Feb 23, 2007 (07:02 PM EST)
Most Business Tech Pros Wary About Web 2.0 Tools In Business
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
For all the mind-numbing buzz about Web. 2.0, most business collaboration and information sharing remains mired in endless e-mail strings and scheduled conference calls. More than half of business technology pros surveyed by InformationWeek are either skeptical about tools such as blogs, wikis, and online social networks, or they're willing but wary of adopting them. What gives?
The usual impediments. Business technologists are concerned about security, return on investment, and their staffs' skill in implementing and integrating new Web tools. "This group has been burned by being on the leading edge of technology," says Michael Scott, director of corporate and health care applications at Sierra Health, a managed care provider in Las Vegas. Four years haven't erased Scott's memory of a failed interactive voice-response system. Still, he says, doctors complain daily about how difficult it is to collaborate, so it's time to think about how Web 2.0 and advanced IP communications fit into the business.
Despite the risks and problems, a solid minority of the 250 business technology pros surveyed by InformationWeek are behind this IT strategy push that has come to be known as Enterprise 2.0 (even if the overplayed 2.0 terminology makes some people wince). Nearly a third, 32%, describe their Web 2.0 strategies as fully engaged, our survey finds.
Reticent companies ignore the movement at the peril of their competitiveness. Within a few years, rich, collaborative software platforms that include a slate of technologies like wikis, blogs, integrated search, and unified communications will be the norm. Employees will expect to work that way, and it'll be up to IT to solve the still significant problems and deliver.
At Procter & Gamble, the Enterprise 2.0 push is all about speed. "Enabling effective collaboration is like adding a sixth gear to a race car," says CIO Filippo Passerini. The 140,000-employee company is rolling out Microsoft SharePoint and Office Communicator as well as Microsoft Windows Desktop Search company-wide, while adopting blogs and videoconferencing in critical niche roles, including a blog to answer questions about the SharePoint rollout. P&G's goal is to make it easier for employees to connect to each other and to outsiders, and the effort will be measured based on whether it helps get smart new products to shelves faster. "In a world where competition gets tougher every day, minutes really do count," Passerini says.
Other companies in various industries are plunging into Enterprise 2.0, but this is still emerging tech, so it's not a parade of success stories. Motorola has almost 3,900 blogs, but a nascent plan for a company social network faces security and access hurdles. Wells Fargo is using blogs to give executives an informal channel for employee and customer discussions, and RSS feeds to funnel news into a CRM system. But its attempt to build a presence inside Second Life (see story, "Second Life Opens For Business")--a virtual community called Stagecoach Island, to get young people involved with the brand and learn about personal finance--had all of 11 people logged on one recent afternoon.
How should an IT team start thinking about an Enterprise 2.0 strategy? One way is to carve it into two main areas. The first is Web-based information sharing--think business versions of Wikipedia, MySpace, and Flickr. A sizable minority of companies are finding effective business uses for blogs, wikis, syndicated feeds, pervasive search, social networking, collaborative content portals like SharePoint, and mashups that use easier-to-integrate APIs and fast-response development techniques such as Ajax. One example: Wikis, which let multiple people access and edit a document online, are widely used at 6% of companies in our survey and used effectively by a few employees at 25% of companies.
The second area is voice and messaging, where voice over IP, instant messaging, presence, videoconferencing, and unified communications can make it possible to connect people in more relevant ways. Unified communications entails the blending of voice calls, video, and messages, coupled with functionality like embedded click-to-call links in documents and contact lists and the ability to see if colleagues and partners are available to chat. It's widely used at 13% of companies surveyed and effectively by a few at 24%.
Enterprise 2.0 is a passel of separate products today, which helps explain why more than half of companies cite the lack of staff expertise as a major obstacle. "The growing pains are finding a tool that meets the needs," says Chuck Parris, VP of interactive services at American Tire Distributors. "You've got to be expert at going out and looking at all the information that's out there, and that's the hard part." The Enterprise 2.0 push at American Tire is still in its infancy. In one small step, the IT team uses Twiki open source wikis to build editable documents about Sarbanes-Oxley compliance policy and IT processes instead of sending e-mails.
First steps count, but Enterprise 2.0 can't just be about a wiki here, a blog there forever. Taken together, the emergence and convergence of Web 2.0 and IP communications is what will determine whether there's truly an Enterprise 2.0. It's a new architecture defined by easier, faster, and contextual organization of and access to information, expertise, and business contacts--whether co-workers, partners, or customers. And all with a degree of personalization sprinkled in.
Security Comes First
Widespread adoption still looks well off: 74% of organizations "widely use" fewer than three of the 13 technologies that represent the shifting sands of business collaboration (see chart, below), for the 13. For Enterprise 2.0 to get anywhere, businesses must first ensure that these apps are secure and don't expose them to regulatory or legal action. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents (64%) cite security as a challenge.
