Implementing social technologies inside organizations

If the set of technologies loosely identified at Enterprise 2.0 are to have any hope of real success, we need to take a closer look at how they are introduced into organizations. I see two basic patterns for technology introduction in general use and neither holds much promise.

The first pattern is embodied in the massive ERP rollout. Here, a highly structured set of technologies and corresponding processes are imposed on the organization. People in these systems have equally structured roles that are imposed on them in order for the overall system (organizational and technological) to perform as a designed mechanism.

In the second pattern, some fundamentally individual technology sneaks into the organization at the hands of discrete individuals. Spreadsheets, word processors, web browsers all infiltrated the organization. Even email and networking followed a fundamentally organic diffusion process.

Enterprise 2.0 technologies, of course, are social tools. Their promise and their challenge is that they exist at the boundary between organic and mechanical. Real success depends on blending aspects of both deftly.

Organizations deploying technology tend to view process too mechanically. They can put technologies in place, but aren’t adept at helping individuals and work groups learn how to put the technology to use effectively.

Innovative individuals can experiment with new tools and techniques and can encourage their peers to take up some technologies simply by example. But they generally lack experience and authority to craft the small group learning and experimentation to discover the joint ways of using technology to support more productive and effective processes that exploit the full potential of the technology.

The challenge is to find a third way. My own prediction is that the best path for introducing Enterprise 2.0 technologies is from well-positioned individuals up to selected work groups rather than down from the technology organization. By well-positioned, I mean individuals who have enough power and influence to persuade a work group to “run the experiment,” and whose work group is responsible for a consequential enough deliverable that the results of the experiment can carry some weight in the organizational hierarchy.

Successful experiments will have little or nothing to do with technology specifics. Instead, they will be characterized by how effectively they mesh with and advance specific processes within the organization. Or, by how they transform a loose set of existing practices into a process that can be managed and improved.

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