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Enterprise 2.0 Conference Preview: Sony Gets Wiki With It

Ahead of his talk at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference, Sony's Ned Lerner explains the advantages of having his teams use wikis and other open source enterprise collaboration applications to get the job done.
Sony's game developers use wikis -- Atlassian Confluence -- as tools for collaborative game design. (You may refer to wikis as "social publishing software" if you find the term "wiki" just too cutesy to say.) Computer games are serious projects these days, with perhaps $25 million budgets and hundreds of people involved. To store the evolving documentation, Lerner likes wikis because they're "the only thing I've seen that works."

"I was going to call it a poor man's documentation management system," said Lerner. "But in practice it's got a lot of advantages over traditional documentation management. It's a lot simpler, it's a lot more graphical, it's got a lot of features that traditional documentation systems don't have, but are pretty darn useful."

Despite the need of ongoing maintenance and support, Lerner just likes Web 2.0 software more than traditional enterprise products. "To some extent I actually like the Web 2.0 tools better because they're so much easier, customer-centric, friendly, and approachable and graphical. The licensing fee is less and in a lot of ways the quality is higher," he said.

That's not to say there's no place for traditional enterprise software, at least not yet. "You see proposals floating around from time to time for people to do kind of old fashioned stuff, to hire a global consulting agency or to bring in a multi-million dollar package and go through a year of setup and planning," Lerner said. "They still happen, but they seem to be a last resort."

Recently, Lerner has been pushing the use of Skype and Logitech Web cams as an alternative to Sony's video conferencing system. "The company has rooms with dedicated video conferencing systems," he said. "But the hassle factor is just too much."

Lerner said he's always on the lookout for new technology to implement. Shared spreadsheets are what he's currently exploring. But he said that there's not that much enterprise-ready open source collaboration software out there. And he won't do closed source.

"We have licensed closed source, and without fail, we grumble and groan because there are things we just can't fix," Lerner said. "At this point, we probably won't even look at something that's closed source."

The same goes for software suites. Lerner wants applications that can plug into his infrastructure. He wants point solutions.

And don't even try to lock him in. "We won't take a package that won't let you export every piece of data ever stuck in it as a giant XML file," he said.

Think back to when Sony was peddling music players that emphasized the company's proprietary ATRAC encoding format. Then think about how Apple's iPod, friendly to the open MP3 music format, trounced Sony in the market. Some of the thinking at Sony has clearly changed.

Lerner plans to share some of that thinking in back-to-back sessions on the morning of Wednesday, June 11th. Maybe there's something to this whole Web 2.0 thing after all.