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Governing Web 2.0
Grounding principles to get the most out of enterprise 2.0 investments.
BY STEVEN DE HERTOGH, STIJN VIAENE, AND GUIDO DEDENE
existing management theory and our own case research of companies with recent experience in introducing Web 2.0 into their enterprises. The success- ful introduction of Web 2.0 for the en- terprise will require a move away from predesigned paternalistically imposed communication strategies and struc- tures, toward carefully stimulating a many-to-many, decentralized emer- gence of bottom-up communicative connections.
Although each principle stands on its own, it is important to realize there is a common thread running through all four principles. When dealing with Web 2.0 investment initiatives, man- agement needs to be wary of imposing the adoption of a system, or restricting the use of it. Rather, to reach a critical mass of communications, it is impor- tant to consciously balance both direc- tive and emergent styles of governing the use of the Web 2.0 environment. What is more, the cases suggest that for this type of investment manage- ment would do well to favor the lat- ter style whenever possible, and only to take recourse to the former style of governance if absolutely necessary or risk discouraging user participa-
WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS aspire to make maximal use of the level playing field for engagement offered by the Internet, both technologically and socially.11,12 The World Wide Web has thereby entered “the realm of sociality,”2 where software becomes fused with everyday social life. This evolution has taken huge strides—Web 2.0 environments such as Wikipedia, Facebook, and MySpace have all become household names.
Both practitioners and researchers are converging on the usefulness of Web 2.0 for professional organizations. In and around enterprises, Web 2.0 platforms have been professed to support a profound change in intra- and inter-enterprise communication patterns. It is still the early days in terms of available management research on so-called “enterprise 2.0” experiences. Nevertheless, we have observed, as have others,3,7,9 that the way for organizations to capture benefits from Web 2.0 technology in the enterprise probably differs substantially from the way they attended to other enterprise information system (IS) projects in the past.
In this article, we propose a set of grounding principles to get the most out of enterprise 2.0 investments. The principles represent a synthesis of
key insights Research about effective benefits
realization from Web 2.0 investments in (inter-)enterprise contexts has not yet reached full maturity. Drawing from established IS management theory and our own case research, we argue that some organizations are developing a specific approach to governing such enterprise 2.0 initiatives.
Enterprise 2.0 initiatives are often connected to lofty strategic objectives, for example, open innovation and collective creativity. Attempting to realize these with inherently social Web 2.0 technologies, means allowing for emergent meaning attribution by the users.
Four governance principles illustrate how enterprise 2.0 governance can favor a bottom-up and emergent approach to empowerment, processes, collaboration, and people and culture; rather than adhering to a command and control view on technology adoption.
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building platforms with wikis and so- cial networking software to support and enhance the continuously chang- ing and emergent collaborative struc- tures of knowledge work across the (extended) enterprise. Organizations that have chosen to embrace the next generation Internet are using the tech- nologies to provide users—inside and outside of the enterprise—with the operational means for achieving many different high-aimed objectives rang- ing from customer intimacy to knowl- edge management.
tion. We will draw on examples from our case studies to illustrate how that might actually work for each principle.
To structure our findings, we bor- row a general view on organizational benefits realization from Peppard and Ward.15 The benefits realization framework allows us to distinguish between three categories of concepts that can help to understand what co- determines the value to be created from Web 2.0 investments. These ele- ments are: the means (the information technology artifacts), the ways (new
working practices), and the ends (or- ganizational objectives) of the Web 2.0 investment.
Here, we first present the means and ends associated with Web 2.0 invest- ments. We then address the grounding principles for governing Web 2.0 in- vestment initiatives. Figure 1 outlines the model of means-ways-ends illus- trated in this article.
WEB 2.0: The Ends McAfee8 coined the term enterprise 2.0 to describe companies buying or
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In our case studies, two related ob- jectives were strongly present in the ra- tionale for investing in Web 2.0: collec- tive creativity and open innovation.
“Collective creativity reflects a qual- itative shift in the nature of the creative process, as the comprehension of a problematic situation and the genera- tion of creative solutions draw from— and reframe—the past experiences of participants in ways that lead to new and valuable insights.”6 This concept forms a counterweight to a traditional approach to innovation, which might conceive of innovation exclusively as a chain of top-down initiated innova- tion projects executed by relatively fixed and closed teams. For example, international high-tech manufacturer, Bekaert, invested in a Web 2.0 environ- ment to enable co-operative idea ex- change and evaluation among not only the members of its R&D departments, but also between all of its employees..
“Open innovation is the use of pur- posive inflows and outflows of knowl- edge to accelerate internal innovation, and expand the markets for external use of innovation, respectively. Open innovation is a paradigm that assumes that firms can and should use external ideas as well as internal ideas, and in- ternal and external paths to market, as they look to advance their technol- ogy.”4 Travel agency Connections, introduced its ConnectR Web-based exchange platform to allow their cus- tomers to share and comment on posi-
tive or negative traveling experiences and promising destinations. Connec- tions then used the content created on the platform to detect emerging travel- ing trends.
WEB 2.0: The Means Making people mindful about the ca- pabilities of the technology is an abso- lute precondition to benefits genera- tion from the technology. Some of the skepticism among businesses and IT professionals with respect to Web 2.0 has been attributed to this very lack of understanding.10
Literature searches and our own case study work led us to identify six structural capabilities embodying the promise of Web 2.0 technology:8-12,14
� The software enables reuse and re- combination of functionalities from different applications and data from different sources.
� The software enables flexible de- sign, quick updates, and adaptability.
� The software enables collaborative content creation and modification.
� The software does not impose pre- defined structure on the content.
� The software provides a rich, re- sponsive and personalized user inter- face.
� The software enables the gathering of collective intelligence.
WEB 2.0: The Ways Technology alone will not guarantee an organizational success for any in-
vestment in IS. Realizing the objectives of a software implementation depends heavily on how the organization and its constituents will interact with the given technological artifacts and sus- tain the use thereof within the fabric of the enterprise. It is well established in the IS literature that the most ambigu- ous, yet critical part of realizing the as- pired benefits from an IT investment is providing for the right organizational complements to the technology.9 The latter come in four flavors:
Empowerment: the attribution of decision rights and accountabilities to ensure desirable behavior;
Processes: systematized transforma- tion of inputs into valuable outputs;
Collaboration: new ways of forming teams, interaction patterns, and rela- tionships; and
People and culture: developing a cul- ture of individuals understanding the why, what, and how of participating voluntarily.
To serve as guidelines for developing the organizational complements to the Web 2.0 technological artifacts, we pro- pose four grounding principles. Each principle refers to ways of appropri- ately governing the management of the aforementioned organizational com- plements. Before we lay down this set of grounding principles, we elaborate on the need for a style of governance that is appropriate for realizing the benefits from a Web 2.0 investment.
Appropriate Web 2.0 Governance Governance is an organizational de- sign activity that serves to simultane- ously restrict and enable management. In line with the encyclopedic entry on Wikipedia,17 the activity of govern- ing involves defining expectations for the organization and its constituents; specifying allocation rules and guide- lines for deploying the resources to help accomplish these expectations; and defining the framework to verify the organization’s performance. IT governance, in particular, according to Weill & Ross16 intends to encourage desirable behavior in using IT, in this case Web 2.0 technology.
Governing the way an IS investment is managed always implies striking a balance between two views on organi- zational benefits realization. On the one hand, encouraging desirable be-
Figure 1. Web 2.0 means-ways-ends.
MEANS WAYS ENDS
1. Reuse and recombination of functionality and data from different sources
2. Flexible design and adaptability
3. Collaborative content creation
4. No imposed structure
5. Rich, personalized interface
6. Collective intelligence
1. Empowerment 2. Processes 3. Collaboration 4. People and culture
1. Collective creativity 2. Open innovation
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havior in using a corporate resource ultimately relates back to the proper articulation and execution of the enter- prise’s aspired strategic identity.16 This serves as an a priori specified boundary control mechanism to effectuate the realization of benefits from the intent of strategic decision makers downward into the operations.
