Enterprise 2.0 - Harnessing the Wikipedia effect
The headline story for the November 08 edition of Fast Company was that Cisco have begun adopting a "socialist enterprise" approach to their management. The article explains they have begun to use Web 2.0 technologies internally to better co-ordinate business activities, and also less formal organisational structures to improve their agility so that they can bring new products to market faster.
Using Web 2.0 systems, like blogs, wikis and social communities, in this manner is known as 'Enterprise 2.0', a term coined by MIT professor Andrew McAfee when he published his popular paper on the subject. It explains how staff can use tools like RSS feeds to share information far quicker and more efficiently.
In his blog he also goes on to explain how these technologies enable equally dynamic organisational models, 'flatter' systems that operate via self-organising structures rather than 'Command and Control' decision-making. A next generation organisation, an Enterprise 2.0, can therefore be thought of as the combination of the democratic structure and the technologies to enable this model.
Open source communities
The power of these systems can be seen in many examples. Enabled by the Internet this 'Wikinomics' is the new science of modern business.
Wikipedia is the poster child example, but the software it runs on is also a particularly important example as well. Open source software, for wikis, social communities and blogs, are created through the same collaborative systems. Indeed, as you would expect, technical experts are particularly adept at self-organising via the Internet.
Web 2.0 portal software, like Drupal or Plone amongst many others, are created via the methods they can enable. Users can contribute to the product as easily as they can download it. There are easily accessible processes like 'Upload a module' or 'Fix a bug' so that any one can volunteer to be a member of the team at any point, and contribute work without being asked to do so.
There is no central CEO co-ordinating any of these activity, it is simply the community itself that operates the required structures to ensure it keeps working. This is what Agile Enterprise experts describe as a core requirement of 'Collective Code Ownership'.
Organisations such as the US Patent Office are showing how this same effect can be used in more traditional business areas, with a focus at the level Code = Business process.
In the Harvard Law white paper 'Peer to Patent: Collective intelligence and patent reform' it documents how the US PTO is addressing their core challenges through an Enterprise 2.0 strategy.
It explains how they had developed a huge backlog of patent claims, and was also suffering with poor quality in terms of the awards being granted, due to a 'closed' process. There was no input from any outside experts, such as university researchers. Not only did this cause a bottleneck due to the number of resources being utilised but also it affected quality. Awards were being granted for applications based on very limited and often inaccurate knowledge.
To remedy the situation the USPTO is 'harnessing the Wikipedia effect'. They have moved the process online to the Web 2.0 type community and so have been able to open up the workflow to a distributed community of experts from across many different organisations, and apply collective efforts.