IT systems have been storing essential corporate information in databases for years and making it easy to find and access by others via software applications. This sometimes makes the user generated content epiphany, as best exemplified by the likes of MySpace, YouTube, and Digg, and numerous others, seem rather retro to those that build and manage enterprise IT systems. After all, "haven't we been doing this for decades?", they ask.
While the IT world does seem to enjoy repeating history in this regard, it also appears that the same recurring events take place every generation or so. As each new technological generation builds up layers of hiearchy, bureacracy, and control to manage it, the need to work outside of these increasingly constraining layers creates an opportunity for a new generation of software and processes to emerge. In this way, Web 2.0 in the enterprise has the raw potential to be even more significant as the minicomputer and PC revolutions of decades past.
Yet, it also seems that something significant and new is upon us. For one, the rise of the network effect is a key difference. IT systems of old just didn't have access to the raw customer audiences, both within and outside the firewall, that are available today with over one billion Internet users online today. The upside possibilities of network effects are enabling the rise of Web 2.0 phenoms like MySpace, which has come out of nowhere almost overnight to become the most visited site on the Web.
What if these types of effects could be triggered in an organization's customer and employee audience, an increasing number of executives seem to be thinking.
Second, this revolution isn't as controllable like the hardware revolutions of times past. This time the Web is the fabric enabling it, and it's under little physical control by individuals or even very powerful corporations. Even entire nations are limited in their ability to fundamentally change the Web. In fact, Web 2.0 is much less about technology at all than it is about the people it connects together to learn directly from each other.
Third, the emergence and growing pervasiveness of the two-way Web is creating fundamentally new modes of collaboration. Lowering the barrier to collaboration is one of the key lessons of Web 2.0. Making sharing of information the default is a key lesson. So is enabling self-interested behavior, such as making sharing contributions have a high value to the contributor. Making user contributions of information uncoordinated and independent is another. And this is the key difference in the IT systems of yore, which identified the largely identity information that is to be stored and how it is structured.
Enormous untapped and unpredicted yet high value of information is left on the table every day because current IT systems are almost certainly too structured. It's not to say that there isn't an excellent place for these systems, which often run the business. The point is that these applicatins are absolutely necessary but almost certainly not sufficient in today's highly agile business world. Emergent and situational software and collaboration will be increasingly the name of the game as older IT systems struggle to even keep up with the pace of change.
Fortunately, companies like Visible Path, Lithium, and even Microsoft, with things like Sharepoint, are providing mechanisms that deliver on all three of these points right now. In other words, Enterprise Web 2.0 platforms are increasingly available today. The question really is, will your enterprise catch the wave in time? With the last round of Internet giants being disrupted (Google vs. MySpace as just one example) and traditional businesses, particularly traditional media, starting to feel the brunt of these changes, proactive enterprises will be braver than usual.
Is your organization tracking Web 2.0 in the CXOs offices? Or are the employees introducing the innovation to the organization?