Social networking, along with new buzz words such as SLATES and AJAX, are now drawing the attention of general managers because their rank and file are bringing these new ways of collaborating into the enterprise.
There is a new wave of communication tools, including blogs, wikis, and group messaging software (which, collectively, are called "Enterprise 2.0" within the enterprise and "Web 2.0" elsewhere) that allow for more spontaneous, knowledge-based collaboration. These new tools may well supplant other communication and knowledge management systems with their superior ability to capture tacit knowledge, best practices, and relevant experiences from throughout a company and make them readily available to more users. Only time will tell. (See References 1-5.)
In many ways, Enterprise 2.0 software is following the path already blazed by personal computing hardware. Personal computers diffused through the market back in the seventies and eighties, replacing legions of mainframes and mini-computers. This change empowered users and small company departments to purchase their own cheap machines, without the knowledge or approval of the IT "priesthood." Although painful for IT at the time, this diffusion of technology wrought the personal computer revolution.
Enterprise 2.0 software places tremendous software and communications power into the hands of distributed users, who cannot easily be controlled by centralized IT policies. As Enterprise 2.0 tools evolve, IT governance and your notions of project failure must evolve as well.
The resulting organizational communication patterns can lead to highly productive and highly collaborative environments by making both the practices of knowledge work and its outputs more visible.
To implement these new technologies, organizations must do the following:
- Create a receptive culture to prepare the way for new practices.
- Create a common platform to allow for a collaboration infrastructure.
- Plan an informal rollout of the technologies rather than a more formal procedural change.
- Secure managerial support and leadership.
Even when implanted and implemented well, these new technologies will certainly bring with them new challenges. These tools may well reduce management's ability to exert unilateral control and to express some level of negativity. Whether a company's leaders really want this to happen and will be able to resist the temptation to silence dissent is an open question. Leaders will have to play a delicate role if they want Enterprise 2.0 technologies to succeed.
Although Web 2.0 services have succeeded in luring millions of consumers, they haven't had much to offer the vast world of business. Until now. Slowly but surely they're scaling corporate walls.
For all its appeal to the young and the wired, Web 2.0 may end up making its greatest impact in business. And, that could usher in more changes in corporations, already in the throes of such tech-driven transformations as globalization and outsourcing. Indeed, what some are calling Enterprise 2.0 could flatten a raft of organizational boundaries—between managers and employees and between the company and its partners and customers.
Early signs of the shift abound. Walt Disney, investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, and scores of other companies use wikis, or group-editable web pages, to turbo-charge collaboration. Other firms are using social-networking services such as LinkedIn and Visible Path to dig up sales leads and hiring prospects from the collective contacts of colleagues. Corporate blogging is becoming nearly a cliché, as executives from Sun Microsystems chief executive Jonathan Schwartz to General Motors Vice-Chairman Bob Lutz post on their own blogs to communicate directly with customers.
On the other hand, in a Nov. 2 update to its corporate Code of Business Conduct, Whole Foods banned executives from participating in non-company blogs and chat rooms, except in connection with absolutely personal topics. Clearly, this was an extreme response to CEO John McKay's anonymous, negative chat room postings about competitor Wild Oats Markets, which led to an SEC investigation.
Click here for a larger image.
Figure 1: Enterprise 2.0, transforming how we share information and work together
There's a big cultural difference between the Web 2.0 people and the IT department.
More than that, information technology managers naturally don't want people using these services willy-nilly, because they're often not secure from hackers or rivals. See References 17 and 18 and Appendix C.
For one thing, companies are struggling to overcome problems with current online communications, whether it's email spam or the costs of maintaining company intranets that few employees use. So, they're now starting to experiment with a growing array of collaborative services, such as wikis. It doesn't hurt that many of these services are free.
Corporations also are balking at installing big, multimillion dollar software programs that can take years to roll out—and then aren't flexible enough to adapt to new business needs. They're clunky and awkward and don't encourage participation.
That's why companies are warming to the idea of opening their information-technology systems to do-it-yourselfers. This includes ways to do that with what are known as mash-ups, or combinations of simple Web 2.0 services with each other into a new service. The big advantage: They can be done very quickly with existing Web services.
Many (most?) of today's general managers believe that IT is some combination of the following:
- Low-level: IT decisions can and should be made at relatively low levels in the organization. After all, what do senior executives know about the best router, or the most appropriate computer-aided design software?
- Able to be delegated: Top managers are busy people, and would love to have one less thing to do. If there's no real downside to outsourcing IT decisions, why not do so?
