This is going to be a rather longer, and more detailed, piece than I normally post, but it’s a big ‘thought’, and I am hoping for a lot of feedback to help piece together what I think I am beginning to see as the core new values in how working practice is changed by Web 2.0. By the way it’s probably controversial, but then that is a big part of what makes working in a Web 2.0 environment using a Blog different from Web 1.0 sales message content.
A lot of people have asked me essentially the same question recently, though in a lot of different ways. It’s perhaps easiest to phrase the question in this way; if the PC -Network technology generation with its focus on personal information produced the change in working practice from hierarchical management to Matrix working, what is the Web 2.0 – SOA technology generation going to change? Other variations of the question cover aspects such as what does Web 2.0, or Social Networking, do; why the focus on Collaboration when surely that’s not new; why talk about decision support, or Intelligent Enterprises when Business Information is well developed, etc.
The challenge is that just as with the changes the PC introduced into the way we work, its not any one aspect, but the way all of the aspects come together that make possible the change. I have spent a lot of time recently trying to figure this out, and as a member of the Web 2.0 community watching what I am doing to see how it is different, as well as looking at the Business use of SOA. My conclusion is that Web 2.0 and SOA are absolutely related, but it’s possible to separate the two for the purposes of an explanation in much the same way as Client-Server enterprises applications; i.e. ERP etc, (read SOA), can be separated from PC user applications; i.e. Spreadsheets, etc, (read Web 2.0). The difference between the ways individuals singularly, and collectively, work with ‘Information’ versus the way the Enterprise has to manage its procedures to record its commercial ‘Transactions’.
The change in how people work is focused on Web 2.0, and I have chosen to label this as Mesh Working to differentiate it from Matrix Working. Matrix working is broadly the capability for individuals to work at the specific tasks in which they specialise for a variety of managers, and is made possible by using client-server to allow the separation of the client activity from the data consolidation on the server. However it is at heart a data centric transaction based working method where relationships both between people and systems are ‘managed’ through a close coupled environment. Put simply the relationships in Matrix working are always pre determined, fully defined and use known data.
Put equally simply Mesh working is loose coupled, for both the people and systems, relying on forming the relationships required through the ‘interactions’ leading to the definitions of who, and what, should be found and used. The Mesh of people and systems is potentially a never ending huge open environment extending externally as well as internally rather than the closed internal world of Matrix working.
However before I go into this I would like to suggest that a big issue currently is how well many people really understand the four key building blocks of Web 2.0; Social Networking, Blogs, WiKis, and RSS. The best i.e. simple, and to the point, explanations that I have found are at http://www.commoncraft.com/show
The most common term used when talking about the properties of Web 2.0 is ‘collaboration’, but this leads to the question; ‘what’s new in collaboration?’ So again I am going to label the difference, referring to ‘strong collaboration’ in connection with Mesh working in Web 2.0, as opposed to existing Matrix working using ‘weak collaboration’.
The broad definition is that Strong collaboration is people centric and based upon a ‘pull’ model of finding, and asking, experts to work with you in providing answers. By contrast Weak collaboration is data centric relying on a push model to send content to those who need it. In weak collaboration we attempt to collaborate with people using email as an example, but our closed close coupled environment only allows us to contact the people we directly know exist and believe may be able to help. Our data centric collaboration is based on people capturing their experiences into the Knowledge Management taxonomy, and then sharing (collaborating) on reuse. In the stable market, and competitive conditions of the past then repetitive situations were likely to arise so the KM data ‘push’ model works. By the way, a WiKi can be used as an effective tool for KM, and the existing ‘weak’ collaboration model as well, more on this below.
That’s where the Web 2.0 social networking model, and blogs, comes into play to provide ‘strong’ collaboration. This Blog tells you a lot about my personal experience, and therefore where I could help, it also is accessible to a global community, (though it could be a closed community if required), and it is both found and subscribed too by others who share my interests. Just as I read, and subscribe, to others, and draw attention to some of their work through URLs in my blogs, thus enlarging our community. We form a ‘strong’ collaboration community bound together by our common interests, and by posting comments on each others blogs we often find answers to our specific questions, alternatively we could run a complex collaboration through a WiKi. As each individual is a member of other communities we gain overlaps, and an infinite number of paths to find those who can truly help us with our questions. Together we have created the ‘Mesh’ of people and systems spanning a huge open environment constantly adapting and changing as necessary.
A critical part of this process is the ability to decide how good the quality of expertise is, and for this we rely on the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ to provide a value rating on the general quality of their posts, comments, etc. We can navigate in one direction through people and communities, but we can also navigate through the association of tags, with tags provide a similar overlapping series of content communities. I guess all of this is a complicated way to see that we have moved from close coupled data in Taxonomies to loose coupled content in Folksonomies, but the real point I am trying to make is the way we are using this change is through a very different form of collaboration.
Unfortunately this change is not always understood. I am seeing WiKis, as an example, being formally taken over in the Enterprise by Knowledge Management to be used as a ‘new’ and effective tool for the traditional approach to collecting and collating data. This shows the strength and range of versatility of WiKi technology as they do indeed provide a strong boost to the traditional products, but may cause confusion around the point I want to make. The whole point of WiKis is they are meant to be used for coordination of a discussion between people acting in a ‘strong’ collaboration to solve a particular issue, rather than to produce the model of WiKipedia. This is not too deny in any way the extreme usefulness of Wikipedia, and the impact we could say it has had on thinking in how to implement KM. However it is worth remembering that Wikipedia deliberately set out to create a dynamic complex collaboration of shared content and has morphed into a more static encyclopaedia which has now started to prevent online editing!
Why did this happen? My answer is that originally it was a strong collaboration on a series of common topics, each of which attracted their own Web 2.0 crowd to supply the wisdom. When everything merged into a single ‘flat’ content on that scale it meant individual small crowds were no longer able to ‘collaborate’ over any one topic in quite the same way. At this stage Wikipedia started to change its role and became a huge Knowledge Management taxonomy contributed to by ‘professionals’ who are managing content building. This is not necessarily a bad thing; indeed it is arguable that it’s a natural transference of the captured wisdom of the expert crowd into a reference for the majority.
The big question; ‘Why does all of this matter?’ I saw the compelling answer to this recently, but I can’t remember where, (anyone know?), in an analysis of knowledge workers jobs. It seems that twenty years ago 80% of the knowledge needed to do our jobs was resident in our heads, but now its only 20%. That’s not because we are more stupid, but because the amount of information that could affect our work has risen dramatically, and is likely to continue to do so with globalisation, long tail offerings, etc etc. Notice that this is driven by the external and dynamic element, that’s why we need to, and will, shift from Matrix to Mesh Working, or what ever we end up calling it.
Here too is the shift from Business Intelligence, reports using data, to the Intelligent Enterprise, people interacting to make intelligent decisions, currently being discussed in other forums. The traditional internal IT structure will remain, as will business intelligence for reporting on internal data, together with Matrix working as a procedural element in creating the commercial transactions, but over this, that’s where I see the change that will create the so called Enterprise 2.0 organisation.
Competitive advantage is shifting from the cost management of transactions in the back office to business optimisation in the front office and the external market. Globalisation is forcing all enterprises to compete in this space so ultimately Mesh working is being driven as a necessary response to a changing Business world. It’s a World that takes us way beyond internal agility, and flexibility, through Matrix working, and into external responsiveness through Mesh working.
Sorry for such a long post, but I think its time to start to tie together the pieces, and I look forward to your help, yup that’s Mesh working!