Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration

Do we finally have the right technologies for knowledge work? Wikis, blogs, group-messaging software and the like can make a corporate intranet into a constantly changing structure built by distributed, autonomous peers — a collaborative platform that reflects the way work really gets done.

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By the fall of 2005, the European investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW) had just completed a rollout of three new communication technologies to most of its employees. The tools — which included blogs, wikis and messaging software for groups and individuals1 — caught on first among IT staffers, who soon realized that the initial wiki environment lacked a feature called presence display. That is, it didn’t offer a way to tell if another employee was at his or her computer. At 10:44 London time on Oct. 11, 2005, an IT employee posted to his blog:

… it’s about squeezing as much as we can out of what we have in place now … The [presence display] idea for example can be achieved with ease [in the wiki] by simply adding the link below to an image tag … It’s a bit rough round the edges and the icon could be much better but does do what you want.

At 11:48, a colleague posted a comment on the same blog:

Cool, I have then taken your [link] and (pretty nastily) hacked presence display into [the wiki]. I’ll let Myrto [Lazopoulou, head of user-centered design at DrKW] know … and ask her to look into perhaps getting her team [to see] whether we can do this better …

Within 64 minutes and without any project definition or planning, a presence display solution had been spontaneously taken from concept to implementation, then submitted to the person formally responsible.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Kalexanderson.

Why are these new technologies particularly noteworthy? After all, companies already have plenty of communication media — e-mail, instant messaging, intranets, telephones, software for document sharing and knowledge management and so on. As the vignette above suggests, the new technologies are significant because they can potentially knit together an enterprise and facilitate knowledge work in ways that were simply not possible previously. To see how, we need to first understand the shortcomings of the technologies currently used by knowledge workers, then examine how the newly available technologies address these drawbacks. We’ll then return to the DrKW case to see how to accelerate their use within an enterprise, and highlight the challenges of doing so.


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1. DrKW’s internal blogs are powered by b2evolution, it’s wiki-building software is Social Text, and its messaging software is Mindalign.

2. Davenport’s book “Thinking for a Living” (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2005) is the source for all data and quotes attributed to him in this article.

3. M. Morris, “How Do Users Feel About Technology?” Forrester Research, Apr. 8, 2005.

4. In “The Social Life of Information” (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2000), J.S. Brown and P. Duguid define practice as “the activity involved in getting work done.”

5. The WIMP was developed at Xerox PARC, successfully commercialized by Apple and adopted by Microsoft starting with its Windows operating system.

6. D. O’Reilly, “Web-User Satisfaction on the Upswing,” PC World, May 7, 2004, http://www.pcworld.com/news/ article/ 0,aid, 116060,00. asp.

7. D. Fallows, “Search Engine Users,” Pew Internet & American Life Project, January 2005.

8. B. Venners, “Exploring with Wiki: A Conversation with Ward Cunningham, Part I,” Oct. 20, 2003, http://www.artima.com/intv/wiki.html.

9. The information architect Thomas Vander Wal is usually given credit for coining this term.

10. B. Venners, “Exploring with Wiki: A Conversation with Ward Cunningham, Part I.”

11. The vote and its results are discussed at http://www.drkw.com/eng/press/2662_3203.php and http://news.hereisthecity.com/news/busi ness_news/4764.cntns.

12. See, for example, C. Argyris, “Empowerment: The Emperor’s New Clothes,” Harvard Business Review 76 (May–June 1998): 98–105.


I would like to thank Kent Bowen, Tom Malone, Warren McFarlan, Gary Pisano and David Upton for their extremely helpful comments and suggestions, and the HBS Division of Research for supporting this work.

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Comments (5)
Vin DeCal
I have to underline your thoughts on "search". It seems to be really hard these days to get our employees use the huge amounts of intranet resources, that we provide them with. Instead they prefer to use search engines for the same data that is already available. 

We therefore implemented a simple educational strategy and redirected search terms that include "tags" of local resources to our intranet - even when types into the google search field.
Now guess what ... it works. Sometimes you just have to re-educate your staff.

Must say I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, as they reflect indeed a lot of todays problems when you try to sync the scaling of business procedures and technology.
Diseño Web Vzert
So .. technology is a good tool to accomplish our projects, but this also depends on how you use it. As can be so good, some people may use to harm.
Mayank B
Good read Andy.
We at MinesweeperBiz believe success of collaboration depends upon: -
1. Simple and intuitive tools for employees.
2. A well defined and thought out roll out strategy.
3. Adoption of new technology tools needs to be gradual steps after successful of a roll out of a simple solution.
Well, the technology is only as good users who know how to use it properly and with best practices.  My company is constantly looking for new ways to integrate project management, collaboration type software into the workplace, but even after everyone has been through training, it seems that most do not use the software in the best way to get the most out of it.  I think you really need to "sell" the benefits to the end user and if you can make them "want" to use the software, you will get much more out of it.
John Peters
i'm not so sure if the term "emergent" is used correctly? I think the collaboration itself is not the emergent phenomenon, but is causing the emergence of something at a higher level?