Holy Web 2.0 Herding Nightmare

Question: Do today's new collaboration tools make it harder for IT to wrangle corporate information, or easier? Answer: Yes.
Despite these nods to enterprise IT, there are still drawbacks to corporate versions of these products. For one, administrative workflows may be primitive. For instance, while Central Desktop provides a dashboard to manage workspaces and users, administrators have to provision and deprovision users one at a time. This may not be burdensome for a dozen accounts, but it will get annoying fast as numbers grow.

For its part, PBwiki has limited control over documents. While content owners can assign, read, and edit rights to users of wiki pages, those controls don't extend to documents. Any user with access to a collaboration area has full access to any documents posted inside that area. "We are hearing more requests for file-based access control," says Chris Yeh, VP of enterprise marketing for PBwiki.

Companies not comfortable with the service model or startups also have options. Microsoft SharePoint sits at the top of the heap for enterprise collaboration. IBM offerings, including Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr, provide collaboration and Web 2.0 features such as tagging. BEA's CollabraSuite creates virtual meeting spaces and offers features such as a shared whiteboard and the ability to store shared and personal files. And EMC Documentum's eRoom is a well-established collaboration system with a strong focus on document management. It integrates with Microsoft Office to let users upload and share files.

These in-house options may be attractive to IT for their extended security and management capabilities. For instance, SharePoint lets administrators create data disposition policies for information inside SharePoint servers, such as ensuring that business contracts be retained for seven years. IBM Lotus Quickr's content repository lets employees and business partners share documents and files while also providing strong change management features, such as check-in and check-out functions.

Blogs, wikis, podcasts ... communications mechanisms improve interaction but also pose a risk.
However, these products also come with the downsides of enterprise software--longer and more costly deployment than software as a service, and longer lag between upgrades. Enterprises are unlikely to dip their toes into collaboration through a six-figure software deployment. It's not uncommon to find companies using SharePoint and third-party SaaS products.

"It's a classic story of enterprise 2.0," says Goodwin Procter's Cornelius. "We're up and running with PBwiki in 30 seconds, and SharePoint is taking a year." Fact is, users will find ways to make their working lives more convenient--with or without the input of IT. This is particularly true when it comes to Web collaboration tools.

"The challenge is to stay ahead of the curve of providing tools for employees so they don't feel compelled to find others," says Skanska's Emerick. Because once data strays outside your borders, herding it back in is a job we wouldn't wish on anyone.

Photo illustration by Mick Coulas

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