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Top 5 reasons firms need Web 2.0

Asian companies must first understand their "social character", then decide if they should adopt tools such as Facebook, says analyst.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

Web 2.0 tools may be making their way into the corporate world, but businesses need to ask themselves to what extent do they need these technologies, an analyst cautions.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Steve Hodgkinson, IT research director at Ovum Australia/New Zealand, said the primary objective of Web 2.0 tools that are deployed for business purposes--sometimes dubbed "Enterprise 2.0" platforms--is to "lubricate" the social networking effect of collaboration and stimulate innovation and knowledge sharing.

"New software tools, social behaviors, approaches to content creation and business models are changing the way we think about information, collaboration and intellectual property," Hodgkinson said.

However, he noted, Web 2.0 platforms also present new security risks such as network penetration, lack of authentication of the identity of content contributors, accidental disclosure of sensitive corporate data, increased risk of identity theft, problems with information archiving, and reduced productivity of employees engaging in non-work related discussions.

He added that businesses in Asia are primarily concerned about security and "time-wasting" issues, with regard to the adoption of Web 2.0 tools such as wikiks and blogs, according to Hodgkinson.

CIOs and IT heads responsible for the security of their organization's information and IT infrastructure are anxious about letting in new threats, such as malware, identity theft, accidental disclosure of sensitive data, he said.

"These security risks are created by the Web platforms, and the fact that these platforms encourage staff to share more information across and beyond their organization," he explained. "Others are concerned about time-wasting effect of employee spending their time [at work] interacting in social networking dialogs, perhaps, not for a clearly defined business purpose."

"Not all organizations are the same in terms of their exposure to either the opportunities or dangers of Enterprise 2.0," he said. Such tools may be a good fit for some companies in helping to boost collaboration and innovation, but they may also present unjustified risks for others.

Before jumping into the Web 2.0 realm, Hodgkinson advised organizations to first assess their "social character" by evaluating the company's:

  • pressure to develop new products and services;
  • degree of intimacy with customers and stakeholders;
  • degree of relationships with other business partners;
  • reliance on creative processes to solve problems;
  • staff culture;
  • level of flexibility in terms of brand and reputation;
  • approach to intellectual property openness; and
  • acceptance to data anonymity.

These factors, the Ovum analyst said, will enable businesses to understand the "open" or "closed" nature of their social character.

Companies that are "highly social" and have an "open" social character are natural candidates to take advantage of Web 2.0 tools. They adopt a culture of open dialog and information-sharing, Hodgkinson noted. These companies are also receptive to the new skills and behaviors required to support a Web 2.0 environment, and are more resilient to new security risks.

He outlined five top reasons why such businesses in Asia should deploy Web 2.0 tools:

    1. To encourage a culture of information-sharing and collaboration between staff.
    2. To appeal to the creative energy of social networking behavior in the Net generation, or young tech-savvy "Generation X and Y" employees.
    3. To provide a forum that spotlights workers who contribute to cross-organization discussions.
    4. To stimulate innovation and leverage knowledge across the organization.
    5. To create transparent "corporate memory", or establish dialog of rationale behind important policy and strategy decisions.

Companies that are more closed, or "anti-social" in nature, have legitimate needs to manage their operational risks, and restrict information flows to protect sensitive data, business processes and intellectual property, he noted.

These organizations typically need a higher degree of efficiency and predictability in their business, rather than have tools that enable innovation.

Hodgkinson highlighted five key reasons why some companies should not be early adopters of Enterprise 2.0 platforms:

    1. To mitigate risk of network penetration via Web services, and minimize introduction of malware such as viruses and spyware.
    2. To minimize risk of data leakage, specifically sensitive corporate information, across or out of the organization via social networking conversations.
    3. To avoid exposure to unknown risks from unproven technologies.
    4. To restrict proliferation of new technology platforms, and reduce the resulting hassle of dealing with integration and management issues.
    5. To avoid problem of staff goofing off watching YouTube videos, or engaging in non-work related social networking discussions.

Organizations that choose not to deploy Web 2.0 platforms need to keep a close eye on their workplace because they will likely find staff who are using these tools, the analyst said.

Businesses that decide to take the plunge should do so with an experimental and emergent approach, Hodskinson said. These companies will also need to understand the dynamics of social interaction and identify ways to keep their staff motivated to participate and contribute.

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