by Abbie Lundberg

Businesspeople Asleep at the Wheel on the Value of Social Networking

Dec 04, 20072 mins
Enterprise Applications

Ask the average manager or executive if they’d welcome Facebook into the workplace, and they’ll say, “Are you nuts?!” But Serena Software got some press last month when it declared “Facebook Fridays.” The company’s 800 employees in 18 countries were encouraged to spend one hour each Friday on their Facebook profiles, connecting with co-workers, customers, family and friends.

A few days ago, Bill Ives wrote in the Fast Forward blog that Serena is actually going much further than that, replacing its corporate intranet with “Facebook as a front end linked to a low-cost content management system behind the firewall.” Now, part of this is certainly good PR for Serena – after all, they’re in the Web 2.0 software space. But the fact is, Facebook provides an engaging experience, it’s free, it’s easy to write custom apps on top of it, and you can set up both private and public groups. Why not?

Harvard prof Andrew McAfee (credited with coining the term Enterprise 2.0) thinks the “why not” may have to do with IT executives viewing Web 2.0 technologies as a threat to their fiefdoms. In an article titled “Enterprise 2.0 May Be Fine for the Business, but What About the IT Department?” McAfee wonders if IT departments “consciously exclude outsiders and outside influences, and are concerned primarily with expanding themselves. If this is the case, then Enterprise 2.0 will certainly be resisted by IT; its tools are cheap, often housed outside the firewall, and require relatively little configuration, support, and maintenance. Enterprise 2.0 comes from outside the priesthood, in other words, and doesn’t expand the empire.”

That’s harsh. After all, IT has plenty of good reasons to be cautious when it comes to introducing new technologies inside the enterprise. Who knows what might be lurking in all those Facebook widgets? But there’s also a kernel of truth in what McAfee says. Too many IT professionals dismiss the unproven in the name of defending enterprise integrity. The question is, what good’s the integrity of your ship if your engine’s gone out and you’re dead in the water?

Maybe you’re not ready to welcome Facebook into the enterprise yet. Your business colleagues probably aren’t either. But there are other ways to start taking advantage of Web 2.0 technologies, and lots of compelling reasons to do so (I’ll write more about this in my next post).