On the other hand, when engaging with an IT artifact, users automatical- ly set in motion a bottom-up process of structuration.13 Structuration the- ory distinguishes between the capa- bilities of an IT artifact, and the mean- ing attribution by users that emerges from its ongoing use. By using the arti- fact and integrating the (non-)use into their work practices, users attribute a certain meaning to the technology. They will begin to change or reinforce their social interaction patterns, thus impacting the structures and pro- cesses embedded in the organization. From that point of view, the benefits realized by the technology become a function of the interaction between the users and the technology, and the ensuing interactive social patterns of meaning attribution by the users. This process occurs regardless of any (stra- tegic) intent attributed to the invest- ment by its initiators.
Because of their inherent sociality and openness, Web 2.0 capabilities can stimulate a particularly reciprocal rela- tionship between the technology and its users. Such open-endedness is also reflected in the lofty aspirations of col- lective creativity and open innovation that are associated with investments in Web 2.0. Governing such an envi- ronment will thus imply that certain degrees of freedom are sustained to al- low for emergent meaning attribution by the users.
Consequently, in our problematiza- tion of governing Web 2.0 investments, we want to emphasize the importance of structuration as a key process for realizing benefits with such technolo- gies. We have developed four ground- ing principles to reflect a kind of gov- ernance for Web 2.0 investments that is supportive of the process of struc- turation. The principles are especially mindful of the importance of favoring, whenever possible, a bottom-up eman- cipatory style of governance, rather than a top-down, control-oriented
style. To reflect this observation, we have formulated the principles in an “X-rather-than-Y” form.
Grounding Principles for Governance Empowerment Principle: “Empower us- ers to discover desirable uses of the tech- nology, rather than draw up barriers to unwanted use.”
In a Web 2.0 context, it is impor- tant to acknowledge that the focus of governance, by way of principle, is to enable desirable use rather than have users comply with a prespecified set of rules to counter a priori notions of unwanted use. Moreover, the notion of unwanted use itself, especially from an a-priori point of view, remains a controversial one. Users ought to be given enough freedom, even power, to let value emerge from their use of the technology. Users and managers will do well to monitor incessantly whether the desired benefits are being realized, rather than on how the system might be abused.
This principle also embodies a dy- namic notion of governance. As the desirable use of the system grows or- ganically the governance of its use may have to adapt. Consequently, govern- ing Web 2.0 investments becomes an evolving process rather than a one-off design activity. In fact, a preordained attribution of decision rights and re- sponsibilities may well deny the Web 2.0 investment the possibility to reach its full potential. Yet, notwithstand- ing this overarching plea for freedom, the users will still benefit from having some form of guidance to discriminate desirable behavior from less desir- able behavior. For example, much like in Trip Advisor or eBay, the ability to evaluate and influence people’s (prov- en) competency is likely to become an important, if not the most important, driver of emergent role attribution.
Travel agency Connections provides a nice example of an empowerment focused governance set-up. In 2008, next to their customer-oriented Con- nectR platform mentioned earlier, they launched a social networking system enabling their employees to digitally share travel experiences among them- selves. The company was convinced that sharing such stories would enrich employees’ advice to shoppers.
Web 2.0 capabilities can stimulate a particularly reciprocal relationship between the technology and its users. Such open-endedness is also reflected in the lofty aspirations of collective creativity and open innovation that are associated with investments in Web 2.0.
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Connections’ management firmly believed that governance was best left to emerge from the actual use of the system. Thus, it empowered employees to co-design the system and to take up roles and responsibilities as they saw fit while making use of the system. So, much like in Wikipedia, employees were free to take up roles as content contributors or reviewers as they saw fit.
This approach had been very differ- ent, for example, from how they had set up the governance for their transac- tional applications in the past. In those cases, role assignments had been care- fully specified up front. Compliance had been the name of the game in that operational environment.
