Web 2.0 will take on an increasingly important enterprise role in 2008, but CIOs have a ways to go before harnessing the full value of collaborative technologies such as blogs, RSS feeds and wikis.
“If I look at the Web 2.0 space in the enterprise, I see a lot of experimentation right now, and a lot of frustration,” says Forrester analyst Oliver Young. “Are enterprises ready to deliver on the value the businesses are asking for? Probably not yet. But I think in 2008 they’re going to get much closer.”
When a company has a globally distributed workforce with tens of thousands of employees, workers can’t collaborate effectively via traditional methods -- for instance, meeting in person with colleagues. That’s where new Web 2.0 technologies come in handy. Out of all of them, wikis will probably have the biggest positive impact, says Paul Gillin, a writer and commentator on the tech industry and former executive editor of Network World sister publication Computerworld.
“If you have a large number of people who have to share information, e-mail is a horrible way to do that,” Gillin says.
With a wiki, you can set up a blank page workspace, and leave it up to users to decide who’s involved, what the tasks are and how the work will be organized, Young says. It’s a lot more efficient than overflowing e-mail inboxes with mass e-mails.
RSS feeds also have a lot of potential. Young says the lawyers at one law firm he knows use feeds to stay up to date on cases, rather than e-mailing spreadsheets and documents all over the place.
But achieving successful collaboration isn’t as easy as flipping a switch or installing a piece of software (although a proliferation of open source Web 2.0 software certainly makes it less expensive).
“The challenges are getting people to use it,” Gillin says. “People are accustomed to e-mail, they know how to use e-mail.” On the other hand, it’s sometimes hard to get funding for Web 2.0 projects, because management teams at some companies aren't convinced the new tools deliver real business value, Young says.
Web 2.0 brings its share of problems: One Forrester survey found that enterprises are not prepared for security threats posed by Web 2.0 usage, particularly employee use of social networking and other applications for non-business purposes.
“Web 2.0 can make it easier for employees to share data, and in doing so make it easier for employees to abuse data,” Young says. “The best way companies are starting to approach this is through strong permissioning, compliance and archiving,” as well as education to make sure employees know what constitutes acceptable sharing of data.
Enterprises must carefully perform a balancing act, he says, erecting technology barriers to prevent data leakages while giving employees the freedom to collaborate effectively (compare collaboration products) and without undue restrictions.
Gillin thinks security concerns are overrated. He forecasts a growing reliance on current Web 2.0 tools and adoption of new ones. Some corporations are interested in deploying social networking applications, sort of like an internal Facebook for employees, he says.
“The promise of intranets has never really been realized because of complexity and the difficulties managing them,” Gillin says, noting that Web 2.0 technologies will help businesses take full advantage of intranets.
“It’s kind of a no-brainer for CIOs who spend a lot of money putting in these highly engineered proprietary applications to do stuff they can now do with wikis and blogs at a tiny percentage of the cost,” Gillin says.