Enterprise 2.0: What IS The Real Elephant in The Room?

As part of London Social Media week, Alan Patrick and David Terrar organised a session titled “Social Media In Enterprises: The Real Elephant in The Room”. I was due to join a rather illustrious panel but was held back by unforeseeable problems. Here is my 10-minute “firehose”.

My work is about solving strategic problems for customers in “highly regulated industries”. In these industries, strategic options and choices are often heavily constrained by various regulations.  So my comments come from recent and for the last couple of years, recurrent conversations with customers and prospects in these industries.

Parlez vous meine Sprache?

This may sound like nitpicking to those who spend their lives evangelising “social media” to consumer businesses and in communication or media firms. But enterprise customers don’t like the term. That is not news. So should we talk about “Enterprise 2.0”? The term has been criticised as being too corporate, managerial. In other words, stuck up. Now here is news. From the vantage point of smaller, nimble consulting and communication outfits, most, even most of the apparently nimble enterprises, really are stuck up.

But the question is: do we want the door opened to us or not? If the answer to that is “yes”, we need to speak their language. While “social media” and Enterprise 2.0 mean not much to many, saying “Enterprise Identity and Collaboration” seems to float many a boat. (Credit for this term goes to Futurescape, an India based visionary services design and implementation firm, who have worked with global enterprises for over 15 years from long before “social media” was coined.).

I am not advocating obfuscation or the use of heavy jargon. But objectively, to a n00b, “Enterprise Identity and Collaboration” is self-explanatory. It even suggests “progression” from what the enterprise does rather than some kind of revolutionary change, and is hence an easier “sell”. If you disagree, don’t hesitate to tell me why.

It is neither technology, nor culture. It is entirely something else, something I cannot control: regulation.

Let’s consider businesses in sectors – and certain processes inside certain highly regulated industries – where heavy regulation is not an issue. In those contexts, it is easy to adopt collaboration tools inside and outside the firm’s boundaries. For instance, the US$ 20Billion manufacturing group Emerson Electric has a subsidiary called Emerson Project Management in Leicestershire. Their 800-strong team in Pune, India helps them bid for and deliver global projects, each of which may be worth several hundred million US$. They achieve an efficient and effective level of collaboration through extensive use of open source tools to create project based wikis, to share information before, during and after the bid process, to deliver the project and to capture learnings at every stage of the long process.

On the other hand, consider pharmaceuticals and banking, where I have had ongoing discussions.

A BigPharma, within the firm, can use enterprise collaboration tools and in some functions, including pipeline development and project management, the employees do. But let’s imagine an “enterprise identity” project. As generic competition grows, it has never been more important for BigPharma to have some relationship with the consumer, the patient. Kapow! Here BigPharma is hamstrung by regulation, such as Direct To Consumer advertising. The nuances of the regulation are many. The price to pay for any trangression is considerable. The regulation is country specific, while interwebs are anything but. It is tricky and it is a legitimate concern in adoption of any “2.0” tools. Likewise, consumer banking has a quagmire of regulation guiding, nay watching over, every interaction between banks and consumers. Just think data protection requirements and the need for audit trails.

(Ed. note added February 17. 2010, two weeks after this post: Finally, a journalist wakes up to this very significant barrier to adoption of social media in the enterprise. You can read it here. Real business people 1 – social media “experts” and journalists 0)

So, what IS the real elephant in the room?

Well, I’d ask “do you understand their problems or are you just another “social media guru (!)”?

The real elephant in the room is little overlap between “people who understand 2.0 tools and technologies” and “people who understand complex industry processes and strategic imperatives”.

The real elephant in the room is that selling the “Enterprise 2.0” thing as a culture shift is too big a sell, and selling it as a technology solution is too meaningless a sell. The real sell is complex and subtle.

The real elephant in the room is regulation, and that the tools and technologies are just not ready.

Are we ready to ride the elephant yet?

%d bloggers like this: