The enterprise and the web

Finally, many current debates are about the enterprises’ ability to understand, master and harness the web, internally. This may seem trivial because purely technological and being about competences that are much lighter that those IT depts have been using for decades. But, at the end, it’s more complicated that it seems.

As a matter of fact :

• It’s about making enterprises assimilate  somethings external, which is not something culturally easy. More, it has an impact on the competences that have to be gathered.

• For the first time, it’s about assimilating something coming from the general public whereas enterprises used to be leaders in technological change, adopting things years before it becomes available and affordable for common people.

• The assimilation, that was technological at the beginning, became  about new usages. But enterprises don’t know the word usages : they have methods, processes, norms. The only fact something can change, even a small detail, causes a self-defences reaction. Considering there is also a behavioral impact, it’s easy to understand how difficult things are even if many people are overestimating the upcoming changes. Even if it will help businesses to be aligned with their economic and competitive context, the shift is not easy.

So, here’s how, in less than a decade, things went from face-lifting interfaces to an human and organizational project.

Phase 1 : Disinterest

The web exists but is not massively adopted by the general public. Still under construction. While its players are working to make it become mainstream, to find it a purpose and businesses models, enterprises are looking at it from a distance, focused on their uneasy to use and bad looking business softwares.

Phase 2 : Graphical face-lift (late 90’s – 2005)

The web is becoming more and more popular, interfaces improves and it’s gaining attention beyond the early adopters. It doesn’t bring many things except the online replication of online business models. Unidirectional and rigid. But its interfaces, even if they were less user friendly than what we know today, are a real progress compared with what enterprise applications were providing at this time. Enterprises started to open their doors to the web, and “webize” their online apps. Then, the intranet followed the same direction.

It’s a little revolution even if nothing fundamental changes : web is coming mainly for esthetic reasons and the will to make many things available through a browser. But behind this renovated frontage, the logics remained the same.

Phase 3 : Simplification (2005 – 2009)

General public web is improving. More users, improved technologies, and the emergence of the notion of usage. People don’t browse or consult the web anymore, they use it. Applications and services are slowly replacing sites and portails. Light interface, intuitive use, social dimension : internauts are not looking at the web without interacting together, they are on the web to connect and interact. That’s web 2.0. Or, more humbly, the original promise finally kept. Let’s be honnest : it’s been overemphasized but the crital mass wass there and it’s logical that something emerged from it. Capitalizing on this kind of proof of concept, a worldwide trend began.

As in the previous phase, enterprises were seduced and thought they will be able to do the same thing : assimilate the technology and make that the inside of the company looks like the outside. That’s when things got complicated. Assuming that the same tools will lead to the same results without any effort was a mistake. What was key to success was context, something that is much harder to bring into a company than the technology alone.

For the first time, technological assimilation that have always been successfully achieved had to come with behavioral assimilation. That is a very hard challenge since the people in charge of the one are not those in charge of the others and that the famous usages were worrying and had to be professionalized.

That’s the cause of the big misunderstanding that prevent businesses from adopting what is called enterprise 2.0. Usages professionalization is possible but hard to understand for businesses that need something more founding to move forward. That leads to the next step that will be more related to operational processes.

Phase 4 : Empowerment (2009-…)

This is the logical next step : enterprise web (intranet and internet) is not only a media people can consult, it’s a plateform that has to used. In the enterprise language, use means production and productivty gains. What takes us to my previous analysis.

“Web as a platform”, inside the firewall, will be used to enrich existing processes and give more autonomy to people to help them reaching achieving their objectives in a networked enterprise.

It’s not about importing and assimilating technologies but about building “services” meeting organization needs. This may look complex but, in fact, it’s easier for businesses to understand this because it’s closer to production organizaiton logics they are used to. More used than with usages logics. When I say “services” I mean a “tools/working models” couple as I said here. Furthermore, tools will be less and less homemade but rent “as a service” from external providers.

Success will depend on the ability to articulate these new ways of working with the traditional ones, which will still be necessary.

Phase 5 : Openness (Maybe one day)

The last predictable phase will be aligning internal with external. Today, both are cutt off from one another : things are tried externally (with more or less success…) that no one dares trying inside the enterprise, with employees. Some others are very active inside but fearful outside. Things like community management or corporate branding can’t be effectless on the inside if businesses really want to succeed. These posts make us think about aligning practices but information flows must not experiment a break when passing the corporate wall. So tools have to be aligned too. Employees can not afford to spend their time being marshalling yards, trying to deal with both internal tools, tools they use with their cients, tools they use to communicate with the general public…

This phase will be driven by the need to work in ecosystems. Acknowledging the weight of the the outside world in business development will initiate this ultimate step of the “enterprise and web story”, the one will make easier to interact with partners and clients and will help businesses to meet the market’s expectations as described by Jeremiah Owyang.

Conclusion

As web is evolving, it slowly disappears behind what it makes possible, what is a good thing beacause  the only way for a technology to create value is to be invisible, hidden by its usages.

In fact, the quality of web adoption within businesses depends on the ability to embrace jointy the evolution of technology, of working models and of interactions between businesses and their ecosystem. This is also the evidence that the web, as such, as no importance : it comes naturally in every project that is well thought, well conceived, with a real vision.

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