The Pushmi-Pullyu of Enterprise 2.0 Social Networking

The new software segment of social networking for enterprises developed because organizations, especially companies and government, recognize that their staff may want to use tools like Facebook and twitter, but are concerned about the associated security and compliance risks.

It is strange then that most of these Enterprise 2.0 social networking applications have subsequently developed integrations with those same consumer Web 2.0 tools that were of concern in the first place!

I wonder why this is?

One explanation is that developers of enterprise social network tools are getting caught up emulating what is going on with consumer tools:

  • Each is trying to be the preferred site by enabling users to do everything from their site. As consumers 'flit' between social networking services looking for the next big thing, it's hard to keep them without adding new features – either by building analogs to proven tools, or partnering and integrating with the leaders. Meanwhile, aggregation services allow users to post to many social sites at once, or the receive feeds from many sites – thereby allowing users to avoid visiting the sites at all. Watching this it must be hard not to do the same!

But aren't enterprise 2.0 software vendors missing the point? Enterprises that buy into the value proposition of 'social networking without the risks,' are not likely to open their door to the tools they rejected, even just to help their staff unidirectionally monitor the latest external posts.

On the flip side, in most cases there can be no surety that staff are not finding a way to use those consumer tools at work, despite whatever policy or technology-blocking approaches are taken. There are just too many sites, too many tools available and such rapid change, and outright bans lead to circumvention. Then of course staff will be using the tools in their personal lives.

So where does this leave us?

At some level much of the new style of social networking is an effort to replace email as a communications medium. For some time email management tools have been available to help companies achieve compliance. These tools usually capture and index all enterprise communications in a manner that supports both controlled destruction and future discovery.

  • Email management for compliance is an outgrowth of traditional content management for compliance. In many ways emails are special content types – usually with less content, more versions (especially including multiple branches or threads) and fewer controls on access (especially because of email forwarding).

In the same manner, social networking tools allow users to create even larger numbers of smaller pieces of content, often with more versioning, and with especially complex relationships that define context and therefore meaning.

  • For example what I say in through IM or microblogs can only be understood in context, whereas emails and especially documents are larger, more complete and often able to be understood largely in isolation.

While organizations once blocked staff from using email to mitigate risks, email access is now nearly universal in the workplace – but it is managed. Certain tools are selected and sanctioned and staff must use those.

I believe that in the same manner, enterprises will inevitably permit selected social networking tools (some enterprise and some consumer) once appropriate control technologies are applied to assure lifecycle management for compliance.

So Enterprise 2.0 vendors don't need to enable interface integration with consumer web 2.0 tools, but rather capture and control integration with enterprise records repositories.


Official vs. unofficial social networks and their impact on user adoption

Guest post from my colleague Agnes Kolkiewicz originally posted to Open Text Online Communities Metrics community (Metrics Blog).

In my last post, we looked at the correlation between the success of collaborative systems and user adoption. Many of you struggle to obtain user adoption within your organizations for communities of practice (CoP). We mentioned that staged deployments are usually recommended by analysts and that the resultant 'success stories' can then be showcased within the company to further promote user adoption and justify the investment. But where can you find a good initial 'use case' within your company that is likely to succeed?

Consider the following excerpt here from a post by Etienne Wenger, an internationally recognized expert in the field of learning theory:

"A community of practice is different from a team in that the shared learning and interest of its members are what keep it together. It is defined by knowledge rather than by task, and exists because participation has value to its members. A community of practice's life cycle is determined by the value it provides to its members, not by an institutional schedule. It does not appear the minute a project is started and does not disappear with the end of a task. It takes a while to come into being and may live long after a project is completed or an official team has disbanded." (http://www.co-i-l.com/coil/knowledge-garden/cop/lss.shtml)

It has long been observed that unofficial networks exist within a company. People join these because they see value in participation. Knowledge is being exchanged within those networks outside of any organizational structure, crossing information silos. When designing an information system that supports communities of practice and collaboration, the challenge of an administrator may very well lie then with initially identifying what unofficial networks already exist within the organization and designing systems that will support these networks.

You can start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What is important to our employees?
  • Where do they find value?

What might follow then is that a community of practice should not be imposed on a group of people according to organizational structures – rather, it should serve as support for unofficial networks that have already been created within the company. The value to the organization exists then because the knowledge that is already being exchanged through informal discussions, IMs, or email is now being captured and archived within a community of practice, and is then easily searchable by newcomers to the organization or people outside of the specific community that also have an interest in the subjects being discussed. This type of exchange is much more difficult to recreate when establishing a community of practice based on official organizational structures.

This is not say that communities of practice should not adhere to organizational principles further down the line, but chances are that by identifying such unofficial networks within a company, and supporting then using social media, you might stumble upon an initial 'success story' that could be then used to promote the technology throughout the organization.


Meeting the needs of both the enterprise and staff

It seems that for many people the enterprise goal of corporate compliance is seen to be at odds with the goals of users. I think that's wrong!

