By Madan Sheina, Ovum analyst
In spite of its roaring success on consumer IT desktops, considerable skepticism still remains about the value of Web 2.0 in business organizations. Can Web 2.0 technologies like wikis, blogs, and social networking really help to grow a business and make the leap to Enterprise 2.0?
It used to be the case that open source was a momentary distraction for CIOs and IT directors. Not any more. More companies are asking their IT leaders to apply open source to their corporate IT strategies. The same cannot be said of Web 2.0 technologies. However, Web 2.0 is expected to creep its way into the vernacular of business software over the coming years.
The success of consumer-led Web 2.0 technologies cannot be ignored. Facebook, MySpace, blogs, RSS, mash-ups, Ajax, and a myriad of other web-based technologies all now rally under the Web 2.0 banner.
Some of these are now starting to show potential behind corporate firewalls to facilitate more effective forms of collaboration (beyond standard email) and provide a richer, more interactive information experience for business IT users, including the two-way use of the Web that allows users not only to access information but also to express their own knowledge.
Enterprise software vendors are also starting to bake 2.0 capabilities into their applications. For example, SAP uses wikis and blogs extensively on its SDN, and Oracle has built social networking into a broad-release CRM offering.
While many Web 2.0 technologies are now deployed for enterprise use, they are still a long way from being mature or universal. The trick is to figure out how to take Web 2.0 ideas and use them in a business environment to interact better with employees, customers, and suppliers. It is not a direct translation. IT users have distinct needs from consumers, and organizations will have to carefully target, evaluate, and refine their initial Web 2.0 deployments.
In particular, companies should consider Web 2.0 not in terms of technology but as an enhanced web information experience for solving business problems. For example, instead of looking at blog-style publishing, wiki-style editing, and social networking as just tools, enterprises should frame their use in business scenarios or goals, both within and outside the four walls of the enterprise as a way to better engage with their most profitable customers or build up a stronger corporate online brand.
Importantly, Web 2.0 is also about advancing information experiences for business users, helping them to make the most of the systems and data management investments that a company has already put in place. Web 2.0 helps to make IT systems user-friendly and accessible. It allows for communities of interest to be built from crowds of business users looking at certain slices of corporate information.
Finally, Web 2.0 information experience also calls for a bi-directional link between users and information. One of the biggest benefits of Web 2.0 is the opportunity to use the activities and business domain expertise within businesses as they interact with information. Rather than being passive information consumers, users participate in its creation and organization through tagging, commentary, and ranking.
Adding Web 2.0 to an enterprise context also represents a democratic and social shift for a company’s IT strategy, moving control from the organization’s IT department to individual users. But traditional views of enterprise IT are still relatively conservative. Few companies are prepared to look outside the box at unproven Web 2.0 models, especially in tight economic times.
As with any new and evolving technology, implementing Web 2.0 tools is a risk. The risk is more pronounced given the unclear return on investment from their use, which is ultimately measured in how effectively people collaborate, as opposed to business optimization or revenue-generating ideas.
Only when companies start to understand the information-democratizing benefits of these tools, the specific business case scenarios for uses of the applications, and the effort and cost of implementing them, will there be widescale adoption.