Demystifying Enterprise 2.0: It's About Sharing, Not Technology

To get the most from your Web 2.0 technologies, combine them with Enterprise 2.0.

By Billy Cripe and Vince Casarez

Enterprise 2.0 is an elusive buzzword-rich concept getting a lot of attention but without a common understanding or definition. Businesses want to be attentive to the desires and needs of their constituents, be they employees, customers, or partners, but they also want to protect their investments from technology fads and unsafe practices.

Enterprise 2.0 combines Web 2.0 technologies within a business context to derive greater business value than the individual Web 2.0 technologies may provide. The approach to get this done is a matter of wide debate and the path is littered with false starts and horror stories. In this article we will explain why Enterprise 2.0 is good for business, what Enterprise 2.0 deployments should include, and how it should be implemented within the organization.

In an American Scientist Online article about honey bees (see Note 1), we learned that honey bee scouts search for possible locations of a new hive, then communicate that information to the swarm members. Other bees consume this information, exam and evaluate a potential location, return to the swarm, and communicate their "thoughts" on how good the site is. Finally, when enough scouts promote the same site, a quorum is reached and the new hive location is selected.

This behavior in the humble honey bee community holds important lessons for businesses seeking to understand Enterprise 2.0. Taking a human-centric view of this bee behavior can lead to optimal business decisions expressed as valuing the following three principles:

  • Diversity of independent information sources is critical to making the best decisions
  • Aggregation followed by independent evaluation of the information leads to a core set of choices
  • Collection and distribution of independent decisions enables a quorum to be reached as rapidly as possible

The exponential growth of information within the enterprise has been soundly documented. Contributing to this growth is the ease with which information is created and consumed. Web 2.0 technologies have increased user expectations regarding what is available while lowering the barrier to participation for those same users.

The adoption of these technologies is extraordinary. The popularity of Web sites such as Facebook (with almost 34 million monthly users) and MySpace (which averages 72 million active monthly visitors; see Note 2) are indicative of a diversity of users, and their adoption begs the question of why users are flocking to these systems. The answer is, like the honey bee scouts, they are communicating information to those with whom they have a common interest.

Business information is no longer communicated from just one information worker to another. Rather it is made available and then consumed, modified and repeated to all who show an interest in this information. No longer is the focus on pushing information to specific people. Instead, it is on collaborating with people. The Web 2.0 technologies enable a conversational approach to communication. The wealth and diversity of information that is being created independently is being shared and consumed conversationally.

Aggregation and Evaluation

When individuals participate in a conversation, they collect and evaluate the information from the other participants in their own minds and then respond. Web 2.0 technology takes the conversation and places it squarely on the Internet. The myriad of Web 2.0 sites (e.g. Flickr, Facebook, Wikipedia, Blogger) have transformed the once single-channeled communication medium into a buzz of overlapping conversations and communities. For businesses, this buzz is both alluring and immense, but the public Web has few (often no) rules of engagement or control over what is said or how it is presented. Business has no way of completely controlling the messages about their products and services that evolve from these communities.

This is where Enterprise 2.0 differentiates itself from Web 2.0 technology. Enterprise 2.0 starts where Web 2.0 cannot -- it originates within the business. On the public Web, the overriding presumption is that users begin their conversation with others anonymously. Any person may navigate to LinkedIn.com and browse public user profiles. This paradigm is flipped on its head within the enterprise setting. Users start off as known entities with a specific identity or role. After all, they are employees of an organization working towards a common goal, just like the honey bee scouts.

They start with a shared purpose -- the success of the business. Enterprise 2.0 capabilities begin with these shared business drivers that are missing from Web 2.0. Enterprise 2.0 then combines the many components of Web 2.0 capabilities into a complete and comprehensive platform on which business conversations and tasks are executed in context of the business goals. The Enterprise 2.0 platform combines all of the point features of Web 2.0 sites onto a single, business-enabled, context-aware system.

The successful Enterprise 2.0 platform is modular in its architecture. This way, businesses are able to add the features required as the business grows. There are three fundamental capabilities that any rich Enterprise 2.0 platform should incorporate from the outset.

The first is a centralized content or information management system. The concept of collaborating always begs the question of collaborating on what. Like the honey bee, workers are collaborating on shared goals that involve passing information in an efficient way. In business settings, this type of content sharing is subject to regulations and best practices. Where the human assembles conversational information in the mind, an Enterprise 2.0 platform aggregates conversational information in the content management repository.

Second, the rich Enterprise 2.0 platform incorporates native collaboration services. A rich Enterprise 2.0 platform should include participation services for social real-time conversations (e.g., instant messages), social content creation (e.g., wikis) and socially defined trust and authority systems (e.g., tagging and ratings). Where humans converse with voices in real time, the Enterprise 2.0 platform facilitates asynchronous conversations between not only people but also between communities and systems.

Finally, the rich Enterprise 2.0 platform must enable enterprise applications to participate in the business conversation. Knowledge and process workers collaborate on information that is used as the input to or output from business applications. A true Enterprise 2.0 platform explicitly enables employees to leverage technology to further the success of the company, not their personal social lives. Where humans converse on wide ranges of topics, the Enterprise 2.0 platform ensures that those conversations are relevant to the business.

Collection, Voting, Action

In all, Enterprise 2.0 is about bringing content to the employee in context so that attention will be kept on topic. The Enterprise 2.0 platform forms an information fabric in which knowledge and process workers are woven together with colleagues, customers, systems, and information. All relevant information is presented to the employee in the context that best suits the job or task at hand. Users are encouraged to participate conversationally with the systems, colleagues, and information that make up the daily work.

Ultimately, the goal of this participation is to tap into the energies and expertise of every individual and to deliver a synthesis of the good ideas. Aggregating the varied inputs, precipitating the valuable outcomes through team-enabled decision making, and enabling employees to make better business decisions is the result.

There is no substitute for creating an ecosystem inside the business where relationships and information come together in shared context. Users must be able to participate seamlessly with each other using systems that allow them to share information. The process efficiencies gained, the business intelligence gained, the trends predicted and spotted all lead to a significant competitive advantage. This new emergent enterprise is what business and Enterprise 2.0 is all about.

Notes:

1. "Group Decision Making in Honey Bee Swarms," American Scientist Online, May-June 2006, Volume: 94 Number: 3 p. 220

2. Bryant Urstadt, "Social Networking is not a Business," Technology Review, August, 2008

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Billy Cripe is the director of product management, Enterprise 2.0 and ECM, at Oracle. You can reach the author at billy.cripe@oracle.com. Vince Casarez is vice president of product mangement, Enterprise 2.0 and WebCenter at Oracle; he can be reached at vince.casarez@oracle.com.
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