Monday, September 22, 2008

Enterprise 2.0

I recently attended a workshop sponsored by the Chicago chapter of AIIM about Enterprise 2.0. The audience was a typical spread of IT professionals interested in document management, Image scanning and management, records management and of course consultants looking to make contacts. My team, we numbered 4, were first time attendees and were interested in getting ideas relating to our web content management applications.

Two presentations were given: Jim Vaselopulos (VP and Partner of PSC Group) focused on the human perspective in collaboration, a key aspect of Enterprise 2.0, and Andrew MacMillan (VP of Product Mgmt at Oracle ECM (formally Stellent)) was focused on its technology aspects. Both presentations were compelling: Jim's presentation brought the point home that Enterprise 2.0 technologies were focused on enabling collaboration among content stakeholders, Andrew's presentation talked about the evolving nature of technology through web 1.0 to web 1.5 and web 2.0 like technologies. After the presentations, they were joined by others in a panel discussion.

The first question on the tips of participants was 'what was Enterprise 2.0?' This was answered variously as Web 2.0 technologies applied to the enterprise, and enablement of more ad-hoc collaboration to manage content (the 'adhocracy' as Jim put it). Web 2.0 brings to the table technologies like blogs, wiki's, messaging and tagging ('tagonomy' and 'folksonomy' were entered into the lexicon). Other capabilities of Web 2.0 like 'mashups' were also mentioned. These Web 2.0 technologies are user directed evolve in an ad-hoc manner. This differs from older technology enablers that are more directed, such as workflows and taxonomies that are defined by business analysts and direct collaboration.

My take... So what is E20? E20 is Web 2.0 for the Enterprise. This soundbite will help explain it to curious management. To technologists, it is using Web 2.0 technologies like wiki's, blogs and mashups evolving in the Internet to web based business applications behind the firewall. For ECM, E20 is the addition of pure web based services and collaboration tools to enable user directed, ad-hoc collaboration and use.

The next obvious question of the group was 'what does E20 mean to me?' The group varied in their sophistication and technical backgrounds, but a rift became obvious. This rift was pointed out very succinctly by Jim Vaselopulos in his talk. As he defined it, there are 'digital immigrants' and 'digital natives'. Jim looked at the generation gap between those who were born with digital technologies and those who were introduced to it much later. Their sensibilities were different. The 'digital native's' acceptance (and demand) for truly self controlled digital collaboration far exceeded the 'digital immigrant's' desire and tolerance for the same. From a generation's perspective, baby boomer types look at technology as an addition to traditional communication and formality, necessarily organized in hierarchies. From the perspective of the 'millenniums' (born 1980 - present), technology enables 'flat' and immediate collaboration and informality.

So, from the above distinctions, users may adapt to E20 differently. A pure 'adhocracy' where users have complete freedom to structure information and collaboration may be perceived as a threat to formality of policy and hierarchical organizations. A wiki for instance is controlled by no one. Everyone is a contributor and a consumer. There is no formal structure, there is no formal control. It is subject to the whims of the users. To digital natives (typified by the 20 somethings) this isn't a problem, this is essential. To digital immigrants (the gray hairs), this is an out of control mess. How can you manage important business information this way and expect the information and its structure to just 'evolve?' Playing off of the generation gap isn't fair or accurate, but it does represent the problem in some way.

The room tended towards the 'gray hairs.' Most in the room came from IT where information management policies were more formal, and information organization existed in well structured taxonomies. For instance, introducing a wiki to manage important business information was looked at suspiciously. 'How do we control it? How do we organize it?' they would ask. Our contingent tended toward the other perspective. To a digital native, this is the very point of a wiki: 'no one controls or manages it and everyone controls and manages it.' To the digital immigrant, this can only lead to a mess. To the digital native, control and formal organization limit usefulness and frustrate collaboration. To the digital immigrant, this ad-hoc nature would limit usefulness and frustrate collaboration. Clearly, different users have different perspectives.

In my company, we are wiki happy. Everything goes on the wiki. There are no controls. There is no formal organization. Its organization evolves. The integrity of the information is the responsibility of all. Occasionally, some refactoring has taken place. There is an element of security. Groups of wiki pages are organized into departments. Users within a department are free to contribute. Others may be restricted to viewing. Personal pages remain in control of the author but anyone can read. Inappropriate content would cause some to complain to our tools team. Although this has rarely happened. Organizational structure as evolved. It is still hard to find what you are looking for. Index pages are created occasionally to organize information into loose taxonomies but not as a formal exercise--someone gets tired of hunting for things and creates a page that organizes it.

For our company, this has worked for most people. But we have also recognized that others are not that comfortable. They have tasked to our internal tools team to reconstitute a more formal intranet. This intranet will be controlled and organized formally. Information will be authored by our tech writers at the direction of the management hierarchy. The very thought of this had caused a furor amongst some in our workforce. Some were vehemently apposed to this 'throwback' to the old. Some who were baffled and dismayed by the by the wild west of the wiki were relieved and fought vigorously for its return. It was an interesting example of the digital generation divide pointed out so deftly by Jim Vaselopulos. We should use this as an example that there are more viewpoints to serve. Perhaps the lessons learned are that Web 2.0 is not for everyone. Perhaps E20 adds elements of control and formality that businesses need. Perhaps we should take away from this effort that sometimes the wild west needs a sheriff.

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