CIOs vexed by Web 2.0 issues

Web 2.0 and emerging mobile technologies have some CIOs taking stock of how to keep control and still give their users new freedoms.

In the midst of confronting emerging technologies, there can be feelings of loss of control, three CIOs at a panel at the Cisco Systems Inc. C-Scape conference in San Jose, California, admitted Monday.

With Web 2.0, including social networking trends, trying to maintain control over technology in a large corporation can feel like piloting a sailing ship, said Randy Spratt, CIO at McKesson Corp., a medical services company.

“You never really know where the wind’s coming from and how hard, but you have to ride with it and keep sailing,” Spratt said.

Spratt said his biggest concerns with users who want to try new technologies is potential legal exposure for his company. “There could be loss of intellectual property, and inappropriate comments that could be discovered later,” he said. “Whether it’s a fax or a blog or an IM, [it] all relies on good-intentioned behaviors by employees.”

Ultimately, relying on employees to behave responsibly is what matters most, he added. “They grow up with new technologies, many from outside work,” he said. “The real question is how to turn [new technology] to your advantage. When is it appropriate to put a wiki up? When is it appropriate to let SharePoint grow virally?”

Rebecca Jacoby, CIO at Cisco, acknowledged that she has “abandoned any idea that you could possibly control” the emerging trends, so she instead seeks to communicate with employees about appropriate use.

Cisco has 50,000 users of wikis, which pose challenges related to proper infrastructure support and to how the wikis correspond to Cisco’s business processes, Jacoby added.

Integrating SharePoint at Chevron Oil is being done with care, said Louie Ehrlich, CIO for Chevron’s global downstream operations, which primarily involve refinery functions. “We’re playing with things and being cautious,” he said. “We don’t have a clear strategy.” Ehrlich said the challenge becomes finding ways to integrate such new technologies into Chevron’s overall budget imperatives.

McKesson has many new technologies at the corporate level, including four of Cisco’s TelePresence systems for videoconferencing, which have been “phenomenally successful” in reducing travel costs and are “undeniably equivalent to face-to-face meetings,” Spratt said.

However, he said, there are many small vendors that he called “annoying ankle biters” who approach workgroups throughout the organization to sell a few licenses for products in new technologies. “They create a lot of headaches for me [but] are often at the cutting edge of new technologies,” Spratt said.

Regarding new mobile devices, Jacoby said she realizes that workers “like to make a personal choice about technologies closest to them, but the flip side is the [organization’s] need to manage away from the device … to manage that stuff in the network and then to have technologies to enable them.”

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