Note: This is a follow-up post to one I wrote a few days ago, The Facebookisation of the enterprise, given the kind of interest it generated. People seriously interested in the subject may wish to read my nine-part series on Facebook and the Enterprise from 2007. The first part remains my most-read post, apart from the kernel for this blog: Building Society for the 21st Century, which is a page and not a post. You may also be interested in my Twitter in the Enterprise series, a sample of which is here.
If the IT department was made to behave like Facebook, what would an enterprise look like?
You join the “company”. You do this by using a personal token like an email address, choosing a password for all your activity in the company, then filling in some basic profile info. You’re all set. At this stage no one has given you a computer or a phone or anything like that. You’re Generation M. You come fitted with these things as standard. The first thing the IT department would need to provide is simple self-service signup. Access.
Because you’re in a new “social network environment”, one of the first things you do is look for a way to discover which of your friends is already here. So you look around. You need tools to do this looking around. You’d also like to invite the friends you already had into this space. Importing contacts, address books, that sort of thing. So you need tools to do this as well. The second thing the IT department would need to provide you is a set of directories, and ways of adding to them, searching them, extracting from them.
You don’t want the directory to be a firehose, so you want some ways of managing your lists. Making sure that you can group people the way you want to. Friends, family, group, company, department, location, whatever. So the third thing the IT department needs to provide is tools to classify the elements of the directory.
Knowing who’s around is a fat lot of good if you can’t connect with people. So what does Facebook do? It provides you with ways to send people messages, chat with them, converse, communicate with them. Publish stuff, upload stuff, read stuff, view stuff. The IT department must therefore provide communications tools, that’s the fourth thing.
Everything in business happens because people talk to people. [Even black-box trading is people talking to people, but delayed and via proxies]. It helps if people could plan when they were going to talk to each other. Facebook calls these things events. Meetings are nothing more than events. Tools for scheduling events is the fifth thing that the IT department needs to provide.
[Strangely, telcos used to have a stranglehold on the first few items: directories, groups, modalities of communication. But for some strange reason they never bothered to provide scheduling tools. Microsoft were the first to fix this gaping hole.]
Profiles. Directories. Groups. Events. Things published, like links, videos, photos. Relationships between all these things. None of which is static. Which means there needs to be a way of telling people what’s new, what has changed. Who’s joined, who’s left. Who was born, who died. Who joined up together, who broke up. Hatches, matches and dispatches as they used to be called. Which is why Facebook has a News Feed. The sixth thing that the IT department would need to provide is a News Feed. And ways of managing the firehose.
These are just the foundations. When people use Facebook, they use a series of other applications. Applications built by third parties on the developer platform. Applications accessed via Facebook, using the identity and relationship and profile and activity data provided by Facebook. Applications whose access to that data also requires the permission of the person whose profile it is.
Which is the final thing the IT department has to provide: A developer platform with the appropriate controls and service wrap around it.
Access to the environment, directories, ways to group people, modalities of communication,the ability to schedule events, the publication of records of changes. And a developer platform that allows people to build edge applications that use this core in a safe and controlled way.
Was I talking about Facebook? Or was I talking about the IT department?
Which brings me to my final point. Facebook does not invest in the edge apps, build them, host them, amend them. They don’t support them, maintain them, back them up. I think IT departments would do well to learn from this. Let the people at the edge build what they want, within a 21st century enabling framework. They know what they want better than any IT department can. What the IT department should do is their utmost to guarantee safety and security of access, privacy and confidentiality, search and subscription tools, scheduling tools, data migration tools, visualisation and mashing tools, prioritisation and ranking tools.
Sometime later this month I want to spend time talking about the semantic web, linked data, the Web Science Trust and related subjects. I will also spend time on publish-subscribe and enterprise buses, on augmented reality. On mobility. On opensource. And bring it all back to Platforms and Stewardship.
In the meantime, I’d love some feedback.