Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport debate the viability of Enterprise 2.0

I missed the McAfee/Davenport debate when I arrived a bit late to the Enterprise 2.0 conference last June, so I’m happy to be listening in on today’s version.

McAfee kicked off with some examples of where he’s seeing Enterprise 2.0 making a difference: a construction company that encouraged its employees to blog; a large financial services centre using an internal wiki for their customer service people to share information, which has reduced their average call time; and Intellipedia within the US intelligence community.

Davenport countered that organizations are even more hierarchical than before, and that Enterprise 2.0 is not having the collaborative and flattening effects that were expected, and that if it was just about the technology and not transforming the enterprise, it should have been called “Knowledge Management 1.5”.

There then ensued a wordsmithing debate over what it should be called, what version number it should have, and whether the functionality provided by today’s Enterprise 2.0 collaborative software is really all that innovative, or just a natural progression from previous groupware applications like Sharepoint and Lotus Notes. As the debate goes on, Davenport continue to drive the point that this technology isn’t revolutionary relative to corporate information management/sharing tools, it’s evolutionary.

Davenport stated that if you don’t do the organizational preparation in advance, then Enterprise 2.0 will fail at its goals; McAfee disagreed, saying that he’s seen examples of organizations that were very poorly suited to engaging in Enterprise 2.0 collaboration (such as the intelligence community) have some key people latch onto the tools once they’re in place and help to shift the organizational culture.

In other words, is the technology driving the collaborative effects, or does the organization have to be collaboratively-minded before the technology will be used? That seems to be the core issue that’s being addressed in this debate so far.

McAfee feels that Enterprise 2.0 tools don’t make it any easier to engage in bad behaviour (harassing other employees, sharing company information externally) that people could have done before these tools; I tend to agree with this: if employees are educated about what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour, they’ll make their choices on how to behave regardless of the tools available.

30 minutes into the debate, and process was just mentioned for the first time, in the context of how Enterprise 2.0 is impacting the business processes between a company and its customers/partners. Davenport states that Web 2.0 is having a bigger impact here, since he sees Enterprise 2.0 as purely behind the firewall, whereas McAfee said that his definition of Enterprise 2.0 includes interactions between a company and its partners and customers that happen on the web. Does this include Facebook groups sponsored by a company, or just a company’s own websites?

There was an interesting discussion on control, on which they mostly agreed, and how the “gatekeeper” model of enterprise knowledge management systems is giving way to a more wiki-like “gardening” model: let everyone contribute then clean up the results, rather than restricting who can contribute.

For the second time in this debate, Davenport refers to McAfee’s language as “messianic” in terms of how he promotes the capabilities of Enterprise 2.0 tools; Davenport insists that older-style tools could provide much of the same collaborative environment, and although there is some great new functionality, the technology is not driving the type of organizational change that is suggested by the definitions of Enterprise 2.0.

In summary, Davenport feels that companies should be exploring the technology and loosening control over information creation, but not expect the deployment of these Enterprise 2.0 technologies to change organizational culture. McAfee agrees with the first part, but not the second — he feels that putting these technologies in place will cause emergent applications that will create organizational culture changes.

The debate was recorded and will be posted at the FASTForward blog.

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