- Impenetrable: Many managers feel like they can't get past the jargon, and can't learn to 'speak IT.'
- Overhyped: IT proponents have an enduring tendency to overpromise and underdeliver. After managers feel like they've been sold a technology bill of goods a few times, they stop listening to the sales pitch.
Until fairly recently, the profession of general management was actually not one of the ones deeply affected by technology. Prior to the mid 1990s, the footprint of most corporate IT—the sphere of direct influence for a piece of technology—was the single function or task. This made for a happy marriage between technology and knowledge workers such as engineers, scientists, and analysts because these workers stayed within a single function. But general managers, by definition, do not. They're responsible for orchestrating the work of multiple groups. So from their perspective, IT was actually delegable and low level.
By the middle of the 1990s, technologies appeared that could support at least some of these claims. The Internet and commercial enterprise systems such as ERP made the dream of cross-functional applications based around business processes a reality for many companies. These applications let general managers deploy redesigned workflows, specify interdependencies, and allocate decision rights across their organizations. They let managers, in other words, impose IT's complements across arbitrarily large footprints.
More recently, Enterprise 2.0 technologies have come on line to offer almost precisely the opposite capability. These tools let the same complements emerge over time, instead of imposing them up front. Many questions remain about both classes of technology, but one thing is clear: Both of them operate primarily at the level of the organization, not the level of the single task or process. Because of this, general managers are their most natural constituency—the group of knowledge workers who will be most influential, and most influenced.
So, as a result of some relatively recent additions to the toolkit of corporate IT, general managers can be added to the list of knowledge workers who have very powerful digital tools at their disposal, and who need to learn how to use them well.
Figure 2: Teamwork, Project Management 2.0 style
VoIP for SOA: Giving Voice to Enterprise 2.0 Web Services via AJAX
SOA and Enterprise 2.0 have a very common goal, in that the purpose of both is to detach applications from underlying technology, whether it's on the back-end system or the front-end interface. In this instance, desktops are an enterprise's biggest expense and biggest management headache. By moving services out to the cloud, Enterprise 2.0 promises to liberate companies and end-users from the constant and expensive upgrade cycle for both hardware and software.
Competitive advantage can come, in some environments, from harnessing the power of VoIP and SOA to evolve existing applications into rich Enterprise 2.0 Web services that enhance collaboration, employee productivity and the customer experience.
For example, AJAX developers can use WSDLs to embed granular telephony functionality into their business applications, processes, web services, and wikis—independent of the existing telephony infrastructure and without computer telephony integration (CTI) expertise.
In my view, the barriers to the adoption of Enterprise 2.0 are as much behavioral as much as they are technological.
Executives, long used to ruling from the top of the corporate hierarchy, will have to learn a new skill: humility. "Companies that are extremely hierarchical have trouble adapting," Tim O'Reilly, CEO of tech book publisher O'Reilly Media, which runs the annual Web 2.0 Conference, has said. "They'll be outperformed by companies that don't work that way. Ultimately, taking full advantage of Web 2.0 may require—get ready—Management 2.0."
Corporate America won't be transformed by Enterprise 2.0 over the next five years, but there will be some companies that will use it successfully and profit from its use.
A final word from Professor Andrew P. McAfee of Harvard Business School, a leading proponent of Enterprise 2.0: "I think it has the potential to be a game changer. Being honest, we have to admit that it's still early in this trend. We don't know how easy it's going to be to deploy these technologies. We don't know how deeply they are going to penetrate organizations. We're not exactly clear on the magnitude of the benefit."
Appendix A: Web Evolution
Web 1.0: Connected Information
- Information delivered as linked Web Pages
- Enabled by HTTP, HTML, Browsers
- Transformed how we accessed information
Web 1.5: Connected Applications
- Service Oriented Architecture
- Enabled by XML, SOAP, WSDL, Web services
- Transforming how we design & use applications
Web 2.0: Connected Users
- Users share information with easy to use web-based social software on the Internet
- Enabled by AJAX + SLATES
- Transforming how we share information & work together
Figure 3: SLATES, Andrew P. McAfee's new Enterprise 2.0 acronym
Appendix B: ASP.NET AJAX
Exposing Web Services to Client Script in ASP.NET AJAX
Microsoft ASP.NET AJAX enables you to call ASP.NET Web services (.asmx files) from the browser by using a client script. This enhances the user experience for the web application. The page can call server-based methods without a postback and without refreshing the whole page because only data is transferred between the browser and the web server.
