IT identified as barrier to corporate Web 2.0 uptake

Early adopters say caution by IT departments is commonplace

Most speakers at the recent Office 2.0 conference in San Francisco agreed that Web 2.0 will make its way into the enterprise, propelled by user demand for tools that can make them more productive.

However, they also warned corporate Web 2.0 champions to steel themselves for resistance to the use of blogs, wikis, mashups, social networks and other tools. Surprisingly, IT departments were identified as one of the major resisters.

When Adam Carson, an associate at Morgan Stanley, first began pushing the use of Web 2.0 tools, he faced a major obstacle — the investment bank’s 10,000-member IT department. “Most of our IT department didn’t get it,” he said at the conference. “This was all new to them. They had just been stuck in the world of enterprise IT.”

However, he said he worked closely with IT team members to convince them of the merits of Web 2.0, which led them to implement Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) technologies, a key requirement for building and supporting Web 2.0 tools.

Carson noted that the company now has about 80 Web 2.0 projects under way, including an effort to create social networks for its clients.

During the education process, Carson said, he also had to find a manager who would require the use of a Web 2.0 tool for a specific project, so as to help spur employees to use the new tools. The effort also faced cultural resistance from some users who opted to cling to the use of email and other traditional tools rather than switch to new Web 2.0 collaboration tools, he said.

Miko Coffey, head of digital media at the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA) in London, noted that she first had to bypass IT to get Web 2.0 technologies to the group’s end users. Once she started the effort, she said, “IT started to realise it was happening without them anyway. They weren’t interested until they started to get multiple requests from around the business. Eventually, they came on board.”

Coffey said NESTA is using bookmarking site Del.icio.us to help gather all the links needed to put together an email newsletter, and tools like Central Desktop for project management and collaboration. She said it is often easier for a smaller organisation like NESTA, which has 90 employees, to adopt such new technologies because they often don’t need to be integrated into large, complex enterprise systems.

She also noted that NESTA uses many free tools, so it’s easy to prove their value to management. “The value is instantly visible, especially when you do an ROI and your investment is zero,” she said.

At Medtronic, the interest among employees for Web 2.0 tools has “exploded”, said Scott Mark, an enterprise application architect at the medical device manufacturer. However, he added, the company has to move slowly because it must comply with numerous regulations.

Because the company is moderated by the US Food and Drug Administration, all content on its website — even that contributed by end users — must meet FDA requirements.

“There is a real concern there that we have to moderate and be aware of those things and make sure it is a message we are allowed to have out there,” Mark said.

“A lot of times IT gets put in a big position of being the enforcers of these compliance issues. All this [Web 2.0] experimentation is going on. Some old-fashioned IT organisations are trying to shut that down. Smart ones are trying to classify them as experiments ... before they take things to an enterprise level.”

Lee White, social media champion at GlaxoSmithKline, has been given a year to explore the potential benefits of Web 2.0 tools at the pharmaceutical company.

She said one of the biggest challenges to corporate Web 2.0 use is that demand generally bubbles up from users.

“This whole Enterprise 2.0 thing is a lot more about a cultural shift than a technology shift,” White said. “Big organisations have been built on the concept of the hierarchy. Information primarily resided at the top, and they could control how it went down. Now, information has been disintermediated from the hierarchy. It is a different paradigm.”

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