IT wrestles with workplace blogging

How are IT departments dealing with the advent of the blogosphere?

There's no question that blogs are multiplying in cyberspace. Now they're infiltrating businesses, too, even if the IT departments haven't sanctioned their implementations.

"I've definitely seen the problem with unsanctioned blogs finding their way into enterprises. It's happening more than IT would like to believe," says Oliver Young, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Executives realize it's a losing battle to lock it down, so they're bringing in official solutions. It's not everybody, but there are plenty of IT shops that realize this is coming whether they like it or not."

The movement of blogs from a primarily social technology to a business tool is happening fast. As a result, IT workers are developing best practices for implementing, managing and maintaining this technology. At the same time, corporate IT departments, executive sponsors and the business units that want blogs are trying to build business cases, craft user policies and estimate costs -- and even returns on investments -- even though there's not yet a lot of data to define success.

"There's a fair amount of learning going on based on early adopters," Young says.

Costs and liabilities

The number of companies that have made a significant commitment to blog technology is limited, according to Forrester. It found in a June 2007 survey of IT decision-makers at US companies with 500 or more employees that only 7% have made large, strategic investments in blogs. Another 20% have made small scale implementations, with 12% piloting blogs and 15% considering an investment.

Calculating exact costs for corporate blogs is difficult. But based on multiple accounts, those costs aren't significant.

"I can do it for zero cost in almost zero time," says Ray Valdes, an analyst at Gartner. Open-source platforms guarantee a cheap option but can result in unauthorized blogs floating around the corporate infrastructure, with attendant IT headaches.

IT departments are more likely to turn to corporate applications, opting for either hosted services or commercial products designed to meet corporate requirements for security, permissions and scalability.

"IT does not like the idea of people in departments or lines of business downloading software whether it costs or it's free. They want to manage it," Valdes says.

In addition to vendors that specialize in providing corporate social media applications, Valdes says the major players in the corporate collaboration software space either have or will ship products that include blog capability and other Web 2.0 technology.

Easy on the maintenance schedule

Blogging technology, like e-mail systems, doesn't require heavy maintenance. "IT will obviously operate the machinery behind blogs just [as it does] the machinery behind e-mail, but it's a relatively minimal effort," Valdes says.

Corporate-hosted blogs that operate behind company firewalls, Valdes notes, enjoy a certain level of security. Moreover, the blogs can be structured to meet specific corporate requirements: IT can prohibit anonymous postings, restrict who can read certain blogs and even determine who has read a particular blog and when.

Whether such restrictions and insights clash with the free-spirited nature of blogs is up for debate, but such abilities certainly give IT the kind of control that makes for easier management.

"There's a lot of debate around that -- the amount of governance and control you should have over it," says Jim Johnson, lead technology strategist at Xerox. The IT department there supports some 50 to 60 blogs, using a mix of commercial products and open-source technology, Johnson says.

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