This is a nicely done NewsFactor Network overview of the Enterprise 2.0 Conference that recently was held in Boston. The thrust of the piece is that Web 2.0 applications -- and everyone apparently is free to come up with their own definition -- are increasingly being used by business.
To date, blogs are the most common Web 2.0 tool, though the talk has spread to even cooler apps, which will follow. It won't be the first time that a new approach seeps into the workaday world from the outside. It will happen, of course, since mashups, wikis and other strangely named applications and platforms are used by young people who will bring them as they enter (perhaps kicking and screaming) the workforce.
The most interesting element of the NewsFactor piece, however, was the contrarian view of Thomas Davenport, a professor information technology at Babson College. He said that Web 2.0 applications are social rather than business-oriented and that the benefits are hard to quantify. Said Davenport:
And even when businesses are using them, nobody's saying anything about what kind of ROI (return on investment) they've been able to get on them.
This raises an important issue. It is fairly easy to take a new technology and assign a dollar value to it. VoIP is supposed to save money, and precise equations can test that hypothesis. "Softer" benefits -- the ability of workers on a remote call to more closely follow the action because of tighter voice and data integration and thus do their job better -- are less easy to identify. People sense they are there, but the core rationale for deployment remains the tangible savings or revenue generators.
Web 2.0 apps often don't replace anything, and their benefits are more speculative. It probably isn't easy to make a presentation to ROI-obsessed senior management based on the potential promise of applications that, to date, are largely the province of kids. The lesson isn't, however, that people championing these new approaches must dream up ways to prove their ROI in order to satisfy some antiquated requirements. Rather, smart upper managers must take a chance and implement innovative elements that may prove themselves -- but only in the long term and only in subtle ways.
The good news is that influential vendors are getting with the program and introducing Web 2.0 applications. Perhaps they are smart. Or perhaps the kids are working for them as well.