Enterprise 2.0 case studies says “it’s possible”…and nothing more

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As usual, when a hange that’s both organizational and technological happens, everyone is looking for case studies to be convinced. But as the first solid cases come about social media, it looks like doubt remains, that cases are not close enough to people’s concerns to convince them. How many times can we hear “they don’t have our culture, our past, we’re not on the same market, our products are different, our clients are different”.

At first sight nothing changed. Cases start with a problem, explain what has been done and the results got. But it does not seem to work as well as before. The reason is quite simple : in the past cases were about softwares that treated and automated many tasks and helped to improve such or such thing. The only software was shown at the cause of how a given business went from a situation A to a situation B. It was credible and everyone believed it. Anyway, people believed all the more since everyone was implementing the the software, helped with the same consultants who where using the same methodologies, getting to the same implementations. Of course, one may object that from the case to the implementions there were lots of impressive gaps. That’s a fact : as every business is different from another, there are human, managerial, organizational and cultural factors that are neutral. But the nature of the projects made that people only need to have the proof that “the software could do it”, provided it came from a credible company.

Another factor had signifcant consequences. If all companies used to implement the same things, the same way, made the same choices, it was also because they were asked to be “comparable”. Investors knew that they could not compare apples with bananas so, even unconciously, they initiated a pressure that lead to the same choices and made companies adopt the same practices and technologies. Who would have risked to be pointed at because of nonconformist management, technology or organizational choices that would have made that their results and operations could not have been compared point by point with their competitors, using the same indicators in the same context.

Enterprise 2.0 cases differ for two reasons.

The first one is because enterprise 2.0 software do nothing by themselves, that everything relies on human and managerial variables…which were the “hidden variables” in the 2000’s cases. But, this moment, the soft was enough whereas everybody understands that today’s issues are elswhere. Very few companies wanted to explain how they dealt with political, cultural issues, with internal battles for power, how their HR tried something that could be seen as too disruptive to be publicized. More, let’s be honnest about it, even if they did it would not be of any use. Answers brought by a company A to these questions may be radicaly different from those who’ll fit a company B. An enterprise 2.0 case may ask questions, but everyone has to find his own answers. What leads us to the second point.

Let’s remember one of the key principles of enterprise social media. “Make businesses less similar”. So it’s logical not to find any standardized answer to the “how to succeed” question. It’s about understanding logics, to know what are the main issues but there is no way to find a ready to use recipe. If, on some projects, the profusion of technology could hide the lack of understanding or reflection, what is sure is, in enterprise 2.0 projects,  methodology must support common sense and can’t substitute for it.

But there’s a good news : many people used to criticize ERP projects for not creating any competitive advantage. It’s logical since all business had to be comparable, adopt the same recipes, so they were all moving on parallel lines without any chance to make any difference. Ultimately, what was gained in productivity benefited to customers through competition on prices but in no way to businesses. Here, it’s the contrary since the benefits broughts through software depends on factors that are unique to each company. Knowledge, culture, human capital, innovation potential…that’s what distinguish two companies even if they look similar. That leads to think that a successful implementation of social software will be much more differenciating than any other IT projects. But are they still IT projects ?

Enterprise 2.à cases tell us “it’s possible…others did it !”. We’ll have to content ourselves with that. If some are waiting to find the case that will perfectly match their own business…same culture, past, market… they may wait a long time.

adoption, étude de cas, culture, Entreprise 2.0, implémentation, social-media, social-software