Forrester Research, when I worked in corporate IT, were a major source of inspiration for the company’s development of its next generation user environment. Forrester’s phrase, Information Workplace, encapsulates the vision. You probably stick with a major office and collaboration suite – Microsoft’s or IBM/Lotus’s. But that’s no longer the end of the story as consumer-scale services develop on the Web. Many of them are being used already; if you’re in enterprise IT, just check how many of your colleagues are already on LinkedIn.
I shared yesterday in a Forrester workshop on this theme. There’s demand from enterprises to know what it’s all about. The analysts, Rob Koplowitz and Oliver Young, were moving on to do a repeat in Germany and they are a regular in the US. This isn’t directly a report of the workshop; discussions are of course confidential between participants. But I’ll share some of my own thoughts, stimulated by the discussion and born of experience.
First, and as I’ve said before: the issues aren’t new, just presented in a new form. When web browsers and internet email reached the enterprise, managers were terrified staff would spend their time browsing. Now, the paranoia is that they’ll spend all their time blogging … strange to hire people and then trust them so little or manage them so poorly.
But there are issues. Staff with technology at home need to treat corporate information differently from the holiday snaps. The issues are regulatory as much as intellectual property related. On the other hand: what happened to X.400 as the secure email channel? The collective judgement turned out to be that the overhead of managing two email architectures wasn’t a good investment, and encrypted SMTP, or just the low-ish risk of open transmission, was good enough for most things. Implicitly, management accepted this. Now, digital rights management overlays this. We’re getting there.
The same potential to compromise the company arises with external blogs; people need to be educated, not threatened, and supporting technologies made easy and accessible.
Second, can social networks enable better business interactions? Facebook, MySpace and others are beginning to lose ground as they become another overloaded channel – just when platforms such as salesforce.com are beginning to integrate to them. Younger people of my acquaintance confirm that Facebook is less cool than it was. LinkedIn (which I visited with a Leading Edge Forum field trip in 2005) is going in a different way, maintaining its professional focus and adding value through services like its what-are-your-colleagues-reading News feature.
Third, what about Web 2.0 inside the firewall? A wiki, for example, will automatically maintain an audit trail as a document is developed; with office documents and email that is an extra task that probably doesn’t get done. SixApart (which I visited, again with LEF, in 2006) have commercial-weight, internal, blog software as well as carefully differentiated Internet ones. Enterprises are finding great value in a blog (and its automatic generation of RSS) for internal communication, as opposed to the blanket email. You can do tagging internally too (e.g. Cogenz or ConnectBeam). But – seeing what your colleagues are tagging is useful, but it’s likely more useful to view tags from outside your usual circle. Take care though: have a look on del.icio.us and see how many internal documents from your enterprise domain are tagged there. The content’s not accessible of course. But the document title, and the fact that it is tagged, are maybe of interest to competitors, anti-company activists, and others.
New ideas don’t arise from people who already share much of your own perspective! Take this one further, to social networking, and it’s the breadth of an open external network which is its value.
As we found with browser access and email, the enterprise will eventually find the right level to use Web 2.0 services. The business benefit will come to those who can think through the issues clearly, find the right answers for their particular situation, and enshrine those answers quickly in architecture and business process, while everyone else is catching up.
Footnote. After I wrote this, I found a blog posting from Forrester’s Groundswell linking to a write-up of their research in MIT’s Sloan Management Review. So even if you’re not a Forrester or SMR subscriber, you can see this for free.
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