Enterprise Web 2.0 vs. Groupware

The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

InformationWeek Staff, Contributor

October 16, 2006

4 Min Read

If it works on the Internet it must work in the enterprise, right? This is what many proponents of Web 2.0 technologies will tell you: Since blogs are overwhelmingly popular on the Internet, they will obviously work on a corporate intranet. In addition, the growth of wikis (Wikipedia, in particular), the interesting mashups that are occurring, and the growing number of services using tags for organizing information clearly show why previous efforts with collaborative technologies did not work and why Web 2.0 technologies will work.

To be honest, I would like to believe this too. I, like many of you, would love to see Web 2.0 take off in my company. Why not? Clearly this is a way to get everyone communicating and sharing experiences and knowledge like never before. There's only one problem: Those pesky corporate workers say they are too busy working they don't have time to change.

Don't believe me? Do you think Web 2.0 technologies are so wonderful we simply have to put them out there and they will be lovingly adopted by corporate workers looking for salvation from their communication conundrums? Do you also believe that web 2.0 technologies will change a company's culture just because they are so easy to use?

Well, that hasn't been my experience with other collaborative technologies (I guess you could say my experience is with groupware, but that term is almost as ambiguous as Web 2.0). And, it is also not what Andrew McAfee said happened at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. In a recent Interop keynote address McAfee relayed a story about an interview with DrKW and their deployment of Socialtext wikis and blogs. In that interview he discovered that blogs and wikis were not immediately adopted by employees (although, I would bet there were some groups that did just that). Instead, McAfee said the DrKW Director told him "It's been a long process for me to encourage my team to use this tool and to migrate their collaboration patterns from email" and when you scale down the level of participation in Wikipedia "to enterprise size you have exactly nobody doing anything with these tools."

This story more closely aligns with my experiences. Perhaps a certain segment of employees embrace it, but to be truly successful and pervasively used throughout a company much more is required, like a senior manager changing expectations of behavior and driving the change through the organization as a standard practice. I expect most anyone experienced with deploying collaborative technologies, Web 2.0 or otherwise, would say the same thing. Failed implementations are often not technology problems.

Web 2.0 evangelists like to say these technologies put the user at the center. Yet, most of them fall into the same trap as many other collaborative technologies' marketing campaigns; they only talk about technology. However, earlier this year Socialtext released a fabulous paper entitled "An Adoption Strategy for Social Software in the Enterprise". The insights offered here are fantastic; identify, understand, and support key users, grass-root adoption coupled with top-down support, etc. However, I didn't read anything in this guide that said these strategies only work for Web 2.0. I argue these strategies apply to nearly all enterprise collaborative technologies and strongly suggest this as recommended reading for any intranet strategist.

Last week Michael Sampson posted a detailed article in response to Andrew McAfee's "9X Email Problem". In it, Sampson questions the need for "emergence" in an enterprise and highlights the similarities in challenges between groupware and Enterprise 2.0 technologies. At one point Sampson says: "'groupware' and 'Enterprise 2.0' in my view are more similar than disparate in what the respective technologies' clusters offer" and one of his conclusion is: "The collaboration-fostering capabilities of Enterprise 2.0 are nothing new. Such capabilities have been around for over a decade, under various product names and genres."

I agree with Sampson and tend to think of Web 2.0 and groupware technologies as being different points on the same collaborative technology continuum. In my opinion the growth of Web 2.0 technologies on the public Internet benefits enterprise collaborative technologies by building awareness and end-user familiarity. Although Web 2.0 technologies point out the need for innovative capabilities such as self-service, lightweight access to information, and others they are not necessarily the first to apply them.

I think it is easy to get caught up with a new technology, or new trend, and dismiss anything that came before it as "legacy", too structured, or whatever other criticism you can apply. However, Michael Sampson nails it when he says "Flatly dismissing what went before in favor of the new-new thing is unwise for those in organizations who are tasked with making intelligent decisions about how to help knowledge workers do their stuff well."

Never Miss a Beat: Get a snapshot of the issues affecting the IT industry straight to your inbox.

You May Also Like

More Insights