Written by Pamela Weaver
Imagine being able to bridge the communications gap between management and workers, across functions, all using tools your kids use to chat online, share photos, or collaborate on something in real time. Thatâ€™s the kind of value that organisations the world over are currently leveraging out of everything from wikis to blogs to RSS feeds, Web services and yes, even Facebook.
The Web 2.0 Workgroup is a network of blogs on Web 2.0. http://web20workgroup.com/
New tools of engagement
|CHARACTERISING WEB 2.0
As developers and users alike have grappled with the real meaning and concept of Web 2.0, Tim Oâ€™Reilly formulated seven principles that he believes characterises Web 2.0:
1. The Web as platform.
2. Harnessing collective intelligence.
3. Data as the next â€śIntel insideâ€ť â€“ as applications become increasingly data-driven, competitive advantage will lie with those capable of creating unique, hard to replication sources of data.
4. The end of the software release cycle. â€śOperations must become a core competencyâ€ť. As, in Oâ€™Reillyâ€™s terms, software moves from being an artefact to a service, software will â€ścease to perform unless it is maintained on a daily basis.â€ť
5. Lightweight programming models.
6. Software above the level of a single device â€“ think iTunes.
7. Rich user experiences â€“ think Google Maps.
Questions remain as to the real innovative and financial value of Web 2.0, with much discussion focusing on whether Web 2.0 platforms are a faddy way of doing things or can
genuinely drive productivity, efficiency and innovative thinking. Give the grassroots, popular origins of blogs, wikis and mashups, many organisations have adopted a wait-and-see approach. As with any technology, however, a lot depends on how you approach it all.
While itâ€™s true that, in a lot of cases, if you canâ€™t measure it, you canâ€™t manage it, that doesnâ€™t mean that the â€śsoftâ€ť ROI aspects of something like enhanced collaboration should be dismissed. A key inhibitor to joining the Web 2.0 party is definitely the notion that it canâ€™t be controlled. But this ground has been worked over many times before, whether it was email and the Internet many years ago or the whole notion of cross-functional collaboration since time-immemorial, resistance to change is as much a given as change itself.
Common sense tells you that sharing ideas is good for growth; that a culture of openness in an organisation can lead to better-motivated employees and that a combination of both of these things can increase productivity. And resistance to change isnâ€™t always about the technology; itâ€™s often about the rejection of a good idea because the political will to make the changes necessary for its success isnâ€™t there.
Measuring success without a clear vision of what youâ€™re trying to achieve is pointless and the use of Web 2.0 technologies is no different. Set up a company blog for the sake of it and youâ€™re unlikely to get any more kudos than an angst-ridden fourteen-year-old with the same notion and a passion for self-publishing their poetry. Similarly, a random wiki with little or no clear ownership and direction can rapidly disintegrate into a series of petty kingdoms where users do little other than contradict each other or engage in one-upmanship, defeating the original purpose of constructive collaboration
THE BEATING COLLABORATIVE HEART
At the coalface of exploring the possibilities offered by Web 2.0 technologies, SUN MICROSYSTEMS has been working on its Virtual Workplace project (also known as â€śMPK20â€ť after its Menlo Park campus). This is a spin-off from Sunâ€™s broader Virtual Wonderland project. According to Sun, on any given day, more than 50% of its workforce is remote. The company has developed a virtual 3D environment allowing employees to get real-world work done, share documents and meet with colleagues using natural voice communications â€“ just like they do in the physical MPK.
Users are also able to engage in unplanned, informal talk with colleagues. Sun took its cue from the gaming world, using the Darkstar platform to roll-out a 3D environment in which users are able to intuit whatâ€™s going on. According to Sunâ€™s website, the vision is to eventually offer the kind of functionality that will allow for the use, editing and sharing of all desktop applications within that virtual world. It is also projected that complementary physical and virtual work spaces will form the next stage in the project.
SAP is another organisation doing a deal more than dipping a tentative toe into the social networking and collaboration space. The company has made inroads through its â€śImagineering Unitâ€ť, which has spend the past couple of years piloting and tweaking a variety of widgets that can sit on top of its current enterprise offerings, giving enhanced functionality. The potential usefulness of any of the widgets is measured virally â€“ the team donâ€™t push their work, but rather send it out â€śinto the wildâ€ť, and see how well received it is.
