What CIOs Say About Innovation And Web 2.0 Tools - InformationWeek

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What CIOs Say About Innovation And Web 2.0 Tools

There are plenty of barriers to innovation, including a fear of change, riskiness, cost, and more. But an important element in facilitating innovation is collaboration, and Web 2.0 tools that help people share ideas are helping some organizations to break down the barriers stunting innovation.

There are plenty of barriers to innovation, including a fear of change, riskiness, cost, and more. But an important element in facilitating innovation is collaboration, and Web 2.0 tools that help people share ideas are helping some organizations to break down the barriers stunting innovation.Collaboration tools, such as wikis, virtual rooms, and Web conferencing, can draw out good ideas from within a group, across a company -- including multiple business units and globally -- as well as solicit feedback and inspiration from customers and the public at large.

During a panel discussion at the 2008 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium today, it was evident that the CIOs from organizations as diverse as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, insurer Liberty Mutual, software maker Adobe, and nonprofit org Special Olympics all had something in common. Collaboration tools are busting down walls in how their people work and brainstorm.

At Adobe, employees each have their own "virtual rooms," based on Adobe's own Acrobat Connect, which includes Web conferencing, e-learning software, whiteboard and more, facilitating "borderless communications," says Adobe senior VP and CIO Gerri Martin-Flickinger. "Whether you're the CEO or a front-line person, you get a virtual room," she says. When you're hosting a virtual meeting, people come to your virtual room, where features allow attendees to "raise their hands" to pipe up with their ideas, feedback, and comments.

"When you see this in action, you'll see people engaging like they're in the same room," not across the building or across the world, she says.

At insurance company Liberty Mutual, Microsoft SharePoint is helping collaboration among users involved with multisite, multigroup projects, says CIO Stuart McGuigan. The ability for multiple players to interact as if they're all physically present at the same location also cost-justifies the expense of the collaboration platform, which can run several hundred thousand dollars, he says. That's because the travel costs are eliminated, plus people who would've otherwise had in-person meetings once a month or so, "now can have daily meetings," he says. And this helps Liberty Mutual in its speed-to-market with new products, he says.

Even within the U.S. government, Web 2.0 collaboration is taking root. The EPA recently tested wikis to solicit ideas to an environmental question it posed, and the volume and quality of the responses were surprising, says EPA CIO Molly O'Neill. "We got responses from [across] the world about an environmental problem that we wouldn't have been able to get in those three days, even by tapping government agencies," she says.

The Special Olympics doesn't have a big IT budget, but it's fortunate in getting some software free, like donations of SharePoint, says the organization's CIO Andre Mendes. The Special Olympics' workforce -- which is largely volunteers -- is scattered across 175 countries, he says. SharePoint, and other collaboration platforms (not to mention real freebies, like Skype) also help to bring people together.

"They're eager to contribute," he says.

But Web 2.0 collaboration tools aren't without issues. For instance, cost is one, says McGuigan. And at the EPA, there's a "digital divide" between younger workers who are comfortable using such tools, and older workers who aren't.

Certainly, the use of Web 2.0 collaboration tools also can open other cans of worms in organizations. "If you think creating a wiki will get people to talk who don't want to talk, then you need to address those issues first," says Mendes.

And for that part of job, the CIO sometimes needs to be "chief therapy officer," says McGuigan.

How's your organization getting along these days? Are collaboration tools helping your people brainstorm great new ideas?

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