A Sea Change?

by Andrew McAfee on November 5, 2010

Earlier this week I was invited to speak with a group of (very) large company CIOs by the estimable Jim Cash, a former HBS colleague, IT scholar, human Rolodex, and trusted advisor to a great many. I gave the latest version of my talk on Enterprise 2.0, touching on topics like the strength of weak ties, open innovation and emergent expertise as exemplified by the Foldit game for protein folding, and how 2.0 technologies can help spread tacit knowledge. To motivate the business case and convey why pragmatic, skeptical executives should be interested in these topics, I used former Hewlett-Packard CEO Lew Platt’s great quote that “If only HP knew what HP knows, we’d be three times more productive.”

Our session pretty quickly became a discussion rather than a presentation, which was great. What was even better was the nature of the discussion. As I listened, I realized that a fundamental shift had taken place: these executives were no longer talking mainly about their concerns, hesitations, or reasons for caution around Enterprise 2.0; instead, they were talking about their frustrations that their companies weren’t moving faster toward it.

For the first time with a group of ‘old economy’ CIOs, I was preaching to the converted. As far as I could tell, all of them bought in to the idea that Enterprise 2.0 was a big part of the solution to a longstanding and serious challenge for their organizations. They talked about it as if it were a no-brainer —   something they wanted and needed to do. Their main challenge was getting their workforces to adopt the new tools, business practices, and philosophies.

They voiced the natural concerns around security and IP protection, but these were discussed as issues to be dealt with rather than showstoppers.  And they weren’t too worried that their people would use the tools to waste time or goof off. In fact, quite the opposite; they were concerned that the busy knowledge workers within their companies might not have enough time to participate.

In short, it felt like a sea change had taken place. Big company CIOs aren’t typically mavericks. They support the business, manage projects, keep uptime high, and keep costs down. I mean no disrespect at all when I say that they’re rarely the ones pressing wild new ideas on their colleagues, especially if these ideas have a technology component.

So I inferred from our discussion that Enterprise 2.0 is no longer perceived as a wild new idea. The CIOs I was talking with apparently considered it just a good idea, and one whose time had come. They seem to have fully absorbed John Doerr’s advice that “If you don’t have a social strategy, you better go get one.”

I find this very good news, and wanted to share it.

I also wanted to ask if you’re seeing the same thing. In your environment, has the conversation about the business use of emergent social software platforms moved into the mainstream? Are uncertainty, fears, and inertia still holding your organization back, or are things different now? And if they are different, when did they change? Leave a comment, please, and let us know what you’re seeing.

deb louison lavoy November 5, 2010 at 3:13 pm

we have crossed the chasm.

itsinsider November 5, 2010 at 3:26 pm

This is verrrrry good news. There are number of factors influencing the C-suite including the presence of serious VC money in the market a la John Doerr, Gartner’s validation in recent communications, and well recongized, large-scale businesses fully engaged in 2.0 strategy and deployment. Like I’ve told you before, this is a very good thing you’ve begun my friend. Congrats to all of us.

John Bauer November 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Very encouraging to hear

Richard Rashty November 5, 2010 at 12:13 pm

For many companies, particularly the users, I see the barrier is the human element of “retaliation”, where openness in the form of postings and comments go against the traditional top-down communication channels. Middle managers who tend to control much of the information flow, having acquired their “power” from this control, passively or actively criticize the participation by their direct reports. The best emergent social strategy must contain the cultural-component from the CIO, CFO, heck all the C-level execs to be truly transformational.

Mark Fidelman November 5, 2010 at 5:50 pm

That’s great to hear. We’re hearing similar positive comments about the need to become more competitive by deploying social software (internally and customer facing).

