net.work

The Way Business Is Moving

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Issue Date: November 2008

Bits and pieces

November 2008

Businesses continue to wrestle with Web 2.0 concepts. Where is the value and who should they speak to? In some regards, Enterprise 2.0 is SOA all over again in terms of the debate. But unlike SOA, Enterprise 2.0 is being shaken up by new players in the arena.

We constantly hear about consolidation, doing more with less and making sure that all our technology integrates in perfect harmony. We are starting to make it work for our CRM, ERP and other line-of-business systems. But Web 2.0 technology is considered by some to be an exception to the rule. It exists somewhere outside of the stack and is a law unto itself. Or is it? Enterprise 2.0 is a new frontier. It puts technology in its place as a platform that enables people to do their thing.
Service orientated architecture is simple in principle, but was confused by vendors who have varying definitions of what SOA means. Web 2.0 shares this confusion. But as is the case with any technology, making it work means looking at people and process instead of just technology.
In your space
IBM is a leader in corporate Web 2.0 technologies. The company’s yellow Lotus brand carries sub brands like Connexions and Quickr that bring Web 2.0 to the corporate arena in enterprise-grade, integrated packaging. But in the case of Web 2.0 does one really need to bank on the heavyweights? Why use Lotus Connexions when Ning is free? Both can be used for setting up custom social networks.
“With IBM’s Lotus products we initially saw mostly mature IT environments looking at integrating Enterprise 2.0 solutions. Banks, for example,” says Hannes van Vuuren, IBM South Africa’s Lotus brand manager. “Obviously IT budgets are now on hold and big businesses are curbing their spending, but we are seeing a broader interest in Web 2.0 technologies, especially from universities and communications companies. There is a huge interest.
“Integration is part of the reason why you would use Connexions instead of other, free products,” he continues. “Hybrid models that consist of open source and proprietary solutions blended together require in-house experience and skills to implement, but they can work thanks to open standards. A bigger differentiator is the research IBM has ploughed into its products.”
IBM uses Connexions internally to network over 350 000 employees. Talk about a test bed. Now it has a new product that plugs into Connexions called Lotus Atlas that allows for network building and access, similar to what is offered by LinkedIn. The R&D; budget IBM throws at these projects eclipses what smaller companies like Ning are able to achieve. And IBM’s Lotus products generally integrate to boot. Sure, open standards make anything possible – but there is something to say for tight, vendor-supplied integration.
On the other hand
Mike Stopforth is a maverick in the Web 2.0 space. His company Cerebra, amongst other services, provides what it calls ‘Enterprise 2.0 Social Software’.
“I agree on the open standards point,” says Mike. “But I would add that IBM, Oracle, SAP and Microsoft have social and semantic augmentation as a top feature on their agendas, so the vendors themselves are steering in that direction, which includes a focus on SOA, SaaS and cloud computing. Mobile seems to be a big feature as well.
“The key is that we are talking about communities,” he states. “So it really does not come down to technology at all – if the promise of Enterprise 2.0 is to come to fruition it is about culture shifts more than modules.
“I think one of the primary changes in focus is designing software that can change with people, as opposed to expecting people to change to technology,” he continues.
Here Mike’s approach is similar to some bigger vendors who focus on the value message, insisting that business processes and culture must be aligned to value. But it differs in how Cerebra engages with its clients, and their clients.
“I like to believe that one of the things that makes us unique is that we have an entire team dedicated to what we call content and community ‘management’ – although it is not really about managing at all. This is not the most profitable side of our business because it is labour and IP intensive, but we spend time understanding communities and making sure we build platforms catered to them. No two projects or communities are the same.”
Some companies in the space aim to fabricate communities for their clients, whereas the correct approach seems to be nurturing and identifying existing communities that simply need a platform and perhaps some guidance.
Mike agrees, partially. “It has to be an organic process,” he says. “We see this in the marketing space – you cannot create evangelists, but you can create a space for them to connect and learn, and then attract them to it.”
“The platforms themselves are not particularly special, it is about the community using them,” points out Stopforth. “What is Enterprise 2.0 if not Web 2.0 for internal communities? The only difference is the firewall.”
Opinion
Enterprise 2.0 is what differentiates grey suits from corporate rock stars. Realising the value from it means accepting that people will form their own ideas about your business and each have individual ways of working with you – your job is to take the rough with the smooth and look at how transparent community building can improve your business.
And here we’re talking about the communities that exist both inside, and outside of the actual organisation. If you can’t trust your employees to mash up their own composite applications or make the switch from search to discovery, as examples, then its likely your business needs a shakedown. Get it together.


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