Enterprise 2.0 is the latest hot business trend. But where does its future really lie? One only has to look at web content management to see the path.

A few years ago, when the term Enterprise 2.0 hit the collective business consciousness there was this breathless air of excitement. Of course it made sense -- it’s like Web 2.0, only now we’ll do it for businesses. It’s genius, right? The idea of the enterprise using “emergent social software platforms to pursue its goals” (to use Andrew McAfee’s definition) seemed, at the same time, both really familiar and cutting edge.

So here we are, a few years later: and while the social web has made an unmistakable mark on consumer behavior, calling it Web 2.0 has come and gone. But what of Enterprise 2.0? Well, from recent reports it would seem we’re either convinced that it’s still the “core part of the business application framework” (from the current E2.0 conference overview) or as “Enterprise Irregulars” blogger, and ZDNet writer Dennis Howlett told me last week when I asked him his opinion -- “a crock”.

Regardless of which side you fall -- there’s no shortage of money in the space. SuccessFactors bought CubeTree for US$ 20 million, StatusNet just picked up US$ 1.4m to take a Twitter-like application behind the firewall and as was reported here on CMSWire -- Jive just picked up an additional US$ 30 million.

So, money flows, conferences launch and panels assemble -- it all feels very familiar. Cue the big swirly psychedelic video effect. We’re back in the early 2000’s. Whoah, Microsoft just got ordered to break into two companies. The stock market is in the toilet, and we’re in the middle of a recession. And CMS is a new, hot business topic.

Enterprise 2.0 -- Like CMS -- But With a Cooler Acronym

Ten years ago -- the idea of empowering enterprise business users with content management had this kind of breathless anticipation. White papers proclaimed that it was “time to empower business users with WYSIWYG editing”. Software vendors promised that CMS tools would “decentralize the management of information”. They demoed their software where managers seamlessly provided sales departments and customers with product information -- and happy CEO’s on conference panels recognized the ROI of an efficient, content distribution.

In short, the promised benefit of content management empowered non-technical people to collaborate and share more freely across the enterprise. Compare that to the first benefits of E2.0. Again, according to Andrew McAfee on the Harvard Business Review blog: “the tools help people find information and guidance quickly and reduce duplication of work…. They allow executives to realize the dream of creating an up-to-the-minute repository of everything an organization knows”.

Realizing the Dream?

So, okay -- some of that has come to pass right? There must be real case studies of real companies doing something with social software in the Enterprise. Right? Well, there are -- but certainly the dream of (as Aaron Roe Fulkerson said a couple of weeks ago) “creating an information fabric within their organization” has not been realized. Most of the case studies seem to be a pretty bland and broad definitions of Enterprise 2.0. It’s kind of like the old Jeff Foxworthy “you might be a redneck” bit: If you’ve deployed a wiki or a highly customized version of Sharepoint with link-sharing -- you might be E2.0.

So, what’s the challenge? Why hasn’t this taken off? Is it a lack of the right features? Is it adoption challenges? Is it integration? Or, is it as Dennis Howlett told me when calling E2.0 a “crock” the case that “the circus has moved on with analysts and vendors now trying to co-opt the SCRM moniker, pulling in bits of the E2.0 social media detritus so it looks good.”

Whatever the reason -- I think there are two key CMS lessons that Enterprise 2.0 advocates can look to as this space evolves/dissolves:

Lesson 1: E2.0 Is Soylent Green -- And CMS is Charlton Heston

CMS advocates learned the hard way that it was process and people -- not product that made the difference in effecting change. As very appropriately pointed out by Barb Mosher in her post last month, Enterprise 2.0 is people. E2.0 Advocates -- especially software vendors should take heed from the CMS lessons. Just a couple of examples:

  • Sometimes Sally doesn’t want to be empowered. Sometimes it’s just easier before we had a tool. In CMS, this has been covered extensively; especially by Seth Gottlieb and his “Myth Of the Occasional User” article. And, as Shawn Dahlen said in an E2.0 case study of Lockheed MartinI want [employees] to create content because it helps them get their job done. The social part comes after.”
  • Sharing/Community takes real time, effort -- and is NOT about software. I was recently in client meetings at a very large healthcare organization where the corporate communications team, the IT team and the product development team won’t even physically sit intermingled in an all-hands meeting -- much less share their work in a hyper-transparent way.

Lesson 2: Tools -- Content Management’s Present is E2.0’s Future

The original promise of CMS: “make it easy to manage, edit and produce (or publish) content” is now just a fractional, commoditized piece of what is needed in a suite of functionality. Are you managing a marketing Web site focused on lead generation? Well now, there’s a full-on app for that.

As Aberdeen pointed out in their 2009 “Next Generation Web Content Management” report it now includes content management, analytics, email capabilities, lead nurturing and content testing and targeting. Are you putting a high degree of governance over patient record documents -- or producing a technical manual for a product in 16 languages? There’s an App for that too. In short, traditional content management systems are being subsumed and incorporated into the DNA of other suites of applications.

If E2.0 survives as a concept, look for this to happen here as well. Social tools will not become more enterprise-like. Enterprise tools will become more social friendly.

In the end, if there is a real promise for the future of E2.0 just like with content management -- it’s not about products -- it’s process and people. Deb Lavoy said it eloquently here on CMSWire last month when she wrote:

We are seeing the shift from thinking that everything must be reviewed, decided and divided to the idea that the organization can collaborate, learn, contribute and, hence, address more and harder challenges.

With all due respect to Andrew McAfee -- the promise and future of Enterprise 2.0 looks a lot like the promise and future of content management. It isn’t “using emergent social software platforms to pursue goals”. Rather, it’s that Enterprises must change their culture to leverage the emergent social sharing behavior to pursue goals -- regardless of the tools.