Calling Web Services from Client Script in ASP.NET AJAX
Appendix C: AJAX—A Hacker's Dream?
The warning flags are going up about the increasing use of AJAX in web applications. It seems as though we're increasing the usability of your apps while dropping your guard on security issues.
AJAX allows for a more dynamic, interactive browsing experience. This, however, increases the surface area for common types of attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and cross-site request forgery (CSRF). These types of attacks are caused by an attacker injecting script code into a web page, generally via a URL, thereby allowing the attacker to control the Web browser—performing actions such as stealing user names and passwords or executing HTTP requests without the user's knowledge.
An attacker could, for instance, inject malicious script into the client by using a dynamically created <script> tag, allowing data to then be imported into the attacker's web site. In the case of a CSRF attack, the attacker could inject a script into the client, allowing the attacker to execute unauthorized service methods on another web site by using saved authentication information (such as cookies) on the client.
AJAX controls should carry warning stickers about new client-side security issues.
Appendix D: Telephone Mashups Meet Web 2.0
Voice can add a new rich dimension to your Web applications, especially those centered on XML. With Web 2.0 and mashups on the rise, adding Voice XML to the mix lets you pull and push web-based information to your users wherever they may roam (as long as they take their cell phones).
A telephone mashup is a voice, web, or mobile application (VoiceXML, PBX, IVR, VOIP, SMS, Text Messaging, and so forth) that combines content from more than one source to create a new user experience.
Think of your phone as a web browser, and the audio you hear as the content in your web browser. The audio comes from a communication server, which is similar to a web server. The communication server (IP PBX, IVR, VoiceXML, and so on) is where the mashup occurs.
A simple example of a mashup might be alerts from an Internet-based voicemail server that uses SMS to send notifications to the voicemail owner. The SMS message can include Caller ID info collected from a Reverse Phone Number Lookup API using the originating caller's phone number. Another example might be a Store Locator Mashup where a customer calls a company general number, provides a cross street, and is provided line-by line-driving directions to the closest store location via SMS.
Finally, a significant example of the widespread use of Voice XML is the release of voice portal modules for CRMs from Oracle and SAP. Both are written to the VXML 2.0 spec; this allows users to choose any standards-compliant VoiceXML gateway to access the applications. (See Reference 16.)
- Wikis in Plain English: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-dnL00TdmLY&feature=related
- Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration, Andrew P. McAfee: http://adamkcarson.files.wordpress.com/2006/12/enterprise_20_- _the_dawn_of_emergent_collaboration_by_andrew_mcafee.pdf
- Enterprise 2.0 case studies: http://www.socialtext.net/cases2/index.cgi
- Enterprise 2.0 Technology Conference, 2007, Boston, MA: http://enterprise2conf.vportal.net/
- Web 2.0 for the Enterprise Strategy Briefing: http://www.oracle.com/pls/ebn/live_viewer.main?p_direct=yes& p_shows_id=5828710
- AJAX Overview: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb398874(VS.90).aspx
- AJAX Application Architecture, Part 1: http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/issues/07/09/CuttingEdge/
- AJAX application architecture, Part 2: http://msdn.microsoft.com/msdnmag/issues/07/10/CuttingEdge/default.aspx
- Exposing Web Services to Client Script in ASP.NET AJAX: http://www.asp.net/ajax/documentation/live/tutorials/ ExposingWebServicesToAJAXTutorial.aspx
- Calling Web Services from Client Script in ASP.NET AJAX: http://www.asp.net/ajax/documentation/live/tutorials/ConsumingWebServices WithAJAXTutorial.aspx
- Professional Web 2.0 Programming, Eric van der Vlist et al, Wrox (2006)
- Yahoo! Maps Mashups, Charles Freedman, Wrox (2007)
- Professional Ajax, 2nd Edition: Nicholas C. Zakas et al, Wrox (2007)
- Pro JSF and Ajax: Building Rich Internet Components: Jonas Jacobi, John Fallows
- New Language of Business, The: SOA & Web 2.0, Sandy Carter, IBM Press (2007)
- Pro Microsoft Speech Server 2007, Michael Dunn, Apress (2007)
- Hacking Exposed Web 2.0, Rich Cannings, Himanshu Dwivedi, McGraw hill (2008)
- Securing Ajax Applications, Christopher Wells, O'Reilly (2007)
About the Author
Marcia Gulesian is an IT strategist, hands-on practitioner, and advocate for business-driven architectures. She has served as software developer, project manager, CTO, and CIO. Marcia is author of well more than 100 feature articles on IT, its economics, and its management.