Open source, Web 2.0 gain appeal as IT budgets shrink

CIOs are turning to cheap, lightweight tools to get the job done fast

"Before, we were using e-mail and PowerPoint, and you know the limitations of those technologies," Mihelcic says. "With a wiki, it takes seconds to get knowledge online."

"By providing collaboration on an enterprise level, we can also communicate across organizational boundaries," adds Rebecca Harris, head of global information grid enterprise services at DISA. "It provides us with a way to invite in, at a moment's notice, unanticipated users to help with problem resolution. It really is a different way of providing a traditional capability."

The overall goal is to "crush the hierarchy of information in the DOD," says John Garing, DISA's CIO and director for strategic planning. "The DOD has a chain of command, and information traditionally has had to go up through the chain of command, and decisions flow back down. Now, senior leaders want information to flow very quickly."

Garing says DISA IT personnel have visited Google Inc. several times to learn how the company handles product development. "They do things in small teams and bites and constant beta testing," he says. "They can add things to the network quickly, and if they're not a hit, they can kill them fast. We also need to be able to move things quickly before they get to be monolithic programs."

Garing's IT team also visited Amazon.com Inc. to study how it provisions Internet cloud-based storage on an as-needed basis. "We studied how they were delivering that service," he says, and now, instead of waiting weeks or months to have hardware or software installed, DOD personnel can buy capacity on demand through a DISA service called RACE, for rapid-access computing environment.

Unlike the many CIOs who cite the economy as a key factor driving accelerated adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, Garing says DISA is "really aimed at getting speed and capability into the hands of people quickly."

Kutzer at Allied Building Products wants all of that, along with lower costs upfront, plus an immediate return on investment.

"We're focusing on the near term like never before," Kutzer says. "Given the new state of [economic] affairs, if you're going to buy a new technology, it's going to have to help me this year. Cash is king right now, and everyone is hunkered down over their balance sheet.

"We're trying to be creative and imaginative without overstepping capital expense restrictions," he adds. "The way to do that is to bring in smaller solutions to meet acute needs. In the past, we may have tried to kill 10 birds with one stone."

For example, Kutzer says Allied recently bought a small mapping application from a vendor he had never heard of. "We didn't overinvest. We spent less than $US1,000 on something that we think is going to add value immediately in our Web services environment."

Still other companies, like $US6 billion GAF Materials Corp. are tapping more deeply into the Web 2.0 capabilities of already-installed software, such as Microsoft's SharePoint, to leverage the collective knowledge of their workers.

"In my industry, it's unheard of to be thinking this way," says Adam Noble, GAF's CIO. "Historically, it has all been one-way communication. But now, engineering and product development groups are using blogs to share ideas, and what it's doing is driving product innovation."

Noble, for one, believes that having a Web 2.0 strategy is an absolute must, regardless of budgetary constraints and/or old-school processes. "If you take the position that 'we don't do social networking,' your resources are going to go for it anyway. If you don't do it internally, your corporate information will be on Facebook."

Says Noble, "We are looking at how we can use Web 2.0 with our customers. We want to expand social networking beyond our own four walls."

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Julia King

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