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Venkatesh Rao
Venkatesh Rao
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Social Wars: The Enterprise Strikes Back

In the transition to Enterprise 2.0 capitalism, the incumbent provider of the 1.0 IT infrastructure generally wins with its bolt-on, all-in-one 2.0 offering.

Second of a three-part series. Click for Part I and Part III.

In part one of this series, I explored the transformation to Enterprise 2.0 collaboration and capitalism--in theory, at the level of the adoption and diffusion process. Now for the bad news: The script never gets followed.

The Enterprise 1.0 crowd inevitably strikes back through what seems to be an entirely rational process.

It begins when the radical on the periphery who's driving change by adopting free (often open source) versions of 2.0 tools first encounters the institutionalized part of the company's IT processes. The encounter has a predictable effect: The old paper-trails-and-committees model sneaks right back in. It's a case of second-guessing masquerading as rational due process.

Once the value of a given technology X has been proven by a wild periphery and a more legitimate dominoes phase, deep discomfort sets in. Can you really trust anecdotal evidence from random work groups? After all, they're not trained bureaucrats who see the big picture of corporate needs. And what about the fact that there was no RFP/RFQ process to ensure cost effectiveness?

Both Purchasing and IT have aligned worries: One is worried about costs, the other about support needs. On paper, this makes sense: The job of Purchasing is to get defined needs met at the lowest possible cost. The job of IT is to pick the solution that's easiest to manage (even if the nominal agenda is a high-minded "serve employees").

If this were an action movie, this is the point at which the FBI would step in and shove the local cops aside with an officious, "Thanks, but we're in charge now." And once the FBI decides to take over, this process can end only one way: badly.

Taming the Revolution

What do you think is going to happen once the second-guessing is underway?

The incumbent provider of the 1.0 IT infrastructure elements will generally win with its bolt-on, all-in-one 2.0 offering. Consider a simple example:

Suppose a "wild" blog has grown popular in a given corner of a company (marketing, say). It uses some random open source blogging platform, with a rag-tag group of volunteers contributing the design and content. A quick and dirty analysis shows that the blog generated a dozen leads, which led to one sale, as a result of 500 hours invested into it by the DIY rebels who started it. The local ROI for that very specific case is squarely in the "not significant enough to jump up and down with glee, not insignificant enough to ignore" zone.

The one data point is wide open to spin. Depending on who tells the story, the blog might grow into a movement that could save the company, or it might never amount to anything. But despite the lack of clear data, it's time for a strategic bet on blogging--mainly because competitors are betting on blogging, too. The ready-fire-aim CEO says, "Let's do this," and the CIO triggers the only process he/she knows: RFPs, RFQs, a study panel, and a recommendation.

Even though the move is a leap of faith, justification must be manufactured to make it seem like a reasoned move. So inconclusive data is hastily assembled into an after-the-fact paper trail, after the intent to "do something" has already been adopted.

As part of this drama, somebody says, "Oh, and maybe we should cc: those guys in marketing who had that one blog that started this ball rolling. Maybe have 'em sit in on some of the meetings." Everybody recognizes that the process of house training and co-opting the radicals must be triggered at the right time. They must be made complicit in whatever decisions are made to prevent future embarrassment. The radicals, long used to being ignored, are so flattered by the sudden attention and praise from former adversaries and the reasonable-sounding request to participate in an advisory process that they acquiesce. Refusal would seem childish and unprofessional.

There are no real resources or skills on board to do a meaningful study, so the collection of vendor-supplied whitepapers and case studies is strip-mined for raw material, and a semblance of an analysis is cobbled together as a PowerPoint deck, full of adult-sounding arguments about balancing competing concerns. And of course, 8 out of 10 times the value and ROI picture will remain completely fuzzy, but the cost side will become crystal clear: The incumbent can do it cheaper than anyone else.

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Deb Donston-Miller
Deb Donston-Miller,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/3/2011 | 9:43:42 AM
re: Social Wars: The Enterprise Strikes Back
I've seen this happen many a time (rogue website, rogue wiki, rogue social networking platform), and you've expressed very well how it usually goes with IT. I think things are starting to change, though, especially with social networking platforms. So much of it is out of IT's reach. That's not to say, however, that IT can't--and shouldn't--be part of the decision making from the early stages and a technology and best practices guide throughout the process. Looking forward to seeing Part 3 of your series!

Deb Donston-Miller
Contributing Editor, The BrainYard
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