IT is a key barrier to corporate Web 2.0 uptake, users say

Office 2.0 attendees say IT workers reluctant to change traditional processes

Most speakers at the Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco last week agreed that Web 2.0 tools will make their way into the enterprise, propelled by user demand for tools that can make them more productive.

However, they also warned corporate Web 2.0 champions to steel themselves for resistance to the use of blogs, wikis, mashups, social networks and other tools -- especially from IT organizations.

When Adam Carson, an associate at Morgan Stanley, first began pushing the use of Web 2.0 tools, he faced a major obstacle in the New York-based investment bank's 10,000-member IT department. "Most of our IT department didn't get it," he said. "This was all new to them. They had just been stuck in the world of enterprise IT."

However, he said he worked closely with IT team members to convince them of the merits of Web 2.0, which led them to implement Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) technologies, a key requirement for building and supporting Web 2.0 tools. Once IT was convinced of the value of Web 2.0, he said, the organization was "really good at making sure that [systems] worked really well and didn't break, but they weren't really good at making sure ... people liked using them."

Carson noted that the company now has about 80 Web 2.0 projects under way, including an effort to create social networks for its clients.

During the education process, Carson said he also had to find a manager that would require the use of a Web 2.0 tool for a specific project. That would help spur employees to use the new tools, he noted. The effort also faced cultural resistance from some users clinging to the use of e-mail and other traditional tools rather than switch to new Web 2.0 collaboration tools, he added.

Miko Coffey, head of digital media at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in London, noted that she first had to bypass IT to get Web 2.0 technologies to the group's end users. Once she started the effort, she said, "IT started to realize it was happening without them anyway. They weren't interested until they started to get multiple requests from around the business. Eventually, they came on board."

Coffey said that the organization is using the bookmarking site Del.icio.us to help gather all the links needed to put together an e-mail newsletter, and tools like Central Desktop from Central Desktop Inc. for project management and collaboration. She said it is often easier for a smaller organizations like NESTA, which has 90 employees, to adopt such new technologies because they often don't need to be integrated into large, complex enterprise systems.

She also noted that NESTA uses many free tools, so it's easy to prove their value to management. "The value is instantly visible, especially when you do an ROI and your investment is zero," she said.

At Medtronic, the interest among employees for Web 2.0 tools has "exploded," said Scott Mark, an enterprise application architect at the medical device manufacturer. However, he added, the company has to move slowly because it must comply with numerous regulations. For example, he noted that many Web 2.0 collaboration tools allow anyone to update content. To meet various records management regulations, he said, the company must find a way to archive all those changes.

In addition, because the company is moderated by the federal Food and Drug Administration, all content on its Web site -- even that contributed by end users -- must meet FDA requirements, he said.

"There is a real concern there that we have to moderate and be aware of those things and make sure it is a message we are allowed to have out there," Mark said. "A lot of times IT gets put in a big position of being the enforcers of these compliance issues. All this Web 2.0 experimentation is going on. Some old-fashioned IT organizations are trying to shut that down. Smart ones are trying to classify them as experiments ... before they take things to an enterprise level."

Lee White, social media champion at GlaxoSmithKline, has been given a year to explore the potential benefits of Web 2.0 tools at the London-based pharmaceutical company.

White said one of the biggest challenges to corporate Web 2.0 use is that demand generally bubbles up from users, while in the traditional corporate paradigm, upper management decides what tools workers should use.

"This whole Enterprise 2.0 thing is a lot more about a cultural shift than a technology shift," White said. "Big organizations have been built on the concept of the hierarchy. Information primarily resided at the top, and they could control how it went down. Now, information has been disintermediated from the hierarchy. It is a different paradigm."

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Heather Havenstein

Computerworld

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