Thursday, 5 November 2009

Andrew McAfee: Enterprise 2.0 (beta)


McAfee  I’ve been following proceedings at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in San Francisco this week (and wishing I was there – or actually anywhere but here given the weather at the moment).

And I’ve also been reading the rest of Andrew McAfee’s book on Enterprise 2.0 (McAfee’s presentation at the conference is available on E2TV).


What I like about the book:

The technology

I really like McAfee’s explanation of the technology and its uses.  As a regular reader of his blog, there’s a not a lot new here for me, but it’s still interesting stuff.

And that’s it on that - I’m going to move on because McAfee’s views on the technology aren’t something I’d want to criticise either positively or negatively as he clearly knows an awful lot more about all of this than me.


Adoption of the technology

And in any case, my favourite sections of the book are those chapters (6,7 and 8) at the end of the book dealing with adoption of web 2.0 tools (ESSPs: emergent social software platforms):

“I’ve noticed that concerns around Enterprise 2.0 fall into two broad categories: fears that people won’t use the newly available ESSPs , and fear that they will.  The latter, which stem from the lack of upfront control common to ESSPs, tend to crop up first.  When first exposed to these technologies, business decision makers voice concerns about what happens when direct control is surrendered and many people can freely contribute to information platforms.  The scenario of broad participation in these platforms behind the firewall gives rise to a consistent set of worrying questions:

  • What if employees use their internal blogs to post hate speech or pornography, or to harass a coworker?
  • What if blogs are used to denigrate the company itself, air dirty laundry, or talk about how misguided its leadership and strategy are?"
  • etc (it’s a good, and quite a long list!)


However, McAfee notes that whilst he deliberately looks for horror stories, he has yet to find any that make him question whether the risks associated with web 2.0 tools outweigh the benefits.

The risks are normally mitigated by:

  • Comments being attributable
  • Self-policing
  • Role modelling and intervention by formal leaders
  • Most people knowing how to act professionally, including when they’re online.


Behavioural problems in adoption

The second of McAfee’s concerns seem more appropriate.  Take-up of web 2.0 tools is not always fast and spontaneous:

“It’s easy to be impressed by the large, dynamic, and vibrant Web 2.0 communities on the Internet and so to overlook the fact that they’re actually quite tiny when expressed as a percentage of all Internet users.  A key challenge, then, for all Enterprise 2.0 advocates is… to understand why the ‘ ambient percentage’ of contributors to organizational ESSPs isn’t higher.

  • Are the technologies themselves too primitive, or are they difficult to learn and use?
  • Do some managers in an organization actually act to block Enterprise 2.0, because they don’t want information to flow more freely?
  • Or are the real roadblocks internal, rooted somewhere in the heads of individuals [users]?”


McAfee reports that the main barrier isn’t technology.  And it’s not managers (other than as another category of user) – something that surprised him (and me).  It is getting people to change the way they work, and “their choices, biases and endowments”.  This is hard, and therefore:

“Many organizations, especially larger ones, have found that ESSPs remain a niche technology even well after their introduction, used by only a relatively small portion of the workforce, and lagging far behind the universal deployment of older channel technologies like e-mail.”


What I like less

The starting point

The first thing I’m less positive about is McAfee’s answer to the key question that organisations ask: “how should we start?”.

“I respond by asking them to talk a bit more about what they mean by Enterprise 2.0 and by introducing the concepts of the tie strength bull’s-eye and the set of possible benefits.  I have found that these frameworks help focus the discussion about ESSPs for the enterprise in productive ways.”


Now, I do like McAfee’s discussion of social ties, but I don’t like the way he allocates different web 2.0 technologies, and his case studies, with the different types of tie.

The choice of application is about purpose (connecting / collecting) not context (tie strength)

(The main difference between the VistaPrint and Serena Software examples isn’t one of tie strength.  To me, the difference is between connecting (people) and collecting (knowledge).  Wikis are for collecting (Vistaprint) and social networks are for connecting (Serena).)

Purpose becomes clear if organisations answer their question using my model instead of McAfee’s (see this post or the slides from my recent Social Media in Business presentation).


It’s not not about being social

I’m cheating here, as this comment is about McAfee’s Enterprise 2.0 conference presentation rather than the book, but I do disagree with him that there is danger in the word ‘social’.

I’ve already dealt with this, so check out this post for my thoughts on this.


It’s not not not (not?) about technology

But my biggest concern is that I still think McAfee’s focus on technology in Enterprise 2.0’s is too heavy (particularly given his comments on the limited take-up in many organisations).

MacAfee seems to recognise this, explaining that Enterprise 2.0 is not primarily a technological phenomenon. 

But then he still says that Enterprise 2.0 is the phenomenon that occurs when organisations adopt the tools and approaches of Web 2.0.  If that’s not putting IT at the heart of his definition, I don’t know what is!


And this leads us to the central problem with Enterprise 2.0 which is that it’s still IT which is making all the running in this field.

Why is it that it’s someone from IT’s who has written the standard text on something that’s basically about behavioural change.

Why isn’t someone from HR writing this.  Oh wait, they are!  And I hope to start sharing some drafts of it with you in a couple of month’s time.


Also see:


Photo credit: Alex Dunne

Technorati Tags: Andrew McAfee,Enterprise 2.0,book,conferences,#e20conf


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