Processes Principle: “Enable process workers and managers to capture value from experimenting and progressively synthesizing new ways for processing based on emergent patterns of commu- nication, rather than have them only ad- here to top-down institutionalized busi- ness process models and work flow.”
A business process is “a [coordinat- ed] collection of activities that takes one or more kinds of input and cre- ates an output that is of value to the
customer.”5 Many organizations have used the institutionalization of explicit business processes as a means to in- dustrialize, and often largely rigidify, best practices. In a Web 2.0 setting, however, process governance ought to be mindful of the evolving nature of best practice. Governance will need to accommodate a more dynamic and continuous improvement approach to organizational learning. More dynam- ic, that is, as compared to traditional top-down process redesigns.
Participants will have to be grant- ed sufficient freedom and training to use the Web 2.0 capabilities for pro- cess experimentation and discovery purposes. First, in a so-called single learning loop, workers and manag- ers could use Web 2.0 technologies to experiment and deviate from the prescribed working processes when required by a specific instantiation of that process.1 For example, partici- pants could use social networking ca- pabilities to connect with otherwise disconnected co-workers from differ- ent domains across the enterprise to solve an issue they might have with a particular case.
Beyond the single loop, completing a double learning loop cycle would re- quire that process workers and manag- ers are willing, able, and empowered to (re-)design processes along the lines of the latest state of collective knowl- edge.1 Participants could use wikis to synthesize improvements to a specific process based on common single loop learning experiences, or they could use tag clouds and search capabilities to identify relevant communications and social networks that might inform a process (re-)design.
The way high-tech manufacturer Bekaert governed its Innovation Portal since 2004 provides a good illustration of this principle. From the outset, the company was not intending to imple- ment a predesigned business process change to its innovation processes. Rather, the objective was to reinvigo- rate the fuzzy front end of their innova- tion funnel; that is, the early idea gener- ation phase of the innovation process. Management promoted the use of sev- eral different functionalities embed- ded in the portal to loosely guide the processing of innovative ideas.
All employees were shown how peer-review functionalities could en- able them to review, vote, and collabo- rate on improving each others’ ideas and suggestions. In turn, manage- ment could ask the system to periodi- cally synthesize the outcomes of the continuously evolving idea generation processes by creating rankings on the portfolio of ideas discussed on the platform at any given moment, based on page views, votes, tags, among others. Also, by making past trails of ideas, suggestions, and projects easily retrievable through intelligent search capabilities, the employees were en- couraged to refrain from reinventing the wheel, to learn from past mistakes, and to pick up on old ideas that might have been dismissed at first. Visionar- ies in the company believed that, over the long haul, advanced data mining could even be applied to the logs of the engagement patterns in the pro- cess to help boost the search for more efficient and effective patterns for pro- cessing ideas.
Collaboration Principle: “Let (vir- tual) communities and teamwork emerge from a free-flow of collaborative engage- ments, rather than preassign the bulk of
Figure 2. Favoring emergence.
Empowerment The attribution of decision rights and accountability to ensure desirable behavior
Processes Systematized transformation of inputs into valuable outputs
Collaboration New ways of forming teams, interaction patterns, and relationships
People and Culture Developing a culture of individuals understanding the why, what, and how of participating voluntarily
For example, monitor use, but leave the notion of “desirable” use largely up to the users to develop; systematize governance, but do it based on a synthesis of emerging role adoption patterns.
For example, institutionalize new best practices, but let users experiment with how the system can support their processes; re-design processes, but base it on the discovery of emerging process patterns.
For example, stimulate the use of the platform for team work, but keep team membership as open as possible; protect intellectual property, but refrain from restricting access rights to customers invited as co-designers of business processes and products.
For example, get as much people to participate, but don’t make it an obligation, rather convince and lead by example; stimulate the use of an “official” platform not by restricting access to other platforms, but by making the offical one more attractive and nurturing advocates.