This was brought home to me by the surprised reaction of observers at the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston to Open Text's new Social Media offering.

In recent years the primary driver for implementation of enterprise content management (ECM) systems in organizations has been regulatory compliance. Organizations need to manage critical records in a consistent manner over time, as required by relevant laws and regulations.

Ensuring that staff (the 'users' of enterprise systems) are aware of requirements and use the implemented systems is often a challenge. Well designed ECM systems can ensure organizational compliance while requiring little change in behaviour as users create and deposit content – but it can take real effort.

As Web 2.0 has shown, users want simple applications, that can be learned quickly, and work smoothly. Increasingly they want these applications to be available for mobile devices as well as desktop computers.

Staff want to interact effectively with their colleagues. Social networking tools are seen as a way to achieve this in enterprises. As I described in an earlier post, this approach is, "people-centered not document-centered." It is also becoming independent of device and therefore location.

It was therefore a pleasant surprise to some observers that Open Text, as one of the largest ECM vendors, with a long history of content management, would come out with a people-centered application that runs on mobile devices like Blackberries and iPhones, in addition to the expected personal computers. And most importantly, this application enables users to exchange content with established content repositories.

In commenting on the Enterprise 2.0 conference, Gil Yehuda, for example, said:

"Open Text impressed many people with their new enterprise social media and collaboration tools. With a solid enterprise-class suite of tools, Open Text was one of the few ECM/Portal players to make a showing and a splash at the conference. Whereas many E2.0 vendors target low-tech SMBs, only some vendors have the depth of credentials to handle Enterprise 2.0 (with a capital "E") with its many hairy concerns."

Nice sentiments – my thanks to Gil – but I think we would all agree that technical integration supporting both enterprise-driven content-centricity, and user needs for mobile networking, is but a first step as we rebalance the needs of enterprises and their staff. I expect we'll soon see considerable advances in implementation practices.

There has been much discussion about how compliance requires that all communications by staff be managed as potential corporate records, but a recent AIIM study has shown that most organizations have yet to tackle the problem. It seems that many assume that the way to do so is to 'stuff' transactions from email, IM, social networking, etc. into a content store. The problem is that these people-centered communications will generally not map to content-centric hierarchies. In some cases the only indexing field that can be used is the date of creation. As a result it is necessary to rely on full text search for later discovery, which is then followed with painful, manual recreation of context. Imagine trying to determine who said what and when – from a collection of stored emails that mention a specified term! And email is relatively easy compared to instant messages (IM) and 140 character tweets, since email communications are generally more comprehensive and richer in derivable context.

If you accept that social networking has its own, distinct organizational principles, then compliance applied to social networking must take a different tack. How users interact with each other and the network of communication links that they establish are the most important contextual elements – the medium is the message. Helping users make the connections easily automatically creates context. That context must then be preserved if the saved communications are to be reliable and meaningful from a compliance perspective.

So enabling users to network more effectively actually supports compliance in a developing paradigm!


Immature Complexity

I'm working with a colleague on a project that integrates structured content and processes (in SFA/CRM and ERP) with unstructured content (ECM).

We are coming at this unified need from very different perspectives – he from a background in telecom process support (what Geoffrey Moore in 'Dealing with Darwin' would describe as a Volume Operations model), and me from content management in a software company (what Moore would describe as a Complex Systems).

As always, such interactions serve to challenge your assumptions, helping you to broaden your perspective.

He understood that we need to capture content created during interactions with customers and had made provision for it in his plans.

I kept saying, "But unstructured content represents more than 80-90% of the information," as most of ECM practioners routinely claim – I don't think he believed me in a tangible way…

Then I shared some research I did four years ago. I looked at how many pieces of content we typically collect before a first sale to a customer. At that time (2005), the number was an average of 88 objects. Since that time we've gotten better – we collect more. As part of the same research I also looked at content associated with customers of many years standing – in the case of one conglomerate we had over 28,000 content objects! Again, that has continued to grow.

And it's not just content volume, but a growing variety of formats and subjects.

I believe my colleague was stunned, which of course led to a discussion of how we can best manage such volumes. I can go one for some time about best practices in ECM deployment – content architecture, governance, user training, permissions, controls, etc.

But I came away from this discussion with a reinforced feeling that ECM is hard. If it was easy this software sector would be more advanced – it would be like ERP is, not as it was 15-20 years ago. The enterprise content management sector is relatively immature because it is tackling a harder problem – unstructured is more of a problem to manage than structured – and there's more of it.

Although some content types are becoming at least semi-structured, and so are arguably easier to manage, the growth in completely unstructured and diverse content types far outpaces it.

So the immaturity of ECM is a reflection of its complexity. Meanwhile the value of ECM continues to grow, but we still have a way to go before all information professionals really understand it, although with maturity comes understanding…

Nothing original, but I enjoyed re-examining my assumptions and testing them against the perspectives of others from a different background.