Recently I had the opportunity to go to the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum (E2EF) in Sydney. I went to the conference thanks to Stephen Collins from acidlabs – you can read about how I got to be at the conference here and here.
The E2EF forum was put on by Ross Dawson of the Future Exploration Network, a Sydney consultancy specialising in future and strategy for organisations. The forum was a half day (8am – 2pm) event at Luna Park. The venue was not that great and the day felt very rushed with not that much time for networking but the speakers and the content was great. (usually conferences are the other way around with great venue and social interaction but speakers lacking). And it was great to see the organisers “eating their own dog food” by having the two keynote speakers deliver their presentation or Q&A session through live Skype video hookup from the US and Europe, which worked really well.
The idea of the conference was to expose business executive types to the future of collaboration in the enterprise. But as over one third of the 200 or so in the crowd were already on twitter and half were bloggers, it may have been a case of preaching to the already converted, but let’s hope that the day at least gave the attendees some great ammunition to go back to the workplace and spread the message.
The messages that I got from the day were briefly as follows, and I’ll expand on them further below:
- Enterprise collaboration is already happening – even if it is outside the firewall with non enterprise toolsets, so if businesses want to get control of it, they need to act fast
- Enterprise 2.0 covers all of the “Barely Repeatable Processes” in the organisation
- There was a lot of discussion about the generational gap in the workplace and whether there really is one
- The overall message is that it’s NOT about the tools it’s about the networks, the people and their communications
But lets start with what is Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0). There’s a great overview of Web 2.0 tools and framework on Ross Dawson’s blog here. Andrew McAfee one of the keynote speakers has a great definition “Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies or between companies and their partners and customers” or put simply E2.0 is about using sites like YouTube, SecondLife, Wikipedia and Facebook; or using tools like Wiki’s, Blogs, RSS, Tagging and Social Networks within the organisation or with others outside the organisation.
Another interesting definition of E2.0 is that it’s about the Barely Repeatable Processes within the organisation. I work for a company that that implemnents Microsoft Dynamics NAV ERP systems. ERP stands for Enterprise Resource Planning but a recent article re-defined ERP as being software for Easily Repeatable Processes (the article was about SAP but relates to all ERP systems). This makes sense to me, so it also makes sense to me that E2.0 is about all the other stuff that organisations do – all the Barely Repeatable Processes.
Some points from Andrew McAfee’s keynote address about what E2.0 is:
- E2.0 technologies are about collaboration, knowledge sharing, collective intelligence and search
- E2.0 is emerging due to the ease of use of the software with a lack of need for IT departments to be involved, this allows the networks and communities to evolve around the tools
- Collaboration is hampered by IT structures such as Roles and Privileges, Workflows and processes, data formats and required content.
- Good E2.0 tools have mechanisms that let the structures emerge such as tagging, search and wiki’s
Andrew also covered a really interesting topic about the “Strength of Weak Ties”. This is based on a very old (1973) paper that can be found here and Andrew’s overview of how it relates to E2.0 can be found here. Basically weak ties are those people in our social networks that we have linked to or have met at a conference and exchanged business cards with – the people that are on our radar as potential colleagues or potential business partners. The big thing that I got out of this is about how business networking is changing. It used to be the “old boys club” or who you went to school with, but now it’s a lot more egalitarian than that and it’s about who you network with and who you can link to. I personally have grown my weak ties network immensely recently through the use of Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter, and formed some very strong ties also. Andrew has also written a great blog post summarising E2.0 here.
So this theme about the network and about people was the overriding theme of the day – E2.0 is about enabling people to communicate with their networks by stripping away the structures imposed by IT departments and allowing people to collaborate more naturally and easily through these new Web 2.0 tools that are easy to use.
This brings me to the topic of IT departments. Yes we all love to hate IT departments and we know they just love to control things behind the firewall. There are very good reasons for this such as keeping sensitive data and information confidential and tracking who does what. But for communication, collaboration and learning, these structures are cumbersome and restrictive. The risks of loosening up the IT department controls are productivity (people will spend all day on facebook), information loss (people will start talking about us on facebook), reputation (some of our issues will get out into the public domain) and robustness of platforms. All those are valid points, but what is needed is to enable users rather than restrain them. It’s time to start trusting staff that they will do the job that they are employed to do, that they will be loyal to the company and that they will be self policing of their own and their colleagues productivity whilst using these new tools and social networks.
The second Keynote Speaker Euan Semple who set up lots of social networking stuff at the BBC. His talk was very interesting. He said
If organisations and IT departments don’t get this and start embracing the new tools and new ways of collaborating and communicating they will be left behind. If there is no way to easily and efficiently communicate within the boundaries of the existing IT structure people will take it beyond the firewall and beyond the strict corporate IT usage policies and it will then really be out of the organisation’s control. Google in fact are actively encouraging this at the moment with the new release of Google Apps Team Edition and Google Sites where users can enter their work or school email address and immediately create a network with others that have the same domain name.
Organisational Culture and Generations was a big topic of discussion on the day. As the Gen Y’s are entering the workforce and the Millennial’s won’t be far behind them, this issue of connectedness will not go away. As one of Australia’s leading Gen Y experts (although not at the conference) Peter Sheahan has written a great article on the Connected Generation. Yes Gen Y are by definition the connected generation but I agree with what Jennifer Wilson said at the conference, that it’s not about the age, it is about the level of connectedness. I’m at the upper end of Gen X and I definitely feel very much a part of the connected generation even though this connectedness is something I’ve learned rather than grown up with. Therefore the generation gap at work will be not so much about age but about connectedness. Those that can adapt to the new forms of communication and networking will flourish, others will struggle.
Which brings me to the last point of the messages that I got from the E2EF conference – and this was the overarching message of the day and was presented by a number of the speakers. It’s all about the people, not the tools. The tools like wiki’s and blogs are there but it’s what we do with them that matters, it’s not about what the tool can do.
Let’s take wiki’s as an example. A blank wiki is nothing. A wiki with a lot of structure and guidelines is not a wiki at all. Wiki’s are great as they evolve to be only what the users want them to be. The tool is so minimal it’s only purpose is to make the communication and collaboration easier. In a number of the presentation that featured the use of a wiki in their organisation it was clear that their success was due to letting people control their environment and their information. As one of the presenters, Nathan Wallace said, their staff had no excuses now – they have a place where they can contribute and can communicate and can get their ideas across – in that culture there is no excuse for whingeing about things – fix it yourself, contribute to the discussion. Nathan also showed that in their organisation that the wiki had become the trusted source of information. It was trusted because it is written by their staff for their staff. With the ownership in the information and the ability to edit and change it, comes trust.
Sharing of information is fast becoming the default. Rather than being the knowledge hoarder or the “guy in the know” it is now more important to be the knowledge sharer. Euan Semple says:
In summing up E2.0 is less about the latest wiki or blog software and is more about giving people the right tools to enable the conversation. It’s not the technology that is important, it’s what we do with it, how we manage the constant change in our organisations and in the organisations that we deal with and in our customers. And to finish, I just have to quote Mark Pesce from his excellent Mob Rules talk and blog post –
So thanks Stephen for giving me the opportunity to go to the conference and thanks Ross for putting on such an excellent list of speakers and thanks to all my connected friends and colleagues for proving that we live in such interesting and rapidly changing times. I can’t wait to see where this E2.0 thing goes next.