IT's Obstinance on Enterprise 2.0

Ann All

Harvard Business School's Andrew McAfee is one of our favorite champions of Enterprise 2.0 -- a term he is credited with coining -- because his arguments for it are based on logic and reasoning rather than the litanies of buzzwords that many people spout when they talk about E2.


A recent blog post discussing McAfee's disappointment with the way E2 technologies are dressed down in an InformationWeek article is a case in point.


Like McAfee, we have long contended that many Web 2.0 technologies like wikis will work better in the enterprise than in the "outside" world because business users are more vested in ensuring their 2.0 tools are accurate and useful -- so, for example, there is far less risk of Wikipedia-style "vandalism."


Yet companies continue to show a lack of enthusiasm for E2 tools. InformationWeek's online poll found that interest in them fell from 2006 to 2007. We attributed this to Web 2.0 exhaustion, businesses just getting a little sick of hearing about it in our blog about the same article.


McAfee notes that E2 tools take some of the control out of the hands of companies:

Enterprise 2.0 tools have no inherent respect for organizational boundaries, hierarchies, or job titles. They facilitate self-organization and emergent rather than imposed structure. They require line managers, compliance officers, and other stewards to trust that users will not deliberately or inadvertently use them inappropriately. They require these stewards to become comfortable with collaboration environments that "practice the philosophy of making it easy to correct mistakes, rather than making it difficult to make them" as Jimmy Wales has said. They require, in short, the re-examination and often the reversal of many longstanding assumptions and practices.

So while initial reticence toward E2 is certainly understandable, says McAfee, what is less understandable is the attitude conveyed by an "Impact Assessment" table in the InformationWeek article that evaluates the risks and benefits of Web 2.0.


The table appears to give equal weight to Web 2.0's impact on the IT organization, the business organization and business competitiveness, a feature that McAfee calls "simply extraordinary." He writes:

What kind of responsible decision maker within a company would treat the three areas as equally important?

Also, while Web 2.0 had the maximum possible benefit score for business competitiveness and a greater level of benefit than risk in this area, the table nonetheless concludes that Web 2.0 is bad for business, and especially for IT departments. McAfee says this reinforces the division between the business and IT. He writes:

Among the least kind terms I hear used to describe IT organizations are "priesthood" and "empire." These words imply a belief that corporate IT departments consciously exclude outsiders and outside influences, and are concerned primarily with expanding themselves. If this is the case, then Enterprise 2.0 will certainly be resisted by IT; its tools are cheap, often housed outside the firewall, and require relatively little configuration, support, and maintenance. Enterprise 2.0 comes from outside the priesthood, in other words, and doesn't expand the empire.

The implicit threat with this kind of a scenario is that many companies will adopt E2 tools anyway -- this is already happening, says Gartner and others -- and then they may scale back or even eliminate IT departments.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Nov 24, 2007 5:13 PM Rajeev Rajeev  says:
You are right, there is always resistance to change and the first ones are those who lose control or power and have the authority to decide on the new technology adoption.Some people don't understand technology it is better to hire young consultants and study success stories and failure case studies and draw ones own conclusion.http://tekno-world.blogspot.com Reply
Dec 3, 2007 9:10 AM Kelly A. Shaw Kelly A. Shaw  says:
McAfee doesn't go into detail about another disruptive Web 2.0 capability - mashups. Mashups have the potential to disrupt application development organizations the same way wikis, blogs and SNS disrupt IT operations.I applied his logic to mashups and found his points equally valid. Perhaps even more telling since app dev is one of the most shaman-ridden organizations within IT.Kelly A. Shaw, Ph.D.AnalystSerena Software Reply

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