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From Enterprise 2.0 to the digital workplace - how far have we come?

Barb Mosher Zinck Profile picture for user barb.mosher August 20, 2019
Remember the heady days of Enterprise 2.0, when a sweeping wave of collaboration was going to level hierarchies, changing work forever? How far have we actually come? One certainty: the digital tools are different.


I first met Dan Keldsen, Chief Innovation Officer at Information Architected, around ten years ago when he became a guest contributor to a media site I worked at. This was when the idea of Enterprise 2.0 was taking shape, and everyone was talking about the benefits of a new approach to working together.

A lot has changed since then, and I caught up with Keldsen to get his perspective on just how far we’ve come and what’s next for the enterprise.

The origins of enterprise 2.0

Andrew Mcafee first defined Enterprise 2.0 as “the use of emergent social software platforms within companies, or between companies and their partners or customers.”

Keldsen explained that Enterprise 2.0 (E2.0) was a movement. It was the next phase of knowledge management but with freedom, transparency, and the engagement of people.

The lean startup concept was gaining traction around this time, and the Enterprise 2.0 movement came out of that world. Keldsen said that all the E2.0 solutions were minimum viable products - it was a classic disruptive innovation play.

Enterprise 2.0 solutions democratized online collaboration and allowed you to create technical documentation without using Microsoft Word or a formal technical document solution. These solutions (think wikis) made enterprise collaboration available to everyone, not just the large organizations who could afford mammoth platforms. As Keldsen told me:

I’m a diehard collaborative innovation believer. If you want to fast, go by yourself. If you want to go far, go with others. The more you can pull from diverse viewpoints, and take advantage of different people’s experience, whether it’s geographically spread or it’s age, it’s about bringing more people together to add value and make it as easy as possible and strip away the stuff that’s wasteful.

The idea, Keldsen said was to get down to the basics and get working. Figure out “What are we trying to do? Who’s the right team to put on it? What are the tools that make it happen as fast as possible?” Those first tools weren’t exactly pretty (again pointing to the first wikis - which I remember hating) but he said we had to start somewhere and these tools were free.

Studying behavior change for the last ten to twelve years has taught Keldsen that it’s better to set the bar as low as possible so people can fall over it. That’s where E2.0 started, and it’s come so much farther since those early days.

From enterprise 2.0 to the digital workplace

We don’t call it E2.0 any longer. The movement has gone through many iterations and many names, all of which took on slightly different meanings: enterprise collaboration, social collaboration, social business, etc. Now, we refer to it as the “digital workplace.”

The technology has changed too. Early E2.0 vendors aren’t around now for the most part, either acquired (Yammer was bought by Microsoft) or integrated into other software. Socialtext, Socialcast, Telligent, are examples of E2.0 companies that were leaders but are no longer available. Jive Software, Atlassian and a few others have managed to continue, reinventing themselves as things changed.

As Keldsen pointed out, the term and the software might be gone, but the social aspects and the ability to collaborate and participate haven’t - they are now expected to be a part of almost any new system. Except that doesn’t always happen.

Keldsen has a lot of experience consulting with companies around workflow and processes. What he’s seen is that employee-facing systems that are designed by IT aren’t that great. They aren’t user-friendly, instead built like a developer thinks and not tested by the employees that will use them.

The enterprise is going through a fundamental change, thanks in part to the consumerization of the enterprise and bring your own device movements. There is a need for software to be both useful and usable, Keldsen said, and that’s a two-edged sword. We are seeing both in commercial enterprise solutions but only starting to see both baked into home-grown solutions.

The challenge today is governance

Providing employees with tools that are easy to use and help them do their jobs is only part of the evolution of Enterprise 2.0, though. Sure we have a lot of great software that helps us do our jobs - Slack, Microsoft Teams, Office 365, Google Apps - but we lack the proper governance of those tools.

The biggest failing is thinking that technology is the answer, and Keldsen said it doesn’t work that way. You have to provide guardrails to your employees on how to use different systems and how not to. And it doesn’t have to be a set of complex processes; lightweight guidance is okay. “It’s impossible to take advantage of what I think is the greatest power, and that is to do collaborative work in a way where most of the friction is taken out.”

What that means is that companies aren’t guiding employees on how to properly use these tools in a way that is consistent and aligns with policies (e.g. privacy). Keldsen noted, for example, that Slack is a great tool, but in some companies it’s simply used like email, inundating employees with message after message. You’re also passing files in Slack, files in email, maybe files in other places. There are no rules, no consistency.

Slack is not a bad tool; it’s incredibly useful for many organizations. For example, Keldsen said you could integrate it with your other business systems and use it as the notification center for all those systems. The idea is that you think about how to use it effectively and provide guidance to employees. Without that guidance, organizations will face challenges.

A part of that guidance includes telling employees where they should store everything and how to share it, Keldsen said. It’s critical to have rules around where content is stored; otherwise, you have employees putting content everywhere and no way to find it all. “It ends up being a significant distraction [trying to find things], and we’ve lost everything that came about through the enterprise search revolution that was very good.”

How far have we come?


The initial push was “collaboration at all” and tools that didn’t need to look like Lotus Notes, and weren’t heavy and slow and clumsy from the previous wave to Enterprise 2.0. Now the trend is real-time and access from anywhere, highly usable, and if it’s the appropriate solution, then you can find your stuff in a way that is not frustrating.

And we’re doing that in many organizations. It’s not perfect, but the tools have advanced greatly. We need to focus on helping employees use those tools in the best way possible. And we aren’t done yet.

Keldsen talked a bit about what we can learn from SaaS companies. The most successful make it easy to onboard a new customer. They give you resources that help you understand how to use the system quickly and then continue to offer information and resources that make you stay. Enterprises, Keldsen said, tend not to do that at all. They don’t onboard, instead throwing you into the tools and giving you as much information as you need to know to do that work at that time. And if they don’t have an onboarding process, it’s safe to say that they also don’t do continuous learning.

My take

Gartner defines the digital workplace as, “The Digital Workplace enables new, more effective ways of working; raises employee engagement and agility; and exploits consumer-oriented styles and technologies.” Sounds pretty much like Enterprise 2.0, only with consumer influences.

We have come a long way from the tools I remember loving and hating at the same time, and the processes we put in place to collaborate better. But I always find it interesting that the tools advance much faster than an organization’s ability to effectively use them. While it’s exciting to try new tools, we need to ensure we can back them with the guidelines and processes that prove their true value.

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