IT meets the new kid on the block

Original article at CIO Magazine

Enterprise 2.0 technology is being embraced with caution, but it is capable of providing real benefits to the business.

By Brian J Dooley and CG Lynch

Monday, July 21 2008 – A recent survey about Enterprise 2.0 applications — social software like blogs, wikis and social networks that started out in the consumer Web 2.0 space, but were repurposed for enterprise use — found that 44 per cent of businesses find the technologies “imperative” or “of significant importance” to their organisations.

The report […] surveyed 400 companies.

Despite the number of organisations that deemed Enterprise 2.0 important and who claimed to see the value in Web 2.0 technologies, almost three-fourths (74 per cent) acknowledged to having only a “vague familiarity” with the technology. In fact, 41 per cent claimed they had “no clear understanding” of Enterprise 2.0 at all.

The responses reflect the fact businesses are getting involved in using these applications in an ad hoc manner, says Carl Frappaolo […]. As an example, Frappaolo says those kind of business departments will often adopt a blog or a wiki separately from the rest of the organisation, without much thought to the tools going enterprise-wide and integrating with existing platforms.

Of the organisations that have implemented Enterprise 2.0 technologies, nearly 45 per cent said they have done so in this ad hoc manner. A mere 26 per cent of organisations have taken a strategic approach to implementing Enterprise 2.0 technologies.

The reason for this willy-nilly adoption could be that businesses have had difficulty proving the business case for the technologies. When asked what was the largest barrier to Enterprise 2.0 adoption, about 42 percent cited “a lack of a business case” as the main reason.

Frappaolo says traditional ROI methods can be used to measure the usefulness of Enterprise 2.0 tools. Though he believes there does need to be less of an emphasis on dollar amounts due to the nature of the technologies, which is mainly to encourage horizontal collaboration across the enterprise.

“It could be you measure ROI around how quickly you went from the concept of a product to market, and how these functionalities might help speed that,” he noted.

The other issue with adoption could centre around who within companies is buying Enterprise 2.0 technologies. Frappaolo says the respondents were a mix of business users purchasing SaaS (software as a service) offerings, while others were IT buyers looking to support the technologies in response to users gravitating towards similar products in the consumer space.

When asked who had buying authority for Enterprise 2.0, 34 per cent said it was “senior management,” while another 32 per cent said the IT department is responsible.

One thing was clear about the goal for adopting the tools: Better collaboration. Approximately 72 per cent of respondents said that Enterprise 2.0 tools could significantly improve collaboration.

That said, Frappaolo begs the question: Will all employees want to work this way?

“Right now many decisions aren’t made by a group, but a leader,” he says. “Some people like that approach and others certainly don’t.”

Revolutionary impact
Locally, Enterprise 2.0 is being embraced with caution, as a new technology implemented by early adopters. But its potential is significant. Treated with caution, it can have revolutionary impact.

“Enterprise 2.0, above everything else, is a statement about organisational culture,” says John Brand, research director of analyst firm Hydrasight. “It’s an egalitarian view that excellence in knowledge, information and expertise can come from anywhere — even from outside the organisation.”

Where desktop publishing and electronic word processing made it easy for anyone in an organisation to publish and access information locally, Enterprise 2.0 enables groups of people to improve their information management and communication practices across the organisation — or in some cases, across multiple organisations. “It’s really just the next logical evolution of how human beings are applying technology to age-old human problems,” says Brand.

Currently the New Zealand uptake is low. Service companies have led the charge, because they have larger numbers of tech-savvy users and knowledge-dependent resources. Other organisations have yet to find a compelling reason to implement Enterprise 2.0 technologies — which can potentially increase the complexity of their technical environment.

“We are seeing many organisations in the ‘test and prod’ stage,” says Brand. “In many cases, ‘proof-of-concept’ projects fail because the implementers have not considered how they are going to apply the technology to broader business problems. Organisations must understand how these concepts and technologies can be applied and choose the right strategy for their organisation. It’s important to note that you can’t simply ‘become’ an Enterprise 2.0 [company] by installing some 2.0 technology. You must strategise, plan, implement, refine, communicate, influence and reposition regularly to ensure any kind of success.”

For New Zealand business, there may be some added advantages in using Enterprise 2.0 technologies, due to the smaller size of businesses. “Blogging, wiki, profiling, social networking, collaboration and analytical tools actually tend to suit smaller organisations in many ways, because this is the way they tend to become adopted in larger organisations,” says Brand.

Lessons from an early adopter
Gen-i, Telecom’s ICT solutions provider, has been working with Enterprise 2.0 technologies, both internally and for its customers, over the past several years.

“With 3300 people spread across 17 locations in New Zealand and Australia we needed a way to harness the collective intelligence within our organisation, extrapolating tacit knowledge by encouraging people to connect and share experiences and information,” says David Spratt, technology and business support manager, Gen-i.

“A key way that we encourage exchange of ideas in our business is through our 13 Communities of Practice and Communities of Interest. These are online-based groups where people can share views and ideas on a wide range of topics — from core business areas such as business continuity management and unified communications, through to topics like brand, culture, strategy and sustainability.”

Gen-i’s communities average more than 100 members each, and are located throughout the country. Participants range from technical people to marketing people and senior executives.

“It’s an innovative and market-leading model for Gen-i to be encouraging people to connect and share experiences and information,” says Spratt. “It’s also about the power of re-use — taking information we have learned from one area and transferring it somewhere else to build and deliver superior solutions.”

Gen-i’s Communities of Practice run on Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (MOSS), which has been set up as a collaboration platform incorporating document storage. The MOSS server is deployed within the company’s intranet environment, making it available to all Gen-i users. It is tied to Gen-i’s internal directory to allow easy sign up and communication with Community members.

“Enterprise 2.0 makes the collective intelligence of many people accessible,” says Spratt. “This translates to a huge competitive advantage in the form of increased innovation, productivity and agility. Problem solving is now done by a group of people, thus providing more insights and better outcomes. Workers offsite on customer deployments are much more in touch and know exactly where they can get help or ideas.

The Communities are a key part of developing new product and service ideas, as well as forecasting where the market is moving. The Communities are also a key retention tool to attract and retain ‘digital native’ staff.”

As one example of the Communities in action, Gen-i recently had a remote client that suddenly had a need to transfer and store massive amounts of data. The regional team set up a discussion on the Storage Community and instantly had more than 100 minds working on the problem. They were able to get back to the client with solid new ideas based on this input.

“It’s not just about the technology,” says Spratt. “You need a solid plan to help build and encourage your members to interact and contribute. It needs to be well supported by management and not seen as a toy for chatting, but a crucial tool for business development.”

Original article at CIO Magazine – Copyright © Fairfax Business Media

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