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Enterprise 2.0 Reflections: We’re onto something BIG!

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. 

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • russ stalters June 20, 2007, 6:24 pm

    Thanks for the great insights from the conference. I wished I could have made it. Maybe next year. I just spoke at the Gilbane Confenernce on DC a couple of weeks ago and many of the analysts and speakers at the conference dismissed Enterprise 2.0 as just hyperbole.

    I think they are wrong. I agree with you.

  • Alec June 20, 2007, 6:37 pm

    Hi Russ! I think there is a certain amount of hyperbole at this stage, and it's likely unavoidable. We're probably going to go through a period where everyone tries to use the Enterprise 2.0 hammer for every problem, and along the way we'll learn some things. I think dismissing it, as the folks at Gilbane apparently did, is putting your head in the sand. These technologies are here to stay.

  • Frank Gilbane June 21, 2007, 4:07 am

    Hello Alec and Russ:

    The only session I participated in at our Washington conference was the opening panel, so I don't know what others might have said in other conference sessions. In case it was my remarks you are referring to, let me clarify. What I said was that the term "Web 2.0" was "irritating", and that while the technologies and concepts often meant to be included were useful and important, the attempt incorporate them all into a neat little buzzphrase is not very helpful to organizations trying to figure out how to build or buy modern web applications. I brought up "Enterprise 2.0" and said there was a lot of useful discussion around it, and attempted to recommend Andrew McAfee's blog but couldn't remembe his name at the time. We were the first conference I know of to cover enterprise blogs and wikis and RSS and have been covering them for 3 years, and our report published in March 2005 was certainly one of, if not the first, to talk about how enterprises were actually using these technologies. If you go to gilbane.com and also look around on our conference pages and blogs you will get a better idea of what we really think.

    I have also been at the Enterprise 2.0 conference (which we sponsor BTW) and it has been pretty good. At the risk of providing more evidence that I am somehow against newer technologies, check out the results of the facebook poll I conducted this week "Facebook Generation on Enterprise 2.0 Collaboration Technologies" at http://gilbane.com/blog/2007/06/facebook_generati…. Obviously this is only an informal poll, but hearing what 1000 Facebook users think is fascinating.

  • Alec June 21, 2007, 4:40 am

    Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the clarification. I've been doing the same thing as you, running informal Facebook polls to see what information I can gather. I am fairly convinced, at this point, that Facebook, IF THEY WANT TO, have a winner in Enterprise.


  • Ken July 3, 2007, 9:43 am

    One of the manufacturing guys over at Evolving Excellence came to similar conclusions about information overload while thinking about the bizarre regulatory/demand situation that created corn overproduction.


  • Alec July 3, 2007, 9:59 am

    Thanks Ken. That's a nice piece.

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