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Enterprise 2.0: Is Enterprise Software Failing?

Software providers must look beyond lists of features and address business needs. And they must deliver on the promise of the next-generation customer experience.

To hear Rob Tarkoff tell it, "Enterprise software is failing."

Tarkoff, SVP and general manager of Adobe's business productivity solutions group, said so in a presentation at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Enterprise software is failing, he said, because it's not delivering on the promise of the next-generation customer experience.

Part of the issue is the rapid pace of change. In the past year, we've moved from Google's Web of information to Facebook's Web of connections, said Tarkoff. Enterprise software hasn't kept up.

Becoming a customer-driven enterprise requires rethinking how applications are designed, he argued.

Adobe, as a maker of rich media development tools, approaches the gap between Enterprise 2.0 ideals and practice as something that can be bridged through a better user-interface.

But as other conference speakers and experts suggest, bridging that gap requires institutional support for the emerging technological solutions.

As Jonathan Yarmis, a research fellow at New York-based consultancy Ovum, described the issue in a phone conversation, there's too much technology focus and not enough business focus.

Microsoft's SharePoint presentation at the conference exemplified the techno-centric approach. It featured Christian Finn, director of SharePoint product management for Microsoft, in a mock dating scenario with Microsoft social computing product manager Alina Fu.

In performance reminiscent of Apple's "I'm a Mac" ads, and Microsoft's "I'm a PC" response, Finn played role of SharePoint and Fu played the role of a potential customer, seeking to be convinced of SharePoint's merits.

Finn's recitation of his desirable social and collaborative features addressed enterprise technology requirements but failed to cover any of the business integration issues raised when companies bring collaborative technology into the workplace.

"With so many new technologies, people begin with what can the technology do and only later come back to what the business outcome is that I'm trying to achieve," said Yarmis, who says the Enterprise 2.0 technology market is in desperate need of consolidation.

In a separate conference presentation, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist for the Center for Digital Business at MIT Sloan School of Management, said there was positive momentum in bringing Enterprise 2.0 technology into organizations, but warned, "We have the opportunity right now to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory."

McAfee urged those implementing Enterprise 2.0 systems to avoid mistakes like declaring war on legacy systems, trying to replace e-mail, and allowing walled gardens to dam the flow of organizational content and expertise.

To prove that institutional obstacles can be overcome, McAfee cited the U.S. intelligence community, which includes more than a dozen federal agencies with a tradition of sprawling, siloed bureaucracies. The intelligence community used to share information on a need-to-know basis, he said. And since 9-11, that has been changing.

McAfee said he asked an internal advocate for collaboration in one of the agencies how the obstacles to sharing had been overcome. He said that he was told, "Our philosophy used to be if we share information too much, people will die. What we learned on 9-11 is if we don't share information enough, people will die."

For most businesses, the effective use of social and collaborative technology may not be a matter of survival, but increasingly it appears to be linked to functioning successfully in the knowledge economy.

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