The more I visit clients the more I am amazed by the lack of culture some have on the basics of web 2.0, not to mention its positive impacts on productivity, performance and bottom line results.
As an example, I regularly have to explain to CIOs what is a blog, what is wiki, what’s the major differences between those tools, what is RSS, social bookmarking and social networking. I find people complaining about being compelled to block 2 hours a day reading newsletters to keep up-to-date to their industry trends, because they have never used a newsreader.
All these folks are not average employees. They are decision makers. They spend their days making sure processes work fluidly, coordinate people to make them work more efficiently, decide how things need to be improved to make the whole organisation more efficient and profitable.
So what we can learn from that situation? I think there are two things:
1 – Social computing for the organisation, call it Enterprise 2.0 if you want to be trendy, is a reality that needs to be evangelised, despite massive information available on the wild wild web. In that perspective, Atlassian has it right while empowering Stewart Mader who does an amazing job explaining how to grow a wiki.
2 – That corporations needs to rethink their understanding of performance and the world they evolve in, and impact their organisation from there.
If we live in a knowledge economy, as Michael Porter and hundreds others claim for about 30 years, we have to change our mind on how things are being managed. They key resource is brain juice, not muscle sweat. The key focus should be people and information flow. So the first thing we have to consider is that communication and HR are not two elements one has to put on the backburner. Trick is that it is a lasting tradition in many organisations. For instance, IT people still put communication processes on the backburner and favour operational processes. They don’t understand that knowledge work cannot be limited to processes, that it is multi-faceted communication flows around processed tasks that make things work. Meetings, e-mails, phone, IM, blogs, wikis, information aggregators and filtering devices wrap defined task oriented programmes up. The former help employees use the later, more efficiently.
If we live in a knowledge economy, we have to value people in the know. It is counterproductive to have people in command who are not aware of what happens in their domain. Position is always a sign of authority, not always a sign of relevance and legitimacy. It is not serious to have to explain an IT director what is a blog or a wiki these days because those products are here for years, some fully enterprise compliant, and are booming. This also means senior management has to pay a little more attention to how they favour innovation. Innovation is not necessarily about having big plans that improve operational processes (exploitation). Simply because they tend to be time consuming, financially costly, operationally disturbing and employee frightening. Innovation is about having open-mind and an appetite for exploration. That is the lesson we have to learn from Google and should already know by heart because of the massive managerial literature on the so-called “Japanese model” back in the 80′s.
If we live in a knowledge economy, we have to accept that employees are the ones who know how local things need and can be improved. Top down approaches have to give some space to Bottom up ones. We have to let them voice, converse and listen to them, as a minimum. Blogs, wikis or tools such as Feedback 2.0, correctly backed by a precise policy, are made for that. It is their real value in a corporate world. Vertical Social Networks are complementary as they target customers and have proven efficient too. Employees are the one who know which tools are relevant for doing their job more efficiently and we don’t have to impose and restrict them (to) a set of tools. By doing so, IT people have created artificial scarcity. This is Malthusianism. They have reinforced the “web as a platform” by facilitating the emergence of web 2.0; simply because people are fed-up being tight in a Flintstone information age. As a result, IT’s complaints about Facebook’s success and prohibiting it is the cat chasing its own tail. Instead, it might be clever to take advantage of employees who enjoy web 2.0 at home, for years now.
If we live in a knowledge economy, innovation is a key driving force of performance and competitiveness. And everybody knows that the innovation pace has dramatically fastened over the last year because the game is open at global scale. China, India, Brazil and Russia are fierce challengers of Europe, North America and Japan. They definitely are not the only ones. And everybody knows that IT innovation is a major asset in the overall corporate innovation game. At the same time, Microsoft, IBM and likes currently are wondering what to do with social computing. They take a lot of time to market relevant and powerful solutions. Most of the time they revamp old appliances, brand them as 2.0 and full stop. They only satisfy people who are not in the know. They create dissatisfaction among employees. They favour both brainwash and brain drain so that you don’t get the best employees. They cost time, resource and money. Overall, they jeopardize corporate performance. So it might be time to consider open-up your information ecosystem to real innovation by adopting products marketed by start-ups or crafted by value-added consultancies. When it comes to the bottom line, the risk vanishes.
If we live in an economy where innovation is a key factor of performance and competitiveness, we have to accept exploration and reprimand exploitation. We have to unleash the innovation that lies dormant within the firewall. We have to favour pilots, contextual applications, open-source, information and application mashups. The corporate information world needs no more systematic enterprise-wide stuff. Reductionism does not create relevance, it creates scarcity and underperformance. Relevance is created by situational applications, social software, interaction design, user-centricity and some basic features like APIs and personalized pages as Intranets (see PersonAll). The corporate world needs no more old routines hidden behind new tools. Stop confusing documents and information. Stop forcing people using only emails and Enterprise Content Management. ECM reduces workflow to permission and conversation to versioning. Emails create confusion in conversations. This replicates ageless routines. Replication does not create performance in a world of innovation.
Enterprise 2.0 (again, social computing for organisations) is only the trendy catchword of a more dramatic change in the corporate world. It is about catching up with a knowledge economy. Organisations won’t survive with routines dating back the 20′s – 50′s. Social computing participates in adapting organisations – their processes, behaviours and mindsets – to this reality. In that shift, (smart) reengineering, knowledge management, communities of practices are worth predecessors of social computing.