Have you ever been to a technology conference where the technology wasn't the most interesting part? That was my experience last week at the Enterprise 2.0 conference, in Santa Clara. Seven years after we first started using the term "Enterprise 2.0," the most interesting content at the conference was about how this type of technology is both enabled by and enabling new ways of managing, measuring, and motivating people.
Moving beyond technology
Of course, there's still a lot of technology at the heart of Enterprise 2.0. In fact, the expo floor was (as always) awash in a sea of cloned social feeds and profiles. Social software for business is getting more sophisticated, driven by ongoing innovation in how people communicate and collaborate on tools like Facebook and Twitter. Keynote speaker Tim Young remembers receiving an RFP for social software from a Fortune 100 organization with 450 different feature requirements.
The problem? Our belief that "if we build it, they will come," answers Genentech's Principal Systems Architect, Andy Wang, an organization with a great deal of experience using social technology to make their scientists more productive.
Here's how it usually works: Many organizations start by throwing a bunch of money at a variety of social business tools and "hoping for the best." Next comes an attempt to "manage" these communities by encouraging a lot of activity that's seldom more than noise. Achieving results will require a third step that will be even harder. According to Rachel Happe (nicely summarized here), what makes communities successful are characteristics that most companies aren't comfortable with-words like "connection, caring, empathy and vulnerability."
Enterprise 2.0 management
While it makes sense that these words are at the heart of successful communities, they aren't used very often in the boardroom. That means that Enterprise 2.0 is as much about how we manage our organizations as it is about the technology that supports them.
"More companies are realizing that relationships, people, culture are their competitive differentiator," argues Happe. "We're just learning how to optimize people. We don't have processes for that."
In fact, this might not even be a problem that we can solve within the boundaries of our organization. Don Tapscott argued in his keynote (and in this interview by Rawn Shah) that you can't "have Enterprise 2.0 unless you change your whole industry." As the cost of communicating and collaborating come down, the traditional hard boundaries of a firm are starting to blur, allowing for competition by a flexible network of collaborators across an industry's value chain.
Enterprise 2.0 measurement and motivation
If all of this change is sounding a little intimidating, it's important to remember the reason why it is required. Keynote speaker Jonathan Schwartz (of Sun Microsystems fame) put it this way: "Your most aggressive competitors were born collaborative. They're more efficient, more effective, and will eat your lunch."
Despite that strategic imperative, it is notoriously difficult to build a "business case" for investing in Enterprise 2.0. The reason for this, argues Daniel Rasmus in his paper on the serendipity economy, is that we're using the lens of an industrial economy to measure impact in a post-industrial world. "Seeing a social world through the lens of an industrial model is dangerous." There's a "new math" of productivity required when the impact of my actions ripple across a social network.
Using traditional productivity metrics can be disastrous. Look at the entire category of CRM software. Sameer Patel argues that this $13B software category is "nothing more than one giant contact management and reporting tool." CRM has become a tool to encourage process compliance -- something we can measure. While this can be important, it has nothing to do with the actual relationship you have with your customers -- something that's very hard to measure. "Its time to put the "relationship" back in CRM, argues Patel.
A new approach is required
Add it all up, and we have a pretty broken way of working in most companies. Young surveyed thousands of people about what they think about on their way into work. The number one emotion at the heart of their responses? Anxiety about what I should be working on today, and how I'm going to get this done.
This is a problem at the core of how we work. Fixing this is not a technology problem -- it's a problem in how we manage, how we measure, and how we motivate communities of people. It is fantastic to see the Enterprise 2.0 conference focus on these important issues.
Ryan is VP Apps at Podio, an online collaboration platform for getting things done with others.