Enterprise 2.0 Inclusionists and Deletionists

Wikipedia is facing a showdown, and it looks like it could be an important one, between contributors who think it should be a repository for all sorts of information ("Why shouldn’t my middle school have an entry?" ) and those who believe it should it should keep out content that’s not notable ("Why should your middle school have an entry?" ). The former call themselves inclusionists, the latter deletionists.
As the Enterprise 2.0 meme gains currency, a similar tension is appearing. Some are using it as a catch-all phrase that encompasses several converging trends within the enterprise software industry. Others are advocating a narrow definition that focuses only on the use of a new generation of digital collaboration tools within organizations.

I find that I’m a Wikipedia inclusionist and an Enterprise 2.0 deletionist, for the simple reason that an encyclopedia gets more useful the bigger, broader, and more all-encompassing it is, while a definition gets less useful. I think that if "Enterprise 2.0" becomes "All the changes in the enterprise software market that I (whoever I am) think are noteworthy" or "All the changes in the enterprise software market that you (whoever you are) need to be aware of" than the term itself loses most of its explanatory power and risks descending to the level of marketing hype.

So while I’m happy to see MR Rangaswami at Sandhill.com get excited about Enterprise 2.0, I was less happy to read his definition:

"Enterprise 2.0 is the synergy of a new set of technologies, development models and delivery methods that are used to develop business software and deliver it to users.

Whether created by software vendors, internal IT departments, line-of-business units or service providers, the software of Enterprise 2.0 will be flexible, simple and lightweight. It will be created using an infinite combination of the latest – and possibly, some old-fashioned – ingredients, including the following:

  • Technologies – Open source, SOA/Web services (AJAX, RSS, blogs, wikis, tagging, social networking, and so on) Web 2.0, legacy and proprietary – or some combination
  • Development Models – Relying on in-house, outsourced or offshore resources – or any combination; pursuing a global development strategy; and/or pursuing co-creation with users, partners or both
  • Delivery Methods -Downloading individually; paying for a license; and/or, using on-demand/SaaS or via a service provider." (Vinnie Mirchandani concentrates on delivery methods in his recent piece on Enterprise 2.0)

By this definition, a company’s new travel and expense reporting system would qualify as an Enterprise 2.0 application if it were developed in Chennai, rented to customers, and accessed via an AJAX-capable browser. This T&E system could be mandatory use, assign users to roles (submitter, approver, auditor, etc.), check to make sure all fields were present, and pre-define ironclad approval and reimbursement workflows, and still be considered an Enterprise 2.0 application.

This is pretty close to the opposite of the definition of Enterprise 2.0 I proposed a while back:

"Enterprise 2.0 is the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.

Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities. (Wikipedia’s definition).

Platforms are digital environments in which contributions and interactions are globally visible and persistent over time.

Emergent means that the software is freeform, and that it contains mechanisms to let the patterns and structure inherent in people’s interactions become visible over time.

Freeform means that the software is most or all of the following:

  • Optional
  • Free of up-front workflow
  • Egalitarian, or indifferent to formal organizational identities
  • Accepting of many types of data"

(This is a definition of a noun. When I use ‘Enterprise 2.0’ as an adjective, I mean "supporting of emergent collaboration." )

This definition is explicitly NOT about development models or delivery methods, and it’s only about a small set of technologies that are visible to end users. Tags, for example, are visible to end users; Service-oriented architectures are not.

Ray Lane and Rod Boothby have been working with an appropriately narrow definition of Enterprise 2.0, and are doing a great job of articulating its impact. Dion Hinchcliffe has taken one of Rod’s graphics and extended it a bit. The points it communicates are all about changes to collaboration, not to development or delivery models.

Enterprise 2.0, as these folk and I define it, is a trend that we think should be on the radar screens of non-technologist business leaders. Talking about development models and delivery methods is a good way to ensure that it doesn’t get there, or doesn’t stay there long.  Business leaders’ eyes will glaze over, or they’ll quickly mentally file the topic as ‘something for my tech team to worry about.’

Of course, there are many other possible audiences for insight and analysis about technology trends: CIOs, CTOs, IT managers, entrepreneurs, investors, etc. Lots of these groups are interested in development models and delivery methods, even if line managers generally aren’t. But we already have terms to describe recent developments in these areas, many of which can be found in Rangaswami’s definition above. So why stretch ‘Enterprise 2.0’ to encompass all of them?

Maybe we do need a new phrase or term to describe the confluence of recent developments in technologies themselves, their development, and their delivery.  But let’s not just Shanghai a pre-existing term that was doing useful work and force it into a whole new set of duties.

And one piece of free advice:  Don’t use ‘2.0’ as part of any new term; people seem to be getting tired of it very quickly.