodapati - without a single face-to-face meeting between the customer and project managers and developers at ProdexNet.

"There are many challenges in doing distributed collaboration, such as time zone differences and cultural differences, but we've learn to adapt the technologies to our processes to make it easier," said Bodapati. She advises global firms to be flexible about work hours, to schedule regular meetings and to use VOIP phone service to bridge communication gaps and ease the transition to newer collaborative tools.

I'll have more on case studies on Northwestern Mutual, Shore Bank and Specialized Bicycles in a future blog, but suffice it to say I came away from today's proceedings sensing a bit of substance behind the Enterprise 2.0 hype.The Enterprise 2.0 movement gets an "A" for awareness and technology development, but a "C" for communicating business benefits. This report card, offered today by Harvard Business School professor and keynote speaker Andrew McAfee, sums up the mix of enthusiasm and hunger for practical applications in evidence here at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston.