Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Let's Get Real about Enterprise Web 2.0

Let's Get Real about Enterprise Web 2.0

By Dennis D. McDonald

As I talk with friends, prospects, and clients, and as I cruise the blogosphere, it’s beginning to look like some sanity is emerging into the world of “enterprise web 2.0.”

By “sanity” I mean that the hype and evangelism may be subsiding to a dull roar. Both successes and failures – and realities - associated with corporate adoption of collaborative and social networking technologies are beginning to see the light of day.

For some time now the airwaves have been dominated by a lot of hype. Assumptions were made about how quickly public web success stories like relationship-enabled services MySpace, FaceBook, and Flickr would infiltrate corporations. This was to be fueled by technology-savvy young hires and by functionality-rich web-delivered services. This combination was to simultaneously speed adoption while reducing the need to build, maintain, and support new IT infrastructure.

In many cases, though, the “enterprise web 2.0” wave has crashed against a highly resistant shoreline with resistance coming in several forms, including competition from entrenched (and paid for) technologies, and also from managers concerned about the incompatibility between a free and wheeling “web 2.0” culture with traditional siloed corporate cultures.

Concerns are also being raised about system integration realities and some of the insecure data security practices being implemented within newer applications, points made by SAIC’s Hart Rossman at the recent New New Internet Conference in Northern Virginia.

What we’re seeing, I think, is that people are “getting real” about how much change in culture and behavior is actually required by some of the new tools. We’re also seeing the re-emergence of a hoary old marketing concept: Market Segmentation. In other words, different groups adopt different products and services for different reasons and at different speeds.

Some of the people who realize this most are the consultants and product salespeople who are on the front lines selling and supporting this stuff so they can pay their mortgages.

So for a variety of reasons folks are starting to become more open about the realities of the enterprise web 2.0 marketplace. That’s a good thing since I see collaborative and relationship management technologies as key ingredients in the enhancement of innovation, competitiveness, and reduced cycle times.

An example of this emerging “web 2.0 reality” is the recent post by Harvard’s Andrew McAfee where he discusses similar thoughts based on some candid discussion during a recent conference session he chaired. He discusses the possibility, for example, that the new technologies might become “niche technologies” quite unlike the public acceptance they have received in the open market.

I do think that we short change the potential for benefits from enterprise web 2.0 technologies if we focus only on “knowledge workers.” While I admit that knowledge workers, especially the technology-savvy ones, do tend to be early adopters of technologies such as RSS, tagging, and bookmark sharing, the reality is more complex. As I have discussed elsewhere:

  1. Not all knowledge workers are motivated to collaborate.
  2. Not all corporate workers are knowledge workers.
  3. You don’t have to be a knowledge worker to understand the value of collaboration.

Perhaps these three points in mind will help us to develop and implement even better “enterprise web 2.0” products and services than those that are currently available.

Update on 2006-10-19 20:08 by Dennis D. McDonald

Here is a relevant comment that I posted on Professor McAfee's blog cited above:

Having conducted my own research over the past year on the issue of Web 2.0 adoption in the enterprise I’m no longer surprised at the mixed response various Web 2.0 tools and techniques are getting. The situations of resistance that Rod Boothby describes are not unusual. I also think it is more likely that indifference will be encountered than outright resistance.

No one should be surprised by this. Web 2.0 covers a variety of technological, process, and cultural changes. It’s a complex area requiring an understanding of different marketing and adoptions strategies targeted at different market segments and different “communities of practice.” Given this complexity it’s not surprising that the research methods being applied in studying Web 2.0 are more akin to clinical reporting and case studies than controlled experiments; there are just too many variables to control. Marketplace adoption is where truth will be told, and the jury is still out.

A telling point will be how hard Microsoft pushes the various collaborative and social networking oriented products it is developing and testing in parallel with Sharepoint Server 2007. I was surprised to hear at the New New Internet Conference in Northern Virginia (where Professor McAfee spoke, among others) that internally Microsoft is referring to Knowledge Network and related products as “edge” products, a term developed by Microsoft’s marketing team in reference to the complex nature of the adoption process for these new products.

Microsoft may believe that adoption of new collaborative and social networking oriented tools is going to take a very long time. Whatever you think of Microsoft’s technology and business strategy, internally they themselves have adopted collaborative tools quite aggressively. Whether or not Microsoft believes that such tools will have a big market and rapid adoption among corporate users, where “knowledge management” is less of a focus than getting “business as usual” done, is still an open question.

Copyright (c) 2006 by Dennis D. McDonald


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