Sidney Hill, Jr.: Who’s ready for Enterprise 2.0?

Soon you will be hearing a lot about something called Enterprise 2.0, the hot topic at the recent Software 2007 conference sponsored by Sand Hill Group, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm. The term “Enterprise 2.0” refers to applications that, in some form or another, take capabilities that make the Web more interactive and apply them to business uses.

By Sidney Hill, Jr., executive editor June 1, 2007

Soon you will be hearing a lot about something called Enterprise 2.0, the hot topic at the recent Software 2007 conference sponsored by Sand Hill Group, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm.

The term “Enterprise 2.0” refers to applications that, in some form or another, take capabilities that make the Web more interactive and apply them to business uses. A while back, someone dubbed these capabilities—wikis, blogs, social networking, etc.—Web 2.0. So Enterprise 2.0 seems a logical moniker for the applications on display at Software 2007.

While the 2.0 concept is creating a lot of buzz in the software vendor community, it has yet to gain traction with users. That’s partly because few vendors have a coherent story to tell on how their products can benefit business users.

If these vendors hope to make a real splash in the enterprise space, they should take a cue from M.R. Rangaswami, a Sand Hill Group cofounder, who believes users no longer purchase software simply because it’s new and innovative. They want to know that it can solve actual business problems.

The biggest selling point for Enterprise 2.0 technology is that it enhances collaboration. A wiki platform, for instance, allows people to post documents to a site where they can be accessed and edited by anyone in a work group. This is based on the concept of Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia that essentially can be edited by anyone in the world.

But there are already enterprise applications—particularly in the product life-cycle management arena—that enable this type of collaboration.

The major difference with the Enterprise 2.0 applications is they rely on the Internet as their primary communications backbone, and that makes them easier and cheaper to deploy. But none of that will matter if users don’t understand how they can fit these products into their businesses.

I met one Enterprise 2.0 vendor executive at Software 2007 who seems to get this. David Lavenda is VP of marketing and product strategy for WorkLight, a company that has built a platform for taking data out of existing enterprise systems and formatting it for display in almost any Web/Enterprise 2.0 environment.

Lavenda believes the concept of Enterprise 2.0 will gain momentum as more people become accustomed to using things like instant messaging, personal home pages, and RSS feeds in their personal lives. “They won’t want to continue to be bound by the rigid structures of the current generation of enterprise applications,” he said.

Lavenda also acknowledged that companies are not going to discard enterprise applications any time soon. Thus, he said, WorkLight is willing to work with customers to find out what data users want most, and determine the best way of serving it to them.

This type of collaboration inspired what Lavenda describes as “a Global 500” manufacturing company to install a WorkLight server that extracts customer information—including sales and support calls—from its ERP system, and converts that data into RSS feeds that workers can access from mobile devices. Previously, these workers needed full versions of the ERP system on laptop computers to get this type of information.

In this way, Enterprise 2.0 applications can change the way we work. But if Enterprise 2.0 vendors don’t learn to communicate with users, it will take a long time for most users to get there.