Even Big Blue is red hot on Web 2.0

Web 2.0 tools have been used by businesses in a communications and marketing context, but we’re now seeing them start to adopt a lot of these tools for internal and external communications, knowledge management and competitive intelligence.

IBM, for example, switched from conference calls to podcasting, so employees could listen to weekly meeting at their convenience. As a result IBM saved more than $200,000 a year in conference calls. But it also had another effect.

They used to open up conference calls for Q&A and they’d get next to nothing. Now they get comments.

“People can listen to it whenever they feel like it and then they come back to the blog and actually comment,” said Michael O’Conner Clarke, vice-president at Thornley Fallis Communications. “So they’re getting much more employee engagement, much more discussion, much more interactivity, and they saved a ton of money.”

Many of his clients are producing internal and external blogs.

“One of the single biggest things about Web 2.0 technologies is that they’re extremely easy to implement and very cost-effective,” he said.

Businesses have started to realize that this “geeky” stuff that has mainly been of interest to consumers has genuine enterprise opportunities.

Internet content, for example, can be recreated as wikis. “It’s dead simple Web 2.0 technology where immediately the barriers to who can be a contributor are torn down,” he said.

Campaign ideas and projects, for example, can be captured in wikis. It’s easy to access, easy to update and – for some reason – has been a lot more successful as a knowledge management tool than other previous attempts.

Web 2.0 tools are naturally engaging and collaborative, he said, and his company has seen a high payoff.

But many businesses are afraid of Web 2.0. That fear comes from the decentralization and loss of control, or at least the perception of loss of control.

“Some of that fear goes back further to the growth of the Internet and Web 1.0,” said O’Conner Clarke.

We’re seeing, however, a business population that is becoming – out of necessity – more Web-savvy.

“Stuff that used to be the province of IT professionals now literally anyone can do,” he said.

But legal departments are concerned that everyone in the organization will be out there talking about the business online, where it lives forever.

If they haven’t put policies in place around Web 2.0, then a lot of organizations take the ostrich approach and ban it.

The other fear is brand leakage.

“You need to media train everyone in your company, because everyone in your company has to know how to communicate,” he said. “If you try to stop them, it’s just going to backfire.”

Web 2.0 is an idea, a culture and an evolution. “It isn’t a thing per se,” said Chuck Hamilton, learning and new media leader with the IBM 3D Internet team.

Rather, Web 2.0 technologies or services can be implemented as strategic parts of the business.

Web 1.0 was all about democratization of access, but it was really a one-way transaction. “The Web at that time was a hyper-linked newspaper online,” he said. “You’re not really a participant in its production.”

Web 2.0 is the democratization of participation, where all of a sudden people are actively participating in not only the production of content, but the movement and sharing of information.

And they’re participating in communities across a wide spectrum. Hamilton’s 15-year-old nephew uses it for blogs and games, while his 74-year-old mother uses it to exchange butter tart recipes.

IBM started out with Blue Pages, or “MySpace on steroids,” which has been evolving over the past 10 years. Then it started using IM, e-meetings, wikis and blogs. Now, innovation jams allow employees to openly collaborate on ideas.

“We’re now seeing widespread use of virtual spaces continuing to evolve into a high-performing workforce using all of these tools,” he said.

From IBM’s perspective, Web 2.0 technologies have saved money and provided opportunities for collaboration.

“You have information tied up in your company that maybe isn’t extractable right now,” said Hamilton.

There are also productivity gains to be had, because rather than having to e-mail a whole bunch of people, an employee blogs once. “You’re not guided by bureaucracies or other things slowing you down,” he said.

But senior leaders in organizations don’t always understand the technology, so they’re not anxious to implement it.

There’s also a barrier from a security and “comfort-level” standpoint. “First we did it on our intranet behind the firewall,” said Hamilton, adding that people forget Web 2.0 can happen behind the firewall.

Adobe refers to the Web 2.0 era as rich Internet applications. During the client/server phase, organizations saw that they could create a much richer user interface.

Everyone jumped on the client/server bandwagon, but there were costs associated with that, said Stephane LeSieur, sales manager with Adobe Canada.

That’s changing, since Web 2.0 technologies are much more affordable, and we’re bridging the “engagement gap.” We also have tools that allow Web developers to create services and link to the backend, without having to change the backend.

Married with the concept of SOA, or service-oriented infrastructure, instead of creating one big monster application, organizations can start with bits and pieces, and then scale out.

“You can walk before you run,” said LeSieur.

Ultimately, users – whether internal or external – expect Google-like applications that provide an immersive experience.

“The rich application will allow you to, at the end of the day, reduce costs or increase revenues or improve service,” he said.

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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