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Enterprise 2.0 101: An Executive Guide to Enterprise 2.0

Enterprise 2.0 101: An Executive Guide to Enterprise 2.0

Enterprise 2.0 has the potential to provide knowledge and content management in a surprisingly cheap and easy fashion using Web-based tools. Learn what it's about, what distinguishes it from consumer Web 2.0 technologies and why you should pay attention.

What are the benefits?

Enterprise 2.0 removes the size and complexity of earlier systems. You don't need experts such as systems analysts and consultants to make these systems work and to maintain them. Unlike most corporate initiatives, Enterprise 2.0 tools, at least in their current incarnation, are not expensive to implement.

By their nature, these tools don't involve complex deployment and maintenance. You may be able to install pieces incrementally, starting small with an internal program before opening it up to outside participation. The tools are generally easy enough to use that they require little or no training. Unlike desktop deployments, using the Web to deploy enterprise tools means employees can access their critical data-whether that's documents, RSS feeds, bookmarks or whatever-wherever they are, so long as they have Internet access.

Enterprise 2.0 also provides new avenues to open up a conversation with partners, suppliers or customers. Communication flows both ways, enabling you to share information and ideas. With these technologies, you could ask customers for pictures or videos using your products in interesting ways (and thus build brand equity with your customer base). Or you could share information with partners who are working on a project with your company. You can easily start a blog or wiki for a specific product category, enabling a small niche of your market to communicate, a process that would have been much more difficult and expensive using earlier Web tools.

What are the risks?

There is risk associated with adopting any new technology, and Enterprise 2.0 is no different. Consider the following:

The industry's still shaking out: To start, it's a bit like 1999 right now. A gaggle of companies are vying for your attention, and the market still has a ways to go before it shakes out. Companies didn't even start using the term Enterprise 2.0 until last year. That means it's difficult for IT pros to evaluate technology and vendors.

There are security questions: This is probably the biggest outstanding issue with Enterprise 2.0 technology. How do you open up your enterprise to share information without exposing your infrastructure to rogues, misfits and malcontents? If you allow people to upload files to your system, how will you prevent malicious files from entering your network? While sharing content is a laudable idea, you still have to protect your company in the process; an open system such as this makes it a challenge to maintain security.

Vendors are beginning to develop enterprise-level delivery platforms, and security issues should abate. This happened with instant messaging when it moved from individuals (often teenagers) to the enterprise. (Just recently, for instance, Google acquired Postini, an enterprise-class e-mail security firm that could help provide enterprise security for Gmail and other Google Web applications.)

Not everyone is an expert: Some argue that expertise matters, and that not all content or opinions are created equal. While there are benefits related to opening up the conversation, not everyone actually knows what he is talking about, even if he pretends he does. Community policing does not always provide the necessary checks and balances to eliminate noise.

Losing control of content: One might argue that sharing content is, by definition, giving control of it to others. But lots of companies spend good money trying to create a message and to build a brand. Every word on the company Web site and in collateral publications is vetted and edited to maintain a consistent message. When you open up the conversation, for better or worse you lose control of that message, at least in ways you have previously defined it.

Losing IT control: Much of this technology happens outside the enterprise. It may be difficult for IT pros to give up control over the IT systems they depend on. Enterprise 2.0 is decentralised and ad hoc; it puts more control in the hands of the user and less in the IT department. It could be difficult for many to accept this cultural shift without some assurance that critical business systems will keep operating.

Some vendors are addressing control concerns by providing a dashboard that gives you control over which employees can access and use which tools, and this could help allay IT fears.

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