Nice rhetorical question in this interview with Ross Mayfield in CIO, nothing new for people into enterprise social software, but I like how Ross draws the field, my markups:
Mayfield: The way organizations adapt, survive and be productive is through the social interaction that happens outside the lines that we draw by hierarchy, process and organizational structure. The first form of social software to really take off to facilitate these discussions was email. The “reply all” feature was fantastic for forming groups, communicating, and getting some things done, but it’s also been stretched thin. Because of its popularity, we use it for everything. It creates what the Gartner Group calls occupational spam, and it makes up 30 percent of email. It’s when you CC, blind CC, or reply to all. Consistently, with our customer base, that 30 percent moves over to the wiki. So e-mail is a big part of it.
Traditional enterprise software is the other. If you think about traditional enterprise software, it’s top down, highly structured, and is made for rigid business rules. The entire goal is automation of business process to drive down cost. But the net result is someone goes and buys SAP, implements the same 15,000 business processes that it comes with, and all they’re doing is paying the ante to stay in the round. They don’t gain any competitive advantage. Most employees don’t spend their time executing business process. That’s a myth. They spend most of their time handling exceptions to business process. That’s what they’re doing in their [e-mail] inbox for four hours a day. Email has become the great exception handler.
Unfortunately, what it means is all the learning disappears because it’s hidden away in people’s inbox. It’s not searchable and discoverable or findable through tags and folksonomies. And so just simply moving some of that exception handling into a more transparent, searchable, and discoverable Wiki means that you have the opportunity to gain a different kind of competitive advantage. John Seely Brown and John Hagel wrote this book recently called The Only Sustainable Edge , and there they suggest that the greatest source of sustainable innovation is how you’re handling these exceptions to business process.
So at the edge of your organization, there are all kinds of exceptions that are happening. If you handle them appropriately, you can adapt to where the market is going. You can adapt to the problems you have in your existing structures. So I’ve always looked at it as we’re doing the other half of enterprise software: making this unstructured information transparent.