In addition to the widgets, the unit, which is headed up by its own senior vice-president, is also working with social networks, RSS, SMS, virtual worlds â€“ all across the spectrum of SAP product divisions and used by thousands of SAPâ€™s employees globally.
These findings are backed up by Frost and Sullivan which, using its â€ścollaboration indexâ€ť to measure the effects of collaboration capabilities and collaboration quality of key performance indicators, found that collaboration has a stronger association with overall business performance, including innovation, productivity, customer satisfaction and profitability than strategy orientation or market turbulence. According to IBM, â€ścollaboration is one of the most critical capabilities IT can provide.â€ť And most Web 2.0 applications are, at heart, all about collaboration.
Overall, say IBM, thereâ€™s a clear need to link IT-related collaboration initiatives to bigger business goals, requiring CIOs to set thorough, measurable strategies capable of addressing the complexities of the extended enterprise.Collaboration strategies
Enterprise social software is, according to Gartner, most commonly used in organisations with more than a thousand employees. These organisations are expanding their reach away from simple, small-group usage of wikis and blogs, implementing enterprise-level projects for what Gartner calls social software platforms, communities of practice, expertise location, social tagging and bookmarking. Early adopters have been IT services, national governments and process manufacturing and utilities. Gartner points to the status of social software as a high-growth market by pointing to its attraction for large vendors such as BEA Systems, Cisco, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Sun Microsystems and SAP. For example, Microsoftâ€™s Sharepoint Services includes social software functionality while IBMâ€™s Lotus Connections software is aimed squarely at bringing everything social networking offers into a business environment, with features such as profiles, communities, blogs, â€śdogearâ€ť bookmark sharing and a mobile collaboration tool.
â€˘ Assessment: Once segmentation is in place, CIOs can effectively assess existing collaborative practices and determine the next steps. Key here is the identification of collaboration gaps, inhibitors and opportunities. It is not unusual for an assessment to uncover significant roadblocks.
â€˘ Metrics: For a collaboration strategy to add value to the business, the plans for improvement must be measurable. Held accountable by the business, CIOs must be able to show the concrete results of initiatives.
â€˘ Plan: A plan addressing culture, technology, services and the extended enterprise is now possible. Using the greater insights gained from the previous three steps, itâ€™s easier to develop more effective, incremental plans for improvement.
Taking the platformIn a similar vein, Cisco has identified the components of a business-relevant, enterprise communications and collaboration platform:
â€˘ Identify and implement the right platform building blocks. These include industry Web 2.0 tools, unified communications technologies and infrastructure and foundation components.
â€˘ Drive an integrated workforce experience through an intelligent framework that combines voice, video, data and collaboration. New business capabilities begin to emerge from existing tools and technologies.
â€˘ Integrating platform foundation components, such as workforce data and identity management with collaboration tools and technologies to create the next-generation workforce experience. Here, IT can have a significant role in changing the user experience and transforming business models.
WHAT YOU PUT INâ€¦
The principle of convergence is already well established in the business technology world. We expect things to just work together, work well and drive new ideas and growth areas. Web or Enterprise 2.0 offers those of us charged with getting the most out of the mountain of information we have to work with daily a new way of collaborating and sharing ideas.
Few concepts cannot be improved upon by the introduction of a different perspective from a different area of expertise â€“ the growth in the number of organisations seeking to hire â€śall roundersâ€ť capable of filling the seemingly unbreachable gap between technical and business functions goes a long way to demonstrating the value of a broad view. The growth of Web services, software as a service (SaaS) and widgets is driving a new way for developers to meet the demands of business users more easily and on an ad-hoc basis, which can make everyoneâ€™s life easier.
Security concerns will always be there and should never be discounted, but the reality of our changing workplace is slowly reaching tipping point, meaning that new usage patterns will have to be legislated for. The same goes for a change of heart in the corporate culture department; silo mentalities have, for years, been berated for the inhibitors they so clearly are. Think about what real collaboration could do for your business.