Under the Radar 2.0

June 19, 2008

Never underestimate the power of guerrilla, grassroots deployment of new technologies, especially when the tools are free, advises Sam Dean at OStatic. He’s writing about free/open source software in enterprises.

The quote applies well to freemium Web 2.0 tools, which I suspect are more widely deployed in enterprises than top management realizes. Sam’s warning about underestimating the importance of department managers in technology adoption is sound, with respect to Enterprise 2.0 as well as to the open source software on which he focuses, and to the PC hardware he uses as precedent.

Among the many results of the AIIM survey on Enterprise 2.0, I’d say we have strong contenders for the awards for most surprising and least surprising. Both are in Section 5: Generational and Cultural Impacts.

The surprise comes from the generational impact, or rather, from the weakness of that impact. Part of the rhetoric about E2.0 is that it will be driven by the Millennial generation. But Millennials (defined as those currently between 20 and 35) are not, according to the survey, significantly more likely to embrace E2.0 than are Gen Xers or Boomers.

So what does have an impact? That’s where the culture comes in. Specifically, organizations inclined toward knowledge management tend toward E2.0 more than do non-KM-inclined organizations. When this finding was presented at the E2.0 conference, my first reaction was: duh, E2.0 is a form of KM. Let me use my good nature and academic vocabulary to put it another way: the finding represents empirical support for an intuitively obvious association.

A search turns up the slideshow Enterprise 2.0 = Knowledge Management 2.0?, Dan Keldsen of AIIM posted to the web after presenting it in this very year in this very state. If we divide both sides of the equation by 2.0, we get simply E = KM: the assertion that the enterprise is all about knowledge management. I think that the assertion is interesting, true, and useful enough to be worth making.

That reminds me of an article about KM that’s interesting, true, and useful enough to be worth at least a skim: What’s Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge? published in Harvard Business Review a few years ago by two academics and a consultant. It was based on research conducted in consulting firms.

The consulting business employs two very different knowledge management strategies. In some companies, the strategy centers on the computer. Knowledge is carefully codified and stored in databases, where it can be accessed and used easily by anyone in the company. We call this the codification strategy. In other companies, knowledge is closely tied to the person who developed it and is shared mainly through direct person-to-person contacts. The chief purpose of computers at such companies is to help people communicate knowledge, not to store it. We call this the personalization strategy.

We can use the distinction between these strategies to classify the tools of E2.0. For example, wikis are tools for codification, while social networks are tools for personalization. To illustrate the difference with consumer-facing Web 2.0 tools, Wikipedia is about codification, while Facebook is about personalization. This reminds me of my distinction between content and connection, although that’s more because it’s my distinction than because it’s become widely used.

And now, it’s time to end this post and formulate what may be the world’s first and last “Two academics and a consultant walk into a bar” joke.

This post follows from the previous, which discussed strategic and ad-hoc adoption of E2. It will map vendors on to that discussion, in a couple of ways.

First, I want to map four specific vendors on the continuum of E2 adoption, anchored at one end by a purely strategic, top-down approach and at the other by a purely ad-hoc, bottom-up approach. I found myself writing down beside that continuum the following four vendors. I’ll list them in descending order of fit with the strategic approach, and hence in ascending order to fit with the ad-hoc approach.

  1. IBM. I still think of IBM as the enterprise IT vendor that gets in well with top management. That thought may of course be a sign of my age, or of IBM’s.
  2. Acquia. Drupal is ready to go… built-in functionality, combined with… add-on modules, will enable features such as content management, blogs, wiki collaborative authoring, tagging, picture galleries… Already, “Drupal powers sites including the homepages of Warner Brothers Records, The New York Observer, Fast Company, Popular Science, and Amnesty International and project sites by SonyBMG, Forbes, Harvard University…”
  3. Six Apart. 6A provides the best illustration of something that’s true for all vendors: a vendor isn’t a single point in the continuum. Movable Type is further toward the strategic end then TypePad.
  4. Automattic. WordPress requires three easy steps below to start blogging in minutes. Automattic’s projects emphasize the same ease of use and speed.

In case it’s not already obvious, I should point out that the above is a simplification and a starting point. Since first jotting it down, I’ve had conversations (with myself and others) about how to capture the richness of what various vendors offer without obscuring the basic continuum too much. But, having shared the starting point with you, I have another way to look from the strategic/ad-hoc perspective toward vendors.

The starting point for this second half of the post is the claim that some large organizations are in an ad-hoc E2 stage, and are embarking on strategic E2. Such organizations may well decide that their strategy should be based on the lessons and successes of existing ad-hoc E2 efforts. Yes, I am implying that grand strategy is not necessarily better than ad-hocery and tactics, and may often have much to learn from them.

An important challenge, then, is that of managing the diversity of E2 approaches and heterogeneity of tools already present in the organization. One aspect of this is realizing that the organization already has web-based social networks, and deriving from them the social graph.

Did someone say social graph? Brad Fitzpatrick and David Recordon did, and their
Thoughts on the Social Graph aroused much discussion. Their thoughts are couched more in consumer than in enterprise terms.

However, social graph for the enterprise looks like a fascinating arena. The most obvious contender is this arena is, duh, Google, which already has a Social Graph API, on which Brad is currently working.

UK-based Trampoline Systems may also turn out to be a contender. If I were doing E2 strategy for a corporation, and realized that there was a lot of E2 already in that corporation, I’d definitely want to take a look at SONAR Flightdeck, at the server that powers it, and at the API for said server.

I’ve mentioned only half a dozen of the many E2 vendors. That’s fine, by me at least. This post is meant to sketch out ideas, and illustrate them with vendors, rather than to provide detailed comparisons of many vendors. It’s also meant to start discussion…

Use of Web 2.0 within the organization: strategic or ad-hoc? The answer is probably yes, but the question merits more comment than that glib response.

The question identifies two broad patterns of Enterprise 2.0 activity: top-down and bottom-up. These are two classic patterns of… well, of lots of things in organization: new product development, resource allocation… (My academic reflex is to mention authors such as Burgelman and Bower, but I’ll stifle the urge to add publication dates and references.)

It’s worth emphasizing that a sharp binary distinction between top-down and bottom-up isn’t the reality. Rather, it’s a distinction useful for describing two patterns of activity within organizations.

It can also serve to define two extremes of a continuum. At one extreme of the E2 adoption continuum are organizations in which almost all blogs, wikis, and so on are used because there is a corporate initiative to use them, corporate standards for tools, etc. At the other extreme are organizations in which corporate isn’t even aware that there are subunits and individuals blogging, using wikis, and so on.

The ad-hoc pattern might remind you of information technology trends from decades past. In the 1980s, PCs flew onto desktops, often under the corporate radar. In the 1990s, free/open source software started to power a lot of servers, the change being transparent to the people using the client PCs and often hidden from management.

I suspect that many organizations have more ad-hoc adoption of Enterprise 2.0 than they realize. They may discover this as they consider their E2.0 strategies.

This implies two things about strategic and ad-hoc. First, they may meet in the middle, as top-down and ad-hoc encounter each other. Second, they may be stages of a life cycle. We’re currently in the ad-hoc stage. We’re about to enter the strategic stage. The strategic challenge for many organizations isn’t to define an E2 strategy on a blank slate. Rather, it’s to manage the diverse E2 initiatives that already exist.

The above raises many issues about strategic and ad-hoc E2. For example, I’ve yet to discuss specific vendors. That post should be along later today.

The question with which I opened this post comes from the AIIM report. I have enough to say about that report for another separate post, which will probably be out tomorrow.

After the keynotes, the Enterprise 2.0 Demo Pavilion opened. While wandering around, I was struck by how few of the stands stood out. (Perhaps I shouldn’t be, since it’s hard to imagine a crowd in which every member stands out.)

The typical vendor had a catchy name, and sometimes a tagline. But the typical tagline translated fairly directly to “Enterprise 2.0,” and that’s what we all, vendors and otherwise, were there for. Then again, maybe the purpose of a stand is to make yourself available to people who already know about you, and decided to visit you before they got to the conference.

If I had any brilliant and original ideas about demo stands, I’d put them here. But I can only remark that a large, prominently-placed stand and the chance to get or win some stuff usually works well, and that Microsoft were ahead of me on that one.

The title of this post contains a reference to Colossal Cave Adventure, the text-based game. I point this out because I probably have readers who have never played it or any other text-based game, and who have never been in “a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.”

I’m not implying that the vendors were all twisty and little. If you followed the link in the first paragraph, you’ll see that they included some rather large organizations. As for twisty, the point of this post is that few of them managed to make clear their distinctive twist on Enterprise 2.0.

Ross from Socialtext is just wrapping up his talk about elevating the conversation from tools to problems. He’s doing so by telling us about a tool: a wiki/spreadsheet hybrid. Along the way, he made more interesting points than I have time to pass on.

Keynotes 2.0: AIIM

June 10, 2008

Being too lazy to type in the details of every speaker, I’ll link to the conference Keynotes and General Sessions page. It’s time for us to hear about the state of the industry from a couple of guys from AIIM.

They started off with a hokey sketch about the stereotypical differences between generations. Apparently, as far as E2 goes, age matters hardly at all. Organizational culture matters much more. KM inclination is positively associated with E2 adoption. It is also associated with the strategic, rather than ad-hoc, pursuit of E2.

There are some interesting contrasts with Google guy’s points. When I came in, and before I started writing, he was arguing that the consumer market is more Darwinian than the enterprise market, since there are no management and IT staff layers between the vendor and the user. I wonder if “strategic” means that these layers are present, while “ad-hoc” adoption within the enterprise means that these layers are absent.

Let me try to paste and post the following while I have a connection…

The “free Public Access” network doesn’t seem to be working. As I type that, a guy from Google is telling us that, when he goes somewhere and can’t get web access, he gets pissed off. His point is that, five years ago, he was pleased when he could connect. Well, I’m not pleased.

He’s talking about barriers to use of cloud applications, and of course asserting that connectivity is far less of a problem. Now he’s talking about offline access. Well, I started trying to use Google Docs/Gears to write this, but that didn’t work. So here I am in the old warhorse, MS Notepad.

He also addressed security. He emphasized the dangers of data being kept on laptops, which are often stolen. Isn’t it more secure, he asked, to keep data in a cloud managed by Google?

I just found out about another network. It’s so slow that I suspect many others found out about it at the same time. I’m typing this as I wait for the WordPress Write page, having given up on my nice rich Google start page.

Enterprise 2.0

June 9, 2008

The Enterprise 2.0 conference is taking place here in Boston this week. I plan to be there tomorrow (Tuesday) and on Thursday. Drop me an email if you’d like to meet up there.

Thanks to Mashable for the registration discount code and for the round-up of upcoming Web 2.0 events, parties, and conferences.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 98 other followers