I noticed a comment came on Connect this week from a skeptic. Someone had posted this video of Seth Godin, and among the positive comments was one skeptic.
The skeptic correctly identified Seth’s bent toward consumer use cases and the general lack of enterprise use cases when talking about Enterprise 2.0 or Social Media or whatever you want to call it.
I agree. Beyond the low-hanging fruit, i.e. collaboration, empowerment, networking, information access, etc. there aren’t a lot of examples that would cause a CIO to whip out the proverbial checkbook.
It’s not for lack of trying either. Lots of smart people have been noodling on this for several years, back when Facebook was a niche site for college students and twttr was an internal Odeo project.
Does this mean there aren’t any good use cases for the enterprise? Absolutely not.
It means we haven’t found them yet, and we might never, unless two things happen. First, data need to be freed by APIs, and second, domain experts need to touch and feel what is possible.
Free your data
If you read here, you’ll know I’m a proponent of APIs, every app must have one. Why? Data drive use, but only through availability. Case in point: Google Maps.
The Maps API is one of the most commonly used consumer APIs. Everyone understands geographical data, but beyond directions, what obvious use cases are out there for maps?
That answer has grown exponentially since the API was released because developers have created mashups of data as examples, giving other developers ideas.
Before the release of the API, would you have thought of combining crime data and maps or Craigslist ads and maps Maybe. Maybe not.
My point is twofold. First, answering a question in a vacuum is really hard; it becomes easier when you have examples on which to build and expand.
Second, time and experience matter. How many people would rush to join Facebook if you told them they could play virtual games with their friends? Sounds lame, and yet, virtual games represent a large part of the Facebook ecosystem.
Why? People joined Facebook to network and slowly got hooked on these games. Games weren’t the reason they joined, but games might be the reason they stayed.
There are no real requirements for Enterprise 2.0, which is why customers aren’t asking for features. Most of the requirements cited for E 2.0 are applicable to business in general and are the same old ones from a decade ago when enterprise portals were all the rage.
Or they are consumer use cases applied to the enterprise.
This isn’t a criticism; it’s an opportunity, and it’s where domain expertise is key.
Ask an expert
I use the term domain expertise to apply to any activity or skill that requires training of some sort. Could be processing purchase orders. Could be conducting a drug trial. Could be building software. Could be just about any job function.
My domain expertise is building software. If you asked a shop floor manager at a steel mill about use cases for building software, you’d see the same blank look I’d give you if you asked for shop floor management use cases.
However, if you asked either of us about our area of expertise, we’d have pages of use cases.
Patterns emerge, e.g. show-stopping bugs are handled similarly to machine failures on the line, and it becomes clear that data play a huge role.
These use cases are gold, and armed with them and access to data, you can begin to make assumptions that can be tested in a live system.
After nearly three years of trial and error, I’ve discovered the best use cases come by accident, meaning someone with domain expertise saw value where it was invisible to me.
This is why a) I like having a sandbox for experimentation and b) I follow an incremental path to improvement. The latter point means I don’t over or under invest based on my assumed use cases.
Case in point: Twitter’s @ replies. The service wasn’t initially designed to support @ replies the way they had developed. However, as the service evolved many people (like me) found @ replies a great way to discover new people on Twitter. This is an accidental use case.
Unfortunately for us, Twitter wasn’t architected to support this feature, and as it grew, the need for redesign prompted its removal, prompting a tempest in a teapot.
So, all the skeptics out there are right about enterprise use cases. If you care, you should be enlisting them to help find the use cases in their areas of expertise and working to understand how to meet those use cases.
If they care, they’ll be glad to assist you.
Find the comments.