The 2.0 web is heralding massive challenges for today's Enterprise customer. But, who is that customer? Is it the Enterprise buyer with an IT budget? Is it the line of business executive who says, "Screw IT; let's do this" and rolls his own social computing platform by hiring a half dozen open source developers? Is it the departmental user who pays for a wiki with her credit card, recruits her team members and evangelizes on working a different way? The answer is: yes, it's all of these, and no (unfortunately) it's none of these.
The sad reality for all of us social web lovers is there is a lot of experimentation in the Enterprise, but the "market" is still not even on the beach, let alone ready to dip its toes in the chilly water.
I read with some surprise Steve Gillmor's grand poetic soliloquy this morning on the revolutionary effect the new Friendfeed design would have on enterprise computing. I wasn't alone. Jevon MacDonald reacted with this tweet , "How's this for drinking the Kool-aid?" And Lee Bryant, founder of leading Enterprise 2.0 consultancy Headshift soon replied with, "@jevon wow - that sounded more like acid than kool-aid."
It's easy to be snarky on Twitter, but those of us who've been carrying an e2.0 bag in large G2000 corporate environments look a lot more like Willy Loman than Paul McCartney inside the Enterprise. It's been a tough journey trying to evangelize the troops. That being said, Gillmor's piece this morning reminded me of an incident I witnessed first hand in 1988. I was sitting at a dinner table with Bill Joy, Mitch Kapor, Dan Bricklin, and a host of other pre-Web luminaries the night before Steve Jobs was about to announce the "NeXT" computer. Joy snarled, "Oh, Steve's new computer will teach the blind to see, the lame to walk..." Well, Bill Joy was correct about the hype over NeXT computer, but he was wrong about how Apple would get the elegance, simplicity and design of personal computing right. So, Gillmor may be wrong to gush over the import of Friendfeed's redesign, but he is probably right about how innovations on the social web will eventually change computing in the enterprise.
Yet, the future is not now. Now is now. Gil Yehuda, an Enterprise 2.0 management consultant and former analyst, who has been conversing (in oxygen, not digits) with large global enterprises, characterizes the understanding of new web 2.0 tools as "obscure." He says, "Enterprises have bigger issues today. The reality is the majority of enterprises are running on ten-year old technology and 20-year old management practices." Yehuda describes the disconnect between the inside-baseball hype on 2.0 and the reality as the "long neck phenomenon" where a head of innovators is separated from a body of practitioners. Gil's experience jibes with my own. My friend and former colleague, Keri Pearlson, has described incidences where she would introduce Twitter to Enterprise clients and they'd ask how to spell it; once they typed it in properly, they'd discover the firewall blocked access to it. Twitter discussion over.
And then there's the economy. Pete Fields, Sr. VP at Wachovia, who led Wachovia to social computing last year, points out that in the current economic climate, risk aversion stands to slow, even further, non-traditional experimentation. "While next-gen type technologies don't carry the same kind of risks as credit default swaps or margin risks, the sense of reining back in on the risk front is pervasive. It affects our tolerance for risk across a lot of dimensions."
The good news is that there has never before been so much interest in social computing in the Enterprise. Not the least of which is coming from the enterprise vendors. We will see major announcements coming from the enterprise behemoths Microsoft, IBM, SAP, and Oracle this year. But as I've said before, it's like turning around a battleship among speedboats.