Don’t use Enterprise Web 2.0 to homogenise organisations (again)

Over at the Collaborage blog, Todd Stephens addresses some of the productivity related objections against using social computing within organisations – he gives good arguments against the following four issues:

  • Excessive Socializing;
  • Users Spending too Much Time;
  • Maintaining Duplicate Information; and
  • More Software to Learn.

I would add to Stephens‘ about argument against duplicate information objection, that while from a pure data or information management point of view duplication is seen as waste, from a knowledge point of view duplication is not necessarily seen as a problem. From the knowledge perspective duplication can be desirable and may reflect the natural social life of information or the process of innovation taking place in an organisation. This is particularly true in large enterprises.

Think about the similar arguments presented by Mohanbir Sawhney in his HBR article, Don’t Homogenize, Synchronize:

CEOs start to urge—even force—people from different units to work together, setting up all manner of cross-functional and cross-business task forces and teams. They seek to establish companywide processes, to create a single “customer-focused” culture, and to impose uniform performance-measurement and compensation systems. Such moves sound rational—in theory. But in reality, attempts to erase organizational boundaries can be destructive. Different business units have different strategic and product imperatives, and different functions rely on different kinds of employees with different skills and ways of working. Imposing uniformity can blur the organization’s focus on product and functional excellence. By trying to optimize cooperation across units, executives end up lowering the performance of each unit.

There’s a better way. Rather than tear down organizational walls, you can make them permeable to information. You can synchronize all your company’s data on products, filtering it through linked databases and applications and delivering it in a coordinated, meaningful form to customers. As a result, you can present a single, unified face to the customer—a face that can change as market conditions warrant—without imposing organizational homogeneity on your people. Such synchronization can lead not just to stronger customer relationships and hence more sales but also to greater operational efficiency. It allows a company, for example, to avoid the high costs of maintaining many different information systems with redundant data.

I’ve always like his points about making organisational walls “permeable to information” and of course the general point about not “imposing organisational homogeneity”.

Also, on the issue of learning new software I think one of the challenges for champions driving the adoption of enterprise social software is to keep it simple – there is always the risk that once we introduce social software inside the firewall it will mutate from liteware to bloatware. The lower learning overhead of Web 2.0 and social software tools can be easily lost if forget the Web 2.0 mantra of small pieces, loosely tied.

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