Enterprise 2.0 Camp

Last week, we held a second Enterprise 2.0 Camp here in Toronto. Tom Purves was the organizer and also the first presenter; he has posted his notes and presentation slides and promises to post some follow-ups in the days ahead. (btw, Tom introduced me to slideshare, which I’ve just started using for embedding presentations in my blog posts; it’s like YouTube for presentation slides. Thanks, Tom!)

I enjoyed the three presentations, which I’ll cover in some detail below, but find that many people talking about Enterprise 2.0 are addressing the use of social networking software like blogs and wikis within enterprises, whereas I’m more interested in taking those concepts and integrating them into enterprise software, like BPM. As consumers become exposed to Web 2.0 applications in the wild, and the MySpace generation moves into the workforce, the expectations of enterprise workers will be raised with respect to what they expect from their software. AJAX interfaces for end-users are becoming relatively common in BPM products, but what about user-created content? A cornerstone of Web 2.0 is harnessing collective intelligence, and if you don’t give people a way to do this in enterprise software, they’re going to find ad hoc ways to do it that won’t be captured as part of the corporate memory. I know of one BPM vendor that allows users to tag process instances as favourites, but none are allowing for a more comprehensive public tagging strategy where users can not only build their own folksonomies of tags, but also share them with their colleagues. User-created processes or at least involving more business users in a collaboration to create processes is an idea that’s gaining speed, but in reality, very little of it actually occurs. There’s a number of other Web 2.0 concepts that I feel could greatly benefit BPM and other enterprise software; to me, that’s the second wave of Enterprise 2.0.

Getting back to the presentations, we heard from Tom with an overview of Enterprise 2.0, Greg Van Alstyne of the Beal Institute for Strategic Creativity, OCAD with a theoretical primer for emergent media, and Sacha Chua, a grad student and IBM intern, with a report from the recent CASCON 2006 conference (which I also attended).

Tom’s presentation was a good level-set, since I think that there were a number of different views in the audience about what Enterprise 2.0 is, along with some number of local techies who will attend anything that has “2.0” in the name and serves beer. Tom’s succinct definition “Web 2.0 + solving an actual business problem = Enterprise 2.0” gets very close to the mark, and he goes on to describe some general categories of applications and what this can mean for businesses. He also spoke at length on tacit interactions — that ad hoc stuff that I was referring to earlier — and how Enterprise 2.0 can leverage tacit knowledge to provide competitive advantage.

An interesting issue that came up during the conversation after Tom’s talk is the “blank wiki” problem: how do you get people to start participating in ways that they have never participated before? This is especially true in corporate environments, where there is not (typically) the anonymity of the internet and there are political agendas floating around. There were a number of ideas about seeding a collaboration tool, such as creating some initial wikis that contain obvious but minor errors to encourage people to learn how to edit them in order to fix them, but that begs the question (to me, anyway) of how the seed data impacts the path that emerges.

Greg Van Alstyne was up next, with a presentation discussing how Enterprise 2.0 must emerge from the needs and activities of the users. Emergence, or emergent behaviour, is when new and complex patterns develop from underlying (and sometimes seemingly unrelated) components. It’s really a complement to design: where design is top-down and imposed by the designers, emergence is bottom-up and created by the participants. He gave a great example of this, which I also know because the same technique was used at my university: no pathways were initially built between buildings, but the entire complex was planted with grass; after several months, the common pathways had “emerged” from the grass and were paved. The associated quote was something along the lines of “how do we know where to build the paths until the people show us?” The same is also true for software, enterprise or not.

Sacha Chua finished the evening with a discussion of social networking software in use within IBM. Belying the big blue exterior, IBM appears to have a warm, fuzzy inside, full of employee blogs, wikis and social bookmarking. Who knew? I’ve met Sacha on several occasions, and she’s a very passionate advocate for what social networking tools can do within an organization, such as flattening the hierarchy and providing a sense of knowing the other 325,000 people in your company even if they’re geographically distant. She admits that the active participation rate — those that actually contribute content — is about 1%, but that’s a substantial community when you look at the relative numbers, and as she says, you have to learn to love the 1% that you have rather than worry about the 99% that you don’t. IBM is developing some of their own social networking software, such as Dogear social bookmarking, which is an internal equivalent to del.icio.us. I’d love to find out if they’re planning to roll this out as a customer product, but no one at IBM seems to be able to give me an answer on this.

One final comment that I heard from Bob Logan, a colleague of Greg Van Alstyne’s: “I don’t believe that there’s an inside and outside of an organization any more.” [Someone else in the audience immediately butted in that they thought this was wrong, to which Bob replied “All generalizations are wrong.” 🙂 ] The concept of increasing porosity in corporate boundaries has been happening for years, in part due to technologies like BPM: more outsourcing, integrating suppliers as part of the supply chain, and exposing the progress of internal processes to customers. There’s still a distinction between inside and outside, but it’s getting fuzzier.

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