Annoyed at 'Enterprise 2.0'

To me, a core aspect of an enterprise’s architecture revolves around the role of conversation in collaboration and cooperation – the human side of business knowledge, as expressed within the broader enterprise that extends beyond the organisation’s borders. Hence a natural interest in what’s been labelled ‘Enterprise 2.0’, which, on the surface at least, is about the centrality of those conversations, and active support for them within the enterprise.

The catch is that that isn’t what the ‘standard’ definition of ‘Enterprise 2.0’ by Andrew McAfee actually says. Instead, it’s all about the software:

Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.

Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities. (Wikipedia’s definition).

Platforms are digital environments in which contributions and interactions are globally visible and persistent over time.

Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contains mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people’s interactions become visible over time.

Freeform means that the software is most or all of the following:

  • Optional
  • Free of up-front workflow
  • Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities
  • Accepting of many types of data

People are not even mentioned in the definition at all. Neither is the enterprise – nor the actual purpose of any of this. It’s just about software, and characteristics of that software.

Which, bluntly, is meaningless. Worse than meaningless, in fact, because by ‘hijacking’ what would otherwise be a meaningful term, it actively blocks us from the possibility of meaningful discussion about the nature of the enterprise within which such software might be used. In practice, this is very similar to the ‘hijack’ of the term ‘enterprise architecture’ to mean ‘the architecture of enterprise-wide IT’: the key term is applied exclusively to a very minor subset, preventing any means to describe the true whole.

Annoying, to say the least.

I put out a couple of tweets on this:

  • tetradian: standard Mcafee defn of ‘Enterprise 2.0’ is as absurdly IT-centric as most ‘enterprise architecture’ // … ‘Enterprise 2.0’ should be about people and purpose first, not ‘social software’! – get the priorities right!!

But to illustrate the point exactly, the first response-tweet (which I’ve anonymised here) was from someone who clearly thought that so-called ‘social software’ was all that one would need to create ‘Enterprise 2.0’:

  • xyz: might I recommend <our software>, it’s a collaborative tool..

This is classic ‘cart before the horse’ thinking: the presence of the tool is deemed to be the purpose for the tool…

Fortunately, many people in ‘the trade’ are thinking much broader than this – for example, Oscar Berg commented:

  • oscarberg: @tetradian Couldn’t agree more! Problem is “software” is part of McAfees definition // E20 definition should be about allocating and leveraging social capital within enterprises

And in his ‘Implementing Enterprise 2.0’ report, Australian consultant Ross Dawson suggests that:

Enterprise 2.0 combines two key concepts:

1. The application of Web 2.0 and other emerging technologies to enhance organizational performance

2. Establishing the organizational structures and processes that will drive success in an intensely competitive connected economy

I’m not sure about the latter emphasis on the second point – ‘competitive’ doesn’t apply in the same sense to government, where some of the most active work on ‘Enterprise 2.0’ is taking place at present, for example. But in any case there’s another key point that’s missing:

  • 3. Clarifying the nature and purpose of the enterprise, to identify the role, reason and focus for enterprise collaboration

Without clarity on what the enterprise is – what it stands for, and how it engages people in that purpose – there’s no point in any attempt to implement ‘Enterprise 2.0’.

In that sense, a key prerequisite for any ‘Enterprise 2.0’ implementation is an enterprise architecture. By which I mean a real enterprise-architecture, of course – not just yet another overblown, over-hyped ‘IT-architecture pretending to be the enterprise’, but the true ‘architecture of the enterprise’ in the broadest possible sense.

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14 Comments on “Annoyed at 'Enterprise 2.0'

  1. Of course I agree absolutely with what you are saying, Tom, except for one small point. The concept of “2.0” is a metaphor for software version control, and seems to be impossibly hard for most people to detach from the software paradigm – so why use the term at all? Can’t we just talk about the Next Enterprise, without having to give it a version number?

  2. Richard – thanks, and agreed about ‘2.0’ and the dangers thereof. I’m using it above solely because that’s the label currently in general use, not because I approve of it! 🙂

  3. History does repeat itself – the old problem of throwing software “solutions” at RIM problems is just being re-invented in the social networking arena. I firmly believe that the first step in any venture to improve how an entity will utilize (not just manage, much bigger than that!) its information is to identify the target community. I really don’t care what that community is called, or is comprised of – the “audience”, enterprise, project team, workgroup, or 5 people sitting in the corner – they must be brought in to be a part of the solution in order to understand what the problems/needs/requirements are. Farther down the road comes the time for identifying a software tool that will meet the needs of the solution – not a tool as the solution, now lets go find the problem.

