Web 2.0 in the Enterprise?
Over the years, big companies have dumped a lot of money into computer systems that promise to automate "knowledge management." Most of that money has been wasted. No matter how technologically elegant their design, knowledge management "platforms" and "repositories" tend to quickly collapse under the weight of their own complexity. Using them turns out to be more trouble than it’s worth – particularly for those employees who have the most valuable knowledge – and the platforms and repositories fall into disuse and are eventually, and quietly, dismantled. People go back to using efficient, direct conversations – through meetings, or phone calls, or emails, or instant messages – to exchange useful knowledge.
The collaboration technologies collectively know as Web 2.0 – blogs, wikis, tags, RSS and the like – are the latest to be promoted as powerful tools for automating corporate knowledge management. But will they share the same fate as their predecessors: heavily hyped, widely installed, then abandoned?
I’ve written at length about the applicability of various collaborative technologies to the enterprise, but Nicholas Carr does a great job of summarizing an article by Andrew McAfee in the MIT Sloan Management Review. It captures my thoughts on the enterprise-readiness of the "Web 2.0" movement. (um, just for the record, wouldn’t the creation of the web browser be more accuratley classified as Web 2.0, taking the internet out of the hands of government and academia and putting into the hands of the consumer? alas…)
McAfee provides just one case study of a company gaining real benefits from Web 2.0 – that of the investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein – and even that one seems provisional. There are, to be sure, other examples of apparently successful uses of Web 2.0 technologies for knowledge management, but all previously hyped knowledge management technologies also came wrapped in anecdotes of enthusiastic earlier adopters. In the excitement of the rollout of such technologies, it’s easy to document initial "successes" – there’s always at least a small group of technologically-inclined employees who will gravitate to a seemingly cool new platform. The real test comes later, when the personal costs and benefits of using the system become apparent to a broad set of employees.
Essentially, blogs, wikis, tags, and RSS are enabling technologies that in and of themselves are not going to change the enterprise. But what they are doing is building a foundation for the next generation, and those more inclined to try out and adopt new technologies (embrace your inner geek, my friends). Great article.