The nonsense of Enterprise 2.0

Its been interesting to read some of the blog posts that have come across my radar during the last few weeks about Enterprise 2.0. The ZDnet bloggers in particular have been busy here (and my own response), here (actually a guest post by Sameer Patel), but even Andrew McAfee jumped in to respond to some earlier posts by others, including my own.

Another ZDnet blogger, Dennis Howlett, also threw a curve ball with his Enterprise 2.0 is crock post. Howlett challenges the whole Enterprise 2.0 idea and concludes:

Like it or not, large enterprises – the big name brands – have to work in structures and hierarchies that most E2.0 mavens ridicule but can’t come up with alternatives that make any sort of corporate sense. Therein lies the Big Lie. Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes that you can upend hierarchies for the benefit of all. Yet none of that thinking has a credible use case you can generalize back to business types – except: knowledge based businesses such as legal, accounting, architects etc. Even then – where are the use cases? I’d like to know. In the meantime, don’t be surprised by the ‘fail’ lists that Mike Krigsman will undoubtedly trot out – that’s easy.

In the meantime, can someone explain to me the problem Enterprise 2.0 is trying to solve?

I said at the time via Twitter that his post reminded me of the infamous nonsense of ‘knowledge management’ paper, which concluded:

The inescapable conclusion of this analysis of the ‘knowledge management’ idea is that it is, in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies, and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads. It rests on two foundations: the management of information – where a large part of the fad exists (and where the ‘search and replace marketing’ phenomenon is found), and the effective management of work practices. However, these latter practices are predicated upon a Utopian idea of organizational culture in which the benefits of information exchange are shared by all, where individuals are given autonomy in the development of their expertise, and where ‘communities’ within the organization can determine how that expertise will be used.

The nonsense paper was interesting because it helped to reveal some truth about why information management projects dressed up as knowledge management often failed to live up to expectations, but ultimately is was also a disappointment because it did nothing to explain how to respond to the latent need that information management was not meeting. Similarly there is a lot of truth to Howlett’s call for Enterprise 2.0 to step up and come clean, but on the other hand I think he is mistaken in thinking that Enterprise 2.0 is a solution looking for a problem.

There are plenty examples of companies using Web 2.0 inside their companies without any of the ‘social’ aspects – for example, a legal firm in Australia created a mashup called PeopleFinder that helps to reduce the number of calls to voicemail and shipping company Wallem saves money on fuel costs using Enterprise RSS as part of a system for communicating with their ships. While this probably isn’t what most people think of as Enterprise 2.0, it does demonstrate that Web 2.0 technology has real benefits once you work out how to apply it to business problems. Some companies are also simply using open source social computing tools as a cheaper alternative to proprietary content management software.

I don’t agree either that Enterprise 2.0 pre-supposes anything about organisational change. This assumes, incorrectly, that management hierarchies are the only reason for poor information flow in an organisation. It also assumes a strict choice between a free form or a structured information system. This doesn’t mean that existing management mindsets that have a basis in controlling information or information systems won’t be challenged, but we shouldn’t assume this is always the case either. This actually takes me to the point – and some people might be disappointed to hear me to say it – that the use cases for Enterprise 2.0 are no different from the use cases that intranets, document management systems, e-learning environments and collaboration tools have been trying to solve satisfactorily for years.

However, the most important feature of Enterprise 2.0 that many people still don’t get is the concept of emergence. Emergence isn’t about creating social chaos inside organisations. Instead its about taking an abundance approach to IT using Web 2.0 technology that allow users to create their own solutions with few constraints or penalties for wastage. And this is why Howlett gets it all wrong. As faddish as it sounds, Enterprise 2.0 isn’t a solution – it actually describes an IT paradigm shift.

Small Pieces, loosely funded – my #publicsphere 3 slides

There are a lot of pictures, so I’ll post some notes later.

This is very brief summary of key points, based on my presentation notes:


Slide 2: Global competition:

  • There are positives and negatives.
  • I told a story about visiting CeBIT in Germany in 2005.
  • However, consider Australia’s Olympic record – we rank 11th in the world total medal count, but are the 232nd most densely populated country on the planet.
  • So how should we we compete in a global Web 2.0 industry? For a start, we have to accept that this is *NOT* Sillicon Valley.

