Flashback one year, and organizations were struggling to define Enterprise 2.0 -- much less determine whether it could even provide value.

But today, more pilots are being deployed, more results are being measured and more companies are identifying what’s working and what isn’t. Knowledge practitioners and information professionals now loosely agree on what E2.0 is, and they are starting to discover concrete benefits to the bottom line.

To date, there is no definitive right or wrong way to implement E2.0. This can be both a help and a hindrance. On the plus side, E2.0's flexibility gives organizations the ability to adapt it to their business objectives, using a combination of technologies, processes, and resources needed to gain positive results.

However, E2.0’s subjective definition and lack of guidelines and requirements can make it difficult to understand, introduce and integrate it into a company. Organizations define and measure their success against their own business objectives, and that’s not something easily replicated across companies.

Any way you slice it, E2.0 is going to be different for everyone. And that’s OK. However, there is a common thread emerging as a best practice: getting internal and external collaboration functioning under the same umbrella.

Building a Collaborative Environment

Many organizations still have internal collaboration with staff and external communication with customers as mutually exclusive operations. However, with the advent of social technologies, many are finding real benefit to having both internal and external groups operating under the same social umbrella.

Just as you want your sales and marketing teams synced up and supporting each other’s efforts, you also want your E2.0 efforts to support internal collaboration and innovation, as well as external customer/brand objectives.

While both internal and external collaboration aim to socialize people and information, they come at it from different vantage points. E2.0 has largely been fueled by consumer social networking habits. The consumer-based social phenomenon has effectively carried over to the enterprise, mainly in the form of external collaboration, which has usually taken the form of activities such as blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Flickring, YouTubing, etc. with customers and communities outside the firewall.

Recently, managers and executives alike are realizing that social networking extends well beyond a customer community or brand development, and that there are benefits to uniting collaboration efforts so that they include staff and internal experts.

Looking at a range of socially enabled tools will help build collaborative environments. Blogs are good for certain types of collaboration, discussion forums for others, corporate wikis for yet others. Each has its place, but each should contribute to the organization’s collective goals.

For example, one of today's dominant needs is to move discussions out of e-mail and into a technology that distributes and preserves knowledge across the organization. This can benefit and fuel ideas for both brand development and product enhancement.

Relationships are the Bricks, Content is the Mortar

A foundation that spans both internal and external collaboration is relationships. Relationships in E2.0 are not limited to people, but include interactions between employees, teams, experts, content, knowledge assets and the community at large -- including customers, partners and prospects.

An effective E2.0 approach sits at the intersection of enterprise search, content management and social software. And perhaps it is managing the relationships between staff, knowledge assets and the community that will prove most valuable, because, as a whole, it has largely been an untapped collaboration advantage.

Until organizations unite internal collaboration with external social networking, we’ve only just perpetuated a thorn that has been stuck in the side of organizations for decades: More information silos, disconnected workers and customers left scratching their heads.

Integrating Internal and External Collaboration: An Example

For example, consider a business unit that is gearing up for a new product development cycle. It has a product backlog, a list of features that have been envisioned for the new release. This backlog is being built and maintained in an internal E2.0 tool (a Social Knowledge Network) that allows product ideas to be collaboratively developed and product knowledge to be widely socialized.

However, before the organization commits development resources to any specific feature, it wants to ensure that these features are a priority with the customer base. Therefore, the organization uses the Social Knowledge Network to seamlessly expose the top 50 internal product ideas to customers and receive feedback and reactions.

After receiving customer feedback, the product management team notices that customers have focused their priorities in the emerging trend 3-D widgets. Based on this feedback, the product management team is able to use the Social Knowledge Network to determine if any other R&D has been done on 3-D widgets, and whether the competition has introduced features in this area.

To their delight, they find there is quite a bit of new research in this area, and the company actually owns a lot of intellectual property around 3-D widgets. In addition, they are able to determine that the competition has not released any 3-D widget features. So they are able to focus the entire release on this new feature and begin building a marketing campaign around this emerging capability.

Collaboration Among Everyone is the Key

This shows that internal collaboration or external collaboration is only part of the story. Collaboration among all constituents, inside and outside the firewall, can lead to innovation, discovery and more effective business practices. And effective collaboration also leverages an organization’s current knowledge, rather than pretending that it does not exist.

Had the team chosen to collaborate using different tools and in different ways, the synergies between the internal thinking, the external preferences and the internal knowledge/expertise would not have emerged. Gaining insight from two collaborative silos is not likely to happen. How can product management link a marketing Twitter campaign aimed at building the brand with an internal R&D wiki? It can’t.

So when considering how to improve the efficiency of an information-centric project or business unit, don't stop at solutions that focus solely on external relationships. Consider how to span external and internal relationships, and how to leverage your current knowledge assets. This type of system will enable you to compete more effectively in the real world, and build relationships that enable discovery and innovation.

The Who vs. How of E2.0

E2.0 didn’t appear overnight. The drum beat has been steady and gotten progressively louder, with a dialogue that continues to keep us thinking about the possibilities and limitations of E2.0, and how it can benefit our organizations.

Who leads the E2.0 charge is less important than how it gets done. Ownership and understanding of your organization’s strengths and weaknesses is the crucial first step when considering E2.0. And that includes understanding how and when to blur the lines of internal and external collaboration.

Organizations have a responsibility to find the right mix of process and tools that will make E2.0 a success for their own culture and business objectives. A young start-up is going to have different E2.0 needs and challenges than a seasoned, global organization.

Done right, a holistic approach to E2.0 that enables the lines of communication and information access across all groups to be open and fluid will be void of the usual silos that stem from segmenting business processes. These organizations will be poised to capitalize on a cross-section of ideas, experiences and knowledge that E2.0 can uncover.