Secret CIO: Beware The Blog In Your Company's Future
The last thing you want are uncontrolled and ever-expanding records of individual activities.
The IT industry is a wonderful place to work. Whenever you get depressed about budget cuts, your potential for continued employment, or the sorry state of your 401(k), you can look to TNGT (The Next Greatest Thing) for solace. TNGT (pronounced Ting-TEE) will revive your spirits or at least brighten your day if only by eliciting one of those cynical laughs you developed after your last merit review. According to leading-edge articles, Weblogs, or blogs for short, are the wave of the future for enhancing the dissemination of company knowledge and fulfilling the potential of the Internet. Sort of like what E-business, ERP and CRM systems, and dot-coms were going to be before they got bloodied along the way.
The idea of personal Internet logs is appealing, if not to us, then certainly to our families. These diaries let people post the latest on what they're doing, with hyperlinks to what they view as important. Perhaps, as some writers are saying, blogs are a new source of business intelligence, capturing the knowledge of key personnel for the benefit of all members of a company. However, if technology history is any guide, take the hype with a grain of salt. I sense that blogs will wind up in the same category as Internet chat rooms--a potentially interesting diversion if you don't have a whole lot to occupy your time but not a particularly reliable or efficient source of information. The reason is threefold: quality of data, time expended versus value received, and the reality of litigation.
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The Internet is indeed a wondrous tool. At your fingertips is a plethora of data from which to choose. Therein, to paraphrase Bill Shakespeare, lies the rub. The problem isn't finding information on the Web; it's filtering out the worthless babble and figuring out how much to believe of what we're reading. Even if we restrict access to just those blogs posted by internal authors (try to enforce that rule on your company's network!), we still run into the difficulty that not all opinions are anywhere nearly equal.
Remember the hit show of a few years ago, "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire"? The part I found most fascinating was where a contestant asked the audience for help in picking the right answer. It was like politics; everyone ventured an opinion--whether they had any knowledge about the subject or not. In general, unless the question was about pop culture, the audience was as likely wrong as right. Certainly, these aren't the odds you want running a company (although given the decisions made by some companies, it might be an improvement). Knowledge management, and that's what meaningful corporate blogs will require, is dauntingly complex and harder than simply picking the best development and maintenance vehicle. This particular chimera has been around for a long time, and neither Blogger nor any other Weblog publishing tool can resolve it.
A larger problem in a business environment is the amount of time people will spend on the blogs they feel compelled to monitor, and worse, create. How long will it be before people are E-mailing us hyperlinks to their blogs? As it is, we spend a large part of our day wading through stuff to find the achingly infrequent important messages. It's gotten so bad that I sometimes think the two worst inventions of the past hundred years are E-mail and the Xerox machine. To badly paraphrase Winston Churchill, never in the field of human endeavor have so many wasted so much to obtain so little.
If you think your staff spends inordinate amounts of time designing PowerPoint presentations now, just imagine what these would-be artists and authors will do to productivity when their creative powers are unleashed on the world of computerized diaries and ever-expanding hyperlinks.
Finally, and perhaps most compelling, is the litigation issue. With the exception of research labs, where you write down everything to fight for patent protection and government certification, the last thing you want are uncontrolled and ever-expanding records of individual activities and opinions. As Microsoft has learned from keeping old E-mail too long, in this age of writs of discovery, what you've said way back when may really hurt you. Before you embark on a company blog initiative, best have a chat with your chief counsel.
On the other hand, I do see real opportunities in the world of the blogosphere, even if the acceptance of blogs doesn't quite pan out the way their proponents envision. We surely can expect to see the emergence of new business ventures for anti-blog filtering and tracking software. Maybe we can even provide employment for lawyers who can teach seminars on what you can, and can't, put on your personal company blog. If you come up with other entrepreneurship ideas, be sure to blog them for sharing with the rest of us.
Herbert W. Lovelace shares his experiences (changing most names, including his own, to protect the guilty) as CIO of a multibillion-dollar international company. Send him E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.