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17Nov

Is  »E2.0 » for large companies only?

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Mark Masterson - 19/11/2009

Hmm. Good question. In general, I agree with you, but… I think there’s a very nuanced issue lurking here. I have often remarked to my colleagues on the conference circuit that the word « enterprise » in « Enterprise 2.0 » is ill defined.

I am (via my employer, and our customers) biased towards the mammoth end of the spectrum. At the E2 conference in Boston in 2008, there were about 6 people from CSC attending. Just prior to the Town Hall, wrap-up session at the end of the conference, we shared our concerns over a cup of coffee that most of the examples, stories and use cases discussed had felt very « small » to us — we define « enterprise » to mean « a company with more than 10k employees and revenues measured in billions ». Anything less than that is what feels to us like an « SME ». We then went into the Town Hall meeting, and one of the first people to stand up and make a comment was a woman who said. « The conference has been too oriented on huge company examples, stories and case studies, and I’d like to see more stuff relevant to the SME’s of the world ». I’m ashamed to admit that I burst out laughing, as the ironic comparison to our musings on everything feeling too « small » mere minutes earlier was just too good to be true.

I don’t know that I would agree with you that it’s all about dah money, though (although that’s certainly true and a good point, to some extent). I would also suggest that the BENEFITS of E2 are proportional to the size of the group — larger groups exhibit more powerful network effects, and the return on that investment is inherently higher.

I also think that a rigorous definition of the word « enterprise » needs to find a way to recognize « distance » as a factor. The more « distance » between collaboration partners, the more value an E2 approach can add.

Consider: I don’t have an urgent need for clever collaboration if I can lift my head from the screen, look across the room, and talk to you. Whilst I can certainly still get value from E2 in that sort of circumstance, the « value » variable has a different number in it than in a circumstance where the person I need to collaborate with is on another continent.

But the interesting thing about that observation is that it’s a dimension of the problem that is orthogonal to mere « size » (as in headcount). A tiny, 10 employee company that is very geographically dispersed has a different set of demands from a 100 employee company that is geographically co-located in a very traditional manner. The former is « big » in terms of the « distance » variable and therefore has more to gain from E2, potentially.

All of which is just a (typically) long-winded way of saying: I agree, but I think the deeper problem is that we use the term « Enterprise 2.0 » without really knowing or agreeing on what an « Enterprise » is. Sorting that out might be helpful.

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    barthox - 19/11/2009

    Mark thanks a lot for that great insight!

    Now, I’m not sure ‘enterprise’ should be defined, there are as far as I know official (if not legal) definitions of what it is …

    Here’s wikipedia’s take : « A business (also called a company, enterprise or firm) is a legally recognized organization designed to provide goods and/or services to consumers. »

    The size should not be present in the definition of « Enterprise » otherwise you’ll need a whole bunch of new terms …

    In my opinion this is actually why the term « SME » was created …

    I don’t know if it is the case in every country, but in Belgium the acronym SME is legally defined in terms of number of people and turn-over. The term ‘large enterprise’ (there’s no acronym for that one that I know of) is of course also defined …

    This being said, I would rebound on your idea and say that the thoughts, tools, ideologies, … that emerge from the E2.0 intellectual circles should be somehow identified as pertaining to specific categories of companies … so that everybody can be on the right wavelength …

Actually, Confluence is quite cheap ($800 for a perpatual 25-user license), BlueKiwi charges for use (not the number of licenses), JiveExpress, LotusLive, Socialtext, PBWiki, SocialCast etc have rather favorable licensing terms for small teams.

And, of course, there’s Basecamp, Lighthouse and all those Google apps.

Another interesting tidbit to consider is that very large corporations are actually an agglomeration of lots and lots of smaller companies are surprisingly different from one another. Being able to coordinate, work together, share information and generally behave more like one single unit is what many want from Enterprise 2.0 and social software. The larger an organization becomes, the harder it becomes to make a single tool work equally well for everyone.

Joe Kraus (formerly of Excite, then JotSpot, now Google) has a great write-up on the Long Tail of Software: http://bnoopy.typepad.com/bnoopy/2005/03/the_long_tail_o.html

SMEs don’t have to worry about coordinating with headquarters. They’re free to do what works best for them. Need a KPI dashboard? Put one together using SocialCalc or EditGrid. Need a way to stay in touch with your customers? Grab hold of GetSatisfaction, ZenDesk and so on. Need a way to document, easily modify and distribute your procedures? A wiki can do that very well. Need to share an opinion? A number of microsharing tools will fix that for you.

Work tools have likely never been better, more easily accessible or cheaper than they are today.

SMEs and one-man companies are already using these tools to their advantage. We just need to discover and share what works best.

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    barthox - 19/11/2009

    Fredrik,

    thanks for commenting.

    First of all, you are right about Confluence … my bad …

    Regarding the other platforms, my investigations lead me to the conclusion that they are not as affordable as advertised. This being said, what is « affordable »?? (as Mark would put it ;o))

    Now, the idea behind this post was not to start a discussion on the pricing of the the E2.0 tools offering … I mentioned it only as a point in my overall thoughts.

    I’m glad you mentioned all these other tools, I did not know all of them and it’s always interesting to learn of new things.

    Also, it goes in the same direction as my whole point … Events such as those mentioned in my post tend to put the spotlight on the big honchos, and less on the smaller player which happen to be those who would answer to the SMEs needs …

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