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Enterprise 2.0: Corporations Start Collaborating

Keynoter Tammy Erickson of nGenera warns that as organizations get more social, they'll face structural challenges.

In her keynote speech at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Tammy Erickson, president of nGenera Innovation Network, an enterprise software company, said that 2009 will prove to be the year that organizations finally pay serious attention to the movement toward social, collaborative software.

That movement -- referred to in a corporate context as Enterprise 2.0 and in the broader Internet context as Web 2.0 -- "is going to substantially change how work gets done in our organizations," Erickson said.

Just as the telex machine allowed corporations to locate their headquarters in urban areas, away from manufacturing facilities, and automobiles gave rise to the suburban lifestyle, Erickson argued, Internet-based collaboration and social networking tools will support the emergence of alternatives to the traditional, hierarchical management structure.

But it won't be easy, she added.

"The organizations of today are perfectly designed to meet the challenge of the 20th century," she said. "They're not right for what we're doing today."

To successfully integrate Enterprise 2.0 technology requires re-thinking or re-engineering corporate management practices.

"There are a series of deeply embedded assumptions about how people work together in organizations that we need to surface, confront, and address to be able to use the technology well today," she said.

Erickson said that the old corporate bargain, in which companies expect employee loyalty in exchange for protection and personal care has broken down. Workers know, she said, that loyalty is no protection against being laid off. And yet, no workable equation has yet replaced the old model.

"We need to begin to think about shifting cultures, moving toward a performance-based culture," she said, calling it a "plug-in and pay" model.

And yet, institutional traditions discourage the emergence of the open Enterprise 2.0 workplace, where agile, ad hoc teams share information and move from project to project.

"Almost all of our corporate etiquette and unwritten rules actually discourage collaborative behavior," she said.

"The management challenge today is engaging, it's one of encouraging you to want to use the technology, to want to collaborate, to want to share the very best of yourself with the organizations with which you're affiliated," she said.

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