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InformationWeek 500 Trends: Web 2.0, Globalization, Virtualization, And More

What the InformationWeek 500 data tells us about the use of emerging technologies.

You gotta try it; everyone's doing it.

That's how it feels sometimes with business technology, where the buzz around a new idea (virtualization, social networking, cloud computing) can get so loud it leaves a CIO wondering (and perhaps a CEO asking), "Are we the only ones not doing this yet?" At times like this, it's good to have 500 innovative friends to be able to ask about their strategies.

That's what our InformationWeek 500 delivers, as we ask companies detailed questions about what's going on in their technology organizations so that we can produce our ranking of the most innovative ones. We're intrigued by the huge range of strategies companies use to excel. Web 2.0 is one of the trendiest ideas in tech, for instance, but there are entire industries where not one company in our survey cites it as a top productivity improver. Meantime, adoption of some more tactical technologies, such as WAN optimization, has exploded in the last year.

The InformationWeek 500 research shows there's no one route to innovation. Nevertheless, when it comes to critical trends, from Web 2.0 to globalization to virtualization, it's wise to keep an eye on what others are up to. Here's a glimpse.

There's only one conclusion to draw about Web 2.0: Companies are playing it safe.

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When it comes to using Web 2.0 collaboration tools, the momentum is behind wikis, blogs, and social networking, though primarily among co-workers. Some 70% of InformationWeek 500 companies say their employees are using those tools this year, compared with 55% last year. Using wikis and blogs internally is a much easier move, in terms of technology and compliance, than using them with outsiders, and that's reflected in the research--just over a third of companies use them with customers or others outside the company.

Use of hosted collaboration applications--from calendars to document sharing--hit a reasonably high 60%. (We didn't ask about hosted last year.) In all other Web 2.0 categories, usage is up but still relatively small. The integration of search into Web sites and apps has stalled: Like last year, six in 10 companies are doing it.

The extent of Web 2.0 technologies varies notably by industry. Asked what technologies have improved productivity the most, only 14% overall cite "encouraging the use of Web 2.0 technologies." However, more than a fourth of companies in consulting, electronics, IT, and telecom cite it as effective, while no companies do in automotive, chemicals, construction, or general retail.

It's proving hard for companies to wring results from Web 2.0. No industry in our survey has more than a third of companies citing Web 2.0 as one of the most effective productivity tools. The consultants at McKinsey recently found similar lukewarm results in their Web 2.0 research: 21% of 1,477 respondents are satisfied overall with Web 2.0 tools, while 22% are dissatisfied. One possible bright spot in our survey is that implementing new collaboration tools, such as Microsoft SharePoint, is cited more often than any other--48%--as a technology leveraged to improve productivity. It's possible some put Web 2.0 efforts, such as wikis and blogs, into that category.

One of the big Web 2.0 questions is what role IT should play. McKinsey's study concludes that, at satisfied companies, business units rather than IT departments are much more likely to drive the selection of Web 2.0 technologies. At companies dissatisfied with Web 2.0, IT is more likely to take the lead.

chart: Which new technologies are you adopting?
Despite corporate IT's reputation as Internet killjoys, our survey suggests a good number of IT organizations aren't fighting the Web 2.0 tide. Forty-six percent of companies discourage use of unapproved consumer applications. This actually suggests a pretty liberal attitude--not even half have a policy of actively discouraging their use. Given the regulatory need to do so in industries like banking, that's a pretty hands-off mentality. And 30% encourage use of consumer-oriented tools employees find useful.

There's more to Web 2.0 than collaboration tools like wikis and other employee-facing tools, and there's interesting progress on the critical back-end layer that enables Web 2.0. One is mashups; 38% of InformationWeek 500 companies are combining Web and enterprise content in new ways. The other is in Web 2.0 development tools. Sixty-three percent now have them in limited deployment, while 24% have them widely deployed in their IT departments. Last year we asked a narrower question, about Ajax development tools, but it offers some comparison: 45% were in limited deployment, and 9% widespread.

Web 2.0 might be an old term to your ears, but it's still got a long way to go before it makes a major impact on most companies, which are finding it difficult to get big-bang returns. While 51% of the top 100 companies in the InformationWeek 500 use wikis and blogs to communicate with customers and other outsiders, just 31% of the next 400 do.

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