International Forum on Enterprise 2.0 in Milan: Top-down versus bottom-up

On June 9 and 10, the International Forum on Enterprise 2.0 was held in Milan. Organized by Emanuele Quintarelli (aka @absolutesubzero), the event covered the latest development, trends and innovations in the Enterprise 2.0 field. Interestingly, the conference did not only look into the classical topics regarding E 2.0 inside the company, but also had tracks on the “outside” aspects like Social CRM and Sales Communities.

The day before the conference, there were additional workshops, e.g. on E 2.0 innovation, HR, or governance. I attended the one held by Sameer Patel (@SameerPatel) about the strategic aspects from inception to the launch of a E20 initiative. The focus here was on the business aspects of the successful E 2.0 implementation in an enterprise. I was positively surprised that almost all workshop participants were very well familiar with the topic of E 2.0 and already implementing or working with E20 tools. So Sameer was facing a “tough crowd” as he rightly put it. The concept of the workshop also included an interesting vendors’ panel where three experts answered the proposed questions of the participants. The session closed with a best practice case by Lago, a furniture manufacturer, who presented their socially enabled Intranet “Olga”. So we discussed the topic of E 2.0 from three different perspectives: consultant, vendor and user.

For me, the most lively and active part of the workshop was the vendors’ panel with blueKiwi, BroadVision and Telligent.

At one point of the discussion Sameer asked the vendors whether it was more successful to introduce Enterprise 2.0 top-down or bottom-up. Carlos Diaz (blueKiwi) said that at blueKiwi only a maximum of 15% of companies are doing it bottom-up, the rest is top-down. In his opinion, the top-down approaches were in the long run more healthy and better functioning – because when the management believes in the idea, then there will always be enough money, human resources, time etc. to carry the project properly. For clients trying to do it bottom-up, this is a much more difficult process.

That all makes sense, of course. But isn’t the whole idea of E 2.0 about breaking down hierarchies and letting things emerge? Mandating the use of Web 2.0 tools inside the company is contrary to this, but seems to work out in the end. Do we have to become a bit less idealistic about the idea of the free emergence of these tools and just put up with the fact that top-down is the better working and more commonly used approach? IMHO, no management can really force its employees to micro-share, blog etc. if they don’t want or aren’t ready for this yet. On the other hand, if started on grass-root levels, a strong backing from the management at some stage is essential, isn’t it?

Looking forward to your comments!