dimanche 20 janvier 2008

Enterprise 2.0 – The shortest path

When I was at school I was told that the shortest path between two points was a strait line. I believed this for quite a while as maths was part of my engineering cursus and then I discovered that in the real world the shortest path between two points is the one I know… and that is often what large companies stumble upon when wanting to benefit from the Web 2.0 nimble technologies.

I once knew a project director who knew Lotus Notes inside out and whatever project he had to deal with, Lotus Notes was the answer. I have no negative opinion regarding Lotus Notes but one thing I am sure of is that it is not really meant to be a solution to all needs. I have witnessed some quite strange Lotus Notes based answers to projects dealt with by this project director.
The thing is that in a large company you have plenty of project directors who do not have much time to look around and see what’s new, so they have a tendency to always dip into a same bag of technologies to build their projects. A large number of these project directors have reached their position, more or less as a promotion, after many years of coding and analysis. Many are obviously really worthy people but they have much of their long built experience which is not only useless but also often encumbering as it offers out of date solutions.

Smaller companies do not have as much time and means as large companies so if a young employee seems good he’ll immediately be set project director and instead of leaning on his experience he’ll search the web to know whether others have addressed the same need. This project director will even put aside any message over six months old as he’ll feel it’s out of date…
Turning back to large companies, project directors are not alone they have technical architects to help them. These people are essential but are rarely given the means to really help. Their mission, theoretically, includes trying out new technologies in order to assist the projects in finding the best technological fit to their need. The problem is that these architects are rarely considered as essential and their number is often very low. I have often spoken to architects who complain that they have only time to study products which are imposed to them by their hierarchy (that’s right, once again the older generation who are often very intelligent but simply not aware).

One of my activities is to be a Knowledge Management consultant. KM is all about identifying knowledge, trying to get hold of it, transforming it into digestible material and finally doing your best to re-inject it at the right place… Well in fact it’s a little bit more than that but as far as Web 2.0 is concerned I’ll stick to it for the time being. Speaking of Web 2.0 it could be summed up by saying that its all about giving the user control and sitting back to see what he’ll do with it ;-). What really interests me is that once the user gets infected with the Web 2.0 virus he happily pours out his knowledge/experience/contacts and that could just be sooooo useful for large companies…

So there I go explaining all that could be rapidly achieved with Web 2.0 to the business analysts who are ready to listen to me. As I can be convincing we then go together and knock on the technical guys’ doors (the project directors I spoke of above). It nearly always happens the same way, they listen to us politely and, each time they consider we’re proposing a technical solution (wiki, blog, RIA …), they remind us that we must stick to expressing our functional needs. We try and stay as functional as possible and the meeting ends with a “we’ll see what can be done and will come back to you very soon”. They do finally come back (even sometimes very soon after) and nearly each time they propose either a specific development or the use of some pocket knife like existing application that they will try and twist to our need. The Web 2.0 technologies are not even considered.

As I said earlier on theses technical directors are often intelligent people who just do not have time to look around. Insisting a bit is often the key to ending up on the right track and everybody ends up happy.

The problem is that the Web 2.0 solutions are rarely envisaged by the business analysts knocking on the technical guys’ doors and most needs that could really benefit from a nimble Web 2.0 answer end up with lead weight shoes…

As I see it architects would often be the best key to helping large companies stepping up to be “Enterprise 2.0 inside”… if only they were given the means.

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