The flagship Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, Massachusetts ended last week. I’m going to pen two posts to cover my thoughts on the achievements and challenges in the Enterprise 2.0 sector based on observations at the conference. This post covers the big (positive) shifts and the conference itself.
A quick disclaimer first: I’m on the advisory board of the Enterprise 2.0 conference.
The conference attracted a gaggle of practitioners, leading enterprise analysts and bloggers, and vendors who opined about latest techniques in collaborative approaches and technologies to improve engagement and relationships between employees, partners and customers.
(Image: JP Rangaswami / Credit: Alex Dunne)
For my part, along with colleague Oliver Marks, I co-chair the strategy and execution planning track which , like our work, is focused on identifying where collaborative approaches can accelerate workplace and process performance and on how to plan, sell, design and execute programs.
Every year the conference pushes management and engagement boundaries by introducing newer concepts, often in the face of lava-like progress on the ground. In its 4th year, my sense is that we can definitively see a tiny white light at the end of the tunnel with respect to the ultimate stamp of legitimacy – the eventual emergence of a capital and operational budget line item to build and support 21st century collaborative enterprises.
Thanks to the work of some very dedicated practitioners (there’s scores more), there’s no doubt that the Enterprise 2.0 case studies of tomorrow are now being written. It’s a long road but these will eventually showcase more agile and fluid collaborative approaches that leverage existing process and collaborative systems and initiatives which will surface the best minds across the enterprise ecosystem to solve tough business challenges and enable effective competition.
A few large themes, and in particular order……
The Tide’s About to Rise
Tools won’t drive but they will enable. The entry of established vendors and a maturation of pure play positioning signals a decisive shift from feel-good to problem solving and growth focus.
- First, the traditional pillars of the Enterprise Software business attended and showed off their Enterprise 2.0 wares, en masse. We had platform offerings and extensions from the likes of SAP (Streamwork and Elements), Cisco (Quad), Microsoft (SharePoint 2010) and Novell (Pulse) and IBM (Lotus Connections).
- Second, proven vertical specialists such as Saba Software (Saba Live) and Success Factors (Cubetree) talked about collaborative offerings weaved into traditional talent management and workplace performance constructs.
- Third, the case for connected threads between employees, partners and customers gets stronger. Vendors such as Jive Software, Telligent and BlueKiwi offer strong platforms for customers ready to tackle multi-pronged solutions, whole hog.
- Fourth, a few horizontal platform providers woke up to the fact that they need to shove a foot into the door that leads to the process side of the house if they want to be taken seriously. Beyond experimental or tactical applications of collaborative constructs that are often void of purpose, they are moving from carpet bombing Enterprise 2.0 to launching surgical strikes. PBworks for instance announced strong collaborative wrappers to traditional CRM processes. CrowdCast latched on its predictive smarts to a known problem at every enterprise – how to turn today’s often dormant, “for the executive-brass-only” business intelligence capabilities into for-the-masses decision facilitation that helps any employee estimate the consequences of their decisions before they take action. And Socialtext introduced a beta release of what looked to be a social middleware layer that adds engagement to process.
- Fifth, those that are unapologetic about their approach to doing one thing and one thing only – simpler and better than anyone else, stuck to their story. Providers such as Socialcast and ThougtFarmer. The former continues to proudly call itself a light weight activity stream that adds much needed engagement to large, complex environments. The latter continues to innovate to gives you a far better intranet that replaces your asynchronous portal design, circa 1991.
Content, engagement and process – all in context. From a vendor offering perspective, that’s a first and must be celebrated.
Closely tied to this is another trend. Seasoned enterprise sales and marketing executives are being successfully lured to Enterprise 2.0 vendors. I spent a lot of time with them and one thing is clear: They are not adopting the party line. Rather they are channeling the passion and energy of cause driven entrepreneurs towards practical value propositions that customers will possibly care about.
