As promised, the Enterprise 2.0 conference started off with a much ballyhooed debate between Tom Davenport and Andrew McAfee over the importance of Enterprise 2.0. Dan Farber moderated the discussion and, in his usual manner, asked poignant questions and knew when to get the conversation moving on in another direction.
Overall, there was more agreement than disagreement, which speaks to the courteous and professional nature of both participants. Unfortunately, I think the debate left a little something on the table as a result. There were times, in my humble opinion, when they both had VASTLY different viewpoints on a subject but refused to cut into one another's underlying premise. Again, not surprising, but as an observer I would've liked to see a little more passionate opinion than dispassionate logic.
Is it evolutionary or revolutionary?
Boiling down their disagreements to the core, it comes down to Davenport believing the large corporations have an embedded culture that changes slowly and over time. Enterprise 2.0 technologies, in and of themselves, aren't revolutionary enough progressions to alter the glacial nature of changing business processes. Meanwhile McAfee believes we're early in the process, but we've seen enough anecdotal evidence to suggest we're about to see a tipping point where social, freeform collaborative tools lead to the next way of productivity improvement.
Some Hits (& Misses)
- Why isn't SharePoint considered Enterprise 2.0? -- Davenport tried to point toward Microsoft SharePoint as evidence that blogs and wikis aren't game-changing technologies. Yet, where he missed the boat is assuming (incorrectly) that SharePoint isn't part of the Enterprise 2.0 revolution. Just because it's a Microsoft product hardly removes it from the equation.
- It's not about the technology, it's about the people -- In this vein, both agreed. The big difference is that Davenport seems to think people can't and won't change, that the inherent nature of today's worker encourages them to protect their silos of knowledge and allowing an open, non-hierarchal platform simply won't work. McAfee agrees that conventional business process is the biggest gating factor to E2.0 adoption, but sees this as an opportunity for "leaders" vs. "bureaucrats."
- We still need proof points -- Andrew freely admits that, to date, we have limited evidence of enterprise-wide adoption of E2.0 practices. Given the nascent state of the market, this is not surprising but neither does it help further the cause. Technology adoption is often a self-fulfilling prophecy, so we need those forward thinking organizations who are embracing E2.0 to open up their doors and be studied. With that, we'll help further the path of adoption.
- The components of SLATES aren't new, but the aggregation of them IS -- Tom took the time to break down each component of SLATES (Search, Linking, Authoring, Tagging, Extensions, Signals) and made the point that we've had variations on those components for decades in many cases. While that's true, he misses the entire point of E2.0. It's the COMBINATION of these components in an easy-to-deploy paradigm that opens the door to evolutionary business practices. This is a classic example of the total being greater than the sum of its parts.
After one review of the video, it seems to me that our main point of disagreement concerned the extent to which the E2.0 toolkit really is something new, or whether it's just an incremental extension to the longstanding set of technologies for collaboration, interaction, and information sharing. Tom stressed repeatedly that companies have been deploying such tools for decades, and he kept explicitly and implicitly asking the important question: what, if anything, is new now?
In my opening remarks and a few times subsequently, I tried to articulate my answer to this question: that digital platforms that initially impose little or no structure on interactions, but that contain mechanisms to let patterns and structure emerge over time, are actually quite new. I've written about this a few times before, and for me it's the key to understand what's going on currently, and why so many of us are hopeful that the new toolkit will take off within companies. The idea of using group-level technologies not to impose structure (roles, identities, hierarchy, workflow, data formats, taxonomies, etc.) but instead to try hard to get out of the way and let structure emerge is, I maintain, a pretty novel one. And, I further maintain, a pretty important one.
Dan Farber has a synopsis from his POV as the moderator, and sits squarely on Andrew's side of the "is it new?" debate:
Davenport countered that Enterprise 2.0 doesn’t offer much new and it’s not revolutionary. Tags, search, knowledge management, email and links have been around for years, and haven’t done much to democratize corporate cultures, he said.
That’s like saying the Internet is not new. Yes, it’s been around since 1969, but in the last decade the Internet has revolutionized communications globally. That’s new. Enterprise 2.0 doesn’t have to be completely new to have a significant impact on corporate culture, productivity and competitiveness. Imagine Facebook in a business context, mashing up people and information in ways that help companies run faster, smarter and more efficiently.
In the end, and as a user of Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 technologies and services, I have to side with McAfee’s sense, as opposed to empirical evidence, that Enterprise 2.0 will eventually become mainstream.
I credit Andrew with the win, but not by knock out. While ultimately I think Andrew's view on things is much closer to the reality, one can't dismiss the very early nature of E2.0. We're clearly in a hype cycle right now, it's just a question of whether the promise actually matches the hype. Sometimes it does (targeted ad placement, virtualization), sometimes it doesn't (B2B marketplaces, ESBs). What do you think? Is E2.0 a revolutionary paradigm shift or an evolutionary one?