Reading Tony Byrne’s “Trends: Enterprise 2.0 Conference (SF 11/2009) wrap up”

Andrew McAfee, Center for Digital Business, MI...
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The (excellent) Enterprise 2.0 Conference concluded yesterday in San Francisco. Here are some thoughts on several of the key issues bandied about, including ROI, adoption, usability, SharePoint, and the evolving industry.

My first observation is that the conference vibe was much more practical, and much less like a religious revival meeting than previous Enterprise 2.0 events. Some gurus complained about a lack of passion and energy, but I think Andrew McAfee set a great tone in his keynote when he exhorted the audience to replace liberation theology with more realistic goals.

There was much discussion about creating business cases, and ROI in particular. Like many information management projects, demonstrating a financial return on social computing investments can be a fraught (and sometimes fake) exercise. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a true business case. When enterprises are successful at collaboration or social networking, usually it started with a leap of faith. However, to see what your CFO thinks of faith-based initiatives, read about this illuminating panel discussion. CFOs are right to ask for tight program management, business sponsorship, and real deliverables.

Which brings me to the next big theme: adoption. Many enterprises are struggling with employee adoption of social tools. So, this prompts me to ask — perhaps unfairly — what about the whole idea of “emergence”? Aren’t these tools so cool, so fun, so essential to modern work, that they will sweep through the enterprise in a groundswell held back only by your troglodyte executives? It turns out that many social computing efforts are actually championed by C-level executives. This led several observers at the conference to blame power-hoarding middle managers for poor adoption. Maybe that’s the case in some enterprises, but as a generalization it feels trite to me.

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In fact, this whole debate reminds me of all the talk circa 2004 about getting better Intranet adoption. Enterprises had invested in pricey portal systems that employees rarely bothered to visit. Intranet managers learned over time to provide useful services that ease employees’ daily tasks. Often what employees really wanted was a single simple application, like an online org chart. There’s a lesson there.

I have another theory about the adoption conundrum: many of these tools (especially the big combo suites and platforms) are simply too hard to use. Social software vendors high on their own fumes claim their products can be adopted “without training.” That’s bunk. Our evaluation research finds usability varying widely among the products, with unexpectedly high requirements for employee training across the board. We also see a broad trend towards more complex, dashboard-style interfaces that appeal to information addicts like me (and maybe you), yet frequently induce vertigo in normal people.

The other big topic, of course, was SharePoint. This crowd was a bit more skeptical about SP2010 than I might have guessed. It turns out that many community and collaboration managers felt burned by SP2007, and they’re cautious. At the same time, some of the larger and more successful case studies can point to SharePoint as the underlying platform — albeit always heavily customized.

Speaking of customization, I’ll end on a positive note. The services community around social/collaborative computing appears to be evolving at a healthy rate. It’s still dominated by indie evangelists, but a broader consulting ecosystem is slowly developing. Companies range from boutique advisory firms who can help with key business issues, to small and large integrators with growing experience implementing complex systems. In other words, this is becoming a more “normal” technology space. This also means that social software vendors are going to have to learn how to run effective channel programs. Today, many vendors are quietly making very good coin providing “adoption” consulting and other non-technical services to customers at a time when I’d rather see them focus more on improving the scalability of their technology. Anyway, for you the customer, a maturing ecosystem is very good news.

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– Submitted by: Tony Byrne, Analyst


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