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Web 2.0 to transform the enterprise. Or not.

Today’s Web 2.0 day, apparently: the topic is all over the place. But this time it’s even more relevant than in previous posts. The backlash has begun.

Tom Davenport is one of the most influential business writers of the last years. He’s got the ear of organizations and the educational establishment. And he’s just published an article at his “Next Big Thing” column at the HBR setting out why he does not believe in Enterprise 2.0, a concept he attributes to his Harvard colleage Andrew McAffee (not wholly unreasonably given his writing on the subject) and which briefly means the empowerment of knowledge workers throughout the organization thanks to Web 2.0 technology, with miraculous productivity gains as a result.

To quote almost half the article: “The absence of participative technologies in the past is not the only reason that organizations and expertise are hierarchical. Enterprise 2.0 software and the Internet won’t make organizational hierarchy and politics go away. They won’t make the ideas of the front-line worker in corporations as influential as those of the CEO. Most of the barriers that prevent knowledge from flowing freely in organizations – power differentials, lack of trust, missing incentives, unsupportive cultures, and the general busyness of employees today – won’t be addressed or substantially changed by technology alone“.

I couldn’t agree more.

McAffee himself sort of agrees to the criticism and warns against “techno-determinism”: technology indeed isn’t enough. But then he goes on to expound the web 2.0 participatory technologies as something really new under the sun, actually being used by managers to change the flow of knowledge and authority in corporations, and able to prove that it is a competitive advantage.

I don’t buy either. Web 2.0 is just a convenient tag to bundle information emergence and online collaboration tools, some of them much older than Web 2.0; they won’t overturn old (and sometimes sound) principles of management. They won’t empower the knowledge workers half as much as we would like. They might provide a tool for organizational knowledge management and distributed teamwork, two complex practices currently being slowly incorporated into organizations, and proving their value by extending worker productivity. Some corporations are much faster in this than others. But in most, it is doing nothing (and will do very little) to empower the knowledge worker, and a lot to make him (us) more efficient. Empowerment is a management philosophy, not a technology.

I found the link through Luis Suarez’s ELSUA blog. He subscribes to McAffee’s view. Must have had better corporate experiences that mine :-).


7 comentarios en “Web 2.0 to transform the enterprise. Or not.

  1. The subtitle of my blog is:

    “Is it really possible for organisations to share knowledge and information in a way that maximises the use of what lies in the heads of ‘our greatest asset’? Or will corporate politics always get in the way? ”

    You’ve given what in opinion is a very good answer to that question.


    Publicado por Simon Carswell | mayo 4, 2007, 9:39 am
  2. Hello Simon.

    Thanks. And BTW you run a most interesting blog. I especially liked http://enterknowl.blogspot.com/2007/02/so-why-might-enterprise-20-be-better.html as I’m working on a little paper along those lines (intro to practical KM in organizations)… although I’ve never been able to get a good grasp of the use of social tagging in that arena. I know IBM’s proposing a way to do it in their next offering. Do you know of current examples?

    Best regards,


    Publicado por Miguel | mayo 4, 2007, 11:42 am
  3. Miguel – We find ourselves in agreement. Luis is very, very, very passionate about Web 2.0 tech. But IBM wasn’t a democracy when I was there and I doubt much has changed in the lasst 12 months…

    Publicado por Matt Moore | mayo 6, 2007, 5:34 am
  4. Hello Matt,

    always a pleasure when we do :-).

    I’m sure not even Sun or Google (both blog-pervasive) are “democracies”. Still any little bit of transparency and freedom to speak up looks precious when you work in companies such as my current employer :-D. I can understand being passionate about a bit of that…

    Best regards (and your Belieofmeter is a nice idea http://engineerswithoutfears.blogspot.com/2007/05/web-20-beliefometer.html),


    Publicado por Miguel | mayo 6, 2007, 12:31 pm
  5. Miguel
    Thanks for the kind comment – makes me feel slightly less like a voice in the wilderness! Re tagging, perhaps the issue here is making the tag structure (ie folksonomy) universal across all the applications – blogs, wikis, social bookmarking etc. It would not be helpful if there was a separate folksonomy for each application. Anyone care to comment on the techniclaities of this?

    Publicado por Simon Carswell | mayo 8, 2007, 2:35 pm
  6. (Don’t let them know, Simon, but this blog is quite new and sparsely populated… best day yet had some 70 visitors :-). So I wouldn’t expect a lot of comments. Hope I’m wrong).

    I see what you mean. Del.icio.us allows users to integrate tagged favourites in the browser (i.e. you don’t have to visit the Del.icio.us page). The problem is those tags aren’t related with Technorati’s or WordPress’ or “dogear” or…

    Best regards,


    Publicado por Miguel | mayo 8, 2007, 3:07 pm


  1. Pingback: McAfee, Davenport, and missing the point (2.0) « eme ká eme - junio 20, 2007


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