In order to get any new project or initiative underway in a large enterprise, you need at least three people: somebody with the idea or business problem, somebody who can implement or at least prototype a solution, and somebody who can promote it. This is our rule of three for innovation management.
The problem is that these three people typically do not know each other, do not work at the same location, and do not know that they share an interest. The issue for fostering creativity and managing the informal innovation process within the enterprise then is to a large extent an issue of connecting people.
SAP completely gets it, as their Harmony project (“Friendster or LinkedIn for enterprises”) shows.
One of the technology challenges in connecting people with common interests is in normalizing vocabulary. Ignore for a moment the challenge of figuring out what people are talking about right now. (Imagine an enterprise where everybody blogs and the system you are building has full access to all e-mail and project workspaces.)
Consider instead the mobile operator we were working for. The techie guy was talking about the systems in the “stores”, the business manager about the “retail outlets”, and the board level promoter about the “high-street channel”. They all meant the same thing, which is easy for you and I to see but very hard for a system to discover.
We did some research on the problem and came up with a solution that is usable and certainly a lot better than not having a system (or, horror!, imposing a top-down vocabulary).
SAP is taking the route of explicit categories of specialists skills, which is fine as far as it goes, but as we wrote in the article linked above, it only goes so far. Explicit categories are by definition yesterday’s categories.