It’s been interesting to observe how the battle lines are shaping up between the evangelists of enterprise 2.0 on the one side, and those perceived to be resisting such technologies on the other side. In this piece, however, I’m going to argue that both sides are wrong, and that we need to find a third way.
On one side we have what I would call the “libertarians“, the body-and-soul evangelists of enterprise 2.0 technologies and approaches. While not all speaking with the one voice, there is a common theme of “get out of the way and let it happen”. In other words, encourage the release of enterprise 2.0 technologies into an organisation, let staff find their own uses for it, and information management problems will start to melt away.
This camp even sees that senior management support may be corrosive to enterprise 2.0, as success relies on a groundswell of “grass roots” adoption. There is certainly no place for policies or governance in this world view, or the direct management of technologies by central teams.
On the other side, you have the “corporate suits“. Mostly driven from an IT, IM or KM perspective, there is typically a focus on enterprise content management (ECM), and the general adoption of “enterprise” solutions. This includes products that have been in the market for some time, such as web content management systems, document management systems, records management systems, and the like.
This camp focuses on developing overall enterprise strategies, information management governance and change management. Supporting this side are a large number of well-established vendors, and the analyst firms that surround them.
The debate between these two sides is often polarised, argued in black-and-white terms. The libertarians see that enterprise software is a dinosaur overdue for the asteroid, while the corporate suits see the threat of unmanaged software use.
Both sides are wrong
The difficulty with the libertarian approach is the reliance on problems just “sorting themselves out” if the right tools are made available. The challenge is that while these tools (including collaboration tools) are great for the individual and the team, they increase the fragmentation of information across the organisation as a whole. (More on this later.)
This is the lesson we didn’t learn from the Lotus Notes era, where we ended up with tens of thousands of Notes databases scattered far and wide. And don’t forget the impact of the easy availability of Access databases and Excel spreadsheets.
That’s not to say that the new generation of tools haven’t given some consideration to this, but it’s naive to think that organisations will simply “self-organise” a solution that works for both the individual and the organisation as a whole.
On the other side, the corporate suits have been in trouble for some time now. The adoption of these systems is very low, and the inherent complexity of the products is hurting organisations. There are questions on whether a fully-centralised model for information management can ever work within modern, complex organisations.
In practice, very little meaningful discussion occurs within the traditional “enterprise” space about how to get staff working productively in these solutions, let alone how to connect together the huge information silos.
Finding the middle ground
Neither “libertarian” or “corporate suits” extreme works, and we’re not really learning much by arguing between black and white. Instead, we need to be exploring the grey, the middle ground, the middle way.
Yes, we absolutely need the kinds of capabilities delivered by enterprise 2.0 technologies, and this addressing a huge unmet need within organisations. Can we stop their use? No. Should we try to stop or restrict their use? No.
We do need plans and strategies though, along with some simple guidance or governance for staff. We need to find much more mature ways of managing processes, and shaping outcomes. We need to let individuals and teams drive adoptions, but play a strong leadership role to ensure that the end outcome is desirable for all.
This is where all my thinking is around at the moment. The first outcome is the simple (simplistic?) model for collaboration adoption that I recently posted, and there’s more to come.
Let’s stop demonising either side, and instead ask the questions:
- Where do we want to end up?
- What does the best solution look like, and how do we get there from here?
- How to we make things work in the complex organisational environments we have in the real world?