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Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Meme-check - Enterprise & Web 2.0

EarlyStageVC
Aug. 14th

Gartner has now officially anointed Web 2.0 a bona fide IT trend. BFD. Of course, they straddled the meme, by putting it at the peak of their 'hype cycle' graph. That is the consultant's version of plausible deniability. If it turns out to be real, they called it. If it is not, they still called it. This idea has picked up a lot of steam since I first noticed it ten months ago. Dion Hinchcliffe and Andrew McAfee are the real thought leaders, emphasizing the technologies and social/managerial impacts respectively. Dion Hinchcliffe does his usual masterful job of deconstructing some of the elements of this Gartner-validated wave.

Before we all jump on this bandwagon, let's exercise some intellectual restraint and rigor, and in the process perhaps abandon the use of 2.0 as a synonym for "new". The original moniker of Web 2.0 has been used to imply/describe/justify/motivate a collection of concepts that range from standards (like RSS) to technical methodologies (like AJAX) to social phenomena (like personal publishing, rating, and sharing). Web 2.0 has been as much about sociology as technology. But Enterprises are not just big "collections of consumers" and so let's not graft the same concepts and expect a thousand enterprise flowers to bloom.

First, dispense with the sociology. Enterprises have two core attributes that do not exist as widely in the public web -- purpose and accountability. So 'empowerment' and 'collective intelligence' are not end points. Nor are 'discovery,' 'networking,' nor 'sharing.' These are embedded in processes and are methods for creating context to purposeful transactions. A sales forecast is 'collective intelligence.' Mining customer comments is a form of 'discovery.' A internal blog post is more likely to be linked to a product release status than photos of my vacation. Viewed in this context, a lot of what passes for (aspiring) businesses in Web 2.0 are simply features of larger processes in the Enterprise.

So Enterprise 2.0 as a platform shift is mostly about the enabling technologies. Web 2.0 rode the back of Open Source and Moore's Law to crack the economic barrier in building web based services. What followed were technologies for making applications richer (AJAX), easier to build (Ruby on Rails), and easier to integrate (REST and RSS).

But only a tiny community of developers have built Web 2.0 apps using AJAX, ROR, or LAMP. It is really just a few thousand people -- and very few work in large enterprises or ever will, again. So how will the Enterprise 2.0 apps get built? I doubt it is from a startup like Jotspot who has no business process expertise nor business data management expertise. I doubt it is Oracle or SAP who pride themselves on selling Sherman Tanks as radiation-hardened compact cars. The users will build Enterprise 2.0 apps, not the vendors.

The question is who will "get it" first?

  • Will the enterprise application guys (the IT dinosaurs) "get it" about embedding communication and social context in long-running transactions, or
  • Will the web 2.0 guys (the IT plankton) "get it" about business processes being the purpose of enterprise community and communication?

Tough call.

Maybe there's a third choice. Maybe the users will be able to imbue business processes with social computing features.

The growing consensus is that web-oriented architectures in the form of "mashups" will be the first wave of Web 2.0 in the enterprise. Maybe, but I think these are going to be niche tools, not mainstream. Why? Because today's mashups are data mashups and once you have the data, you rarely need it again. As a test, think about how often you got back to a cool mashup you've seen to re-use it over again.

This is the promise of process mashups - user-driven, maybe even user-authored, collaborative applications that support core business processes. Data mashups are the New EII. Process mashups are the new EAI. (To be meme-compliant you may want to call them EII 2.0 and EAI 2.0. I don't.)

We are ripe for an breakthrough as big as Visicalc. The spreadsheet exposed the power of the microprocessor to millions of PC users. It was and remains the only significant programming tool used by millions of people who know nothing of linting, compiling, scripting, or even looping. It provides a simple method of assembling data sources to create a custom "application". The application is really part of a business process, most often a financial process. A spreadsheet for business processes would be a powerful way to unlock collaboration and process knowledge in Enterprise 2.0.

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