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10/26/2007
09:45 AM
Andy Dornan
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.

FREE FOR THE TAKING
Still, vendors will have to show hard ROI before these technologies will be adopted by enterprises, and that could be difficult with so many free alternatives. The long-term evolution of Web 2.0 in business is likely to trace a path similar to that of instant messaging, which has comparable social characteristics to wikis, blogs, and social networks, and initially followed a parallel adoption curve in business.

IM was brought in by people who used it in their personal lives, and though many people resisted it at first, IM quickly became an enterprise staple: Three-quarters of all organizations in our survey use it; half say they find it very useful or critical to their business.

IM Technology In Use
So far, so much like any other technology. Home users are driving innovation, so it's no surprise to see the enterprise lagging. But unlike the PC a generation ago, IM has managed to colonize the workplace without going native. Despite frequent warnings from security vendors that unrestrained use of consumer IM technology can violate privacy policies, give attackers a back door into the network, and even send executives to jail, most companies happily use the same free services as teenagers.

Fewer than 30% of respondents in our online poll have enterprise IM servers such as Lotus SameTime. Actual use is likely a lot lower, as staff in many companies ignore the officially sanctioned software and install their own. The move to enterprise voice over IP is bringing other players like Cisco Systems into the IM game, attempting to converge IM's presence features with telephony, but they could be too late. The public IM services are already integrated into cell phones, another technology frequently used in the workplace but not controlled by IT.

IT'S LOOSENING GRIP
Loss of IT control is a consistent theme as Web 2.0 penetrates business. The greatest upheaval is likely to come from enterprise mashups, which combine the social and technical aspects of Web 2.0 by letting users develop their own applications. Though very few businesses use mashups at present, those that are see great benefits, and larger players such as BEA, IBM, and Oracle are entering the game. Cutting out the middleman--that's the IT department--can be a great way of aligning business and technology.

"Mashups have let end users do more of what used to be done by IT," says Warren Breakstone, executive VP in charge of client services at investment tools provider Thomson Financial. Although not in the IT department, Breakstone started using a hosted mashup service from Serena Software and now runs a team of business analysts who develop Web-based applications for sales, marketing, and other personnel. "Now we're moving into traditional IT services: The IT department is using apps that we built."

Breakstone says this doesn't bring his team into conflict with the IT department. "It frees IT up to do those mission-critical tasks behind the scenes," he says.

Internet Evolution -- The Site for News, Analysis & Opinion About the Future of the Internet.
Second in a series of articles assessing the future of the Internet. For more, check out internetevolution.com, with its ThinkerNet blog of more than 65 Internet contributors, including Craigslist founder Craig Newmark, Linden Lab CEO Philip Rosedale, and General Motors CIO Ralph Szygenda, as well as videos, Webinars, news, and more.
IM itself is already giving way to newer technologies that are even further outside IT's control. The leading candidate so far is Second Life. Though often seen (and increasingly scoffed at) as a marketing vehicle, its true potential is as a glorified chat room. Like IM, it's free, but it gives users a more immersive experience and is designed for multiparty conversations.

"We found that Second Life allows more user engagement than traditional video or phone conferencing," says Breakstone, who is testing Second Life as an environment for meetings. "One employee told me, 'I've participated in lots of meetings and I tend to be very quiet, but I felt very comfortable opening up in Second Life.'"

Illustration by Mick Coulas

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