Web 2.0 at the Enterprise Crossroad

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The premise of an interesting InformationWeek article, that increasing use of Web 2.0 tools like wikis, social networks and mashups could result in tech-savvy users supplanting IT, is one that we've blogged about before.


Many companies find themselves trying to determine the appropriate attitude to adopt toward such tools. Some common responses: Attempt to stamp out uses of all tools not sanctioned by IT; take a laissez-faire attitude toward employee experimentation and consider adopting them on a companywide basis; or position yourself squarely on the fence by neither promoting nor discouraging them with a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.


According to InformationWeek, its online poll shows that corporate interest in such tools has actually declined this year. It attributes this, in part, to existing enterprise tools that at least approximate some of the functionality of Web 2.0 tools. Content management systems, for example, offer some of the same functionality as wikis.


Though many folks find wikis easier to use, they have some limitations such as an inability to work with documents and files. InformationWeek notes that some vendors are trying to address this with plug-ins that allow for more robust capabilities.


We think a slowdown in Web 2.0 hype also may have contributed to the waning interest. Indeed, one analyst earlier this year wondered if too much hype was discouraging companies from experimenting with emerging technologies.


A bit of a surprise from the InformationWeek poll: Despite the considerable noise around social networking, it generated the least interest among IT pros. Sixty-eight percent of poll respondents have no use for public networks like Facebook -- despite their potential as a recruiting tool, among other uses -- and just 5 percent say any kind of social networking is useful.


(Perhaps they need to read this CIO Insight piece which, in addition to the usual bullish outlook of analysts and vendors, also includes examples of companies that are deriving benefits from internal social networks.) InformationWeek includes a short list of 17 vendors, ranging across the spectrum of common delivery options (service, free or paid; software, free or paid; hardware; service through partners).


InformationWeek wraps by making the point that many Web 2.0 technologies will likely follow an adoption path similar to instant messaging, with many employees openly using free consumer IM tools after a period of doing so surreptitiously. According to the poll, 47 percent of respondents use such tools, compared to 26 percent that use enterprise IM systems, 3 percent that use IM features of a PBX system, and 24 percent that don't use IM.


The article also predicts that mashups, which let users create their own apps, offer the greatest potential for upheaval. Says the executive VP in charge of client services at Thomson Financial, where a team of business analysts uses mashups to create apps for several departments across the company:

Mashups have let end users do more of what used to be done by IT.

The VP claims this is fine with his IT department, because it frees them to attend to mission-critical tasks while users serve themselves.


ZDNet blogger Dion Hinchcliffe makes a number of interesting points in a recent post about what he sees as the maturation of Web 2.0 in the enterprise. A few of our favorites: Web 2.0 tools perform better when in close contact with existing IT systems, vs. being isolated from them. Don't expect an immediate, big-bang result; benefits are more subtle and accrue over time. While companies may assume that employees know how to use Web 2.0 tools, it's a good idea to offer training that helps them properly apply them in the context of the workplace.