Enterprise 2.0 and the importance of Silo Smashing!

April 14, 2009 · · Posted by Jordan Frank

Recent posts by Michael Sampson, John Tropea and Thomas Vander Wal converge on the need for Enterprise 2.0 tools to smash the silos segregating content types and isolating workspaces.

Smashing Content Type Silos

John Tropea wrote about the need to unify the data model for blog posts, comments, and tasks to support natural cross-referencing - for example when you want to comment on a task, or turn an item mentioned in a blog post into an action to be tracked and performed.

All too often, collaboration platforms take an easy route when adding new functionality: they staple it on by creating a new table.

A collaboration platform originally built for file sharing may just add a new table space for blogs, another for Wikis, another for discussion, and yet another for tasking. In most cases, this low level decision is brought forward to the interface as a design constraint. Rather than allowing the flexibility to create dashboard views over any cross section of content and tags, these platforms will partition a workspace into "wiki" content, "blog" content, and even "discussion" content. This breakdown can be useful for navigation, but becomes a problem when it creates artificial barriers to cross-linking, tagging and commenting across different content types.

How We Solve the Problem: In TeamPage, all entries are created equal, even comments. Any entry may have items, tags, comments, attachments, and wiki page names. Comments and tags can be attached to any item in a post, page or comment. Display is handled by easily configured sections on the front page and each project workspace. In a customer example like ShoreBank, you can easily see where the "blog stream" of status reports, meeting notes, issues, and questions surround the "wiki islands" of milestones and requirements.

Smashing Workspace Silos

SharePoint 2007: Gateway Drug to Enterprise Social Tools may be one of the best blog posts of all time. Thomas Vander Wal does a good deed for the market by explaining a key problem with Sharepoint. To be fair, however, the problem he identifies is inherent in the many platforms that do not support interaction and views that span workspaces. He wrote:

Many who deployed SharePoint, thought it was going to be the bridge that delivered Enterprise 2.0 and a solid platform for social tools in the enterprise is summed up statement, “We went from 5 silos in our organization to hundreds in a month after deploying SharePoint”. They continue, “There is great information being shared and flowing into the system, but we don’t know it exists, nor can we easily share it, nor do much of anything with that information.” I heard this from an organization about 2 years ago in a private meeting and have been hearing near similar statements since. This is completely counter to the Enterprise 2.0 hopes and wishes they had for SharePoint...

One of the largest complaints is the information is locked in SharePoint micro-silos and it is nearly impossible to easily reuse that information and share it. Not only is the information difficult to get at by people desiring to collaborate outside the group or across groups, but it is not easily unlocked so that it can benefit from found in search. The Microsoft SharePoint model is one that starts with things locked down (focussed on hierarchies) then opens up, but unlocking is nowhere near as easy a task as it should be.

Essentially, Enterprise 2.0 is only as good as your ability to leverage content across workspaces. Vander Wal is reflecting the angst that many Sharepoint customers feel when they feel success coming on, only to confront the chaos that ensues when essential information burrows its way into 1,000's of micro-silos that don't offer ways to, in his words, "do much of anything with that information." It feels more like the warehouse scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark than a step forward.

Permissions are an essential challenge in Enterprise 2.0 which is not present in Web 2.0. Web 2.0 generally envisions a set of public services like blogs, news sources, wikis, RSS feeds and Google searches.

While E2.0 models like Andrew McAfee's SLATES and his Second definition of Enterprise 2.0 are useful for explaining Web 2.0 and ideals for the enterprise, they tend to downplay the business need for of access controls and how this can limit bi-directional linking, social tagging, and signals. Supporting collaboration that, in Greg Lloyd's words, spans Borders, Spaces, and Places requires that a platform unify content types and boundaries that make sense, offering a set of features that work across spaces, rather than just within them.

How We Solve the Problem: My answer would be no match for Michael Sampson's when he wrote about TeamPage: Michael Sampson's Currents: "TeamPage - the One System to Rule It All". Sampson shares an example of how TeamPage's permission model supports boundary spanning conversation and tagging in the context of a single entry. That's the tip if the iceberg when it comes to presenting and delivering views based on any cross-section of content, workspaces, and permissions.

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