Call it Web 2.0. Call it Enterprise 2.0 if that sounds better to you. Names don’t matter because it’s the idea that ultimately matters the most: IM, wikis, blogs and other collaborative technologies that empower the business user will become even more enterprise-worthy, secure and scalable in the coming years. So tell me, what have you done about it?
Nothing, you say? It’s time to change that. To help you out, I’ve created my ideal Enterprise 2.0 suite. Web 2.0 for the suits, as they now say. This is no longer a passing fad, evangelized by a generation of young workers who are recklessly trying to bring consumer applications into the workplace. This is for real. Vendors, both new and old, have realized Web 2.0’s potential and have responded by developing enterprise applications that allow the same functions as those in the consumer space but keep your network ever so safe. So here’s my wish list. Like it or hate it, it doesn’t matter too much to me because I don’t work for you. But it does matter to your users—who I’ll bet have a wish list of their own.
What it could replace: The mishmash of consumer IM applications in use at your company, as well as whatever method you’ve cobbled together to share documents during meetings
What’s cool about it: It’s no wonder Cisco acquired WebEx. This kind of software is what the 21st century enterprise will be all about. While many businesses have adopted IM using free consumer applications such as Trillian, WebEx has taken IM to a new level by combining it with videoconferencing and the ability to share documents live.
The interface behaves like an online conference room. Imagine the IM bar, which is on the right side of the interface, as the people sitting around the conference table. The screen on the left of the interface, where you can share documents, charts or other relevant information, is like the overhead projector.
Depending on the settings, users can mix both their personal and professional IM accounts so they can book a deal, have a meeting, or tell their spouse when to expect them home for dinner (in other words, achieve work/life balance!) It’s easily scalable with other collaborative technologies. You could, for example, install a wiki that helps you and your team write up a press release about a sensitive company topic about to be sent out to the media.
CIO Fear Factor: None. As opposed to haphazardly letting people chat over a consumer IM app, WebEx offers peace of mind. No traces of online meetings are saved to the network unless you opt to record the meeting for future reference. Using special switches that overlay the public Internet, data from meetings is never stored on intermediate servers. So your remote users can benefit from the convenience of a Web browser but you don’t have to sweat about sensitive data floating around the Internet.
What it costs: Depends on what you order. WebEx offers most of its apps as a whole suite.
What it could replace: The intranet you haven’t updated in years
What’s cool about it: Blogging isn’t just for journalists or live-in-Mom’s-basement types. Movable Type 4 for the enterprise uses keywords and tags to store and organize vital information by category or author. The interface has easy tabs for posting, editing, designing and organizing your enterprise blogs. In addition to generic text, you can upload photos, documents and videos that can be catalogued alongside the blogs. The newest version of the software allows users to create a Facebook-ish profile, showing blog postings, a short employee biography or other pertinent information. While blog vendors have kindly noted that their software isn’t a replacement for enterprise e-mail and only complements it, I’m comfortable in saying it’s 10 times more efficient than e-mail and promotes transparency. For instance, when an important deal happens, pertinent people will not be left out if they weren’t included in the “to,” “cc” or the sneaky “bcc” field of the e-mail announcing it. If it’s posted on the blog, they’ll know.
CIO Fear Factor: Low. With a built-in dashboard, you can set access for your users (deciding who can see whose blog, etc.) through one interface.
It can be installed on the platforms you’d expect (Linux, Windows, Solaris) and works with many databases (SQL, MySQL, Oracle, and so on). Like any good Web 2.0-inspired technology platform, it’s scalable and integrates well with other collaborative technologies like enterprise wikis, RSS, social bookmarking and employee networks.
What it costs: Commercial license for five users is a mere $149. 95. For 20 or more users, it’s on a per license basis that you work out with Movable Type’s parent, Six Apart.
What it could replace: Expensive, fat and inefficient e-mail programs
What’s cool about it: What’s not? Unlike your traditional enterprise e-mail client, this one actually works well.
For more than a decade now, enterprise e-mail has not been truly searchable. Nor has it provided easy methods of organization. Every inbox has become an electronic laundry list of loosely marked correspondences. On a wing and a prayer, employees have been forced to do “Control-F’s” in the hopes of picking up a subject line for an e-mail containing relevant information. (Are you visualizing that? Yes, it’s pathetic.) Google addresses this problem, applying its wizardries of search to its Gmail application. This allows searches of your e-mail to proceed with the same rapidity and efficiency as those queries you type into Google’s Web search each and every day. With virus, spam and phishing protection, it also maintains good hygiene.
If your employees complain about storage, tell them they’re gluttonous wastes of life if they manage to eat up the 10GB of space per user that Google offers. In addition, e-mail conversations that involve multiple replies/forwards are stored in one place, with each entry having its own tab. This allows you to click between them rather than scroll down an e-mail that seems endless with forwards and replies.
Worried about updating the old address book? Well, Gmail automatically remembers people you correspond with. A tab on the top left of the interface allows you to open your Google calendar. All users can set who has peering access into their calendar. You could share it with your department and your boss, or the entire organization.
CIO Fear Factor: Low. It’s cheap (about $50 per license per year). It’s secure (think Google’s locked-down server farms that are as mysterious as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory). It guarantees 99.9 percent uptime. (A word of caution though: As much as I’ve drank the Google Kool-Aid with the rest of my generation, I don’t need to tell you that such a high percent should be taken with a grain of salt.) But suffice it to say you’ll have few, if any, outages. It’s available on most browsers, including the obvious ones like IE and Firefox. For the global enterprise, it’s available in many languages. And best of all, your IT support team will no longer waste time finding people’s old e-mail. In fact, you can tell users not to delete anything if it suits them.
What it could replace: The pile of process documents hidden on your servers in obscure folders
What’s cool about it: When it comes to documents that manage process, storage has typically been rather cumbersome. In many cases, a person goes on to the shared network, where a specific folder lives that has Excel spreadsheets or Word docs about a certain business process. To modify these, they must open the file, revise it and often rename it. Depending on the access capabilities, in many cases people can’t revise the document at the same time. In worst cases, a lot of this work in a department is done over e-mail with messy attachments that may or may not open if you all don’t have the same version of the application. With an enterprise wiki like Socialtext, users can edit documents about business processes seamlessly on a Web-based platform that will automatically refresh for all users viewing the document.
CIO Fear Factor: Low. Business is ever-changing—as such, your processes will change with it. Having a clear go-to solution for your users to make updates to it in real-time is a huge advantage. If you prefer, Socialtext will host its application for you.
What it is: A way to bridge your good ole’ CRM or ERP systems to easy, user-friendly interfaces like iGoogle
What it could replace: The guy who never could quite make that legacy CRM application look pretty
What’s cool about it: Let’s face it, those CRM applications and ERP databases from Oracle or SAP might not be going anywhere anytime soon. But chances are, your end users would like to choose how they look at that mess (which is to say, they’d prefer not to). With an application like WorkLight, you can reroute data to the consumer apps of your end users’ choice, like iGoogle, which is essentially a personalized homepage using technologies as simple as RSS feeds and AJAX. Since WorkLight serves as a middleman to relay the information, it hides behind your corporate firewall and it doesn’t actually pass data through the third party’s servers.
CIO Fear Factor: Medium. This is a startup company, but with a good idea that many others are pushing: Use Web standards to bring ugly database information to light in a more attractive and user-friendly way than geeky interfaces and complicated queries. What it costs: Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
What it looks like: See the right side of this iGoogle page: