Taking the Lead in Enterprise 2.0

Businesses reap the benefits of new methods for collaboration, organization.

August 2008
Web 2.0 technologies are starting to make waves in the enterprise world—they’re fundamentally changing the way people work, interact, and collaborate with each other. What is still unknown is how the deployment of wikis, blogs, and social networking sites in the enterprise, known as Enterprise 2.0, will affect the way companies do business. Sonny Singh, senior vice president of Oracle’s Products and Industries Business Unit, spoke to Andrew McAfee, associate professor at Harvard Business School’s technology and operations management program, about his view of Enterprise 2.0 and how companies can benefit from it.

Singh: What do you perceive as the key characteristics of Web 2.0?

McAfee: When I hear Web 2.0, I think of a suite of user technologies that have a couple of characteristics. They tend to be very easy to use. They tend not to impose any structure on their users or put a lot of rules in place in advance. And they tend to be platforms where a community comes together and content accumulates over time. A blogosphere or a collection of blogs is clearly Web 2.0. A wiki, which is a Web page where anyone can easily contribute content or edit anyone else’s content, is clearly a Web 2.0 technology. Tags, which are just simple one-word descriptions that remind you of what content is about, are great Web 2.0 technologies. I also include RSS, which is just a very quick and dirty way for you to get a signal when something of interest in your online universe has changed.

Singh: What about Enterprise 2.0?

McAfee: Enterprise 2.0 is the use of free-form social software platforms inside organizations. There are a few things in that definition that are important. First, it’s a definition of how software gets used—not how it gets developed, and not whether it is software as a service or whether it’s hitting a server inside the organization. These are important trends, but they’re not as important for most managers as the question of what software is being used for inside the organization. I want to concentrate on software inside companies, as opposed to the broad public internet. That’s one of the distinctions between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0. The middle part of that definition is emergent social software platforms, which are online communities where people come to interact with each other and where structure emerges over time.

Singh: What are some of the key benefits that can be gained by pursuing these technologies and the adoption of Enterprise 2.0?

McAfee: I break the benefits down into two categories. First of all, there are concrete capabilities that you get if you successfully deploy Enterprise 2.0 technologies. Those include new modes of collaboration. Until wiki came along, there was not a good way for a distributed group of people to come together and collaboratively generate a document, or build a Web page, or comment on a spec, or just work together in an efficient way. So new methods of collaboration are definitely a capability that you get. They also give people in your organization a forum to express their judgments about things of interest. Then, there’s this capability that I call self-organization, which means that if you deploy these technologies, your intranet suddenly starts to look a lot more like the internet. It’s very dynamic, it’s easy to navigate, but it’s got a constantly changing, constantly evolving structure that’s not overseen by any one central authority.

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