Wells Fargo employees are embracing hundreds of blogs to brainstorm with one another and interact with customers. Yet on another Enterprise 2.0 front, integrated search, the company has limited employees' ability to search across data repositories because of the complex authorization schemes needed to keep people from accessing information they shouldn't. About 80% of development and deployment time for customer-facing and internal tools is spent on security measures such as authentication and authorization, says Steve Ellis, executive VP of Wells Fargo's wholesale solutions group.
Regulated industries such as banking and health care have the most to lose. Having gotten e-mail and instant messaging compliance mostly in hand, many are reluctant to pile on new communication platforms to monitor and archive. At the University of Chicago's Division of Biological Sciences and Physicians' Group, which includes the university's hospital complex and medical school, IT teams use wikis and 37signals' Campfire online chat and file-sharing service internally, but the risk of leaking patient information leads to a tempered, big-vendor approach for collaboration software used across the division. "Because of HIPAA and compliance, from the hospital's perspective, if it's not HP or Sun, it's not worth looking at," says Ilir Zenku, a director of information systems.
Security isn't the only barrier to Enterprise 2.0; it's just the most glaring problem IT will have to solve as employees push to use the Web tools of their personal lives at work. An IBM survey last year found that 80% of senior managers say it's imperative to share information with people outside the business, yet fewer than half say they are equipped to do so. The pressure will be on IT to close that gap.
The move toward Enterprise 2.0 at most companies will be driven more by employees who use instant messaging every day and flock to Web sites like Google, Flickr, MySpace, and Wikipedia in their home lives than by risk-averse IT managers.
"I used to see it as stuff you could just do in your spare time," says Randy Williams, custom applications manager for builder John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods. "A year ago, I would have said there's no way we're ready for that stuff, but I've done a complete 180 since I've seen how useful it is." Wieland Homes is rolling out SharePoint, a Web portal built on a shared document repository that allows mobile access, search, RSS, wikis, and blogs. Williams hopes the software will let employees manage their own departmental Web pages, taking a load off IT and turning a messy intranet into a more coherent shared repository of information.
Content Still King
Yet, here's a sobering statistic for Enterprise 2.0 true believers: For eight of the 13 tools we asked about, at least 20% of companies say they've made the tools available but they're hardly used.
Ellis of Wells Fargo says the tools will matter and get adopted only if they're delivering information people need. "When I look at the intranet and what's going to bring people there every day, it's real-time information," he says. For example, the company is using RSS to deliver news feeds that employees can customize to see the business news that matters most to them on the job.
Wells Fargo also is experimenting with wikis and blogs. It has customer-facing blogs (go to blog .wellsfargo.com for examples), such as ones about student loans. The executive VP of the bank's Internet services group holds weekly office hours for team members to discuss new ideas submitted to a wiki. "We were building tools to share information inside the company, but they were always these very structured things," Ellis says. "A blog is informal, a great way to get away from the corporate thing and let people inside our heads." The company's hundreds of blogs have become the most read nonbanking pages on Wells Fargo's site. A few groups within the company have even started experimenting with video blogs.
There are standalone wiki and blog software vendors such as Socialtext and Six Apart, and the big vendors are building these tools into their collaboration platforms. Collaborative content portals like SharePoint and IBM's new Quickr add a document repository. Microsoft's SharePoint supports federated active directory services that let, for example, a certain group of employees at a strategic partner see certain areas of SharePoint, providing broader collaboration options.
At design firm Ziba Design, huge project files were too big for e-mail, or partners and customers didn't have FTP access. So the firm is using SharePoint's wiki capability to advance design projects and a SharePoint applet that's put on project pages to show employees and customers how a project is progressing. "We built a virtual studio on the Internet for people to access files and collaborate all in one place," says Dieter Reuther, Ziba's IT director.
Most companies haven't caught the enthusiasm of Ziba, Motorola, and Wells Fargo. More than half of companies don't use blogs at all, and 41% don't use wikis, our research finds. More than 20% make these tools available, but they're not widely used. MySpace-like social networks also are slow to take off.
The tools exist, however. Business versions allow for a professional to post background, projects, expertise, and other information to selected networks, such as colleagues. Business social networking site LinkedIn says membership doubled in the last year to more than 9 million individuals. IBM recently announced plans for Connections, social networking software that companies can use internally and with partners. Elements of SharePoint, such as the My Site personal site feature, do some of the same work. Motorola is considering deploying some sort of social networking to connect people and ideas faster, but the plan's only in the research phase, says Redshaw, who's concerned about the security and access control of such a system.
Virtual worlds similar to Second Life, where people move and interact through video game-like avatars, also could be used to build community and knowledge among customers and potentially even employees in a highly dispersed company. But it's a far-flung idea for most companies. One early adopter, Disney, has built a virtual world for would-be Disneyland visitors with its Virtual Magic Kingdom, a community where people can tour and play games within a digital mock-up of Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Users can talk with one another and to people Disney hires to work as virtual tour guides in the system. Disney claims 2.2 million users have signed up but won't say how many are using using it on a daily basis. However, the meager population so far on Wells Fargo's Stagecoach Island suggests few companies have the Disney-like power to attract consumers to their virtual worlds.
