At the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston this week I quickly caught on that this business/technology move isn't so much about the tech behind it but about harnessing what evangelists call the 'collective intelligence.' What they're getting at is that blogs and wikis aren't just cool and fun, they could help smart employees who are never heard find a corporate voice.There was an interesting debate Monday morning between Andrew McAfee, an associate professor at Harvard Business School, and Tom Davenport, a professor at Babson College. While McAfee is credited with coining the term Enterprise 2.0, Davenport calls himself a "pragmatic killjoy" who doesn't think Enterprise 2.0 is revolutionary or even worthy of being given a new name.
The two men, who generally go at each other in the blogosphere, faced off at the conference, talking about whether technology might revolutionize the way businesses function in the future.
Then Willms Buhse, executive director of CoreMedia, a software company based in Germany, stood up and said that changing the corporate culture is more important than changing the technology. The cultural shift -- from the traditional hierarchy of follow-the-leader to an open exchange of ideas -- needs to come before even the coolest new technologies can make a real difference.
I talked with Buhse after the debate and he told me how they really shook up CoreMedia a few years back. They got rid of company departments. Gone was marketing, sales, finance. They spent some time creating a team of leaders for the company and then they gave their employees a voice by first using wikis and then allowing them to blog on an internal network. By this fall, Buhse said they hope to open up the blogs to a network of partners and then, maybe even this year, they hope to open it up to the general public.
"For us, the organization was the important thing," he said. "It's about the corporate culture."
But what about the inevitable moment when an employee starts talking about something embarrassing to the company or relays sensitive corporate information? How open will they feel then?
Buhse said he's just not worried about it.
"If something is going to be said, the discussion is ongoing anyway," he explained. "Currently, I'm very happy to have the discussion companywide. It would happen in the sales kitchen anyway… I would rather have a negative comment on my Web site, rather than people talking about it without us knowing it."
At this point, out of 150 employees, Buhse said at least 30% are blogging and he suspects that 80% are reading them. Now they're working on a new interface that will combine e-mail, wikis, and blogs, making it easier for mobile workers to submit blog feedback from their smartphones and handhelds.
It's an interesting approach to running a business and to opening up communication lines.