Most organisations understand the necessity of improving their communication with their people and customers. So rather than seeing Facebook as a time-waster, smart enterprises are embracing social media technology to leverage the benefits. Time will show that early adopters will out-smart their competitors.
In the past, companies could set the agenda in the workplace – and workers followed. Now, with the rise of knowledge work, a company’s most valuable resources walk out the door every night. The competitive environment for business is moving faster and changing more rapidly than in the past. Customers are moving fast, too – their expectations of service and functionality are rising.
These changes in the business and technical landscapes are forcing companies to change the way their people work to deliver innovation (always faster-better-cheaper) and with less people involved. This drive means that companies need to find better ways for their people to collaborate.
To enable better collaboration, a number of important technology-based resources are now available, such as wikis, blogs, RSS, and tagging or meta-tagging, podcasts, videocasts, webinars, social networking tools and mashups.
What is Enterprise 2.0?
At an enterprise level, web 2.0 tools can be used to enhance internal communication. However, as with any other business activity, their implementation must be subject to good planning. A good communication plan is essential, as is a metrics plan to measure that the benefits have been achieved.
None of them alone do anything to enhance internal communication – they are merely tools. A craftsperson who is equipped with a good tool, knowledge of the capabilities of the tool and clear goals can achieve great things.
What do you need to enable Enterprise 2.0?
Enabling these kinds of activities at an enterprise level presents different challenges than if you are a start-up in a garage somewhere. Firstly, listed companies generally have obligations under various types of legislation and regulation. For example, some countries require that you be able to recreate a version of your website on a particular day and at a particular time. This can be a challenge if your content management system does not keep versions of published web pages. Privacy is another requirement, both internally and externally, as it is essential to be able to secure personal data.
There are many tools that enable all of these kinds of activities, from open source right up to high end proprietary systems from large vendors. The key to implementing any of them is a business plan, appropriate business processes and skilled people to do the work. Often, because it is web, firms do not invest the thought and governance into their web implementations. The other area that is often neglected is planning for ongoing technical support and maintenance. If these systems are not cared for, they will deteriorate like any other.
Further, failure to include total cost of ownership in the initial business case often causes problems post-launch. A good example is if a firm decided to implement an open source wiki to store all business process documentation. Often this decision will be driven by the passionate person who loves wikis, but when that person leaves there is nobody that knows the technology and the information is no longer updated. Thus, the initial investment is wasted and a replacement must be found.
What are we really trying to do?
Corporate communication seeks to replicate natural phenomena: conversations, relationships, sharing, knowledge, cooperation and collaboration.
Each of these behaviours occurs naturally when groups of humans come together in communities. Within organisations, we are trying to harness this natural human tendency for business purposes. The key thing in most communities is proximity – until the advent of the internet, people formed communities because they were physically close in location as well as having common interests. The internet has made possible a kind of non-localised proximity.
That is, someone can form a community with people that they have never met in real life and can behave in many of the ways a real life community does. This capability is increasingly important in the globalised world of business. It also means that Australia’s famed ‘tyranny of distance’ can be overcome by collaboration tools.
People in management are interested in initiatives and ideas that achieve some or all of the following:
- take a pain or problem away
- deliver their personal KPIs
- positive (and preferably quick) ROI
- alignment with current organisational key business initiatives and politics
So any initiative that is framed as addressing these items has a better chance of approval.
Which web tools are right for you?
The most important thing is to work out how your virtual initiatives are going to integrate with your real-life initiatives. Some examples of each category follow:
Town hall meeting, conference calls, internal newsletters, print materials and real life meetings
A sound internal communications strategy will identify which of these is the most suitable combination to deploy.
Risks? What risks?
The traditional IT world has learned from bitter experience that enterprise level applications need to deliver dependable and trustworthy systems. Enterprise systems are generally structured to ensure no interruption to business processing, no unplanned downtime and high levels of fault tolerance. This is typically achieved by high levels of command and control over the systems.
For example, the ability of users to change those systems ‘on the fly’ is severely restricted, and often there are substantial compliance requirements governing the enterprise systems (e.g. accounting and banking systems).
However, until the advent of email in recent times, internal communication was done by means of memoranda and meetings. Communication was tightly controlled by management, and often by head office. But email changed the game. People can now communicate peer-to-peer over large distances at low cost.
The normal IT risks are evident with adoption of web 2.0, but the other risks are probably more important than the pure technology risk. These are related to how the initiative is framed internally, how people understand that it will deliver benefits and how achievement of those benefits will be shared. The other key risk is that the organisation does not get the web 2.0 meme and does something that causes the user community to lose trust in the initiative.
Get on board now
Enterprises need to move out of the old broadcast medium model, which is like TV where we just send the message out into the ether and someone might buy it. Now as with narrowcasting in the media, we need to target our messages better. And, most importantly, we need to obtain dialogue with our target audience to check that our message is being understood and that the call to action is being addressed. This is only possible through a dialogue, and it means that our communication channels need to be enabled to handle that. This is where web 2.0 technologies and mindset are ideal.
Web 2.0 has let the genie out of the bottle; staff are already embracing the empowered dialogue-driven mode it enables. Companies that can harness the engagement and passion of their staff will be ahead of the curve. Trust is the foundation of good business. If you cannot trust your staff and communicate openly with them, then you have bigger problems than technology.
Kate Carruthers is founder/Director of Digital Business Group, a strategic consultancy that helps businesses grow through process improvement and the use of web and digital technology.
Photo: Untitled blue (flickr)