The reason I’ve led with vendor innovation here is that historically speaking, there’s a significant, practical take away from the entry of established players. The ramifications of platform and vertical process specialists betting on collaborative enterprises, means this: We’re about to see hundreds of millions of marketing dollars put to work to drive awareness and education around Enterprise 2.0, Social, Collaborative (or your jargon of fancy) forms of engagement in the workplace. Add to that, the network effect about to ensue when new and existing ecosystems around these vendors (Strategy Consultants, SI’s, ISVs, Resellers) start to articulate solutions to business problems for their customers based on these innovations.
This rising tide will lift all boats and likely cement a stable foothold for Enterprise 2.0 in the application stack (a big caveat to this that I will cover in a subsequent post). The technology may come from your process vendor, or from a pure play. Regardless the programmatic spend to realize business value will need its own budget.
None of this means that customers will be guaranteed performance acceleration or that smaller vendors will achieve instant stardom. This level of exposure may well highlight some of the rudderless propositions afforded around the altruistic value of E 2.0 that seasoned customer executives will instantly balk at. Dennis Howlett covers this with great insight on his ZDNet blog. And I’ve written before about the risk of the E2.0 marketplace facing the same fate as portal vendors. That continues to be a genuine possibility.
But one thing is certain: the Enterprise 2.0 message will now have far, far deeper tentacles into mahogany row. That’s good for big platform players as well as their pure play counterparts that don’t have the budgets to educate as many buyers as they would like to, on the value and promise of Enterprise 2.0. Many large buyers don’t allow single source deals and so, RFPs will often have to cast a wider net and as a consequence, expose pure play innovation in the marketplace
Distributed Customer Stories Beyond the Obvious
Most of the case studies to date have been skewed towards either Hi-Tech or Professional Services (consultants, agencies, etc) organizations. What’s unsettling about this to me is that neither are strong sample sets to extrapolate a credible assessment of wide scale acceptance across other industry sectors. I’m not in any way suggesting that it’s been easy going for orgs in hi-tech or services, but relatively speaking, hi-tech is traditionally an early adopter of technology enabled innovation and so its natural that a lot of Silicon Valley-esque organizations have jumped in first. In the case of Professional Services, knowledge and expertise is itself the end product. And so making the case that finding better ways to surface and reuse knowledge can more directly improve margins, if done correctly. Two very strong drivers to give E2.0 a shot. Again, some of these are my customers, and at others, I personally know internal champions who are banging their heads against the wall with adoption and cultural issues.
All that said, relatively speaking, what we’ve been missing all along are strong, tangible case studies from other sectors that are not early adopters or don’t naturally see a direct link to the bottom line. Many of these are extremely successful organizations in their markets but from a collaboration standpoint, some are still evaluating SharePoint 2007. But that’s begun to change. We see it in our work and we finally saw a respectable number of case studies and customer stories from companies in other sections. Examples are YUM! Brands (restaurants), Harvard Business Review (publishing), NASA (government), Thomson Reuters (financial media), Vanguard (financial services) and Abbot Labs (life sciences) that made great presentations on their strategic uptake on open, collaborative constructs to drive performance.
Articulating the Business Case
A seemingly less critical point but one that I think is extremely important. This time around, customers were far more articulate when describing the inefficiency or limitations of existing processes and transactive designs before jumping into the promise of collaborative constructs. Enterprise 2.0 is often labeled as a solution looking for a problem and for good reason. In two customer panels that I moderated on Customer Networks and HR and Workplace performance, practitioners stated succinct, large scale business inefficiencies and competitive and market economics factors that have compelled their organizations to consider new ways of conducting business. These practitioners have been rooted in a structured process laden world over the last decade or two and spoke with authority when it comes to articulating what’s wrong first before gushing at what can be so right with Enterprise 2.0.
Where some organizations/departments have the luxury of being led by the likes of John Chambers (Cisco), Lem Lasher (CSC) and Brad Smith (Intuit) who naturally consider collaborative enterprises to be a necessarily utility to compete effectively and often without ROI prerequisites, most look for far stronger, tangible business case justifications from the get go. I’ve seen my customers in both camps, but there’s more customers who look for a strong articulation of what’s wrong with how things are done today and a seasoned justification to try a new approach. And we saw this maturity of critical business justification at least to the extent that an executive can’t afford to not listen to cause and effect arguments. That’s a huge step forward.
