The following reflection (you may prefer drivel, but each to their own) has been sparked by a comment by Susan Scrupski on a previous post. It’s also been driven along by some of the reading I’ve been doing in the blogosphere in the last week or so.
The whole point is to attempt to answer the question: “When will enterprises truly embrace Enterprise 2.0 applications?”
Susan says she’s been struggling with it so I’m guessing that the following is going to contain more of my own struggling and not that many answers.
The factors which I think need to be considered in answering this include:
- The trouble with generalisations.
- Who makes the decisions in organisations.
- The 9X email problem – for IT folk.
- If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
- The 9X email problem – for users.
- TAM, diffusion and perceived effectiveness and perceived ease of use.
- Shadow systems – the user revolution.
The trouble with generalisations
I’m increasingly thinking that many of the problems of the IT industry is due to the tendency of IT folk to prefer abstrctions and generalisations. From Wikipedia
In computer science, abstraction is a mechanism and practice to reduce and factor out details so that one can focus on a few concepts at a time.
You can see this in the old computer science adage: “Any problem can be solved by adding a layer of abstraction”.
Enterprises are incredibly diverse. The characteristics of these different enterprises make a single answer to the above question difficult, if not impossible. It might be better to ask what factors or characteristics will encourage enterprises to or hinder enterprises from embracing Enterprise 2.0 applications.
Beyond that point, most of my following ruminations are based on the experience I have with enterprises. Which is mostly Universities. So take any generalisations I make below with a grain of salt.
Who makes the decisions in organisations
Kathy Sierra has a recent post about knocking the exuberance out of employees about what organisations prefer in their employees and consequently what organisations tend to encourage/do to their employees.
It really strikes a chord with my experience. Many employees, especially IT employees, are robots. Frightened to rock the boat, to break with tradition, think outside the box and many more tired cliches. IT employees are especially prone to this as IT is continually seen as overhead, a cost to be minimised rather than a strategic advantage to be maximised – more on this below.
The next obvious step beyond Kathy’s post is that if organisations do this to their employees, then which employees rise to management positions? The most successful robots. The employees most indoctrinated into the current status quo, the ones least likely to look for something and challenging.
So, in many organistions you end up with senior and line managers who actively battle against new ideas like Enterprise 2.0.
The 9X Email problem – IT staff
Andrew McAfee has recently blogged about the 9X email problem in which he suggests that Enterprise 2.0 applications will need to 9 times better than the applications they are replacing. Otherwise they will not be adopted.
This doesn’t apply to just the users. It also applies to IT staff. In many organisations IT is a cost. IT staff are like the emergency services – Police, Fire, Ambulance/Paramedics – you only ever see them when there’s a problem. When the system is down, or you can’t figure out how to use it. Management want to minimise the problems caused by IT.
Within an enterprise this message is continually sent to IT staff via numerous direct and in-direct mechanisms until the exuberance is entirely knocked out of them. To quote Kathy Sierra
If we knock out their exuberance, we’ve also killed their desire to learn, grow, adapt, innovate, and care.
Implementation of Enterprise 1.0 applications has, for many IT staff, been so difficult and traumatic that once it’s in they are very reluctant to let go, to try something new. Especially when having skills around Enterprise 1.0 applications are still highly prized in the job market.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
There exists a huge distance between most IT staff and the people they are supporting. Standard best practice in implementing IT service management in large organisations, such as ITIL, actively encourages greater separation between the people using the systems and the people actually responsible for supporting and fixing the system.
Most include some concept of a “user group” as a means to reduce this distance. But the tendency is that it’s Kathy Sierra’s “robots” that attend these meetings. The people who actually see the limitations and problems with Enterprise 1.0 applications realise that it’s a waste of time to attend such meetings or, even worse, are actively kept away from those meetings via the hierarchy.
All of this leads many IT staff to the conclusion that it ain’t broke, so why would we fix it?
Perhaps that sounds a bit like I’m trying to denigrate IT staff. That’s not the intent. The intent is to illustrate that the environment in which they work is such that this is the almost inevitable end result.
The 9X email problem – for users
Most of the other staff are suffering the same problem. For many employees their job description is tied directly to a specific set of processes and activities. Any potential change is challenging and has the potential, at the worst, for them to lose their job.
There has been some seminal work in the information systems literature about the implementation of “old-style” groupware technology (e.g. Notes) into organisations by Wanda Orlikowski. There’s a working paper of this work. This is the one I’m aware of, I’m sure there are many others.
A quote from the working paper that is relevant to Enterprise 2.0
In those organizations where the premises underlying groupware are incongruent with those of the organization’s culture, policies, and reward systems, it is unlikely that effective cooperative computing will result without a change in structural properties. Such changes are difficult to accomplish, and usually meet with resistance. Without such changes, however, the existing structural elements of the firm will likely serve as significant barriers to the desired use of the technology.
It’s all about the perceptions of the users. Which are created and influenced by the culture, policies, reward systems and other characteristics of the specific organisation.
TAM, diffusion and perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use
Some work that I and a couple of my colleagues have done over recent years have focused on the use of diffusion theory and the technology acceptance model (TAM).
Concentrating just on TAM, TAM suggests that how useful and easy to use a user perceives an information system will directly influence their decision to make use of that system.
Both TAM and diffusion theory have resonances with the 9X email problem and other aspects I’ve mentioned above.
The propositions that arise from all of this include:
- Employees will use Enterprise 2.0 applications when they are seen to be very useful and very ease to use within the organisational context to which they belong
- It is unlikely that this will be enabled by existing IT staff or management
- Organisations with exceptional IT staff or management may get it early
- They’ll have to figure out how best to encourage perspectives of usefulness and ease of use within their organisational context
- Many other organisations may face a user revolt.
Shadow Systems – the users revolt
In a recent post Susan has talked about Enterprise 2.0 being driven by a revolution – a self-help revolution.
Here at CQU I’ve been heavily involved in the development of shadow systems.
Shadow systems seem to be another phrase for Susan’s self-help systems.
My wife has done some research and publication around shadow systems and why they appear. Some colleagues and I drew on her work for a paper about the role which we think shadow systems play in the enterprise space.
A quick summary
- Shadow systems are inevitable in any reasonably complex organisation
- The combination of increasing change in business context, increasing ease-of-use of information systems development tools, and increasing computer literacy will only increase the prevalence of shadow systems.
- The current view of shadow systms as something to be eliminated is short-sighted.
- Shadow systems are a useful indicator of potential problems with the implementation of Enterprise Systems.
- Shadow systems should be encouraged and enabled.
Which, at least to me, sounds very similar to the notion within Enterprise 2.0 of enabling emergent structures rather than imposed ones.