Disrupt your business the smart way

Waiting for the established tech vendors to build Web 2.0 applications could prove a costly distraction from the opportunities presented by current online collaboration

When it comes to technology adoption, the IT manager's conundrum has always been whether to accept the risks, and hopefully rewards, of moving first; or take a more cautious approach and learn from others' sometimes costly mistakes. Despite the disruptive effect technology can have on the wider business, IT departments are often much more conservative than the "cult of the new" reputation that surrounds them would suggest. Things that go wrong are noticed by everyone; things that go right are frequently ignored. To make it even more interesting, innovation has to have a strategic component. It's not good enough to make something work well and at the right time; it has to be consistent with a plan for the future.

Web 2.0 is a perfect illustration of such concerns at work in the enterprise. Individuals have no problem investing time in creating a blog or posting personal information on social-networking sites. Businesses can also see the benefits, but have to operate within the confines of TCO and ROI — and the worries of security, reliability and support. According to a research report from analysts Forrester released last week, most tech departments would be much more comfortable with the allegedly disruptive effects of blogging, wikis and social networking if the applications were packaged neatly together by established vendors. You can keep your Socialtext, NewsGator and MindTouch — we want Microsoft, IBM and Oracle, is the message.

If only the big names had a better track record to deserve the keys to the kingdom. Remember the hype behind knowledge management, and the disappointment of application service providers (ASPs) — the first wave of hosted apps in the late 1990s. It's doubly ironic to look to them for guidance, as Web 2.0 subverts the idea of centrally mandated applications handed down from on high and lets employees choose from a host of online tools for organisation, collaboration and creativity.

And it's that subversion that a responsible IT planner should keep in mind. By all means, see what the big suppliers have to offer — responsibility for continuity, reliability and security doesn't go away just because an idea sounds nice. Web 2.0 means freedom to change, not freedom to accept a different kind of lock-in; although the big suppliers will be doing their best to hide that beneath a comfort blanket of safety. To make the most of the future and to fulfil the potential of the best new idea in decades, insist on open standards, open interfaces and an open way forward. That's asking a lot — but they owe us. Web 2.0 is people power, and it's time to show we mean business.