January 20, 2021
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From Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 to Management 2.0

  • By Marcia Gulesian
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There is a new wave of communication tools, including blogs, wikis, and group messaging software (which, collectively, are called "Enterprise 2.0" within the enterprise and "Web 2.0" elsewhere) that allow for more spontaneous, knowledge-based collaboration. These new tools may well supplant other communication and knowledge management systems with their superior ability to capture tacit knowledge, best practices, and relevant experiences from throughout a company and make them readily available to more users. Only time will tell. (See References 1-5.)

In many ways, Enterprise 2.0 software is following the path already blazed by personal computing hardware. Personal computers diffused through the market back in the seventies and eighties, replacing legions of mainframes and mini-computers. This change empowered users and small company departments to purchase their own cheap machines, without the knowledge or approval of the IT "priesthood." Although painful for IT at the time, this diffusion of technology wrought the personal computer revolution.

Enterprise 2.0 software places tremendous software and communications power into the hands of distributed users, who cannot easily be controlled by centralized IT policies. As Enterprise 2.0 tools evolve, IT governance and your notions of project failure must evolve as well.

The resulting organizational communication patterns can lead to highly productive and highly collaborative environments by making both the practices of knowledge work and its outputs more visible.

To implement these new technologies, organizations must do the following:

  1. Create a receptive culture to prepare the way for new practices.
  2. Create a common platform to allow for a collaboration infrastructure.
  3. Plan an informal rollout of the technologies rather than a more formal procedural change.
  4. Secure managerial support and leadership.

Even when implanted and implemented well, these new technologies will certainly bring with them new challenges. These tools may well reduce management's ability to exert unilateral control and to express some level of negativity. Whether a company's leaders really want this to happen and will be able to resist the temptation to silence dissent is an open question. Leaders will have to play a delicate role if they want Enterprise 2.0 technologies to succeed.

Although Web 2.0 services have succeeded in luring millions of consumers, they haven't had much to offer the vast world of business. Until now. Slowly but surely they're scaling corporate walls.

For all its appeal to the young and the wired, Web 2.0 may end up making its greatest impact in business. And, that could usher in more changes in corporations, already in the throes of such tech-driven transformations as globalization and outsourcing. Indeed, what some are calling Enterprise 2.0 could flatten a raft of organizational boundaries—between managers and employees and between the company and its partners and customers.

Early signs of the shift abound. Walt Disney, investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, and scores of other companies use wikis, or group-editable web pages, to turbo-charge collaboration. Other firms are using social-networking services such as LinkedIn and Visible Path to dig up sales leads and hiring prospects from the collective contacts of colleagues. Corporate blogging is becoming nearly a cliché, as executives from Sun Microsystems chief executive Jonathan Schwartz to General Motors Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz post on their own blogs to communicate directly with customers.

On the other hand, in a Nov. 2 update to its corporate Code of Business Conduct, Whole Foods banned executives from participating in non-company blogs and chat rooms, except in connection with absolutely personal topics. Clearly, this was an extreme response to CEO John McKay's anonymous, negative chat room postings about competitor Wild Oats Markets, which led to an SEC investigation.

Click here for a larger image.

Figure 1: Enterprise 2.0, transforming how we share information and work together

There's a big cultural difference between the Web 2.0 people and the IT department.

More than that, information technology managers naturally don't want people using these services willy-nilly, because they're often not secure from hackers or rivals. See References 17 and 18 and Appendix C.

For one thing, companies are struggling to overcome problems with current online communications, whether it's email spam or the costs of maintaining company intranets that few employees use. So, they're now starting to experiment with a growing array of collaborative services, such as wikis. It doesn't hurt that many of these services are free.

Corporations also are balking at installing big, multimillion dollar software programs that can take years to roll out—and then aren't flexible enough to adapt to new business needs. They're clunky and awkward and don't encourage participation.

That's why companies are warming to the idea of opening their information-technology systems to do-it-yourselfers. This includes ways to do that with what are known as mash-ups, or combinations of simple Web 2.0 services with each other into a new service. The big advantage: They can be done very quickly with existing Web services.

Many (most?) of today's general managers believe that IT is some combination of the following:

  • Low-level: IT decisions can and should be made at relatively low levels in the organization. After all, what do senior executives know about the best router, or the most appropriate computer-aided design software?
  • Able to be delegated: Top managers are busy people, and would love to have one less thing to do. If there's no real downside to outsourcing IT decisions, why not do so?
  • Impenetrable: Many managers feel like they can't get past the jargon, and can't learn to 'speak IT.'
  • Overhyped: IT proponents have an enduring tendency to overpromise and underdeliver. After managers feel like they've been sold a technology bill of goods a few times, they stop listening to the sales pitch.

Until fairly recently, the profession of general management was actually not one of the ones deeply affected by technology. Prior to the mid 1990s, the footprint of most corporate IT—the sphere of direct influence for a piece of technology—was the single function or task. This made for a happy marriage between technology and knowledge workers such as engineers, scientists, and analysts because these workers stayed within a single function. But general managers, by definition, do not. They're responsible for orchestrating the work of multiple groups. So from their perspective, IT was actually delegable and low level.

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This article was originally published on December 20, 2007

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