The term Web 2.0 has been bandied about a lot lately, but it remains to be seen whether it has real business benefits. The focus is on participation and collaboration, though it’s more like standing around a water cooler than taking part in a business meeting. But some see a lot of value in this water cooler.Our information requirements have become far more nuanced and Google just doesn’t cut it anymore, said George Goodall, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research.

As a result, people have started looking for new ways of communicating. “Unlike other classification systems,” he said, “we increasingly depend on these much more organic processes of wikis and blogs.”

Unstructured content in enterprises is growing at 40 per cent per year, which can result in a few problems, one being the cost of storage. Employees are also increasingly concerned about finding the information they require. “So as a result, some of the Web 2.0 types of approaches are quite popular,” he said. “Things like blogs, for example, have a way of making sense of what’s going on.”

For the most part, Web 2.0 is about content creation and commentary. But when we apply that within the enterprise, there are a number of other concerns that may limit its widespread adoption, said Goodall. Along with this information overload is new legislation to control that

information, such as privacy or compliance regulations.

Where we tend to see a pure Web 2.0 technology like a blog or wiki is within individual business units as opposed to entire corporations. “I wonder as well how much is a marketing effort to distance ourselves from those pre-bust days,” said Goodall. While in the business world people are interested in Web 2.0, there’s still a lot of fear, particularly around compliance issues – and some Web 2.0 technologies may simply be too unfettered.

What might help drive its adoption, however, are “mashup” tools. Workers are constantly expected to become more productive, but how do they keep doing that? One way is to reduce the complexity of the IT infrastructure, said Mark Levitt, program vice-president for collaborative computing and the enterprise workplace with IDC.

We have instant messaging on top of e-mail, he said, but all that does is give you two different applications. So the idea is to take what’s out there and put an intelligent interactive user interface on it that makes it

easier to find information across multiple sources.

Workers will start demanding mashup tools that will bring together information from two or more applications. And this is how business computing could change as a result of Web 2.0, said Levitt. In some cases, it could result in an entirely new interface from a vendor they’ve never heard of before.

“What we’re talking about here in the bigger picture is a way of providing users with interfaces that essentially can support any back-end system, any information repository,” he said. “We’re not talking about consumer-ish information but information that a stockbroker might care about.”

Taking MySpace and bringing it into the enterprise doesn’t make sense as is, but if there was a business equivalent, employees could create Web sites to share business information. “That’s a way of taking the paradigm or concept of a MySpace or social networking and bringing it to work,” said Levitt.

The idea of an employee home page on the Internet sounds weird and alien, but it’s just like having a company BBQ or baseball game, said Tom Austin, group vice-president and research fellow with Gartner. If you apply search technology to a corporate version of MySpace, for example, you could search for information on who in the company has worked on a similar project. “They’d never be visible through the standard org structure,” he said.

These technologies are becoming so pervasive that we use them just as comfortably as we use a telephone. “So that’s a real challenge to the traditional IT person who thinks about central administration, organization, regimentation, control,” he said.

Some of Gartner’s clients, for example, say that college grads they offered jobs to this year turned them down because they did not support employee use of instant messaging, especially with outsiders. The traditional CFO would be justified in saying that doesn’t contribute to the overall productivity of the organization, said Austin. But employees leave. “If people don’t recognize the trend, after a while you’re going to wind up with some organizations populated by people who aren’t in touch,” he said.

Most companies still don’t permit blogs or wikis. But some individuals want to bring the best of the Web into the workplace, with the support and approval of IT and management, said Levitt. “There needs to be some reshaping and adjusting of those technology tools to make sure they really do fit into business.”

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