Enterprise 2.0 is gaining attention as a way to describe the way that social media tools are changing the way that people communicate at work. What (if any) relevance does that have for small and mid-sized organizations?

If you perceive a hint of déjà vu it’s probably a memory of things we were saying a decade or so ago when the web was catching on as a mainstream business communications medium. The promise then was that easier information sharing and collaboration were going to transform the way that people worked. Individually we now use the web every day, but regardless of size a lot of organizations remain as tightly siloed as ever in the way they manage information.

Cut away some of the hyperbole and the value proposition that authors like Andrew McAfee and Matthew Fraser & Soumitra Dutta are calling Enterprise 2.0 is this: by making it easier for people to communicate with each other, Web 2.0 tools (i.e., wikis, blogs and other social media) help people to be better informed, react faster to changing circumstances and make better decisions. They go on to say a lot about how this plays out in large organizations, and they cite examples of how adopting the technology has helped information workers overcome some of the complexities that go with being big.

Interesting stuff, to be sure, but it may beg a “so what” response for the other half of the information worker population, the ones who work in Small and Mid-sized Enterprises (SME).  According to Industry Canada, that’s roughly the proportion of employees who work in SME organizations (i.e., < 500 employees).  At least in this country SME’s represent over 97% of business organizations; they generate a significant share of the GDP; and they account for about half of new job creation. SME organizations also innovate, and their R&D spending usually accounts for a larger share of their revenue than for their large corporation counterparts. At the same time they lack the big IT budgets and internal expertise of their larger corporate counterparts.

This may seem like an ideal environment for adopting low cost information sharing and collaboration tools. The reality is that smaller organizations have tended to lag behind their larger counterparts in adopting Web 2.0 technologies. The reasons are hard to get a good handle on, partly because large organizations with big IT budgets tend to get most of the research attention. One recurring theme seems to be a lack of understanding at the senior management level about what Web 2.0 is, leading to skepticism about its value. On the surface, tools like Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and Digg can easily look like a waste of time. And to be fair, it’s just as easy for people to waste time socializing on line as they used to do at the water cooler. However, important information exchanges and relationship building have always happened in “water cooler” conversations. Moreover, people in smaller organizations often depend heavily on a network of relationships that go outside the organization in order to expand the store of expertise available to them. When used judiciously (including some basic do’s and don’ts) social media can help.

It doesn’t stop there, because broadly defined, Web 2.0 tools include on-line tools targeted specifically for Team Collaboration and Project Management.  Examples include OneHub, EasyProjects, Entry.com and vPMI Express . They differ from each other in terms of specific functionality but they share in common the means to provide inexpensive access to capabilities that until recently were simply out of reach for smaller organizations. More details about each will follow in future posts. In the meantime please feel free to share your stories.