CIOs Uncensored: Should CIOs Be Afraid Of Web 2.0?

Most aren't -- but are they drawing a line in the sand or whistling past the graveyard?

John Soat, Contributor

October 26, 2007

3 Min Read

NICSA, The National Investment Company Service Association, is a nonprofit educational group with more than 400 member companies representing "all segments of the mutual fund industry," according to its Web site. Last week, I attended the NICSA Technology Summit 2007 in Las Vegas, this year's version of the organization's annual conference for technology executives. One of the hottest topics of conversation among the 400 to 500 attendees at the conference: Web 2.0 technology.

I'd love to report that financial sector CIOs are bullish and proactive on the potential for Web 2.0. However, here are some fairly typical talking points, based on the conversations I had:

CIO No. 1: What does Web 2.0 mean, anyway? It's more media hype.

CIO No. 2: Web 2.0 has nothing to do with my organization. Perhaps it might work for internal collaboration, but certainly nothing outside the organization.

CIO No. 3: It's all about control. If users want to bring Web 2.0 tools to IT, we'll support them. Otherwise, they're on their own.

One reason Web 2.0 came up so often in conversation was that Rod Smith, VP of emerging Internet technologies at IBM and an IBM Fellow, gave an impassioned keynote speech that extolled the virtues of Web 2.0 technology--and chided IT for its intransigence and short-sightedness.

For example, Smith said he first heard the need for Web 2.0 capabilities articulated when talking with customers about SOA and Web services. "What we heard was that, 'While my systems are getting easier to integrate, I need something to connect people,'" Smith said. "And it had to be something quick, not something that would take IT a long time to do."

One of the virtues of Web 2.0 technology, according to Smith, is being able to act on emergent business opportunities quickly. Chief among those are partnerships, and partnerships mean integration work. But the time frame for that integration work is collapsing rapidly. Customers have told him, in the current business environment, 20% of business relationships last less than six months. And that drives IT crazy, Smith said, "because it takes IT six months to get started on a project."

Enter application mashups. Smith compared mashup technology and its impact on corporate computing with the Excel spreadsheet, which allowed users to create their own applications and data stores. "IT didn't like it very much, and they still don't like it," he said. Similarly, Web 2.0 is about an "emerging self-service business pattern" that empowers users to imagine and create their own opportunities and partnerships. More and more, Smith said, users will think like this: "It's my content to be shared when I think it's ready--not the IT folks."

When they contemplate the dramatic potential for Web 2.0 technology, according to Smith, many CIOs feel this way: "This is exciting ... and I'm really scared to death." He added: "And they should be."

The CIOs I talked with were good at hiding their excitement--or whistling past the graveyard.

I know: What goes on in Vegas is supposed to stay in Vegas. But I had to share this with you. Share your thoughts at our new blog, CIOs Uncensored, or contact me at [email protected] or 516-562-5326.

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