Monday, May 19, 2008

What is this Enterprise 2.0 thing?

Phill Eriksen left a comment in response to my previous post and asks 2 questions:
  1. How much Enterprise 2.0 functionality can Oracle deliver today and what is their roadmap going forward.
  2. Isn't this Enterprise 2.0 message just the new 'On Demand' or 'E Business' message IBM has been pushing for 10 years?
Someone from Oracle should answer question 1. Or just wait a few months and I'm sure they can send someone from their new Enterprise 2.0 sales force out to tell us. I'm going to address question 2, because it's an area that's still very much open to debate...

No it's not. I'm not trying to defend Oracle. I'm just trying to clarify the difference. Or rather, the difference as I understand it at this point in time. In fact, if you talk to people in IBM Lotus, I'm sure they'll also agree it's not the same thing.

Enterprise 2.0 is NOT the old IBM "e-business" or "OnDemand" message (Note: I'm going to over-simplify by trying to distill the concepts down to their essence. There are other aspects that I could mention but won't because it'll take too long and people will fall asleep reading).

The "e-business" concept was essentially about businesses addressing the growing popularity of the Internet as the medium of choice. For some businesses, it was about having a web page. For others it was about linking business systems together so that organisations could get things working more efficiently while reducing the need for human intervention. This allowed for better integration between their internal enterprise applications (most of which were legacy apps) and even with partner organisations. In other cases, it also allowed consumers a direct way to transact with organisations without the middle men. The whole "e-business" meme was coined by IBM marketing and found itself being adopted by the industry. Other technology companies had their own term for the concept, but you could pretty much say "e-business" and people knew what you were referring to.

The "OnDemand" phase was the next logical step as IBM saw it. Again, other companies had their own terms and marketing buzzwords, although this time the phrase didn't quite take off like "e-business" did. "OnDemand" began conceptually as utility computing (right from viewing physical resources like memory and disk to business services) but evolved along the way because people started to realise there were a bunch of steps that needed to be performed before we got anywhere near the actual notion of "utility computing". Even now we're still not there, although we're much closer. The steps I refer to were more about making the "IT plumbing" easier to deal with when designing systems and allowing the focus to be more about the business functions and processes. Unfortunately, that meant that very few people outside of the enterprise technical community understood what benefits having an OnDemand business really meant because there really wasn't anything tangible that people could see.

"OnDemand" gave way to "Services Oriented Architecture (SOA)", which was really just a way to facilitate the "OnDemand" movement. SOA provides a standardised way to use business functions, processes and pretty much anything that needs to be utilised by many applications (or consuming services) across the board. In other words, SOA tries to turn business functions and processes into utilities. Imagine if each time you built a house, you had to go figure out how to build your own power generator and everyone built a power generator in their own way. That would REALLY suck. What happens if it breaks? You better know how to fix it...because if you can't find the person who built it for you, then you have to pay someone to take a look and try to reverse engineer it before they can even attempt to fix it. Instead most of us just go to the electricity company and pay them to supply us with electricity. We don't care how they produce it. All we care about is that it gets to us somehow.

Enterprise 2.0 should be MUCH more tangible. People should actually be able to see what is going on and hopefully experience the benefits directly in their day to day work lives. It looks like the initial focus is going to be around collaboration and information and should extend to other things as people start to "get it". If Enterprise 2.0 is done right, the "plumbing" that Enterprise 2.0 applications run on should be built on top of SOA concepts. Note that I said concepts...not necessarily SOA software from a big vendor. The key to understanding Enterprise 2.0 in my view lies in being an actual user of Web 2.0 applications and at the same time understanding enterprise technology and business. Enterprise 2.0 is about taking everything about Web 2.0 that may be useful for business and evolving alongside it.

For anyone wondering what the fuss is about, start using a social networking application like Facebook. I don't mean sign up for an account, poke around (pun'll get the pun if you use Facebook) then dismiss it as being useless or irrelevant to you. REALLY use it. You'll learn to ignore the noise (there is a lot of it in there) and learn what the useful things are...the things that make a difference to your experience as a person in real life. Take these useful things, change all the personal aspects (e.g. information) to work related ones and then imagine having it at work.

If you still don't see even a semblance of any value, go speak to your kids or someone under the age of 30. If you are under the age of 30, then you should be ashamed of yourself...or maybe you are a lawyer (I don't mean to offend the legal profession, but all my lawyer friends seem to be luddites - maybe it's because they spend all day killing trees by printing out copious amounts of documents and then reading these documents without having the need to use a computer or the Internet).

What do you think Enterprise 2.0 is?

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