The Air Canada lounge at Logan airport is a regrettably grubby little hole. It's not the sort of place one wants to spend long periods of time in. Still, as I sit here, stuffed full of expensive flavorless "cobb salad", it gives me an opportunity to reflect a little on what I've learned at the Enterprise 2.0 conference these last few days.
First, business recognizes that knowledge (and indeed business itself) is social. The predominant focus of this conference was on social media. Whether that manifested itself in discussion of social knowledge management tools like wiki's and blogs, or social networking tools provided by IBM, Microsoft and countless other small startups, or collaboration and sharing tools, the belief system in enterprise has shifted dramatically in the last 24 months. Information is for sharing, not hording. Groups are smarter than individuals. And paradoxically, the problem of information overload is solved by… more information.
On my way here, I chatted with my good friend Tom Howe in the cab. He asked what did I learn? I answered that two weeks ago I had observed that business is social — that we socialize in business all the time, but for different reasons than we socialize personally. I thought that was a pretty profound observation, personally, since social networks (for example) are usually niched as consumer items. But then, I said to Tom, my "grand insight" turned out to be not very original at all, as I observed at least a half dozen startups building Facebook-like products for enterprise, as well as IBM and Microsoft.
Second, the culture of business is changing dramatically. For instance, 95% of Microsoft employees use "personal profile" pages online, which perform substantially the same function as a Facebook application, but with a business focus. It lets everyone know your background, education, what you're working on, and most importantly, who you know in the organization. Need to find an expert? Forget the corporate directory. Consult your network. Need a question answered? Consult your network. And so on… the hierarchical command and control structure of enterprise has been under attack for some time, but never before have the core IT assets that run the entire industry been so widely ignored.
Third, the business of being an enterprise solution provider just got a lot harder. Over and over we heard repeated that the young bring their own networks and applications to business. And because these are mostly web based applications, not much can be done to contain them. Within a short period of time, we should expect millions upon millions of GMail, facebook, and Skype users within every enterprise globally. The conference even ran a well attended panel on Skype as a platform for business!
Speaker Don Tapscott (one of the best at the show) characterizes the shift in business processes and culture as one of the most profound in the history of business. He says:
Today people cannot only socially gather, they can socially produce. Peers outside the boundaries of corporations or corporations acting as peers or peers within the boundaries of a hierarchy can collaborate across boundaries.
Business is social. The customers own the business, not the shareholders. Knowledge is collaborative, multiplicative and shared. And we've only just gotten started.