KennnethHuie November 5, 2010 at 2:17 pm

This is very encouraging indeed and I’ve seen a continual movement towards an awareness of the necessity for E2.0 within the Public Sector. However there are still many holdouts. In our example we have a great ECM tool (Open Text’s Livelink) with E2.0 components. But our present leadership believes E2.0 may have its place but is oversold. We have no plan to understand how E2.0 can benefit our organization. But I’m hopeful to assist in changing that…

Joachim November 5, 2010 at 7:39 pm

“There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo

Chris November 5, 2010 at 9:36 pm

Let’s take Mr. Platt’s quote even further: What if HP learned through E 2.0 mainstream adoption how much duplication of effort existed? What if E 2.0 achieved some initial gains such as improved employee profile and unstructured data discovery through easy linking, email reduction through wiki use, and useful question-and-answer systems, but the primary official workflow of the company remained in capturing insight in vertically-vetted, department-specific projects? The initial short-term benefits of E 2.0 listed above start to fade as each person, office, and department wants to “get their stuff out there” to show utility and receive reward, so they primarily use E 2.0 to broadcast corporate memo after corporate memo on similar topics over and over.

This is a lesson from an initial leader in E 2.0 adoption and usage—US Intelligence Community. E 2.0 has been “mainstream” for almost two years. You don’t need a 100% buy-in or usage to change an organization because you’ll never get it. Also, “I still know some luddites in the company” anecdotes doesn’t disprove E 2.0 is not mainstream. So a troubling E 2.0 question can be: what if E 2.0 achieves initial “success” through mainstream adoption on one hand but shows that massive structural and organizational flaws still exist within the company?

Anonymous November 5, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Interesting evolution indeed and in my enterprise clients the signs are there, but change is very slow. My belief this is a sea change brought about from the widest part of the organizational pyramid and the market, not one that has been driven top down at all. Its more of an awakening for C-level executives.

For an enterprise its still a huge decision and a highly risky implementation. So i still think progress will be very slow; one that happen at one silo or division at a time.


Jeff – Sensei

David Heller November 5, 2010 at 11:25 pm

Unfortunately I can’t report that I am seeing this in my world. The effort is still primarily grass roots. Actually small clumps of grass roots. Do some executives get it? Of course. But the prevalent attitude still in the senior exec ranks is that the tools that are part of E2.0 are primarily time-wasters with no concrete ROI. Still a long way to go. I have to disagree with Chris below about E2.0 being “mainstream”. Mainstream does not mean pockets of acceptance or a couple dozen organizations using E2.0. Mainstream to me will be realized when I get an email attachment and have to remember how to open it.

Henry Chesbrough November 6, 2010 at 10:53 am

Andy this is really great news. Congratulations. The 38 tweets below show the success of your own social strategy! And it’s good to see you talking about open innovation as well. C’mon in!! @OpenInno

Social Media in Orgs November 6, 2010 at 8:42 pm

My initial, completely non-intellectual response when reading this post was, “YAY!!!”

More seriously, though the tides are perhaps beginning to turn, David, Jeff and others are right that progress continues to be slow and we still have a long way to go. I keep thinking we’ll reach a tipping point at which the gradual awakening will turn into a eureka moment and call to action, but that may never happen.

I just finished viewing Mark Fidelman’s Enterprise 2.0 presentation on SlideShare, which is a nice complement to this post. Technology is a great catalyst for and enabler of improvement and innovation, but organizational processes are still fundamentally human endeavors. And the characteristics that lead to the advancement and success of many organizational leaders are all too often the very characteristics that prevent them from knowing how to provide the necessary strategic guidance to adapt to disruptive technologies.

I’m sharing this post with the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

Courtney Hunt
Founder, SMinOrgs Community

Lior Sion November 7, 2010 at 8:34 pm

I have noticed the same things with customers.

I think there are two reasons that work in paralel here. One is that after the early adopters, the market is slowly starting to follow up. We see Gartner reports, and a large increase in media coverage of enterprise 2.0 and as people read it, they understand the change is not only coming, it’s here.

One of the most important quotes I got on the subject was from a CIO who said that the reason he was looking for more social tools was not because he thought it was the right thing to do, but because all the new recruits are looking to work with social tools. It just works better for them – and he saw the trend and had to react.

