Enterprise 2.0 changing the way we work

Author and researcher Andrew McAfee says using Web 2.0 tools will change business

Sure, companies have started using Web 2.0 tools, but one man says we've only seen a glimmer of the serious change that they're going to bring to the way we do business.

Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the Center for Digital Business in the MIT Sloan School of Management, is also the author of the recently released book Enterprise 2.0, which isn't surprising since he says he coined the term "Enterprise 2.0" in the spring of 2006 when he was describing businesses using Web 2.0 tools.

McAfee says tools and Web sites like wikis, blogs, Twitter and Facebook are changing not only the way businesses share information, but also the way employees function inside those businesses. In effect,Enterprise 2.0 is changing the way we work.


Name: Andrew McAfee

Title: Principal research scientist, Center for Digital Business, MIT Sloan School of Management

Location: Cambridge, Mass.

Favorite gadget: "Kindle DX. When I traveled, I'd take six or eight good books with me. If you only take one book and it's not good, you're in a horrific situation. Now I travel around with 30 or 40 books in my Kindle."

Favorite Web 2.0 tool: "I was initially a huge Twitter skeptic. I just didn't get it and didn't understand why any responsible adult professional should get into it. It's become this background presence in my workday."

In high school I was:

"A book/math nerd."

Favorite guilty pleasure: "A cocktail called Northern Lights at a restaurant called Craigie On Main in Cambridge, Mass."

In an interview with Computerworld, McAfee talked about employees dragging IT into the Web 2.0 world, what's keeping some companies from jumping in, what businesses are making great use of Web 2.0 tools, and what Enterprise 2.0 will look like in 10 years.

What does Enterprise 2.0 mean?

Loosely, it means applying Web 2.0 tools and philosophies to different business situations.... The tighter definition is the business use of an emergent social software platform. E-mail is not an emergent platform. [It's about] building clever tools that get out of the way and let people interact as they want to.

Are employees dragging IT kicking and screaming into the world of Enterprise 2.0?

People throughout the organization are clamoring for easier-to-use tools. They're frustrated by the fact that tools outside the firewall are easier to use than the tools in their own enterprise. A lot of times, [employees] do an end run and use some cloud utilities to get their work done. IT departments have had the final call over what has been used [in the enterprise], but that era is drawing to a close very quickly. I appreciate that there are security considerations. There are legitimate concerns, but saying, "No, no, no" isn't going to win you fans elsewhere in the business.

A lot of executives fear that services such as Facebook and Twitter are big productivity killers. Do you agree with blocking employees from using them?

I don't agree that it's time-wasting.... They might say, "We don't like those big public utilities, but we will give you something equivalent behind the firewall." Sticking your head in the sand and waiting for this to pass is an extremely short-sighted philosophy. There's the idea that the coolest tech gizmos are no longer the ones that the company buys for you, but that you can get for free on the Internet.

What are the best ways that businesses are taking advantage of Web 2.0 technology?

They're taking advantage of it in a few different ways. They're using it to let people broadcast their expertise. I'm going to tell the organization what I'm doing, what I know and what I'm good at. I'm not filling out fields in a database. I'm doing this by blogging. That lets me narrate my work. Combine that with decent search technology, and you can find out who in the organization would be a good colleague for you [to work with]. You also can use it to broadcast your ignorance and talk about things you need help with. If people have something that would be helpful, they're usually happy to share it with you. You have these doses of altruism. It's broadcast search. You're throwing your question out to the world.

What businesses are really doing a great job with their Enterprise 2.0 efforts?

The BBC did something really interesting a while back. They looked around, and all the managers were saying their intranet search was incredibly frustrating.... They realized they could refine their intranet search and make it better, but instead they formed forum discussion groups. You can ask anyone on the BBC network a question, and anyone can answer you. You can ask, "Where does this information exist?" Someone will say, "It's right here," and they'd provide a link or provide an attachment. It's a way to let people be helpful to each other.

Any other businesses stand out with their Enterprise 2.0 efforts?

The CIA is using [Enterprise 2.0 technology] to broadcast [individuals'] expertise to people inside the intelligence community. Before, they had no way to find people in different intelligence organizations who were working on the same things or who were experts in something they were working on. Now, they can reach out and find people who are valuable, not only in the CIA, but in the FBI and the NSA. There might be a colleague out there who would be useful to you, if you knew about them. Now there's an actual tie.

What's the biggest thing companies are doing wrong when it comes to Enterprise 2.0?

The biggest thing they're doing is letting different flavors of concern or risk or fear hold them back. They can come up with a laundry list of things that can go wrong. Stuff can leap across the firewall. Someone can harass a co-worker. Someone can talk about how stupid an employer is. They can easily come up with stuff that is very scary, but when I talk to organizations that have gone the distance with this, they have not seen this behavior. If someone wanted to harass a co-worker, they didn't have to wait for blogging software to come along to do it, for instance.

Are Web 2.0 tools changing the way we do business?

Not to a huge extent, yet. The adoption is not universal. It's not like you magically transform yourself overnight. Most big enterprises are aware of the phenomenon. They're interested and are trying to figure out how to proceed. It's a long, slow process. We're asking people to rethink how they think about technology and collaboration. There's a lot of shift in perspective required. Companies will be transformed. It will be a quiet, subtle transformation, though.

Because of Web 2.0 tools, how do you think businesses will act or look differently in 10 years?

What I hope is that some part of people's job will be about enterprise-level "colleague-hood." How are you helping out the enterprise, as a whole? Part of business culture has to be helpfulness, or colleague-hood. I do think that these tools make me optimistic because they give people a voice inside the enterprise. In the future, it will be easy to figure out who in the enterprise can be valuable to me. I can home in on the people I need to work with, and right now that still can be very difficult to figure out.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld.

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Sharon Gaudin

Computerworld (US)
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