Coaxing Web 2.0 Into the Enterprise

From Innovations, a website published by Ziff-Davis Enterprise from mid-2006 to mid-2009. Reprinted by permission.

McKinsey has a new report on enterprise adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, and the findings should give pause to IT organizations planning to roll these tools out to their internal customers.

Overall, these technologies — which include wikis, blogs and social networks — are making steady progress into the organizations represented by the nearly 2,000 respondents to the survey.  What’s striking is the disparity between those companies that have made a commitment and those that are still skeptical. The companies that have drunk the Web 2.0 Kool-Aid report that it’s changing the very nature of their businesses and that they plan to expand their commitment this year.

Among early adopters, tools are being used to develop new products collaboratively, reinvent internal communications and transform the process of communicating with customers.  Only 8% of the executives who describe themselves as satisfied Web 2.0 users say the tools haven’t changed their organizations, compared to 46% of the self-described dissatisfied users.

However, the survey has a disquieting finding for IT organizations. Those companies that showed the least satisfaction with Web 2.0 tended to be the ones in which IT drove the initiative.  Companies that report the overall highest satisfaction with the tools and technologies are those in which IT plays NO role in selection and deployment. Conversely, those with the highest dissatisfaction levels are also the most likely to let IT lead the charge (see chart).

Why does this sad state of affairs exist?  I suspect it has much to do with internal culture and the ways in which the technology’s value proposition is defined for the ultimate users.

Taken at face value, the data suggests that IT is best left out of the Web 2.0 equation, but in my experience, technology groups play a vital role. One of the beauties of these new technologies is that they’re so simple and adaptable. Social networks, for example, can be used for anything from technical support to corporate knowledge management while wikis can perform at the project level or across an entire company. I’ve worked with several companies to implement Web 2.0 technologies, and the successful ones always go about it the same way.  A small number of enthusiastic users are given tools and the means to use them and then their creativity is allowed to filter through the organization.  IT plants the seed and then gives its customers the means to make the garden grow.

This process is invariably supported by managers who trust their people to do the right thing and who support experimentation and risk.  Conversely, I’ve never seen Web 2.0 succeed in companies that mandated it from the top or pushed it through the IT group.  Web 2.0 technology only works when people want to use it. Technology that enhances collaboration must necessarily be driven from the bottom up.

I cringe when I hear questions like this: “We want to start a corporate blog. What should we do with it?” If the technology doesn’t match a perceived need, no one is going to use it.

The best way to manage Web 2.0 adoption is to find those business side sponsors who have the curiosity to experiment and give them the means for discovery. The McKinsey report demonstrates that they quickly figure out their own uses for the tools, and their enthusiasm becomes contagious. It’s fulfilling enough to plant the seed and nurture the flower as it takes root and grows.

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