So that’s the other way E2.0 will grow, as we like to say it – Win The Users first.

Jim Hays November 7, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Great post, Andrew! We are also seeing this same fundamental shift from “why” to “how” in the work that our firm is doing around the globe with Cisco, its partners, and their mutual customer base. Despite this very positive mindset change, we are still seeing the primary obstacle to greater adoption of an Enterprise 2.0 approach remains the fundamental bifurcation between IT people and business people. As long as they see themselves as separate from one another and still needing to “be aligned”, the synergy that is essential between their “two different worlds” will result in organizational under-performance. Most of the exciting things that happen around innovation are a result of the nexus between the two. There is still a critical shortage of people in business and IT who are “passionately bilingual”. Former European CIO turned author/consultant, Peter Hinssen has made some interesting observations in this arena in his two books, “Business/IT Fusion” and “The New Normal”. You may find them complimentary to your work. We certainly have.

Anonymous November 7, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Andy – I agree that this is a good thing, and that we’ve begun to see a shift among the C-suite, not only within the private sector, but within government too. Unfortunately, as we both know, this was actually the easy part. Now, it comes time for the really hard work to begin – support is easy, implementation into actual business practices is much much harder. As you said, “Their main challenge was getting their workforces to adopt the new tools, business practices, and philosophies.” To add to that challenge, we must fight our hardest fight yet – breaking through the “clay layer” of middle management that makes this kind of adoption a much more difficult proposition. Yes, we seem to have reached a milestone, but many more lie ahead.

@keithprivette November 8, 2010 at 3:02 am

Let me guess Andrew you were speaking to CIO’s on the East Coast or West Coast. This is much more of a foreign idea to CIO’s in the midwest (I know I just generalized, but if the majority is like this is it generalized then). It is not the tools, it is the culture of open lines and access to anyone having the ability to communicate without the top down hierarchal structures. Most people implementing these platforms toss softballs around all day long. The people that take a chance to push the envelop are seen as non-conformists and typically find them in CLM situations. Career Limiting Moves…..because most of the E2.0 implementations need some of the population to push, but they are asking these individuals to take a huge risk with very little in return except for the hope and faith that the corporation will take this path.

I will have to say though hearing this article about CIO’s being maverick is awesome. There may be hope for the Midwest to be supercharged quicker! Thank you for sharing the insights

pCluett November 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm

First off I must say this is very encouraging news. I spend a lot of my time trying to bring the Enterprise 2.0 message to organizations. It is encouraging to hear that there are executives out there that are starting to get it. I find that at more often than not you can find a couple in any organization that ‘get it’ and are ready to discuss further however the organization as a whole has no clear strategy or direction. What I think will be the real turning point is when the CIO enthusiasm flows through the rest of the organization and companies start to consider an E2.0 solution to all of the challenges that they face. Reading this is encouraging though as even a year ago I feel that, at least with the organizations I have spoken with, IP protection and security would in many cases have been showstoppers. Again very encouraging, thanks Andrew.

Richard Harbridge November 8, 2010 at 6:39 pm

+1 to seeing it in executives in all of my clients and audiences.

There are a couple things to note.

It seems like all of my clients want to better understand and assess their maturity model for both Collaboration as well as “Community” or “Social” aspects of the business. This is leading many of my clients to ask very deep and specific questions around a challenge they are facing or how to begin targeting more of their purchased tools to business needs/processes.

I am definitely seeing far more interest in now integrating, connecting, or improving the processes of interacting between these different social, collaboration, and information management tools. So many have them now (at different maturity levels) it’s not a question of getting them – it’s a question of making them more manageable (governance), effective (application to biz) and user friendly (10 interfaces no matter how lovely is still 10 different interfaces for users to learn).

So the focus now will be on maturing (within organizations and the industry) effective Governance, Applicability/Usage, and Integration/Interfacing with the tools in my opinion.

