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Response to McAfee-Davenport Debate on Enterprise 2.0

Last Friday morning, I attended the debate between Andrew McAfee and Tom Davenport on the viability of Enterprise 2.0. An audio recording is available here for those who missed it.

The blogosphere has been abuzz with commentary (see here, here, here, for example), and I’ve enjoyed many of the insights shared. But I have a big problem with Tom Davenport’s position that I haven’t seen cited by anyone else. Not to challenge a KM authority too brazenly (who incidentally used to be my boss’s boss’s boss’s boss), but…

Davenport’s argument is self-contradicting. On the one hand, he argues that any gains companies have realized through collaboration and knowledge sharing – which McAfee would attribute to the adoption of E2.0 tools and processes – are solely the results of cultural change and may have been accomplished using previously existing technologies like email, Lotus Notes or even paper-based systems. On the other hand, he argues that these successes ought to be attributed to the internet and quote-unquote Web 2.0 tools, rather than Enterprise 2.0.

This is not to instigate another mind-numbing round over the distinctions between Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0. Even if that word-smithing debate remains unresolved, I think the conflict is clear: Argument one says “Enterprises don’t need social media tools to share knowledge effectively.” Argument two says “Well, sure, enterprises have benefited from the use of participatory technologies, but the toolkit is the internet and the portfolio of available Web 2.0 tools. There’s no reason to coin a special name for their use behind the firewall.” So which is it?

I’m of the opinion that Davenport’s logic doesn’t hold water, and that McAfee’s arguments are right on: that cultural change coupled with technological tools that are unbounded, informally structured, and simple to use enable new approaches to business that are otherwise not possible.

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  • Well written and summarized Jen.  I’d love here more continued conversation around the business use of Enterprise 2.0 by business folks, not only technologists.  In my opinion, changing tools without a real cultural and process change would leave all of this still in the realm of an evolution of a Web technology (call it Web 2.0 or otherwise for all I care).  My understanding is that Enterprise 2.0 is all about the business context.  Didn’t hear a lot of that during the debate. In our own environment here, there is a similar analogy to the insistence on speaking about enterprise services as opposed to web services.  Some of that set of definitions might also hold the keys to why something is or isn’t Enterprise 2.0