Social Networking: Collaborating Minds Are Better than One

By Elizabeth Bennett Print this article Print

A confluence of market, economic and organizational trends are paving the way for increased collective learning and productivity in the enterprise.

For many IT departments, it seemed like the laser focus on cost cutting for the better part of the last decade would never cease, but the pendulum is starting to swing. A new report cites a confluence of market, economic and organizational trends including social networking that are paving the way for increased collaboration in the enterprise.

Thriving in today's marketplace requires something new: A concentration on innovation and a response to shifting workplace demographics to meet the demands of young workers, according to Mike Gotta, principal analyst at Burton Group, an IT research and consulting firm in Midvale, Utah.

Gotta, who authored a November research report about a collaboration renaissance in the enterprise, notes the emergence of a new kind of company that will rely heavily on socially oriented communication and collaboration tools like Web logs, wikis, tags and social networking platforms for knowledge management and transfer.

"These trends are creating a perfect storm, making Enterprise 2.0 a relevant topic for business and IT strategists," says Gotta.

Executives are focused on enhancing growth and innovation and increasingly they are realizing that ideas and random connections can occur at anytime across the dimensions of a business, including externally with customers and partners.

*Watch more about Web 2.0 in the Workplace in this related video.

To that end, Gotta says businesses are beginning to invest in the cultivation of serendipitous moments that yield unpredictable results. For example, if an employee blogs about a problem he's having with certain aspects of a product launch, another employee who has experienced similar problems might read the entry and post a comment with suggestions of how to address the situation. In that case, says Gotta, not only does the blogger benefit, but so does anyone who reads the blog.

Euan Semple, a London-based consultant who has worked with dozens of large companies on the cultural and technological transition to using social software, cites such collective responsibility as a key byproduct of collaboration and a force for innovation. "These technologies encourage new self-managing and self-organizing systems that never existed before," Semple says.

Innovation isn't the only impetus for deploying collaborative software. Human resource departments are concerned about how organizations can address shifting demographics that are leading companies to employ young people who have high expectations of the work environment and the technologies in it.

"New workers think about and use technology really differently," says Andrew McAfee, an associate professor at Harvard Business School who studies how enterprises are using collaborative software and other Web 2.0 technologies. "Young workers are reflexive users of platform technology like Facebook and MySpace, rather than channel technology, like e-mail and instant messenger."

And that's what they're expecting in the work place, according to McAfee, who coined the term "Enterprise 2.0," referring to an organization that uses software platforms like blogs, wikis, search, social bookmarking and RSS feeds, to enable spontaneous collaboration and capture knowledge internally or with partners and customers.

The key to using these technologies, both Gotta and McAfee emphasize, is not merely to deploy them or even to use them. "We've had collaboration tools for years," Gotta says, "And if you're just blogging to your team, that's not Enterprise 2.0." Using collaboration and communication tools to catalyze secondary and tertiary connections, he says, is what enables the desired network effect of Enterprise 2.0.

There are other factors driving the evolution of Enterprise 2.0, according to Gotta's report, including grass roots movements of employees who experiment with consumer social software for use in the enterprise, however, "It's truly the combination of trends that make large enterprises superb test beds for social software," he says.

This article was originally published on 2007-12-05
Senior Writer
Elizabeth has been writing and reporting at Baselinesince its inaugural issue. Most recently, Liz helped Fortune 500 companies with their online strategies as a customer experience analyst at Creative Good. Prior to that, she worked in the organization practice at McKinsey & Co. She holds a B.A. from Vassar College.
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