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10/26/2007
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Andy Dornan
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Growing Pains: Can Web 2.0 Evolve Into An Enterprise Technology?

Wikis, mashups, social networking, and even Second Life can have a place in business, but they need to improve legacy interoperability--and IT needs to overcome its skepticism.

Forget outsourcing. the real threat to IT pros could be Web 2.0. While there's a lot of hype and hubris surrounding wikis, mashups, and social networking, there's also a lot of real innovation--much of it coming from increasingly tech-savvy business users, not the IT department.

"We've cut IT staff by 20%, and we're providing a whole lot more in terms of IT services," says Ken Harris, CIO at nutritional products manufacturer Shaklee. Harris started with a mashup platform from StrikeIron; he found mashups such an effective way to integrate multiple Web services that he turned to Web-based service providers to replace in-house functions. Now, Shaklee gets its ERP from Workday and search from Visual Sciences, and it's looking at other IT functions that software as a service can replace.

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And Web 2.0 means more than just SaaS. Though the term is often abused, all the various technologies, products, and sites grouped together as "Web 2.0" do have one thing in common: interactivity. Web 2.0 is designed for two-way communication. At the technical level, it replaces static HTML with (usually) JavaScript apps that continually send and receive small chunks of XML or text. At the social level, it means Web sites that let people communicate, not just read or shop. Instead of passive consumers, Web surfers can become active creators.

All that interactivity ought to make Web 2.0 ideally suited for business use. Most workplaces are about production, not consumption. However, enterprises lag far behind consumers in adoption of Web 2.0 technologies. What's more, our online poll shows that interest in technologies such as blogs, wikis, and mashups has gone down during 2007, despite explosive growth outside the firewall.

Part of the reason is that business users already have access to more sophisticated versions of the same technologies. Blogging is publishing, a wiki is a CMS (content management system), and Ajax is a more standardized way of achieving what many internal enterprise apps already do with ActiveX or Java. Now, that doesn't mean new technologies can be ignored--their lower costs and simpler administration mean they will quickly overtake legacy platforms, and already have done so in some areas. But it does mean they need to fit in with their predecessors.

chart: Impact Assessment: Web 2.0

(click image for larger view)

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