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The eye of the storm: managing Enterprise 2.0

I enjoyed reading Oliver Marks’ piece “Demilitarizing Collaboration: Designing Rules of Engagement” in ZDNET, where he defines the state of play for collaborational technology in the enterprise as a Demilatrized Zone above and beyond the siloed potential warzone that surrounds it.

There are five areas of tension in the argument:

1) Oliver argues that a level playing ground is needed to protect and keep vibrant the collaborative community. However, due to the stakes at play, Enterprise 2.0 can be the maelstrom and centre for political power play and control. This is rarely level.

2) The technology of 2.0 is in constant flux, and as example, smart mobile technologies will transform the space.

3) The Business is in flux too. Depending on the sector this will be at varying speeds, but nonetheless the Business will change and 2.0 will accelerate this change. 2.0 operations need if not quite at the centre of this activity, needs at least a clear line of sight to the business strategy to maintain relevance and cohesion.

4) Although the core collaboration is inside the firewall, the firewall is regularly crossed in terms of cross-enterprise and team collaborations – e-mail, web 2.0, chattering clients, TV, the meeting.

5) People will change, not only in terms of churn, but also the roles and expertise will change as all the factors listed above come into play.

In what Oliver calls the brutal world of running a 2.0 DMZ it’s essential to ensure that:

Longer term strategic needs for a scalable, coherent collaborative backbone which connects silos and units on top of existing BI and associated infrastructure is tough in a world of quarterly results targets, and where staffing may completely change over time.

So how do we achieve this? In some way the argument calls for something above and beyond yet within and part of the business fabric. The nearest concept I can think of is some sort of Habermas type Public Sphere.

For Habermas the Public Sphere is an essential part of democratic society (he draws heavily on Hannah Arendt’s working on the Ancient Greek Polis) and is a space that exists for politics and discussion and is not subsumed in business or personal life. But here of course we are talking about Business and nothing but Business.

Maybe there’s something here to be learned from Corporate Social Responsibility. This is maybe a Cultural issue for the business, which can no more transcend the drive for profit than it can the market which defines it, (there being no such thing as a free luncheon after all….)

The question then comes down to this, how to be both part of and above the storm? Oliver almost calls for priests or at best non-partisan civil servants to manage the collaboration.:

Weaving collaborative workflow intents into the way you want staff to work over time is essential to realize the relevancy and power of collaborative 2.0 technologies without exposing the people tasked to run it to the realities of business political border disputes and fault lines.

The problem here though, is this role doesn’t seem to match those evangelizing in the enterprise today…For the tales I hear, the ones I have seen, means working and evangelizing on precisely those fault lines and around those disputes. Of that there seems little escape.

“Demilitarizing Collaboration: Designing Rules of Engagement” ZDNET
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere” Wikipedia, so take it with a large pinch of salt.

Enterprise 2.0 Featured Articles

Thoughts from a social software practitioner

For a project I was asked what I thought about the impact of social software and employee communications. I quite enjoyed jotting down my ideas in less than 400 words and so I’d like to share them with you.

For over 15 years I have been working with social technologies, back in the days when they were called ‘computer mediated communications’. Whilst I am one of those people who think that they are having a strong transformative effect on the way we do business, collaborate and communicate, we need to be mindful that these are just technologies. It is after all people who make businesses happen and the computer that can actually communicate, has yet to be invented.

Nonetheless, I think we can see businesses being transformed by social technologies. I have both seen and been actively engaged in this process in EU sponsored pan-European projects and in high-tech blue chip and in a mainstream British company. In these roles, I have successfully used the full raft of social technologies, Wikis, Forums, Blogs, Polls, RSS, Tagging, Video, Mobile (and more) to communicate with staff.

On a broader perspective are now starting to see case studies coming though showing the social/business impact and in small but growing measures, hard ROI. The key areas I think we are seeing business change taking place in are in the ability to collaborate more effectively across organisational boundaries, timezones and geographies. This collaboration is both innovative of itself, but also fosters and encourages innovation in the enterprise. One of the reasons for this is that social software can connect people and their ideas both quickly and across the boundaries, but also in new and unexpected ways. Experts can be located, ideas and information surfaced new synergies and alliances created.

One of the most interesting aspects of these technologies is that they are both productive and fun. BT for example are talking about a 20:1 ROI on their social intranet and UBM talk of big savings in their procurement teams. Vendors such as Jive and Microsoft (I used both) also talk about the fun element and how work is made more social by these technologies. This is a key aspect and is also a major factor in an E.20 project’s success.

In sum, the transformation is one that makes businesses more productive and better places to work in, increasing profits but also employee engagement and satisfaction. There is a potential here for something quite different to emerge from the process. Quite what that will be is uncertain, but I enjoy being one of the people making it happen.

Russell Pearson, June 2010