Web 2.0 could lead to ‘openness’ in the workplace

9 Nov 2007

Web 2.0 technologies and the popularity of social networking clients like Facebook among employees could herald a new era of innovation and collaboration that extends from the business to include suppliers and partners, Gartner claimed this week.

Gartner said this week that shrinking returns from business automation and the impact of Web 2.0 are conspiring to revolutionise the workplace and change the way we do business forever.

Organisations will need to respond to these changes and open up their organisations to a wider collection of business and social networks, to allow a more collaborative and innovative workplace.

“Businesses have long understood the value of growing and supporting the business environment in which they operate,” said Nikos Drakos, research director at Gartner. “Collaboration can be supported in new ways, among customers, partners and teams and IT has a fundamental role in embedding these practices in the business.”

Gartner predicts that by 2009, six out of 10 new collaboration-related IT projects will seamlessly incorporate supplier, partner and customer personnel, heralding a move away from the traditional, closed, inward-looking organisation to a more open, collaborative and innovative environment.

For example, even the once-conservative pharmaceutical industry is already embracing this new openness. It is taking a lead in decentralising decision-making, collaborating across the ecosystem and making proprietary information publicly available.

The pharmaceutical giant Pfizer recently announced a collaboration project with Sermo, the fast-growing US social networking site for doctors. Sermo and Pfizer will work together to establish how drug companies can best communicate with physicians online, and provide drug and disease information to them on-demand.

In those situations, communities are driving business as “we” become smarter than “me”, speeding discovery and transformation. Although IT was not driving this organisation-without-walls collaborative innovation approach, it was a critical enabler.

Drakos added: “Innovation in the future will depend increasingly on extending your business to include a wider community and this will not be without risks. An active, managed approach to open innovation will enable organisations to take collaboration to the next level and compete fully on a global level.”

For those industries and organisations still contemplating being more open, the biggest issue is likely to be changing the culture inside the organisation to look favourably on collaboration and supporting social interaction.

“Companies need to assess the social culture and processes in the workplace and use social software, exploiting IT to prioritise openness, usability, people-centricity and flexibility as well as encouraging staff to help others,” Drakos advised.

Gartner estimates that the enterprise social software revenue market will reach US$226.9m in 2007 and will increase to more than US$707.7m by 2011, reaching a 41.1pc compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2006 to 2011.

At present, email is the most widely used tool for collaboration but its use is so prolific that, at times, it has the opposite effect as users can not recognise important messages from “noise”.

Other social software applications, such as wikis, discussion forums and blogs have the advantage of providing user-friendly and flexible ways to aggregate, organise, share and amplify the value of personal knowledge and experiences.

“Improving intra-organisational and inter-organisational communications with people and groups that may not be able to physically interact is the ultimate goal and organisations need to look at new and innovative ways of making this happen,” said Drakos.

Ford Motor Company recently launched the ‘Go!’ Global Marketing Network to bring together disparate employees in multiple locations and foster collaboration and shared working practices. The initiative has been so successful that other groups inside Ford are keen to develop their own networks.

“Many IT leaders fear the consequences of opening up their organisations and the use of social networking as a business practice,” said Jeff Mann, research vice-president at Gartner. “One of the advantages of social software is balancing the need for control with the need for flexibility with its inherent potential for chaos.

“We believe that between traditional, rigid closed ways of interacting and direct peer-to-peer interactions, there is a role for an open and adaptive structure. In order to innovate, businesses cannot concentrate solely on controlling what the users do and remain a ‘closed shop’. IT needs to loosen control without losing control, to allow good things to happen.

“IT must accommodate users’ need for flexibility and openness while protecting the organisation from excessive risks. Businesses must accept that they will experience some inevitable failures to enable innovative projects to flourish,” Mann added.

Organisations that fail to embrace social software in their business may well find themselves faced with staff discontent and impassiveness and expensive security and compliance problems.

Gartner predicts that by 2009, at least 70pc of organisations without an IT-supported deployment of blogs and wikis will have multiple unofficial deployments among their users.

“Ultimately, the success of social software within your business will be limited not by the opportunity, but your willingness to accept change,” Mann concluded.

By John Kennedy