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Most Business Tech Pros Wary About Web 2.0 Tools In Business

'Enterprise 2.0' must overcome concerns about security and return to get a foothold in business, InformationWeek Research Finds.

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.

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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.

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