In this second posting on the subject of Enterprise 2.0, we look at whether enterprises should use these technologies, and in what circumstances.

The overriding problem facing all enterprises when it comes to information systems and ICT is the assumption that they are necessary and one should be able to use all the applications and technology available. The truth is rather different: ICT and its associated applications are simply tools that are best suited, in the first degree, to carrying out repetitious, rule-based and essentially transactional activities with a greater degree of accuracy and untiring attention than can be provided by humans. Technology is about achieving orders-of-magnitude improvement in productivity.

The second degree of usage stems from the technology’s ability to support applications which allow the user to manipulate data in small or large tranches. This ability finds its place in spreadsheets, word processing and graphic design programs. These activities are much less transactional and much more knowledge-based than those in the first degree of usage.

For the majority of enterprises, these two degrees of usage form the primary usage and application of ICT and other usages are a distraction and, possibly, a hindrance. For these enterprises, Web 2.0 is not something they can make good use of and, beyond email and an informative (or possibly, an interactive) website, they should not expend scare resources of time or money on considering Enterprise 2.0 technologies.

Where Enterprise 2.0 technologies come to the fore is when an enterprise can re-caste its operating or structural model to include networked activities. By this I do not mean simply having email or a website, but to genuinely need to network so as to operate. Dispersed Structural Models and their further development, the Deconcentrated Structural Model, have as an operating principle a number of operations that need to exchange data and/or are not co-located. These, then, require ‘networking’ to achieve operating efficiency and as soon as that happens, and especially when it happens in non-co-located structures, the tools that make up Web 2.0 technologies and can be applied as Enterprise 2.0 applications come into their own.

As mentioned in a previous post, Enterprise 2.0 is about communication and even more about collaboration and I contend that there are few enterprises that can really make good use of them. Having conducted some empirical research in enterprises within Europe and Asia, I am of the opinion that Enterprise 2.0 is really only useful when those involved in the enterprise’s internal collaboration reach a critical mass or are not co-located. Quite what that critical mass is is not something I have yet determined but reviewing the efficiency of teams leads me to think that there has to be more than seven people involved in a collaboration (or perhaps five if spread across a number of locations) before using electronic collaboration applications makes sense.

Beyond a critical mass of users, it is also necessary to consider whether the users are sufficiently attuned with using electronic collaboration tools. There is strong empirical evidence that suggests that those who are aged in their forties and above (the majority of managerial-level employees) are less than fully committed to ICT as a collaboration tool and find that engaging with the technologies places them well outside their comfort zones. They are happy enough to use email and some may feel comfortable with EMS (enterprise messenger systems) and up-dating central databases but microblogging, social networking applications, and wikis are well beyond where they want to be. Of course, there are a wide range of enterprises in which usage of such technologies is culturally affirmed, but I contend that the actual number of such is actually very small as a percentage of the total number of enterprises.

In the next posting on this subject I’ll look at Enterprise 2.0 applications and their impact on performance – and especially the ‘perceived’ negative impact on performance – and the resulting need for a new management paradigm.

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