Like most people interested in 2.0, I have been at this web thing for a while. From the days of dialing into BBS systems, to Mosaic, all the way to the beautiful Interfest we have today of Facebook, Flickr, and much more.
As I talk to people looking to take some of this digital goodness and spread it around behind the firewall, I always hear the same cautionary tale. It usually comes across something like this “oh we can’t have a <insert technology> to <insert objective> because there are ‘legal and HR’ issues”. At this point, everyone nods their heads with an aire of somber understanding and heads off to their next meeting. More work successfully avoided!
In the vast majority of cases, those in the line of business preaching caution have no idea what they are talking about. I know this because when you press these people for reasons, the response usually goes something like this “We’ll I just know that when we tried <insert failed project> before it was shut down, and I’ll get some of the details wrong, but in essence it was because of ‘legal and HR’ issues.” To be fair, that may be true, but I think if you don’t understand the why you can’t make the necessary adjustments and therefore are forever doomed to the status quo. Projects fail for all sorts of reasons, and in my opinion, they are not usually due to compliance issues. Far more likely are political clashes, poor management, and resource constraints that bring the death nail.
I recently had the pleasure of working with our HR, Security, and Legal teams as we worked to have our badge pictures placed on our social networking site. Since everyone takes a badge picture when they join the company, we thought it would be cool if that picture was just on our site, by default. Makes sense, right?
Notice to All Change Agents: Believe it or not, these policy enforcement teams are not trying to shut you down. They are people just like you and me trying to do their jobs, which in large part encompasses keeping your company from being sued.
Throughout our conversations on badge pictures, many issues (previously unknown to me) came up. The first and most oft quoted concerns come up around privacy laws in countries like Switzerland and Argentina where you need to be explicit about precisely how you are using employee information and why you need it for business.
However, more interesting were the discrimination concerns that arise when pictures of people are freely available. Think for a moment how much your picture can tell about you: Race, Sex, Age, Religion? You can see how this type of information can cause potential issues in transfers, promotions, and more.
So after working with these teams, I have a richer appreciation of the difference between Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0? I think in large part it comes down to a few simple truths:
1. Most companies have some employees. It may sound like Yogi Berra, but it’s true. Companies only start fresh once in their life. After that you have to deal with a legacy that can hinder what you do. In our example of badge pictures, we would be a long way towards a good solution IF we had every employee read a notice about how badge pictures would end up on our website. It wouldn’t have solved all the issues, but it would have been a nice start, but who knew about social networking when Oracle was founded in 1977? What would that disclaimer look like? More importantly, how do you now get “approval” from your current employees to share information?
2. There is no one to sue. Although I guess it’s true I could post my pictures publicly on Flickr and then sue becaase they shared them with the world, but I don’t think a court would have too much sympathy. On the web, you sign up freely, you share your content freely, and you should know better. Don’t like it? Cancel your account. If you share too much of your employees information, get ready for trial, counselor.
3. It’s good to be King. In the consumer world if you want to use google maps, you just go do it. Wanna sign up for Basecamp, sure, why not. Want to build a community for your customers to share on line…hmmm. Better ask your manager. All of a sudden, the decision maker isn’t you. In organizations, decisions are chains not points. Each of these links takes time to put together and have a very real chance of breaking for any number of reasons. This makes adoption much slower and in some cases kills it on the spot.
Some people characterize this as the difference between large and small companies, but I have been at both, and it’s not the case. Small companies may be able to move faster, but in many cases the best managed ones stick to their knitting and don’t innovate much outside of their core area. In the cases where they run fast, they are often only a lawsuit away from the policies of the big boys (remember, policymakers are there because they are protecting shareholders, not trying to kill your pet project). So speed is not about big or small its about the realities of doing business and it’s just slower than you are.
My advice: Before your next 2.0 project in your company, spend some time with the legal, security, and HR teams. Yes, it will slow you down, but it will also save you from some big problems (and potential shut down) later. And guess what, they will welcome the conversation and you may even learn something about the pain they deal with every day.