Is Enterprise 2.0 a sham? Dennis Holwett sure thinks so. Back in August of this year the blogger wrote an article for ZDNet that criticized the entire two-dot-oh approach, citing limited evidence that ruling out hierarchies has actually helped businesses. Needless to say, it stirred up a ton of bat-youknowwhat-crazy conversation.

David Berlind, Content Officer, TechWeb, brought the article to the table at the Enterprise 2.0 conference this week. And though he admitted there might not be many case studies of success, he also pointed out that we certainly have enough cases of failure to get people engaged in helpful conversation about where the Enterprise is headed.

The Panel

We won't downplay the panelists; they came up with some intriguing points to consider:

  • It's easy to slap labels, fad or trendy words onto technologies, but nobody can say they aren't making work easier and that's what it should be about: solving business problems efficiently.
  • How can Enterprise 2.0 be a crock when we can't help but do it? If people don't internally have the capabilities they require, they will find ways to complete tasks without putting data at risk.
  • Cultural shifts happen whether we like it or not, and Enterprise 2.0 is simply an answer to dealing with it.
  • Enterprise 2.0 isn't pushing itself forward; the workforce is transforming whether we like it or not. As a result, we expect more as employees and we expect more voice to be put into recognition. As inroads realized by the people that need them, Enterprise 2.0 technologies in their simplest form allow people to get their work done smarter, faster, better.

The mavens have some good points here but, unfortunately for them, Howlett's argument is that the world of business has bigger problems:

"The world is NOT made up of knowledge driven businesses. It’s made up of a myriad of design, make and buy people who -quite frankly - don’t give a damn about the ‘emergent nature‘ of enterprise. To most of those people, the talk is mostly noise they don’t need.They just want to get things done with whatever the best tech they can get their hands on at reasonable price."

The Irreconcilable Differences

Most people are cool with using the term Web 2.0 because the Web has always been about interconnectivity and sharing information. The Enterprise, however, has not. So what do we do when a system built on hierarchical principals and a closed door policy tries to mimic a system that can literally be described as its exact fundamental opposite? During the panel Berlind himself wondered aloud if the principals we seem to be applying to Enterprise 2.0 today had to've been in place at the start to really work out (another great idea to consider).

This is not to say that collaboration tools and the like haven't been helpful, because yes, of course they have. But can how long will we try to squish these ill-fitting puzzle pieces together before something, or someone, or many somethings and someones, explode?

To reiterate, a quote from Miko Matsumara, Vice President of Software AG and conference attendee:

...I believe there are legitimate technologies that can help organizations collaborate and gain significant advantages. But the Enterprise 2.0 crowd for the most part do not show the kind of sophistication about the Enterprise that is needed.

His examples of lack of sophistication include the idea that silos can be broken down, an idea that was not only heavily focused on during this particular panel but could also be heard whispered (and sometimes shouted) from the lips of many an attendee. "Silos, both organizational and technological are an emergent property of Enterprise," Matsumara explains. "...the Enterprise can be defined as an organization whose mission requires longevity, size and growth. Longevity creates technology silos, growth creates organizational silos."

The Twilight Zone

This is certainly a stretch, but imagine that we're all suddenly in some alternate universe and our mission is to un-socialize the Web. Crazy, right? We imagine people like Howlett see the attitude toward Enterprise 2.0 in a similar light. Matsumara even offers the possibility that "we are hitting fundamental limits to human social scalability in the Enterprise."

At the end of Howlett's article he poses the question: What exactly is Enterprise 2.0 trying to accomplish?

One hour, six panelists and several questions from the audience later (toss this article in with all that while you're at it) we still don't have an answer. 

Thoughts? Please, we could all use them.