Slide 3: “1.3 million downloads @ $1 each”

  • This refers to Firemint’s successful Flight Control Game for the iPhone.
  • It easy to dismiss Web 2.0’s value – but do the math! The FIremint examples shows there is room for Australia to compete.
  • Web 2.0 is creating new business models. Built on ideas, bits.

Slide 4: The Web 2.0 industry is *different*

  • This picture is from BarCampSydney5
  • BarCamp, Hackfests, OpenSource – the industry has its own rules and culture, enabled in part by the technology itself.
  • The industry has a low barrier to entry, but it can be hard to be successful – think of “superstar” companies and the Long Tail.

Slide 5: Mismatch!

  • Government likes big funding models (no issue with that) – e.g. NICTA, CSIRO, Unis, CRCs, etc – and typically offer support on the basis of $1 for $1 funding or 3-way consortiums.
  • There is a risk that this can create a dependency economy for business, but I don’t believe the Web 2.0 industry is begging for handouts.
  • Major mismatch between government and the Web 2.0 industry – process of gaining funding is too slow, its the wrong funding models anyway and most importantly they have very different cultures!

Slide 6: Recommendation #1: Open Innovation

  • Example of TJam – Tesco’s shopping cart API. Held a design session with developers and customers in August.
  • Government needs to start seeding innovation and proving in-kind support
  • We can still make the process transparent (Gov 2.0).

Slide 7: Recommendation #2: Adopt Government 2.0

  • Talked about the CityRail and iPhone app example.
  • Government could actually help to directly seed opportunities without the need for direct funding – this will help drive innovation and allow local companies to gain real world experience, with real world applications.
  • This could actually increase the participation of government in the Web 2.0 community

Slide 8: Recommendation #3: Support the Web 2.0 community

  • I look at the community with a knowledge management perspective (as I do the ICT Illawarra cluster).
  • We need to support the “Gardening” of this community
  • This gardening would help with succession planning, increase its national effectiveness – not just Sydney, but states and regions, and also globally.
  • We *don’t* just need big stands at CeBIT

Slide 9: Summary 

  • What about measurement? I suggest we look at the network value not each project/initiative.
  • What about value for money? The amount of funding that would help nurture the Web 2.0 industry could be so small (relatively speaking) that we should just do it.

One from Sphere to another

This is a busy next few week for events. I haven’t blogged about the LGWebNetwork conference that I attended last week yet either (it was great!) or the Government 2.0 Roadshow (not so great), but I’ll hopefully get to those later in the week.

I also have the following coming up:

I don’t think there are any tickets left for Public Sphere #3, however there is still time to register for NSW Sphere – you need to register separately for the main event and the Us Now screening if you plan to attend both.

I think I might be presenting at the NSW KM Forum in October at part of a session on Knowledge Management and SharePoint, but I’m still waiting for details to come through.

Is anything else I’ve missed? 

14 Reasons Why Enterprise 2.0 Projects Fail versus 4 Rules of Thumb


Well known for his thoughtful analysis (and pretty diagrams) about the two dot oh domain, Dion Hinchcliffe has proposed 14 reasons why Enterprise 2.0 projects fail:

  1. It starts strong in a single department and then never makes it out;
  2. Selecting the tools first;
  3. Selecting the wrong tools and sticking with them;
  4. There are no resources allocated to adoption and training;
  5. It’s purely an IT initiative;
  6. The effort excludes IT;
  7. Engaging with HR, legal, branding, compliance, etc. too soon;
  8. Pushing Enterprise 2.0 as a generic toolbox instead of the solution to specific problems;
  9. Lack of effective executive champions;
  10. Lack of effective participants: Empty blogs, wikis, or silent social networks;
  11. No long term plan or budget for governance, community management, upgrades, or maintenance;
  12. Failure to draw in key influencers as adoption broadens;
  13. Building it all as a self-contained, top-down effort; and
  14. Not waiting long enough to let critical mass build.

I’ve read through this list a few times now, trying to tease out some new or special factor that is specific to Enterprise 2.0 projects, but I just can’t see it. While these issues might be considered uncommon in certain types of IT projects, they are very common in projects that affect the areas of individual work practices that people have discretion over. We have seen these problems for years – but now the label has changed from “knowledge management” or “collaboration” to “Enterprise 2.0”.

Unfortunately many companies have a bad track record in how they have introduced groupware and collaboration tools in the past – social computing technology alone is unlikely to change that (and hence the Enterprise 2.0 technology and culture debate, although its more than just culture too).

I looked at Social Software back in 2005 for a NSW KM Forum presentation and commented then on the difference between old groupware and collaboration solutions with social software (see slide 6). I think it is important to consider what has changed:

  • The technologies of Enterprise 2.0 exhibit different characteristics from those we had in the past; and
  • In addition, there is growing population of workers who are familiar with these technologies based on their experiences of using the Web.

If we understand this, then we have a chance to avoid past mistakes. In my view there are four key rules of thumb for avoiding Enterprise 2.0 project failure:

  • Use real social computing platforms – because they are more cost effective, offer flexibility, have ‘social’ built-in, and are user-driven;
  • Take an abundance approach to the technology – the traditional model of IT is a scarcity mindset that tries to avoid wastage (failure is a wastage), but an abundance approach will allow you to grow organically and support experimentation.
  • Put the ‘users’ in the driving seat – this really is the point of Enterprise 2.0 and if you have already followed the first two rules of thumb, you should have the tools that let you do this.
  • Tap into your pool of early adopters – getting momentum quickly is always important, but you can use the fact that some people in your organisation may already be ‘Enterprise 2.0 ready’.

Mix these up with Dion’s list and we might start to get somewhere with understanding why Enterprise 2.0 projects might fail.

Is McAfee’s definition of Enterprise 2.0 flawed?

McAfee’s definition of Enterprise 2.0 is flawed. It is missing what made the social web to the social web – the people, not the technology.

I’m not sure this is entirely true, however it may be that the term coined by McAfee doesn’t reflect how people want to use it or where they want to place emphasis. For example, in McAfee’s 2006 paper he does say:

These new digital platforms for generating, sharing and refining information are already popular on the Internet, where they’re collectively labeled “Web 2.0” technologies. I use the term “Enterprise 2.0”to focus only on those platforms that companies can buy or build in order to make visible the practices and outputs of their knowledge workers.

I think that depending on the organisation, the organisational change related to Enterprise 2.0 is really either a reflection of the latent demand (“we need better tools!”) or a disruption of existing industrial era hierarchical information flows (“Information is power!”). At the time McAfee warned us about the latter, but didn’t really explore the demand side of the former.

However, its important to remember that McAfee placed Enterprise 2.0 in the context of improving the productivity of knowledge workers in the light of the failure of the previous generation of collaboration, information management and knowledge management tools (rather than organisational change because of some external driver). In a way I see McAfee’s work as an extension of Tom Davenports ideas about Human-Centered Information Management from way back in 1994. The people are there, because people and the social web are really at the centre of the information systems we create – so lets give them tools that reflect that.

However, recasting Enterprise 2.0 as something that is just about people and organisational change is a different matter entirely. I have no problem with the subject matter, but I do wonder where the plain old discourse on the topic of “management” in our digital era ends and the buzz word of “Enterprise 2.0” begins. If instead we remove out expectations of McAfee and re-frame this discussion as a management issue it does serve as a reminder that this stuff is complex – the technology, organisational and people elements are related, not separate – and one size will never fit all.

Tom Worthington’s advice to the Government 2.0 Task Force

My initial advice to the task force was that one of the major lessons of the we and Internet to government is that you have to actually do it to make it work. Also you need to look to the academics and the private sector to see how it can be done. The third is to makes use of the policy and rhetoric from the USA, UK and other government but not necessarily their implementation. I am not sure that the taskforce members at the meeting understood the point I was making.

I have to say that I agree with all of Tom’s points here. The only thing I might add is that they should look to the academics and private sector plus the non-profit sector to see how it can be done.

Set of video interviews from NICTA’s Techfest 2009


My complete set of seven video interviews from NICTA’s Techfest – from NICTA they feature: Dr Tiberio Caetano, Dr Renato Iannella (the “SPIN” project), Dr Ricky Robinson (the “Street” project) and Dr Bill Shui (mContext and tiniWiki). I also interviewed Stilgherrian, Andrew Devenish-Meares, Dheeraj Chowdhury about their impressions of Techfest.