Enterprise 2.0: AIIM’s KM Conclusion

Among the many results of the AIIM survey on Enterprise 2.0, I’d say we have strong contenders for the awards for most surprising and least surprising. Both are in Section 5: Generational and Cultural Impacts.

The surprise comes from the generational impact, or rather, from the weakness of that impact. Part of the rhetoric about E2.0 is that it will be driven by the Millennial generation. But Millennials (defined as those currently between 20 and 35) are not, according to the survey, significantly more likely to embrace E2.0 than are Gen Xers or Boomers.

So what does have an impact? That’s where the culture comes in. Specifically, organizations inclined toward knowledge management tend toward E2.0 more than do non-KM-inclined organizations. When this finding was presented at the E2.0 conference, my first reaction was: duh, E2.0 is a form of KM. Let me use my good nature and academic vocabulary to put it another way: the finding represents empirical support for an intuitively obvious association.

A search turns up the slideshow Enterprise 2.0 = Knowledge Management 2.0?, Dan Keldsen of AIIM posted to the web after presenting it in this very year in this very state. If we divide both sides of the equation by 2.0, we get simply E = KM: the assertion that the enterprise is all about knowledge management. I think that the assertion is interesting, true, and useful enough to be worth making.

That reminds me of an article about KM that’s interesting, true, and useful enough to be worth at least a skim: What’s Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge? published in Harvard Business Review a few years ago by two academics and a consultant. It was based on research conducted in consulting firms.

The consulting business employs two very different knowledge management strategies. In some companies, the strategy centers on the computer. Knowledge is carefully codified and stored in databases, where it can be accessed and used easily by anyone in the company. We call this the codification strategy. In other companies, knowledge is closely tied to the person who developed it and is shared mainly through direct person-to-person contacts. The chief purpose of computers at such companies is to help people communicate knowledge, not to store it. We call this the personalization strategy.

We can use the distinction between these strategies to classify the tools of E2.0. For example, wikis are tools for codification, while social networks are tools for personalization. To illustrate the difference with consumer-facing Web 2.0 tools, Wikipedia is about codification, while Facebook is about personalization. This reminds me of my distinction between content and connection, although that’s more because it’s my distinction than because it’s become widely used.

And now, it’s time to end this post and formulate what may be the world’s first and last “Two academics and a consultant walk into a bar” joke.

Enterprise 2.0: Strategic or Ad-Hoc?

Use of Web 2.0 within the organization: strategic or ad-hoc? The answer is probably yes, but the question merits more comment than that glib response.

The question identifies two broad patterns of Enterprise 2.0 activity: top-down and bottom-up. These are two classic patterns of… well, of lots of things in organization: new product development, resource allocation… (My academic reflex is to mention authors such as Burgelman and Bower, but I’ll stifle the urge to add publication dates and references.)

It’s worth emphasizing that a sharp binary distinction between top-down and bottom-up isn’t the reality. Rather, it’s a distinction useful for describing two patterns of activity within organizations.

It can also serve to define two extremes of a continuum. At one extreme of the E2 adoption continuum are organizations in which almost all blogs, wikis, and so on are used because there is a corporate initiative to use them, corporate standards for tools, etc. At the other extreme are organizations in which corporate isn’t even aware that there are subunits and individuals blogging, using wikis, and so on.

The ad-hoc pattern might remind you of information technology trends from decades past. In the 1980s, PCs flew onto desktops, often under the corporate radar. In the 1990s, free/open source software started to power a lot of servers, the change being transparent to the people using the client PCs and often hidden from management.

I suspect that many organizations have more ad-hoc adoption of Enterprise 2.0 than they realize. They may discover this as they consider their E2.0 strategies.

This implies two things about strategic and ad-hoc. First, they may meet in the middle, as top-down and ad-hoc encounter each other. Second, they may be stages of a life cycle. We’re currently in the ad-hoc stage. We’re about to enter the strategic stage. The strategic challenge for many organizations isn’t to define an E2 strategy on a blank slate. Rather, it’s to manage the diverse E2 initiatives that already exist.

The above raises many issues about strategic and ad-hoc E2. For example, I’ve yet to discuss specific vendors. That post should be along later today.

The question with which I opened this post comes from the AIIM report. I have enough to say about that report for another separate post, which will probably be out tomorrow.