The dissemination of the E20 virus

Recently we have been quite busy in preparing and organizing events that did not leave time to systemize and arrange my collected thoughts about all those discussions and informal exchanges I had with experts and practioneers in the field of Enterprise 2.0 during the last months. Today I am quite locked to nothing more than accompanying Bertrand at his pre-conference workshop for our E20 FORUM in Paris tomorrow. This leaves time to sort out my ideas that are turning around my head already for weeks.

It’s about the emergence of the E20 idea within the corporations. A lot has been said and written about the necessity and potentials of the new forms of collaborations and communications by using social software. Quite a few contributions have even predicted a big bang of change in the enterprise world. Others have criticized this vision and labelled the E20 thingy a “crock”. The truth is – as always – in the middle because E20 – as so many other business innovations – is not emerging in one step but is dependent on a cultural change within the corporation that again happens slowly.

So to explain the state of E20 we have to take a differentiated view on the different stages of the E20 emergence in the corporations. For each stage I see different people being involved in the diffusion process of this idea. They have different motivations regarding the E20 subject that serve more or less towards the big vision of E20. But they all contribute their share towards the diffusion process of this idea. Therefore I’d like to compare the diffusion of this idea with the dissemination of a virus:

E20 Dissemination

(0) At some point someone is initiating some social software projects in the corporations – mostly under the radar of any strategic decision. These projects are mostly departmental projects with a small group of co-workers involved. There are quite some examples in which the IT departments started using some kind of wikis for documentating IT projects. In other examples some tinkerers (and yes I am not talking about the Generation Facebook but about tinkerers because I do not think it is a matter of age!) have installed or introduced some kind of social software e.g. microblogging service as Yammer in their departments. According to the image of the virus dissemination I’d like to describe this stage as “localized infections”.

(1) At the second stage I have observed quite a lot of companies in which the communications department came along the Web 2.0 thingy in the first place. Quite a lot of them have perceived this Web 2.0 thingy as a new way of communication format – in the terms of using social software to get people more involved into the messages corporate communications wants to send out. This in mind they might install corporate blogs to initiate discussions and feedback channels or add wiki or social networking functionality to the intranet in order to centralize the knowledge capturing and sharing. In regard to my analogy to the virus dissemination I’d call this the “first outburst” – as these initiatives have created quite a lot of attention within the enterprises. But in the long term most of these project could not gather any critical mass of participants because they have been set up as top-down initiatives to improve the impact of corporate communications and not been used to enhance the information flow. But we must not underestimate the effects of these projects. Because even they might have failed or not as supportive for the E20 vision in the long run, they are important for the further dissemination of the E20 virus – as they show the strategic relevance of social software within the corporation. This said these project will be indirectly supportive towards the growth of the grass-rooted projects.

(2) Eventually the growth of some of these grass-rooted projects will call the attention towards the department that is in charge for the organizational development. They will analyse and try to “decode” the effects of these projects. Eventually they might realize the business value generated by the improved information flow and the enhanced knowledge sharing within these projects. They might try to take over the control of these initiatives and turn them towards a corporate initiative. This is the point at which steering committees are been created and the subject of E20 becomes a strategic issue. But though there are thoughts about the enterprise-relevance most of the enterprises in this stage will not reorganize completely at this point. Because the realized business value is mostly generated “above the flow” and not “in the flow” of the business value chain. And as the enterprise is driven primarily by the success of the value creation in the line of business and not by some kind of enhancement in collaboration and information flow – only service companies that are primarily dependant on knowledge sharing for the business lines will succeed with the E20 thingy already at this point. Examples are for example CSC or Booz Allen Hamilton.

(3) Therefore the next stage in the diffusion process I see within those projects that deploy social functionalities towards the IT systems of the line of businesses. Examples for this I see in the Business Innovation Community project of Daimler (that is an open innovation platform installed by the business development department), the social enhancement towards CRM processes as well as the emergence of “personal learning networks” promoted by HR departments. According to my analogy I would call this stage the “virus variations” stage as in most cases there are more than one department that start a strategic E20 initiative.

(4) Finally as each of these different initiatives grow towards strategic relevance the management board eventually sees the demand to “streamline” the initiatives in order to effectively balance the benefits on the enterprise level. At this point they will approach the crossroads of the E20 success or failure as the “streamlining” can be organized as a top-down centralization of the projects which will kill the grass-rooted movements of each project. Or – the “streamlining” will lead towards a deconstruction of the business model because the management board as well as the corporation is “viciously infected” by the idea “to let loose” and “to open up” in order to gain new business value.

As a result the enterprise might eventually reach the final stage of a new form of organization that I do not want to describe at this point – as it would be quite hypothetically as I have not come along enough examples that resemble this stage.

To reply upfront to the critics of the above describe sequence of diffusion stages – there is no statistical evidence to this image, it is only a personal observation and conclusion towards the different stages of E20 infection. It might be an answer towards the question why the “big bang theory” won’t work for this kind of projects because the E20 thingy is a cultural change that must emerge slowly to all parts of the corporation and leads eventually towards a change of the business model.

Looking forward to any comments.