Beyond the Use Case

I work in the Professional Services group at an Enterprise 2.0 software vendor, so I’m well aware that most companies licensing our collaboration platform do so because they have a specific application in mind – a use case.

But lately, I’ve started to suspect that too much attention is given to the use case throughout the enterprise software deployment process, from RFP through to implementation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think use cases are wonderful. Whenever I launch a new customer that’s already thought through and documented their main use cases, I know the implementation process will go more quickly and smoothly.

But I’m increasingly convinced that with Enterprise 2.0 tools, some companies would realize greater economic benefit if they just jumped in and started using them, rather than focusing too closely on a previously defined use case.

Why? Because companies often end up using collaboration software in ways they simply couldn’t have anticipated when it was specified or purchased.

Among the real-life examples I’ve observed:

  • By the time the software license contracts have been signed, the company’s needs or priorities have changed. Sometimes other valid use cases will emerge and get traction; other times the system withers on the vine.
  • Within weeks of licensing the software, the project’s internal champion or executive sponsor is moved to another role, or worse yet leaves the organization.
  • As the system is rolled out, the original champion or someone else identifies an even higher value or higher priority use case, which ends up taking precedence.
  • A company licenses collaboration tools for a specific use case, such as a product development wiki, only to watch it spread across multiple departments until it eventually replaces their existing intranet.

I’ve also worked with companies that have created hugely successful collaborative systems starting with a use case that read, “Let’s begin using these new E2.0 tools and learn how we might benefit from them.” Without exception the process has involved senior management signaling their support for the new initiative, then nurturing the self-motivated champions who come out of the woodwork with their own applications – yes, their use cases.

So, I’m not arguing against the use case, just trying to keep it in perspective.

As any successful technology comes to market and is purchased by successive waves of customers (from so-called early adopters through the mass market), there is always a point, just before widespread adoption, where companies that haven’t yet deployed it look around and realize it’s only a matter of time.

For Enterprise 2.0 software, that time is now.