If you answered "yes" or have tried any of the growing number of new social networks on the Web to overcome workplace collaboration challenges, you're not alone. In fact, researchers estimate that over half of U.S. employees abandon enterprise tools when they need to work with applications outside of their organization to complete a project or task.
But while Web sites such as Flickr, YouTube, Facebook and LinkedIn make it easy to collaborate and share files, the services pose a significant risk for companies. Vital information can slip away from organization control and reduce the institutional knowledge base and the potential for its reuse, and there are a growing number of examples where the use of social networks has exposed sensitive business information to unwanted exposure and risk.
CIOs freely admit they're in competition with consumer Web services when employees look for tools to address their needs. But should organizations ban the use of consumer Web 2.0 services, or is there a way these technologies can be safely leveraged in the workplace?
One CIO tasked his IT team with meeting Web 2.0 head-on by providing enterprise services that are just as compelling and easy to use as consumer services. As a result, his organization is already offering collaborative Web services to more than 25,000 users via an enterprise portal. Users have just one place to visit to access a vast array of resources as well as all the content they create and share with others. Best of all, IT knows what's going on with information both inside and outside of the organization because users have little need for alternative collaboration tools.
Obviously, embracing Web 2.0 technologies won't happen overnight for every organization. Security remains a constant concern. That's why some analysts recommend experimenting within individual departments or in specific projects to help minimize the consequences that go along with learning new techniques. These risks are relatively minimal compared with data loss and exposure that could result from ignoring enterprise Web services altogether.
One key success factor associated with introducing collaborative services in the enterprise is a well-understood usage policy. Employees and partners must know what behavior and content is accepted, what is not, and be aware of the potential consequences of noncompliance. As users become comfortable with new services they may even become the system's own watchdogs, eager to protect their new Web community, just as they might in the physical universe.
Security technology also plays a critical role in managing Web 2.0 services. Unlike consumer services, security must be managed by the employer, typically using a combination of common user authentication and content encryption methods. For many organizations this means investing greater resources in directory service management so Web services can be delivered to the right user at the right time, even when the user may have more than one role in the organization.
The benefits of introducing Web collaboration services in the enterprise extend well beyond employees sharing documents and files more easily. For example, a shift away from e-mail as the de facto file-sharing platform can dramatically reduce the burden on e-mail servers as well as eliminate network traffic resulting from duplicate file copy transfers. Capturing content at the onset of a collaborative process can also help organizations maintain more complete activity records. This can become a vital tool for meeting compliance and security requirements
Perhaps the most significant benefit that Web 2.0 services can offer is a better method to externalize themselves. Web 2.0 services create secure communication channels between businesses and other organizations, permitting enhanced collaboration and accelerating business processes.
Document distribution and revisions can occur in real time across the globe, often eliminating the need for overnight delivery services. Businesses can more easily establish common best practices and leverage subject-matter experts beyond the enterprise when they're needed. As Web 2.0 services help break down the barriers between organizations, they begin to transform them into real-time responders to business opportunities and threats, helping keep early adopters ahead of their competition.
Organizations already trying to address use of consumer Web services in the workplace are the first ones that should be experimenting with enterprise-class solutions. However, it's probably safe to say that every day employees are learning more about Web 2.0 both on and off the job. So what constitutes technology leadership today could become standard operating procedure tomorrow.
Why not let employees lead the way with Web 2.0 in the enterprise? After all, IT departments couldn't stop cell phones or PDAs. It may be time to join the revolution instead fighting against this change. After all, these technologies fulfill collaborative needs that are as common in our individual consumer lives as they are in our workplace ones.
Till is chief marketing officer at Xythos Software.
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