Enterprise 2.0 has been cited by analysts, vendors and consumers as one of the most important emerging trends in business technology in the last decade. Yet we still haven’t witnessed a glut of measurably successful Enterprise 2.0 deployments.

This is not a measurability problem -- it stems primarily from the rampant misapplication of consumer technologies in the form of point applications. As the name indicates, Enterprise 2.0 requires enterprise-ready technologies. This requires more than tossing handfuls of disconnected and undirected blogs, forums, social networks, micro-blogs and wikis into the enterprise. Indeed, successful Enterprise 2.0 deployments begin by focusing on business problems and succeed by creating an integrated enterprise solution.

Enterprise 2.0 has become a crowded space. It seems new vendors are appearing, and disappearing, on a weekly basis. In addition to the upstarts, legacy software vendors are constantly rolling out their “updated” offerings. The combination of vendors and their various delivery models has created a confusing landscape.

As I’ve written here before, Enterprise 2.0 adoption is being driven by the need to accelerate how we collaborate, by reducing the friction between our systems, applications and human assets. But most vendors have focused almost entirely on improving human to human collaboration with short term fixes, by merely adding more application silos -- silos that entirely lack context for the end-user, the business and the stated goals of a given deployment.

No Middle Ground

These new E2.0 application silos are certainly easier to use than the clunky enterprise software of even five years ago. However, these point applications do not scale, cannot be customized and therefore force the users to adhere to the workflows defined by the vendors. Ultimately, the buyers aren’t even able to integrate these solutions into the overall enterprise landscape. To put it simply: many IT managers and CIOs are watching a slow motion train wreck.

Newer Enterprise 2.0 vendors are in a mad dash to slap features into their offerings in an effort to keep up with the legacy vendors. This slap-shod engineering, which is reminiscent of 1990s software, ensures critical capabilities that enable security, governance and standards compliance are thrown out the window first.

1230899182_54616bcc70_m.jpg
Photo credit: Flavia via Flickr 

Meanwhile, the legacy vendors that offer scalable, extensible, secure and governable frameworks commonly take over a year to deliver any value and an army of developers to implement a solution that is often entirely inflexible and absurdly expensive.

To complicate matters, too many organizations have taken a purely social slant on meeting the needs of their users. As Barb Mosher expertly noted, while today’s expectations are being driven by the consumer market, these expectations shift rapidly, leaving the enterprise vendors and enterprise deployment teams to do their best to keep up. Of course, because the younger vendors are delivering purpose-built point applications and the legacy vendors’ frameworks are laborious and time consuming to implement they are unable to keep up with the ever-shifting demands.

Previously I defined a new Enterprise 2.0 category I call “Collaborative Networks”. I wrote that rather than focusing on socialization, one-to-one interactions and individual enrichment, businesses must be concerned with creating an information fabric within their organizations. An information fabric is a federation of content (and behavior) from the multiplicity of data and application silos within the enterprise; such as, ERP, CRM, file servers, email, databases, web-services infrastructures, etc.

By making this information fabric easily editable across groups in a dynamic, secure, auditable, governed and real-time manner individuals can access and organize data into actionable formats that enable decision making, collaboration and reuse.

I foresee these Collaborative Networks being used across entire organizations, but also for specific use cases. This is, in fact, exactly what is starting to happen. For example, the realization of effective WEM and Social CRM are quite literally Collaborative Networks woven from a variety of systems and data sources. Some of these silos are internal to an enterprise, many are external.

Keeping Collaboration in Context

Early in my career I had the privilege of working with a small team of smart people researching distributed heterogeneous networks. We recognized that the proliferation of application and data silos was accelerating along with the commoditization of hardware and storage, the increasing specialization of software, the prevalence of open source initiatives driving down development costs, and the never-ending explosion of web APIs.

It was clear to me, and my co-founder at MindTouch, Steve Bjorg, that the world needed a means of quickly federating silos and APIs in order to expose the data and behavior in an easy to use, collaborative interface. This was about providing collaboration in context.

Collaboration in the context of the applications, data and the humans you work and play with. This allows humans to maintain their flow states, access relevant information quickly and organize raw data into actionable intelligence faster. Furthermore, this means machines (software applications) can easily be snapped together into configurations in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

3270647877_e7dc150c9e_m.jpg
Photo credit: Erik Wrenholt via Flicker 

Today this is possible. This is possible because the old monolithic proprietary players are being forced to yield to open standards. This is possible because open source software has made the development of software so much cheaper. This is possible because our world is increasingly adhering to a Web Oriented Architecture (WOA). With the right tools creating collaboration in context -- or a Collaborative Network if you will -- can be achieved rapidly and at remarkably low cost.

Within your organization, where can you benefit from collaboration in context? Many might attempt corporation-wide Collaborative Networks out of the gate; like what Walton Smith achieved at Booz Allen and Bryan Mennell succeeded with at Dachis Group. However, it is far easier to achieve victory one skirmish at a time. As you solve individual business problems with in-context solutions you’ll find it easier to get buy in and add value with others.

Find a particular business need. Perhaps it’s Social CRM, WEM or product documentation. Maybe even something smaller like a marketing or a customer service initiative. Define metrics and success. Then deploy your first Collaborative Network.

As I have witnessed with many others, it might just make your career.

Read these other great insights on Enterprise Collaboration: