I recently was sent an evaluation copy of the Butler Group Report on “Enterprise Web 2.0: Building the next generation Workplace” for me to read. Some brief thoughts on the report are given below.

The Butler Group reports are aimed at senior managers who need to understand how emerging technological developments may affect organisational business processes and strategic decision-making. Often such reports fail to engage me, but this report acknowledges that “it would be a mistake to dismiss technology altogether” and goes on to describe how various technological and cultural aspects of Web 2.0 can have significant impact at a strategic level. So I did find the report of interest – and do feel that senior managers who have responsibilities for strategic policy-making which will be affected by use of Web 2.0 in an enterprise content need to be aware of the issues raised in the report.

The technical Web 2.0 description provided is likely to be familiar to many readers of this blog, the four main bullet points being:

  1. The principle tenets of Web 2.0 are that the Web is the platform, software and content are delivered as services, and that people participate.
  2. The technologies in Web 2.0 are generally disruptive.
  3. The technologies of Web 2.0 are still maturing and security and management are to be resolved.
  4. Organisations must investigate the opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 technologies.

Now I would agree with the second point: yes, Web 2.0 is disruptive using the definition in Wikipedia that “A disruptive technology or disruptive innovation is a technological innovation that improves a product or service in ways that the market does not expect“. But I would also agree that organisations need to investigate the opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 technologies.

The report went on to gives reasons why such evaluations are needed, ranging from the new business opportunities which are being provided, the need for corporate managers to acknowledge the importance of the user (something that was in many cases not regarded as a priority), together with a need for “Corporate IT departments [to] reduce, reuse, recycle, re-engineer and re-think if they are to deliver a sustainable IT service to the organisation“.

I think this is right – but I’m also worried that we’ll see large-scale public sector initiatives which fail to acknowledge the disruptive aspects of  the Enterprise Web 2.0 environment and simply seek to replicate existing services using Web 2.0 technologies and fail to engage the users in the processes.  The UK e-University (the government-backed initiative to provide online delivery of UK higher education courses to students worldwide and to give improved access to higher education for under-represented groups of students in the UK) provided a good example of a top-down approach to a national service which was launched with great expectations but “failed largely because it took a supply-driven rather than a demand-led approach to a very ambitious venture in an emerging market. Sufficient market research into the level or nature of consumer demand was not undertaken, and the project failed to form effective partnerships with private sector investors.” according to a report on “Lessons to be learned from the failure of the UK e-University” (PDF) by Paul Bacsich.

Am I wrong in being concerned that similar top-down approaches to national networked services will be taken without learning from the lessons of the past?  So can I suggest that policy makers read this report to discover why “Enterprise 2.0 is about business agility and IT flexibility” – and remember that this isn’t me (coming from a technical perspective)  speaking: it’s the considered reflections of a group of business analysts.