Web 2.0 tools for the enterprise promise help with innovation.
In response to the prediction that the pervasiveness of information technology would level the playing field within an industry, Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson write that just the opposite happened. “The reason: Even with IT, both innovation and replication require a combination of leadership and insight from executives.”
Insight. The act or outcome of grasping the inward or hidden nature of things. What is more hidden than ideas that have no place to go? Great improvements that are never made because they are never voiced? Missed opportunities for synergy because employees barricade themselves in their own silos?
Enter Enterprise 2.0. The term may seem like an overhyped media darling, but the promise is real say Enterprise 2.0 advocates, such as Harvard Business School Associate Professor McAfee, who coined the term. One of the most important changes Enterprise 2.0 will enable, he says, is greater ability for companies to innovate. And anyone working in the cutthroat landscape of today’s corporate America knows that the need to innovate is a pressing one. In the article referenced above, “Dog Eat Dog,” McAfee and Brynjolfsson write, “Competition is constant, fierce and characterized by only temporary advantage, fueled by the ease with which software makers and other high-tech companies can copy and distribute new products and services.” This “brutal competitive cycle,” first applied to high-tech industries, now increasingly is true for the entire U.S. economy, especially in industries that buy the most software and computer hardware.
What this means is that innovation will only become more important, and who better to generate it than your own employees? In spite of all the layoffs and competition within corporate America, McAfee believes that most people take great pride in their work and want their company to do well. And to that end, the promise of a technology toolkit helping people find each other and work together is legitimately new, says McAffee. “I look at [Web 2.0 tools] as new vehicles that enable a greater flow of information and emergence,” he says. Enterprise 2.0 tools—such as blogs and wikis—give employees a way to collect and share their ideas, search for information they want, connect with others, develop a structure around the material and choose what’s best (through voting or rating). If implemented right—model what you want then get out of the way, says McAfee—Enterprise 2.0 can help foster a spirit of innovation.
He points out that even mature companies can innovate around process improvements. Enterprise 2.0 tools give a voice to the employees who deal with those processes and who know the details of their shortcomings most intimately.
Don’t think this is a push for democratizing corporations, says McAfee. Folks may be on equal footing when it comes to the flow of information and the ability to vote on, for example, the best idea. “What I get optimistic about is if [execs enable] employees to collaborate—and there is now a powerful set of technologies to do that—I think the good stuff will percolate to the top.” Veto and greenlighting power, however, will still be in the hands of those at the top.
This is good news for IT, says McAfee. Never before have we had the technologies to truly enable collaboration. Technology that “lets people find each other and work together,” even in different departments, silos, and so on can have tremendous impact on an organization’s potential to innovate. Which means that IT is supporting the organization’s mission.
More on Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0
Is the Enterprise Afraid of Web 2.0?
Web 2.0 for the Suits: One Visionary’s Take
Stowe Boyd on Web 2.0 in the Enterprise
Five Tips for Bringing Web 2.0 iInto the Enterprise
ABC: An Introduction to Web 2.0 The Collaboratory