Wrestling With Web 2.0 in The Enterprise

SAN FRANCISCO — What is Web 2.0’s place in the enterprise? Attendees took on the question from multiple angles at the Office 2.0 conference here.

While there seemed to be agreement that corporate adoption of Web technologies like blogs and Wikis is inevitable, there were different views on how to get there and the potential pitfalls.

Adam Carson, an associate at Morgan Stanley, detailed some of the resistance he faced in getting his bosses at the big investment firm on board. As a fan of social networks, Carson approached one of his bosses with the idea of bringing some of the technology to employees. His answer was simple: “No.”

But he dug in to make his case. First, he went to business networking site LinkedIn and found over a thousand profiles of current and former Morgan Stanley employees. This impressed management with the social network’s potential for sharing information and expertise. Eventually he got permission by the CEO to explore how so-called Enterprise 2.0 technologies could help Morgan Stanley. He said the company is experimenting with RSS options and Wikis and has launched internal online forums that are created automatically from e-mail.

Investment firms like Morgan Stanley are even more conservative than most corporations when it comes to about adopting new technology. “It’s not a simple process,” said Carson. “You need to make the business use case and get the application infrastructure development and integration issues resolved. At Morgan Stanley you don’t do anything without the IT department, it’s a critical piece.”

Carson detailed a number of tips for those looking to fast track adoption in the enterprise. He said getting managers on board to support projects is key. Also, from the IT perspective, the technology should work with existing workflows and systems. “If you create ten new workflows, or something separate, adoption will be very difficult,” he said.

Also, some of these services like Wikis and blogs can be hard to justify.
Carson said if you can apply the applications to problems IT hasn’t tackled yet, it can help quicken acceptance. On the other hand, it’s often difficult to make a clear business case for, say, employee blogs. Morgan Stanley has 55,000 employees and if only a small number actively uses the technology, it makes it difficult to justify long term.

Carson noted that about half of Morgan Stanley’s employees are under 35 and that everyone under 25 has grown up with the Internet. “What happens when 50 percent of your company has grown up with the Internet, with a very different sense of privacy, and the other half doesn’t?”

Shiv Singh, enterprise solutions director at Web firm Avenue A | Razorfish, warned against a one-size-fits-all expectation with social networking applications. He said large social networks typically break out into three types of “clouds” or groups of users:

  • There’s a “Giant” component, with a bulk of users who gravitate to the center of activity.
  • “Militants” are the enthusiasts who form their own virtual areas within the social network. Singh calls these sub-networks a kind of virtual ghetto.
  • “Singletons” are the random users on the network who basically aren’t that active and don’t know what to do.

“As you think about social networks, recognize that you are never building one social network. There are going to be many within the network,” said Singh.

Meet Charlie

Two Pfizer employees in the U.K, Scott Gavin and Simon Revell, rolled out some entertainment with their Enterprise 2.0 presentation with a widely viewed online show called Meet Charlie. The British duo later teamed up to become Enterprise 2.0 evangelists at the giant pharmaceutical company.

Pfizer management gave Gavin and Simon time to explore different technologies. After launching what turned out to be a popular blog, the pair bootstrapped an Enterprise 2.0 week conference on the fly that anyone at the company could attend. About 70 employees showed up each day. The presentations were made available online and in a podcast. Even though this took place last November, they say the site still gets about a thousand hits per week.

Building on the Enterprise 2.0 conference idea, they’ve also developed “e2”, a central online resource for employees to find out more about Enterprise 2.0 technology and how some of it has already been implemented. “It’s kind of a virtual consultant,” said Gavin.

Another spinoff is “e2lab,” an online center for trying beta and other experimental products the pair said was inspired by Google Labs. “The idea is that some of this stuff is a bit immature, in an enterprise sense,” said Scott.

One interesting take on e2lab is that it’s not designed to showcase applications or services necessarily earmarked for success.

“When you assume you’ll succeed, you start spending money on documentation, support etc. and everyone’s scared to end it,” said Scott.
“With this, you know the terms and conditions and you have a back out route, you don’t lose anything just by trying.”

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