Control and empowerment
Design and discovery
Closed and open
Have-to and want-to
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roles, activities, and access rules.” Collaboration is a central theme for
investments in Web 2.0. The organiza- tion will only achieve its enterprise 2.0 objectives if the work performed by the individual members is incorporated into a greater whole of activities, in- teractions, and relationships. Success- fully governing this constellation of engagement patterns in a Web 2.0 uni- verse differs substantially from setting up a hierarchical or functional concept of team collaboration. The technology does not limit the way people collabo- rate. In the end, it is all about facilitat- ing a self-sustaining ecosystem that emerges out the Web of individual con- tributions. If knowledge sharing and collaboration halts, the system basi- cally ceases to exist.
Management should be wary of lim- iting access, connections, and contribu- tions exclusively to specifically assigned team members. The mantra should rather be to encourage all possible con- tributions as being potentially useful until proven dysfunctional. Collabora- tive value is not derived from guard- ing individual compliance, but rather emerges from the freedom of individu- als. Of course, for this to work properly each individual must be aware of his own responsibilities and be willing to take up some. Also, the community of users should be able to hold individuals accountable for their contributions and intervene when necessary.
From our case research it seems that creating and respecting the nec- essary room for such an auto-gover- nance of collaboration and teamwork remains rather tough, especially be- tween different organizations. As Web 2.0 systems grow, the likelihood in- creases that management raises secu- rity, privacy, or other concerns—some of which may be rooted in a perceived loss of power and control. However, restricting access can have a very nega- tive effect on reaching a critical mass of collaboration.
At Bekaert, for example, they placed few limits on the access rights to their Innovation Portal for their own em- ployees. However, the company’s man- agement was convinced that access rights had to be seriously downgraded for their external partners because of intellectual property rights issues. In the end, while the internal idea market
flourished, the external contributions had not yet reached the level that man- agement originally hoped for.
Another example comes from GDF- Suez Group’s technical competence and research center for electricity, Laborelec. They started piloting Web 2.0 tools in 2008. Laborelec’s goal was to enhance knowledge sharing and to encourage the emergence of com- munities of practice around certain technologies. When asked about the most important lessons learned from the first set of pilots, participants high- lighted the possibilities for autono- mous knowledge accumulation and de- velopment without too much external control. Granted, not everything was allowed or possible. There were some strict ground rules and constraints gov- erning the use of Web 2.0 applications. However, every single one of these was collaboratively put in place, never im- posed, and continuously exposed to challenging based on emergent trends and patterns of better practice.
Based on their experience, Labor- elec believed strongly that if partici- pants would not be able to perceive the platform as being a natural knowledge sharing environment made for and, more importantly, by the participants, then the platform simply would not survive. As a result of their learning from the pilots, in early 2009, the com- pany drew up a “Charter for Knowledge Initiatives.” This charter clearly stated the primacy of supporting a bottom- up drive for developing collaborative teams and networks.
People and Culture Principle: “In- vite people to participate. Continuously stimulate, guide, and convince potential participants of the value of cooperation, rather than coercing them to work in a particular way.”
Reaching critical mass in commu- nications is a key success factor for any open interaction platform. This means that for a Web 2.0 platform to realize any benefit at all, management needs to find a way to get as many people as possible to actively contribute to the platform. Ideally, a Web 2.0 system starts out as an open invitation for an individual to join a collective. The in- vitees have a free choice to either take part in the system or not, and thus ul- timately help shape the finality and value of the system.
Making people mindful about the capabilities of the technology is an absolute precondition to benefits generation from the technology. Some of the skepticism among businesses and IT professionals with respect to Web 2.0 has been attributed to this very lack of understanding.
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A voluntary approach requires that management promotes awareness about the capabilities of Web 2.0 and incentivize participation. For some people, participation in a Web 2.0 ex- perience goes against a natural inclina- tion to protect their own ideas, or a re- luctance to put their ideas and opinions to the test of collective judgment. These people nevertheless ought to be stimu- lated to participate in an open knowl- edge and experience sharing culture. They need to understand that judgment as such is not the goal of idea sharing, but knowledge enrichment is. Ultimate- ly, they need to understand and appre- ciate the why, what, and how of contrib- uting to the collective. They need to see the potential benefit for them.