  4. Bravo! Couldn’t agree more with your message – being able to realize the full potential of social software will require a great deal of understanding how a business operates currently (through social network analysis, value network analysis, systems thinking, etc.) as well as how they need to de designed in order to harness and take action on all of the knowledge flowing through them. Simply installing tools will never serve to make the kinds of organizational changes that will be required. Social software is just the tangible facade of a revolution that’s coming in how business operates.

  5. You’re hanging out with the wrong crowd. The ‘real’ conversations about E2.0 (with a slant to the issues you raise) are in the most unlikely of places — as a continuation of face-to-face conversations over same, sponsored originally by a vendor: (see esp. Apply 2.0…which is just a continuation of my common mantras)

  6. As most of us seem be analytical IT people (including the ones that invented ‘Web 2.0’, ‘Enterprise Architecture’ and ‘ Enterprise 2.0’) we might have a very hard time denying our IT roots. It’s the IT people that think about what business and ‘real enterprise’ architectures should look like. It’s the IT people that try to explain that Enterprise 2.0 is not about technology. I always wonder what non-IT people really think about all this (and they might not give a damn indeed). The ‘2.0 is a version number’ discussion brought up by Richard (Hi Richard!) illustrates this neatly. We just can’t help ourselves.

  7. Hi Tom,

    Andrew’s definition seems to me to implement a rather uncontrollable environment from an enterprise point of view. Speaking IT-wise: impossible to automate

    In my opinion, it’s not about software, it’s just freely and globally available software that enables people to engage in Enterprise 2.0.

    Frankly, I’m missing the (measurable!) benefits (and concerns) of it for any business. Nonetheless I’m convinced that the current (near?) real-time global connectivity between you and me and us and them will change the world as we know it

    It’s all going to go towards MDM and BI to try and catch ‘them unstructured comments’. Pretty much like chasing your desired one in the dark, and waking up the next morning <– don’t quote me on that 😉

    Enterprise 2.0 can’t be implemented within your enterprise – it wil just happen

  8. Nice. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just end at “enterprise”. The jargonista’s (mostly O’Reilly followers) have claimed the rights to everything 2.0. I like that Github has used “Social coding” instead of “development 2.0”.

    Great post!

  9. Allow me to be slightly contrarian. While people are an important part of the equation (it is after all about people) the technology can drive new people behavior (which resulted from use of the technology).

    In the early stages of web 1.0, people didn’t build use cases to use the internet. The early pioneers built sites and discovered use cases after the fact. Then after Web 1.0 starting building momentum, people found purpose, built ROI frameworks, architected web sites, and developed best practices.

    So in the example of Enterprise 2.0, the technology is driving new people behavior at least until the use cases are better defined.

    Until you experiment with the technology it’s hard to develop the people part of the Enterprise 2.0 (and I agree it’s most important). There just aren’t enough learnings yet.

  10. Hi folks

    Many thanks indeed for engaging in this – I hadn’t expected this much of a response! 🙂 Some specific comments:

    Dennis – yes, I’ve no doubt that this sounds much like 2006 etc. The point I’m aiming to make here is that the same questions keep coming up not because of the technology, but because of the ‘hijack’ of the term, preventing any proper resolution of the discussion. I’ll post on this again later today.

    Ron – I too have ‘IT roots’: my formal background is graphic design (at which I’m lousy, to be honest 🙁 ), but as one of the people who invented desktop publishing (way back in the distant days half a decade before the Mac and PageMaker) I’ve done my time on megabytes of assembler and the like, and pretty much anything IT-related in the subsequent decades. Despite Richard’s valid complaint, I do find the ‘2.0’ moniker useful: it’s fine saying ‘Next Enterprise’, but we need to know what it’s ‘next’ from! For example, I do find Tim O’Reilly’s distinctions between ‘Web 1.0 and ‘Web 2.0’ ( ) useful – in fact it’s the _comparison_ that is more useful than (arguably arbitrary) ‘Enterprise 2.0’ _definition_.

