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There's been much talk recently about Web 2.0 tools, mostly in the consumer market with companies and products such as MySpace, Flickr, Wikipedia, and YouTube. Harvard Business School professor Andrew McAfee coined the term "Enterprise 2.0" to describe Web 2.0 in a business context, defining it as "the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers."
McAfee established six key attributes of Enterprise 2.0 that he describes with the acronym SLATES. We're all familiar with Search. Then there's Links, which implies that the most linked-to information must be the most relevant. Authoring says that everyone has something to contribute. Tags provide content categorization. Extensions use algorithms to find user patterns and make recommendations. And Signals alert users to new content and updates. These attributes explain what social computing technologies such as wikis, RSS, and presence are accomplishing and why they will play an increasingly important role in the future of business.
Enterprise 2.0 provides a much needed change in our business communication and productivity tools, which have been built largely around E-mail. E-mail is the most widely used, or perhaps misused, business application we have, yet we curse the ceaseless flow of messages and spam. We struggle to find relevant information buried in E-mail and question whether the right people have been included. It's a closed medium that does a poor job of capturing and sharing knowledge, a key ingredient in the success of any business and a key feature of Enterprise 2.0.
Enterprise 2.0 tools will break the E-mail addiction and our reliance on other outmoded apps. They unlock value in the form of transparent, contextual communication, ease of access to information, and more effective use of data inside applications, on desktops, or in E-mail attachments. They let us capture the knowledge and opinions in the minds of workers through simple participation. Early adopters are finding them powerful and liberating.
As with any new technology, adoption is critical to success. People have to be willing to break their addiction to E-mail and work in more transparent and public forums, such as wikis and blogs. The shift to Enterprise 2.0 is as much about enabling the right business culture as it is about providing users with the right tools. The shift also will happen organically. As new generations enter the workforce, they'll demand a Web 2.0 experience from their business apps. We're already seeing this with young workers who are more accustomed to IM and Facebook than to E-mail and restrictive applications. They embrace transparency, share information, and willingly participate in public, digital conversations.
This creates both a challenge and an opportunity for businesses. Changes are taking place often unbeknownst to IT managers and with little regard for IT policies and controls. This presents an alarming reality for companies with potentially sensitive information or in heavily regulated environments. IT must bring some level of control and align Enterprise 2.0 with corporate policy while not stifling its benefits. Striking that balance is key to Enterprise 2.0 success.
But IT shouldn't just be reactionary. There's a real opportunity here to drive the Enterprise 2.0 agenda as a strategic advantage. This will become easier as business-grade Web 2.0 tools continue to reach the market and best practices are established. New vendors are emerging in droves to address this need, providing the functionality of Web 2.0 tools with the security, integration, and scalability required for commercial deployment. Existing software and tools also are adding Web 2.0 features, providing a bridge from familiar business-grade applications.
If the consumer market for Web 2.0 tools is any indication, radical changes are ahead, with new rules and technology leaders, and certainly more efficiency and value from business apps and knowledge workers than ever before. Brace yourself for the new Enterprise 2.0 reality.