Putting web 2.0 to work in your organization

Workers have more sophisticated web 2.0 tools and techniques at home than at work. It’s as if they write with a word processor at home but have only a manual typewriter to use at the office. Individuals get the latest stuff when they want to while the enterprise feels compelled to filter things through entrenched departments, stodgy procedures, drawn-out planning, and multiple layers of approval. 

    People can often get up to speed quickly on enterprise apps because they are already familiar with web technology.  

    The low cost and easy installation of many web tools makes it easy for workers to prototype new applications without approval from the IT department.

    Removing the IT middle man between business need and business solution makes things happen without waiting in line. Furthermore, putting control in the hands of end users lowers the risk of creating unworkable “solutions.” 

    Workers to whom technologies such as instant messenger, Facebook, and unrestricted search have no patience with organizations that limit their use at work. The success of some organizations in granting workers more freedom demonstrates that loosening control does not automatically result in irresponsible behavior or chaos.

     

Web technologies change organizational culture. Web 2.0 is a force for decentralization.  Give people the tools to share ideas, to collaborate with one another, to escape organizational boundaries, to communicate directly with customers, and to take initiative, and that’s just what they will do.

    Information is power, and widely-shared information empowers workers. Networks subvert hierarchy.  

    Web connections enable workers to walk through the walls of silos and to get on the same side of the fence as customers and partners. 

    Doing things in the open for all to see works against information hoarding, hidden agendas, political maneuvering, officiousness, and bureaucracy.

For further elaboration on these trends, see Dion Hinchcliffe’s The State of Enterprise 2.0 .

The web enables the many to wrest power from the few and helps them not only change the world but change the way the world changes. The cover of Time magazine ran a picture of a computer monitor filled with one word: You. The text underneath read, “Yes, you. You control the Information Age Welcome to your world.” This is hardly the first instance of Time oversimplifying things 
 


There’s a speed bump on the road to your world: THEM. 

They are skeptical. They fear that no matter how well-intentioned and enthusiastic its fans, this web 2.0 stuff can wait. It is a diversion from the core mission. It might backfire. It’s loosey-goosey. It’s disruptive. The ROI’s not there. We need to plan first. We have to assign responsibility. We have to put controls in place. We need to assess the pitfalls. Who’s going to take responsibility for this stuff? Murphy’s Law will kick in. Ad infinitum. The eight-letter word that summarizes these arguments is: BULLSHIT. To win them over to your cause, you may want to be less direct.

Your next step in putting web 2.0 to work depends on where your previous steps are bringing you from. Are you just starting out or down the path a ways? Is management pushing for the change or resisting it or unaware? Is your organization’s use of web 2.0 in infancy, childhood, or maturity? I think of these as The Three Bears. You may find this a useful framework for considering things. 

Click for advice for Baby Bear, for Mama Bear, and for Papa Bear, but bear in mind (sorry) that the categories overlap, and you’ll want to borrow concepts from the two bears you don’t initially choose. 

 I’ll advise you not to lock in on a step-by-step process too early. Networks have no center. Start anywhere you like. Then just keep linking the pieces together until you have a whole that works for you.

 

Changing the nature of how people relate to one another at work is not easy. People, organisations, and corporate cultures have different views on being open, taking risks, trying new things, realigning responsibilities, learning new technologies, and trusting one another. What works in one organisation may fail in the next.

The safe approach is to begin with a few small- scale experiments, score some successes, and replicate them in other areas of the company. As the technology takes hold, policies are drawn to enforce common standards and safe behaviour. You might want to start with Baby Bear.