The Definitive Watering Hole for the 21st Century Enterprise
The point that often gets lost in the midst of constructive criticism is that we have a strong physical platform with the Enterprise 2.0 conference to compliment digital and often disconnected conversations on Twitter and the blogs to help each other. As important, the conference offers a vehicle for attendees to share suggestions and for organizers to respond with solutions the next time around. There’s always a yearning from attendees to see more case studies, to see less vendors and consultants on stage and I think that’s legitimate.
Honestly, I don’t personally have a categorical objection to vendors presenting on the keynote stage. The reality is that vendors are no different from the rest of us in one particular aspect: They also share a passion and vision for a better way to conduct business and are putting their money where their mouth is, every day. Unfortunately one too many vendor keynote speakers launched demos where they should have taken the allocated 20 minutes to share industry vision and big market and customer problems that need tackling. It’s implied that their offerings address these challenges. What we largely got was 1.0 marketing to a 2.0 crowd. A big opportunity was lost to level with the rest of the community by offering new pathways to value and by inspiring the collective. These were in sharp contrast to keynotes from the likes of JP Rangaswami, Professor Andrew McAfee, Vinnie Mirchandani and others.
But we also saw more senior executives and mangers from the buy side present or join panels, this time around. I evaluated last year’s event by looking at the degree of practitioner focus and gave it a thumbs up. This year, the conference offered an all day Adoption track chaired by the able Susan Scrupski that gave practitioners significant leeway to design their own day long workshop, panels and sessions. So the conference built on last years practitioner centric efforts.
The conference is now in the early stages of catering to the entire Enterprise 2.0 life cycle: Credibly articulating the business case for layering in a collaborative backbone to enrichen process, understanding the tools, applications and platforms, getting adoption and tactical planning right, and holistically looking at interaction between customers and employees. With the help of a strong cadre of instructors and track chairs including Mike Gotta, Irwin Lazar, Tony Byrne, Oliver Marks, Susan Scrupski, Rachel Happe , Dion Hinchcliffe, Alistair Croll and Larry Cannell.
Whilst still consultant/analyst heavy, the conference is also become a clearing house for not only customer success stories but about the journey, as was made evident by over 30 customer stories presented on the keynote stage, in panels as well as in session talks. Kudos to TechWeb and in particular the management, sales, marketing and operational teams for their flawless organization of the event itself.
Some Must Read Posts on the Event
There’s a lot of blog posts and media coverage offering up excellent opinion on the conference and state of Enterprise 2.0 from the likes of Oliver Marks, Thomas Vander Wal, Bertrand Duperrin and Nigel Fenwick. I’m still digesting and will expand on these in my next post. But if your looking for the best blow by blow coverage, that comes from V Mary Abraham, Bill Ives and Patti Anklam. (please comment if I missed anyone and I’ll update)
What Comes Next:
It wasn’t all peachy. In a subsequent post, I’ll try and cover some of the following items that I suggest we deal with, pronto.
- We’re still lacking adequate operational metrics alignment to be taken more seriously.
- Addressing cultural nuances is certainly an important success factor. But we’re hiding behind cultural arguments as the universal culprit, far more than we rightfully should.
- The millennial discussion is mostly without substantial evidence and downright asinine.
- There’s a giant disconnect between today’s customer expectations and the ability of employees to fulfill these expectations. I covered this in my keynote at the International Forum in Milan week before last, and Ill try to add insights from others, based on my discussions.
- Unnecessary complexity added to design frameworks and to toolsets which, will only overwhelm potential customers.
On a personal note, this is the one event in the year that I look forward to most. And it did not disappoint. I chatted with lots of old pals into the wee hours of the morning, and had the good fortune to meet people who visit this blog and to thank them for taking the time to read and engage. Some in the community use this platform to genuinely bond once a year and to graciously share experiences, lessons learned and to celebrate the work of everyone involved. And you can’t put a price on that.