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Next Generation e-WorkPlace January 26, 2006

Posted by poseidongroove in Collaboration, e-WorkPlace, Edge Thinking, ESB, Social Software, Web Services.

I’ve been reflecting on how much work Place applications such as portals, intranets and ERPs need to evolve in the Web 2.0 era. I’ve discussed this with a few folks already and we’re all agreed that Enterprise Applications are fundamentally broken. We’re applying the same design and implementation approaches whilst Vendors jostle to make sure their strategy and application portfolio align with silly analyst magic quadrants. Think for a moment, all those PowerPoint’s vendors show you about their platform architecture. They’re essentially a bunch of acquired technologies the collective APIs is just an assembly of chaos. Several folks such as Danah Boyd and Ross Mayfield have discussed related issues on their Blogs.

Basically, The Integration of Process with Technology is one we’ve battled with for several years using more and more technology name it ERP, CRM, Portals we’ve done it. I don’t think we’ve made a good stab of it as an Industry. We have a saying in my company that business efficiency and group productivity are currently being inhibited in most organisations because group communication and coordination is extremely inefficient. Might sound like baloney at first. However, just think how many times you’ve tried to locate important documents or perhaps the multiple versions of these that currently exist in your company? How can you work effectively if the simple things aren’t at your finger tip? And we really think this is the information age? It’s more the misinformation age!

We’re overwhelmed by technology and software, email is like turning on the hose pipe and sticking it in your mouth, presence aware technology means constant interruption, desktop search tools are proliferating, filing content in X Drives, Document Management or Content Management is a Joke. Then some smart guys called Blackberry think we need more of it and then you really are drinking from the Atlantic. How about sleeping with the fishes?

A good summary of the issues we confront is well summarised by John Seely Brown and John Hagel they assert that “while 95% of IT investment goes to support business processes (to drive down costs), most employee time isn’t spent on process – but exceptions to process”. We can therefore conclude that Value creation should focus on the people in the process!

What does this actually mean? If you reflect for a moment about all the Web 2.0 Social Software stuff why is user adoption on these applications so huge? Why for example are most employees spending time on websites beyond their corporate firewall rather than spending time on internal applications? Hmm, all that wasted money on the portals, SAP and Siebel.

In my opinion applications we build and deploy for users behind the firewall are rarely successful because they lack social capital. Most folks are very informal in their use of technology. Why is it that informal mediums such as Blogs, WIKIs, Flikr, iTunes and MySpace are doing so well? Lack of social capital means usability deficit. Pile all that flash streaming media into your portal and syndicating content from Yahoo doesn’t make it useable. It needs to evoke a sense of commune for it to be adopted and useful. Technology should be an enabler for building social capital. Control is now in your face and flexibility of use is a secondary issue. The Security group in most organisations effectively veto or design end user applications.

The new class of workplace applications need the following

  • Social Capital – allow for a sense of shared purpose and a sense of belonging,
  • Trust Building – Users must trust information in the workplace behind their corporate firewall, every opinion should be valued, If you don’t trust the information, usage of the application is difficult to sustain.
  • Shared Resources – Exchange of ideas and intellectual properties across the organisation is only possible if this is encouraged organically.
  • Relationship Nurturing – Cost of developing relationships is extremely high because of the hierarchical nature of organisations. If someone is difficult to approach to validate some information they’ve posted or shared what is the point of using the information.

The new class of workplace applications that need to replace our portal metaphors needs to be built on a combination of Web 2.0, bittorent and SOA. They’re not as mutually exclusive as you might think. When RSS/RDF came out years ago, it didn’t have any real context of use apart from news feed aggregation. Think how far we’ve come with the semantic web. Who cares about XML when using Odeo or iTunes?

New workplace applications need to remove the limits of scale of organisational memory. Imagine when you go to work and need to work on a document. You don’t know where it’s stored in the organisation but you’d like to use the document anyhow. If I use Live Plasma as my analogy, so you search for some content and navigate to the item of interest using an interactive map metaphor which shows you a cluster of related content. I call this the “See Also Metaphor” or content targeting as is the case with highly personalised websites like Amazon.

In summary, SOA, Web 2.0, Bittorent, Portals, Personalisation and Collaboration need to be used to create a new class of applications types that will make the workplace user experience richer, highly personalised and interactive. Bittorent is perhaps the most underestimated technologies of the lot. Imagine saving a document and not caring where it’s stored. Essentially, Filing, Classification and Archiving of content shouldn’t be in your face. I believe Bittorent will replace or subsumed in existing database technologies in the future. I expect Enterprise Services Buses to graft on Bittorent Technologies to provide content filing and routing services.

SOA currently lacks a human interface and a business context. A business context exists for SOA if SOA approaches are used to provide development and runtime mechanisms for Web 2.0 services. Work Process applications such as ERPs and CRMs will need to evolve quickly or keep pace with social network applications. It’s easy for Portal, CRM and ERP vendors to implement SOA interfaces; it’s another thing altogether to acquire social capital. I’ve knocked up a picture to summarize these ideas In Flickr



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