Outside in

we need to reinvent our $40bn company. Quick, let’s start a blog’ 

(Slightly adapted notes from my role as chair of this morning’s Oracle and Conchango Enterprise 2.0 event which didn’t end up getting used because of the late start caused by tube suspensions).

So first of all, thank you all very much indeed for joining us for our discussion today of Enterprise 2.0.

We’re delighted to have you.

It’s a packed half day so I won’t ramble on for too long, but I thought it was worth just airing a couple of thoughts about this whole subject of ‘Enterprise 2.0’.

It’s easy to forget that, for many people, the first experience of computers was at work. It’s where they learned how to use type with more than two fingers, where they learned to operate productivity programmes like Word and Excel. It’s where they first became with intra-office communications tools, and then with the beast that was about to assault all of our lives, email.

And the machines themselves became smaller, and cheaper, and cuter boxes, and at some point we started to think ‘these things aren’t all that bad, I could do with one in my house’. ‘I like spreadsheets so much I might get some for the kitchen’.

And then of course there was the web, and – before we knew it the 2.0 web, whatever that is… and all of a sudden everyone is online and our expectations have gone through the roof.

And really now, what we expect as consumers is quite unbelievable. Products and services that were totally unimaginable even five years ago become common place – our grandparents are using Skype, blogging and downloading Gorillazs songs from bit torrent.

You almost start to wonder: Is it denying someone’s fundamental human rights to block their access to Facebook?

And somewhere in the middle of that, Google made the old job title ‘knowledge manager’ seem pretty bizarre.

I don’t suppose I need to talk about web 2.0 here but suffice’ to say, all of a sudden, many of our companies now feel like the car parked on the hard shoulder while their staff (and customers) go whizzing past.

And let’s face facts, a lot of the systems inside businesses are pretty unambitious undertakings. Often turning into vast filing systems for exactly the sort of information that no one wanted, like organisational charts or Joyce from accounts, who’s thinking about selling a black and white television.

On the outside of our firewalls, in three short years, customers have taken the raw building blocks of the web (anything that was close to fit for purpose) and built an internet which works the way they want.

And now our employees must do the same inside our organizations. Indeed, as we’ll hear later – heaven help any of us that try and stop them

And this is not something to be frightened of. The opportunities are incredible.

Whether it is that job of knowledge management from the old days, or collaboration amongst your team or simply increasing efficiencies into all those broken old business practices, it can all be done online.

And we will continue to surprise ourselves with the idea that the staff are often much better at designing these systems than the boardrooms full of boardroom type people.

"No, but I think my secretary does"

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This quote comes from a business bigwig, asked whether he uses Facebook.

“No, but I think my secretary does”

I think she probably does too.

The context is this somewhat reactionary piece in the FT asking how businesses should cope with staff wasting hours on social networking sites when they’re supposed to be working. There’s been a lot in the press about this recently with claims that companies need to take action.

We hear that organizations including Transport for London and British Gas have now banned access to the site.

Dresdner Kleinwort are particularly snotty about it, saying: ‘We only provide access to the internet for the purpose of conducting company business.’

What else have they banned? SMS during work hours? personal email? daydreaming? Conversations at the water cooler?

It’s not as if we’re talking about McDonalds here. On their own site, Dresdner Kleinwort proudly boasts: “We’ve proven that we can deliver outstanding solutions for our clients by creating a culture where the best people have the freedom to think differently and to question convention.” … just so long as they don’t have the freedom to use computers to talk to people.

Is it really beyond the realms of imagination that their employees will benefit from communicating with other human beings (inside and outside the organization) during their working days? And since when did we get to such a position of mistrust between companies and the staff that work in them?

Back to the the article. At one point the journalist compares using social networks during work hours to throwing impromptu parties in the office, before returning to the real world with a quote from Gartner consultant, Anthony Bradley ‘if you have to know what employees are doing every hour of the day, you are a bad manager’ .

The article comes in the same week that the TUC, of all people, has put out much saner guidelines for employers about how to deal with the phenomenon. The report is called, “Facing up to Facebook’ (PDF). TUC counsel that allowing reasonable levels of use is perfectly valid, as well as discussing how companies should view and monitor the content which is being posted online.

Employees have a right to a personal life, and provided they do not breach reasonable conduct guidelines, employers should respect this. They wouldn’t follow an employee down the pub to check on what they said to their friends about their day at work. Just because they can now do something akin to this online, certainly doesn’t mean they should.

Thank heavens for a voice of reason.

Aside from this bizarre Dickensian belief that you increase productivity by reducing access to distractions, much of this talk blithely ignores that humans are social animals, who accomplish a great deal more in groups than individually. Faced with the realization that people love Facebook, companies should think laterally about how they can benefit from this, rather than simply trying to turn the clocks back to the good old days of chaining staff to their desks mentally and physically.

This was best phrased by Julian in a joint presentation we did about social networks when he quoted this blog post that 20% of Goldman Sachs employees are now on Facebook.

It’s been a long nine months since I left investment banking, and much may have changed since then, it is a volatile industry. But when I left it, people like Goldmans were not known to employ large numbers of unintelligent time-wasters.