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As community-driven tools and internal social networks experiments are now flourishing in many companies, as brands begin to understand what “engaging with customers” really mean, important part of businesses, BtoB or BtoC, are getting more people-centric, and Social Media begin to leverage the interaction between employees and customers, paving the way for true EtoB (Employees to Business), as pictured on Figure 1.
While the inner organization and mechanism of a typical Enterprise 2.0 are still yet to be defined (see for example this insightful post from Si Alhir upon the Purposeful Enterprise), it becomes unclear if this evolution will follow the one of the Social Web, as sketched by Jeremiah Owyang on his blog. As now, best of both worlds still live in two different spheres, separated by a firewall. Besides its security role, or because of it, the firewall acts as a solid barrier preventing information flows outside of the enterprise. But as we will see, this role isn’t sustainable, and we might assist major changes in the years to come. The future of the firewall, as well as the future of companies themselves, might be conditioned by the answer to this simple question: will enterprise 2.0 and the social web converge, or diverge?
Convergence – toward dissolution of the firewall
Figure 2 illustrates what would become business for an enterprise which would choose to empower all existing processes with “smart collaborative” behaviors. At some time, every employee would become a stakeholder of the business ecosystem (customers, providers, other companies,… ) , whether among his personal networks, relaying the values and culture of the company he works for, or among the internal communities he is part of. Provided that companies issue clever social media policies, this scenario will lead to the progressive disappearance of firewalls as we know them, and toward a seamless information flow inside and outside the enterprise.
Idealistic scenario? Maybe. Fact is a lot of cultural changes have still to take place inside the corporate world, whether among organizations themselves, or in allowing an “open” use of tools which haven’t found their place in the enterprise yet. All this might weight in favor of a totally different scenario:
Divergence – toward another breach in the wall
A tempting option for the enterprise would be to keep communities behind the firewall, assuming that their goals and internal mechanisms are mainly different from those which form the Social Web, propagating the present paradigms: processes-driven companies and affinity-driven consumer world. I see here two main concerns:
- Day after day, the Social Web is getting more mobile, even portable, and pretending to prevent information to flow freely outside companies is an utopia. In the most closed environment, employees will still be able to grab a mobile phone to discuss business issues out of control.
- Generation Yers will soon be an important part of workforces. Outside of the enterprise, they are heavily connected, deeply and constantly immersed in the Social Web. Inside the enterprise, they will have, as any other generation, to learn new usages and conform to business processes, but won’t resign from connecting with their likes. Time spent on social networks while at work is no more than 30 minutes per day, but this time will grow as younger people hit the market.
As a result, firewalls would be unable to prevent employees from sharing their work time between business and their own online activities, thus with an enormous negative impact on production. Working would ultimately become a choice, and employees would be in total control of their time. In this case, companies better have to be prepared to make themselves REALLY attractive to keep talents from flying away and productivity from vanishing.
As Enterprise 2.0 is still in its early infancy, both scenarios are conceivable, which will shape the future of work in a way or another. Convergence or divergence, what’s your take?