In the BBC's long-running cult sci-fi series Dr Who, the titular character 'regenerates' into a new body once the old one becomes worn out or damaged. It's a narrative sleight-of-hand that allows the show's producers to refresh the character each time the actor playing the part decides to move on.
The computing industry plays a similar trick with buzzwords. Each time the underlying technology shifts (and often at other times in between), a fresh buzzword takes hold and is paraded out to market to justify a new tranche of customer spending. We've seen it with web services morphing into SOA morphing into WOA. ASP became SaaS and is now becoming cloud. Two-tier client-server went to n-tier, became web-enabled and is now a virtual stack in the cloud with an AJAX front-end. Only very occasionally does a once-hyped trend fail to regenerate and plummets off the peak of the Gartner hype cycle to sudden death.
Now Enterprise 2.0 is going through one of those stage-managed regenerations, as outlined in an entertaining write-up by Dennis Howlett of the fall-out arising from this week's conference of the same name. If technology trends could be said to have apostles, then Howlett would be Enterprise 2.0's doubting Thomas, always probing for solid evidence that the miraculous results claimed by proponents have been proven in real-world customer deployments.
Howlett discusses a spat between business consultant Martijn Linssen and the man who first defined Enterprise 2.0, Andrew McAfee. A blog post by Linssen argues that Enterprise 2.0 has been overtaken by a new meme called Social Business. McAfee's riposte is that social business is an 80-year-old concept and what's new is the emergence of a digital toolkit that's a "quantum leap forward" on what was available before: "Because business is so social, this quantum leap is a big deal. So the movement is, in no small part, about the technology."
Howlett offers what he calls a "more prosaic analysis: the Enterprise 2.0 meme didn't cut it so the IT vendors have moved on to the next thing that sounds good: Social Business." And in a riposte to McAfee's assertion that a new generation of technology is the big catalyst, he notes that business people are probably just as fed up with and wise to the vapid promises of technology vendors pushing new tools as they are the similar promises of social scientists pushing rehashed theorems. Making a similar point to the one I raised here earlier this week, Howlett concludes by bringing the discussion back to execution:
"the kinds of management and structures you need in order to make these ideas work in a sustainable manner is almost non-existent. Command, control, power and status have a huge part in this. And no amount of putting lipstick on those organizational pigs will change the fundamentals."
That's the nub of the issue. As McAfee says in his blog post, "something really interesting is going on right now at the intersection of people, process, and technology ... I don't care much what the name is, but I care a great deal about the discussion." So let's make sure that the discussion isn't misleading people about the size of the challenge to get results. It's not just a matter of deploying the newest technology tools or following the latest management theories. You need both, but on top of that you need a clear vision of what you want to achieve, and you need effective, intelligent management to follow it through and make sure it happens.