A reward system might help the Web 2.0 system to reach critical mass. Why not reward people who share great ideas, rather than people who secretive- ly submit them to an idea box? Growth of the system can also be fueled by the provision of attractive functionalities to potential users. Interestingly, func- tionalities do not have to be strictly limited to what is directly related to the organization or the work. We have seen instances were offering entertainment functionalities or organizing contests on the platform, for example, can cer- tainly entice some users to take part.
Whichever means are used, man- agement will have to be watchful not to be perceived as forcing a certain Web 2.0 platform onto its staff. Otherwise, the initiative might become perceived as some sort of “big brother” initiative by management aimed at recording, exploiting, and controlling employ- ees’ every move or thought. The ability to retain a positive perception about management’s intentions with the platform will take a lot of tact and em- pathy. It requires a carefully selected set of measures that will not clash with the open spirit embodied in Web 2.0. Failing to do so will probably risk un- dermining any positive structuration processes that might be occurring.
At geographical information pro- vider Tele Atlas, management was fac- ing the tricky challenge of completing a move away from an existing, bottom- up created, yet unsecured open source wiki system. The system had been de- veloped by and was mostly being used by a limited group of engineers only.
Management wanted to roll-out a more secure and enterprisewide platform. However, they decided they did not want to restrict employees’ access to the open source system. They did not want to risk spoiling the existing good- will in the company to use a wiki; thus potentially losing any benefits that Tele Atlas could accrue from its use.
Management knew the adoption of a better secured commercial Web 2.0 system would only be possible through word-of-mouth advocacy of its extend- ed functionalities and user-friendli- ness. Recognizing the important influ- encer role of the early adopters of the old open-source wiki system, they kept them as close as possible when design- ing the system. These early adopters would turn out to be the new system’s strongest advocates. Without having to shut down access to the old wiki, one and a half years later, the in-house platform was being used extensively and the open source system was hardly mentioned any more.
Conclusion The promise of enterprise 2.0 is entic- ing to many organizations. However, experience and research into manag- ing such investments to effective ben- efits realization has not yet reached full maturity. Based on the available literature and our own case research, we have argued in this article that the nature of the Web 2.0 technological capabilities and related organizational aspirations will require organizations to consider the implications for gov- erning their initiatives. Respecting the process of structuration calls for favoring a bottom-up, emergent, and dynamic approach to governing the organizational complements (such as empowerment, processes, collabora- tion, and people and culture) required to make the initiative a success.
We have formulated four principles in a context-free way, that is, disregard- ing the specific circumstances and choices of particular enterprises and their leadership. Figure 2 summarizes and exemplifies each principle. Enter- prises can use these principles, and the lessons learned from the quoted ex- amples to avoid the fallacy of going into such an endeavor with too much of a command and control view on technol- ogy adoption. It is now up to the leaders
of organizations to decide how they will instantiate the set of grounding prin- ciples presented in this article and cast them onto their own specific context.
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Steven De Hertogh (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a research associate at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Leuven, Belgium, and a Ph.D. candidate at University of Amsterdam Business School, The Netherlands.
Stijn Viaene (email@example.com) is a professor of MIS at K.U.Leuven, Belgium, and partner of Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, Belgium, where he chairs the Competence Center Operations and Technology Management.
Guido Dedene (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor a professor of MIS at K.U.Leuven, Belgium, affiliated professor of MIS at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, and professor chair of Development of Information and Communication Systems at the Faculty of Economics, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
The authors wish to thank Vlerick Academic Research Fund, Flanders District of Creativity, SAS Institute and Deloitte Belgium for their financial support to the research effort, as well as the companies who participated in our case study research: Laborelec, Bekaert, Connections and Tele Atlas.
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