How CIOs Can Introduce Web 2.0 Technologies into the Enterprise

Opening up corporate systems to new user-driven tools like blogs, message boards, and wikis requires both technology and culture changes, a leading proponent argues.

One essential promise for Enterprise 2.0, or Web 2.0 for the enterprise, is making important information available to the people who need it, in large part by using blogs and wikis to capture and store institutional knowledge, says Dion Hinchcliffe, president and CTO of Web 2.0/Enterprise 2.0 consultancy Hinchcliffe and Company, during his session at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston.

This means, for example, that when veteran accountant Sally leaves the company, her knowledge does not leave with her (an increasing problem as baby boomers retire). Enterprise 2.0 tools like blogs, message boards, and wikis also offer savings on training costs. For example, T. Rowe Price, which manages more than $349 billion in assets, hires about 1,500 workers to work in the call center just for tax season. In the past, each person wrote down his training notes, which walked out the door when he did at the end of the season. But with the implementation of a group blog and wiki that allowed for extensive commenting, recommending and tagging by users, employees were able to more quickly access answers to their questions. As a result, the company now saves one to two minutes per call at $20 per minute, Hinchcliffe says.

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ABC: An Introduction to Web 2.0   Unlike the top-down, centralized control of traditional software implementations, Enterprise 2.0 software implementation is powered by users; applications must spread virally from one user to the next in the way MySpace and YouTube did, or they will not work. In the world of Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0, the “if we build it, they will come” theory does not apply. For example, a blog can be created, but it is not until employees actually use it and post material, comments, links and tags that the blog has value (prepopulation does help, but it is simply kindling). Interest and participation from users is what creates success. That said, the enterprise is not the wild world of the Web; the enterprise must address workers’ fear of change, the need for openness, budgetary constraints and the need for new applications to work well with legacy systems. Hinchcliffe offers the following advice on bringing Web 2.0 into the enterprise:

1. Sell the benefits of Enterprise 2.0 to management. Opposition to Enterprise 2.0 will most likely come from the most senior and influential people in the organization, and Enterprise 2.0 strategy must address this group. Start small with a project that solves a current business problem; for example, look for improvements to current processes or ways to boost productivity through information sharing. Also, reduce the aura of risk surrounding Enterprise 2.0 proposing to start within the confines of the business, rather than with external and less controllable offerings. For example, Dell implemented internal blogs, which allowed the company to address Web 2.0 fears and issues, before creating IdeaStorm, which is offered to external customers.

2. Understand how IT can benefit from Enterprise 2.0. Much has been made about the so-called shadow IT or rogue IT, in which users pose security risks by bringing in unauthorized technology into the workplace. But IT can be a key enabler of Enterprise 2.0, for example, by creating consistent security and creating effective search tools.

3. Do your homework on tools and platforms. WikiMatrix.org and Weblogmatrix.org allow users to compare products feature by feature. Hinchcliffe recommends MediaWiki, which is used by Wikipedia and is open-source, and Confluence, which is a commercial product that is widely used in enterprises. As for blogs, he recommends WorkPress, one of the most popular and richest-looking blog platforms.

Since many Enterprise 2.0 products originated in the consumer space and do not address corporate needs such as single sign-on, Enterprise 2.0 suites are entering the market (currently there are just a few, but Hinchcliffe says more are coming soon). These products are developed around requirements such as security and manageability. SuiteTwo is one such product being offered today.

What is Enteprise 2.0?

Enterprise 2.0 takes up the same principles of collaboration, openness and bottom-up empowerment as Web 2.0 applications—though in corporate environments these applications must address issues such as compatibility with legacy systems, enterprise security and system access. Enterprise 2.0 is a term coined by Harvard Business School Professor Andrew McAfee who defined it as emergent, freeform, social applications for use within an enterprise, which are primarily used to foster collaboration.

4. Make sure you’ve covered your bases. Harvard Business School Professor Andre McAfee, who coined the term Enterprise 2.0, created a checklist—described with the acronym SLATES—that describes the necessary capabilities for getting the most out of Web 2.0 applications in the enterprise. SLATES stands for: Search (information must be searchable), Linking (links must connect and cross-reference blog posts, wikis and such into an interactive and interdependent community), Authoring (simple tools must be provided to allow everyone to contribute and edit content), Tagging (users must be able to assign their own terms and descriptions, which allows contents to be structured and organized in a way that is meaningful for users), Extensions (applications should include a suggestion and recommendation system such as that found on Amazon or StumbleUpon (the “If you like X, you’ll like Y feature), and Signals (technology, such as RSS, that tells users when new content of interest appears).

5. Find (or be) an Enterprise 2.0 champion. Hinchcliffe relayed the story of investment bank Dresder Kleinwort (formerly Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein), which found great success with wikis. The corporate wiki was rolled out in the latter part of 2005, and by October 2006 it had 100,000 hits and 6,000 individual pages created by the company’s 5,000 employees, says Hinchcliffe. With its vague mission statement, fell flat. It wasn’t until one proponent spelled it out—Don’t send e-mails on this particular information, use the wiki—that the wiki caught on with users. Another key was that the executive did more than mandate for others to use the technology; he himself posted wiki content that required responses on the wiki itself. With clarity and modeling behavior, the wiki caught on.

The result? A new kind of collaboration that fostered new ideas across the company.

6. Keep tools simple, and allow openness. Enterprise 2.0, like Web 2.0, is a two-way conversation at heart, based on freedom of expression. While an organization adopting such applications needs to address security, privacy and governance issues, it is crucial to foster a sense of openness when using them. Many users may be uncomfortable expressing themselves openly; if they feel that openness carries negative consequences, they will be reluctant to use Enterprise 2.0 tools. On top of that, tools must be simple to use. If they are not, employees will stick with their own.

7. Realize the world of Enterprise 2.0 is the world of perpetual beta. To work, Enterprise 2.0 applications must be highly iterative, with users driving most of the change and innovation. What is working? What isn’t working? What features would you like to see? These are questions executives should ask; in many cases, users will make or suggest changes based on features that would make tools more useful to them. In the perpetual beta world, says Hinchcliffe, products are never finished. But since that has the potential to lead to growth, Enterprise 2.0 proponents think “never finished” is a good thing.

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