I want to use a multi-part post to discuss some ideas and report on recent experiences in bringing a ‘social’ approach to managing Information Technology.  First, some context.

The Rise of Enterprise 2.0…

The term Enterprise 2.0 first surfaced in 2006, attributed to Harvard Business School Professor Andrew McAfeeWikipedia defines Enterprise 2.0 as:

the use of “Web 2.0” technologies within an organization to enable or streamline business processes while enhancing collaboration – connecting people through the use of social-media tools. Enterprise 2.0 aims to help employees, customers and suppliers collaborate, share, and organize information. Andrew McAfee describes Enterprise 2.0 as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers”.

The term quickly took hold, spawning speeches and several major conferences dedicated to the subject.  Vendors of social networking tools and platforms proliferated and it seemed we were in for a revolution in the ways business was conducted and managed.

…And Fall of Enterprise 2.0?

Well, it makes a good headline, but I’m not sure “fall” is quite accurate.  However, Enterprise 2.0 has not exactly sustained its momentum, even though there have been some moderate success stories, and, in fact, “social” approaches are gradually creeping into business practices across a wide spectrum of industries.

From ‘Enterprise 2.0’ to ‘Social Business’

Recently, the term “Social” seems to be replacing Enterprise 2.0 as the term du jour to describe business enablement through social-media tools.  See, for example, Harold Jarche‘s excellent piece on Social Business on the Edge of the Chasm, or CIO Magazine’s How ‘Social’ is Taking Over Business.   To quote from the Jarche piece:

Social business is about a shift in how we do work, moving from hierarchies to networks. The highest value work today is the more complex stuff, or the type of work that cannot be automated or outsourced. It’s work that requires creativity and passion. Doing complex work in networks means that information, knowledge and power no longer flow up and down. They flow in all directions. As John Seely Brown said, you can only understand complex systems by marinating in them. This requires social learning. Complex work is not linear. Social business is giving up centralized control and harnessing the power of networks. It is as radical as was Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management in 1911.”

The IT Organization – The Epitome of Complexity!

As a researcher, student and practitioner of IT organizational design for nearly 35 years, I’ve long recognized the complexity inherent in IT management.  For example:

  • We manage to three very different value propositions – some of what we do is managed according to Operational Excellence principles (e.g., IT operations); some is managed for Customer Intimacy (e.g., business relationships) and some for Product Leadership and Innovation (e.g., opportunity discovery).
  • We have to ensure that new technologies coexist with legacy systems and infrastructures against the relentless drive of Moore’s Law and Gilder’s Law.
  • The economics of sourcing is constantly shifting with the rise of India, China, Eastern Europe, South America and other loci of low cost software development.
  • We have to deal with the ‘consumerization of technology’ as devices such as smart phones and tablet computers cross over from the home/entertainment space to the business realm.
  • We have to deal with immature funding and demand management models that often encourage low-value activity or result in a complex legacy of poorly connected systems.

So, it has seemed to me that tools such as MediaWiki, SharePoint, et al should be excellent enablers of IT Management – recognizing the complex nature of this work, and shifting it towards a more networked and collaborative approach.

Early Experiments in Social IT Management

My valued colleague, Roy Youngman and I have long been frustrated with both the process and deliverables from many of our consulting engagements over the years (we started working together over 20 years ago at Ernst & Young!)  The problem with the process was that we would spend most of our time with the CIO and IT leadership team, some of our time with IT managers, and virtually no time with the people actually doing the work.  This always felt somewhat ‘upside down.’

  • First, we weren’t working with the people who had the detailed knowledge of how things really got done.
  • Second, any changes that had to be introduced as a result of our intervention had to cascade from the CIO and IT leadership team on down.  This was a slow process, often involved massive ‘transformation’ initiatives,  leading to mixed results – some spectacularly successful, others disappointing.  By the time the “troops” heard the messages, they were distorted and there was little to no sense of “what’s in it for me?”  So the typical response was, “Keep your head down – this too shall pass!”  And pass it did, reinforcing the belief that strategic change initiatives can be ignored!
  • Finally, the problem with the deliverables from all this strategy and organization design work was often PowerPoint slides, Visio diagrams and Microsoft Word and Excel documents – hardly the stuff that IT organizations should be managed by!

So Roy and I began doing our IT strategy and organization design engagements differently – typically using SharePoint to change the process from a top-down, hierarchical approach to one more collaborative and engaging, and change the deliverables to ones that ‘live and breathe’ and that are central to the way things are managed – wikis, threaded conversations, process models and so on.

So, What Have We Learned from the Experiments?

Tune into the next post in this series…

Image courtesy of Trident Consulting LLC

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