Pick Your Poison
Beyond getting employees the right tools for more effective communication, IT must figure out how to pull it all together. Does it really help people if they go from an overflowing e-mail in-box to having a dozen pots of collaboration, with wikis, blogs, and RSS feeds?
Enterprise 2.0 goes beyond the amalgam of Web 2.0-inspired technologies to the realm of unified communications. Forrester predicts that identity services--directories that know who an individual is, what access he has, and even where he is--will be a unifying factor across all Enterprise 2.0 technologies, letting employees connect when and how they want to.
Because there's a lot of experimenting going on in companies, with different tools used by different people and groups, Enterprise 2.0 can be tough to manage and support, especially when IT doesn't have much experience with the new tools. "Sometimes demand exceeds supply," says Villanova University CIO Stephen Fugale, who characterizes his outlook on Enterprise 2.0 deployment as a "consultative" approach that includes brown bag lunches and seminars for influential staff. "We may not have the figurative bandwidth to support every theoretical desire."
Many of these tools are starting to converge, giving employees more control over how they want to see and share their knowledge. More companies' Web portals contain blogs and wikis. Google Spreadsheets contains a chat function. Microsoft's forthcoming Office Communicator upgrade will include features like click-to-call from within Office applications. IBM says more than 1,000 of its customers use Lotus Notes as a front end for their SAP apps. "It's real, and it will come sooner than later," Procter & Gamble CIO Passerini says of the convergence of these tools.
Integrating these new technologies with legacy systems is another challenge, cited by more than half of companies in our survey. Shimano, a cycling and fishing equipment maker, is moving to a Siemens OpenScape unified communications platform, but for the foreseeable future it will need the old phone system to work alongside it, says communications manager Bill Crane. "You can't explode the company overnight and have everything all new without things dying," he says.
Mashups--the term for bringing two Web-based data sources together on one site--suggest integration's getting easier, at least for some data. For example, an arm of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce runs a job board for Hurricane Katrina victims that plots the location of jobs using Google Maps. Vendors are rushing to serve this market, with Yahoo, IBM, and Kapow Technologies all offering services, server software, or hardware appliances intended to make it easier to create Web mashups.
But even within the Web 2.0 world, vendors haven't paid enough attention to interoperability. IBM and Microsoft's instant messaging platforms interoperate with several of the public Internet services, for example, but not with each other. Emerging business social networks are the same way. IBM VP Ken Bisconti, who leads the Lotus group, admits there's "a ways to go" before the company's recently announced Connections social software can connect with Web site services such as LinkedIn and Visible Path, or software from the likes of Microsoft.
There are signs of progress. IBM says its upcoming Quickr collaborative content portal will interoperate with SharePoint repositories by the end of the year. Big vendors like Microsoft and IBM also are working to offer a wider range of Web 2.0 tools. "We're getting into where people buy stacks, they don't buy applications," says Burton Group analyst Mike Gotta.
But there's arguably no single company that can sell an "Enterprise 2.0 stack" today, one that includes lower-layer services for e-mail, messaging, and voice; cross-application features like search, presence, and RSS; and publishing and content tools like collaboration portals, blogs, and wikis. "There's this tension between the IT department that wants to have this orderly, planned infrastructure, and you've got end users out there experimenting with all these different collaboration tools," says Elisa Graceffo, Microsoft's group product manager for collaboration and portals.
IT departments on the cutting edge of Enterprise 2.0 shouldn't bet on employees flocking to these tools without a push. Procter & Gamble is running an internal marketing campaign with the tagline "connect, converse, accelerate" as it rolls out real-time communications, a collaborative content portal, and desktop search. At Wells Fargo, IT and business departments work together to develop only those applications employees need most.
At Wieland Homes, the IT department plans to give each department the power to control their intranet sites, using SharePoint, expecting they'll be able to structure how they share information better than IT has been able to. Employees will expect these tools to be easy to use. "They are willing to train themselves as long as it's as easy to use as Amazon or Google," says IBM VP Bisconti.
But is it all worth the effort? Collaboration technologies are notorious for their "soft ROI." At Wells Fargo, they're not bothering to cook up a dollar value for each collaboration app. "I can just go out and tell our boss I know we'll be better off," Ellis says.
Yet Ellis and his team must have a case for how it will make the bank's customers better off. Wells Fargo is only now experimenting with voice over IP, and Danny Peltz, executive VP of the company's Wholesale Internet and Treasury Solutions group, says he's not yet convinced of the value of all the pieces of unified communications and presence awareness. "Is it going to make me build faster? Is it going to make me perform better and service my customers better?" he asks. "Those are the things I'm trying to figure out."
They're the same questions a lot of IT pros are asking. They know well enough not to chase technology just because it's got the buzz of a Web 2.0 or Enterprise 2.0 label. But they also know better than to ignore an opportunity from which their competitors might be gaining an edge.
Illustration by Ryan Etter
Why We Like The 'Enterprise 2.0' Label,
Nine Easy Web-Based Collaboration Tools
Companies On Edge About Web Video
The Big IT Vendors Promise Web 2.0 Capabilities