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Enterprise 2.0: On its way but hardly there

Enterprise 2.0 Conference presenters have had positive, if modest, success with deployments. The barriers, they say, are huge but not insurmountable.

BOSTON -- Reality check may have been the two most important words in the program at last week's Enterprise 2.0 Conference.

Conference attendees consisted of an insular community of developers, startups, academics, media and possibly investors. Everyone at least agreed that something important was going on. After all, you won't find a Jedi naysayer at a Star Wars conference.

But despite a feeling that 2008 could be the big year for Enterprise 2.0, the "reality check" panel hosted by Harvard Business School Associate Professor Andrew McAfee -- who coined the term Enterprise 2.0 -- left the distinct impression that the infant industry has a long way to go.

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"It's clear that we have some momentum, but that Enterprise 2.0 tools and approaches and ways of working … have not taken over your organization," McAfee told the panel, which consisted of business leaders who are considered bleeding-edge pilgrims in implementing Enterprise 2.0 strategies.

The general consensus on the panel was that the biggest impediment to using blogs, wikis, Real Simple Syndication and other collaborative business software is the users themselves.

"This is a big change initiative," said Pete Fields, eBusiness director at banking giant Wachovia Corp. "There's such inertia around 'I know how to get my job done using these [current] tools.'"

Fields has implemented a Microsoft SharePoint-based set of blogs and group chat, instant messaging and videoconferencing tools, among other features.

With the exception of one panelist -- from a video game development division at Sony -- everyone recounted some level of resistance from either management or employees. In some cases, middle management resisted, even though executives were on board.

At the CIA, which has built a wiki called Intellipedia -- much of which is top secret -- some middle managers just haven't taken to the idea.

"They're not on board yet," said Sean Dennehy, who holds the title Intellipedia Evangelist. "They're not comfortable with the tools."

Dennehy's colleague, Intellipedia Doyen Don Burke, had a broader explanation for why user pickup has been notable but still slow. He said the rapid change of the working environment in general leaves different segments of the workforce with a completely different idea of how to work. Many people facing retirement began working when offices didn't even have computers, he said. Now new hires are coming in ready to blog and contribute to shared pools of information.

"It's not really appropriate to blame one group or another," Burke said. "It's just that change is occurring so rapidly now that it's occurring within that working life span."

It's not really appropriate to blame one group or another. It's
just that change is occurring so rapidly now that it's occurring within that working
life span.

Don Burke
Intellipedia DoyenCIA
Pfizer Inc. Enterprise 2.0 manager Simon Revell said he had to fight against knee-jerk negativity by abandoning the world blog ("We call it, kind of, Team Use Feed, or whatever," he said). Early on, Revell and his team members forced themselves to post and comment on a regular basis on the company blog. They even allowed anonymous posting.

All the companies highlighted during the conference -- including FedEx Corp. and Pfizer -- were big, as in enterprise-global, $1-billion-plus revenue big.

Asked about small and midmarket businesses, panelists said getting an active Enterprise 2.0 culture going would be tougher there but not impossible. Most important, Dennehy said, is maintaining a network of active users large enough to make the process worthwhile.

"If you are in a smaller organization, you're not going to have the network effect," he said. But it could still work, he said, "if you have enough energy there."

That mention of energy speaks volumes. Presenters at the conference spoke about passion and heart, about a "gut feeling" and, albeit modestly, being ahead of the curve. Revell joked, somewhat, that the company's first blog "was originally designed to be quite edgy, because we were appealing to a certain demographic."

In fact, the Pfizer Enterprise 2.0 folks once compared themselves to England's anti-establishment punk rock revolution of the 1970s.

"We took a lot of inspiration from that movement," Revell said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Zach Church, News Writer

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