    Martijn – I agree strongly about the difficulty of ROI and the like, because much the same applies to enterprise architecture. But I’m somewhat careful to avoid that issue here, because ‘E2.0’ is not my main field, and I’m well aware that I don’t have the specialist knowledge and experience to comment on that aspect. All I’m really focussing on here is the dangers of a ‘term-hijack’, of which using ‘Enterprise 2.0’ to mean solely the software aspects of a much broader theme is just one example.

    Mark – we’re not disagreeing on the value of the software, and the way in which the technology enables new types of conversations. One of the key themes in the knowledge-management field is that we don’t know what we know until we get to use it – i.e. that much knowledge is context-dependent; your point about the importance of experimenting with the technology fits into much the same domain of contextual-dependent knowledge. (The same applies to requirements, for example – often we only know what we need when we see it, or see enough to notice its absence, hence the importance of iterative Agile-style development compared to one-shot Waterfall.) So yes, “There just aren’t enough learnings yet” – we do need to keep learning, always.

    Once again, thanks very much all!

  11. Great post Tom. Great comments from all.

    Enterprise (Architecture) has been around a very long time. To apply a Version 2.0 to it conveys that EA has only been around since IT (and only in Internet format) for a growth of only 2 major releases is short-sighted.

    Instead of fighting the battle of what E2.0 is, what should E2.0 software interpretation be called? It will be like trying to change people from calling it Swine Flu to H1N1 but it can be done.

    ROI is important. Many people tend to look for a big bang for the buck instead of viewing the possibility of the business direction the strategy can apply to enhancing the customer experience to build customer loyalty (ok, this is very difficult if not impossible with government). Even for government, it will help form (and keep informed) the “tribe.”

    Back to the main point of this article (term-hijacking). “Enterprise” needs to represent the organization which includes so many other aspects (like business and technology). Any subset of “enterprise” (such as software) needs to contain a name that represents a “subset” of the enterprise.

  12. Many thanks for this, Pat.

    Interestingly, there’s a high risk that ‘organisation’ can become a term-hijack for ‘enterprise’: there are circumstances in which they can be the same, but they’re not synonymous terms.

    ‘Organisation’ is a structure with a legal or similar boundary – in effect, a governance boundary. For example, a company or corporation is a legal entity; likewise a club or society, though more of the ‘laws’ may be self-chosen in that case.

    By contrast, if we use the IEEE1471/FEAF definition, ‘enterprise’ is _any_ grouping of people who collaborate towards an shared purpose and set of goals and objectives: the boundary is not one of governance, but one of common purpose – which are _not_ the same things.

    An enterprise can be any subset _or superset_ of the organisation. From a business perspective, there are at least three layers of enterprise that are supersets of the organisation: partners/supply-chain; customer-base (and, in an E2.0 context, reviewers/critics); and broader community (e.g. reputation-management / CSR). Crucially, it is only when the enterprise in scope is equivalent to or a subset of the organisation that the organisation has ‘control’ – i.e. the possibility of governance by decree or diktat. For anything with a broader scope, or whose scopes intersect (e.g. employee as customer, or as concerned citizen), governance can _only_ be by via negotiation, not diktat. That this is uncomfortable for many business-folks (especially those brought up in the ‘scientific management’ tradition) is irrelevant – except that many will either try to cling on to ‘control’ where it is not available, or play ostrich and assume that the organisation _is_ the enterprise. The result of the latter is organisation-centric ‘business architecture’ that has no connection with the real world – i.e. the ecosystem in which the organisation operates – usually leading in the mid- to longer term to failure of the organisation. In other words, exactly the same problems as those of IT-centrism, but at a larger scale.

    It’s for such reasons that I’m so insistent on the need for whole-of-enterprise architecture, where ‘the enterprise’ in scope is always at least one layer larger than the organisation. Although an EA assessment should preferably cover a broader range, even a one-layer difference between the two should usually be sufficient to highlight potential governance-problems and suchlike in the interactions between the organisation and its environment.

  13. I will admit that I’m very business focused (ok biased).

    Because B2B or any collaborative interaction between multiple companies (banks needing to share information/transactions or hospitals needing to share and transfer patient data) the EA needs to include both companies and may need to model the industry (including government mandated laws or reimbursement qualifications or negotiated rules).

    These examples would be larger than the subset of the organization. Would this be your whole-of-enterprise? It fits the IEEE1471/FEAR definition.

    This is expanding the original intent of the term “enterprise” hijacked for E2.0 and may need to be a separate post.

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