Sprawl, many silo’s and the common effect of rapid information growth are quickly becoming the new pain points (not that they weren’t before) for these tools and their organizational impact.

That’s not to say there aren’t still companies and organizations struggling with getting these going in their organizations. Most of these scenarios really don’t relate to the tools though but rather the culture and unclear success criteria (internal not external) for collaboration and social/community tools.

SealTree November 9, 2010 at 6:32 am

As I have just commented in my blog here: http://bit.ly/9lls8E I agree with @keithprivette. The CIOs I come into contact with are still sceptical of E2.0 and, even worse, often do not know of the business applications of Web 2.0.

What is more likely to be happening is that the digital divide is not just affecting nations and social classes, but also organisations…with those who ‘get’ Enterprise 2.0 gaining benefits and accelerating away from the rest of the pack when it comes to innovation, collaboration, communication and knowledge sharing.

kreedy November 9, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Our CEO embraced it and helped us in our rollout with a video to all employees. He certainly sees the value. It is funny because I see some folks that are totally in step with it all, I see some that are moving forward…just because the ceo said so, and I see some that are still resisting. I don’t think those folks can ever be won over.

So, in short…the holdouts are still there, but times are certainly better.

poker school November 10, 2010 at 1:36 pm

This is indeed great news! We are definitely on the up-and-up.


tina November 10, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Very encouraging to hear ..Thanks..

max November 12, 2010 at 3:49 am

I would bet that if you listen to the ones that resist, you can have the right feedback to make a good implementation excellent

Deb Orton November 15, 2010 at 12:15 pm

It is good to read your post and the change you are observing with CIO’s. This past month we (SAS) hosted our large Thought Leadership conference and I had the chance to speak with many business and IT leaders. I was struck with the number of leaders who were enthusiastic about innovation and were asking questions about social that lead me to believe they were deeply involved. In several Retailers, the CIO and other IT leaders, were in charge of their Social strategies.

Pete Modigliani November 16, 2010 at 4:17 am

Really glad to hear there’s an early wave of large company CIOs embracing Enterprise 2.0. As these were a group of CIOs interested in learning more about E20 adoption from the guru, you already had their buy-in. Hopefully they will serve as a core group of enthusiastic early adopters expanding to a larger group of CIOs. The chasm will not be crossed until a significant number of the business side of C-suite and middle managers champion E20 strategies.

When you’re ready for the ultimate E20 challenge, the invitation stands to help convince Pentagon leadership to change their bureaucratic culture with collaborative tools. A new DOD CIO Teri Takai (former California CIO) just assumed office during a radical restructure of the CIO role. DOD also established a CMO, Beth McGrath, to synchronize, integrate, and coordinate DoD business operations. As the DOD spends $33B annually on IT, $6.7B of that on business systems, there’s ample funding but limited E20 adoption.

Bill Murphy December 18, 2010 at 3:58 am

Surprising few CIOs really get it when it comes to social platforms and in particular twitter but i wont limit my concern for them to just twitter. To be a relevant CIO moving forward the CIO needs to look at themselves as CSOs. Chief Strategy Officers. If the CIO doesnt know as much or more about social media than the marketing and sales dpt the CIO will rapidly not be relevant as a strategist. Free CIO twitter training: http://cioes.org/?page_id=6

Bill Murphy December 18, 2010 at 3:59 am

Surprising few CIOs really get it when it comes to social platforms and in particular twitter but i wont limit my concern for them to just twitter. To be a relevant CIO moving forward the CIO needs to look at themselves as CSOs. Chief Strategy Officers. If the CIO doesnt know as much or more about social media than the marketing and sales dpt the CIO will rapidly not be relevant as a strategist. Thanks for your insight Andrew.
Free CIO twitter training: http://cioes.org/?page_id=6

parça kontör April 11, 2011 at 7:31 am

Very encouraging to hear ..Thanks..

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