There still seems to be a lot of debate about using Web 2.0 technology in the Enterprise as part of the whole "53,651 bubble" discussion about whether this technology is viable outside of early adopters. This is odd to me, because in my previous life as Director of IT for a customer service company I would have been a rabid supporter of these ideas. In fact, I would have been drilling these concepts into my development group's collective heads and making sure they knew how to use the technology.
Since I now build the software for the enterprise instead of use it (except for dogfooding, of course), I thought it might be interesting to put together a list of the reasons why I would have used it. The internal memo I would have sent, I suppose, on why it's a good idea for enterprises to start using these technologies sooner rather than later.
- Your users already know how to use it. People already use MySpace, Flickr, Yahoo, Google, etc, etc, etc. You're not trying to force them into a new way of thinking or using software. No matter how smart your engineers know they are, or how complex your application is, using an existing software paradigm is always going to be a huge pro when it comes time to roll out and train. If your users can say "OK, this works just like Flickr, I use it every day--I understand it" then you've already won a huge battle. Consumer-facing Web 2.0 companies spend massive amounts of resources making their technology easy to use, don't think your engineers can come up with something better.
- It will take the burden of information sharing off of IT. Ask yourself what generates 99% of the IT activity in a typical enterprise. In my experience, it is primarily born from information--more specifically, people having problems using it, sharing it, getting to it, or generating it. How many help desk requests are sent because people can't access a system, they need logins set up, exporting or importing isn't working correctly (or it's too complex for a secretary to figure out), an FTP site needs to be set up, a report isn't working, or somebody needs the DBA to find an order. Not that Web 2.0 technology will necessarily resolve all of these, but what it does do is provide a coherent, consistent way to find, consume, and share information. And once the technology is in place, it will rarely involve IT for anything. After all, Web 2.0 is all about the users.
- The players are actively trying to establish standards. Unless your company is really trying to innovate, and that's usually something reserved for software vendors, IT is a facilitator, and you do not want your people trying to come up with something new. It will, have no doubt, break. Often. Let the companies with resources dedicated to this type of thing do the legwork for you, and have your internal groups use what they produce.
- Plug and play collaboration. Standards like Microformats, RSS, and Live Clipboard (mRc, as Alex Barnett coined the term, and I dig it) develop and mature, your users will be able to decide when and where they need systems integration, and "Just Do It". THEMSELVES. I guarantee tears of joy are forthcoming when you see this actually work for the first time.
- It's an easy way to get out of the box integration between platforms. Say, your dev team knows .NET, your partner uses Java. Web 2.0 technology (SOA is part of this in my opinion) lets them work on different parts of the same problem and mesh their work together, something that was unheard of five years ago. Add mRc into the mix, and users can start doing the integration themselves.
- It forces adherence to standards. There isn't much that forces enterprise development groups to adhere to any kind of standard. I've seen internal development groups churn out so much crap that they fertilize the entire company. However, if you give them the end goal and let them work toward that, the result will be better every single time, guaranteed. The company that has usability standards is rare.
- A lot of the legwork is already done. As enterprise software vendors begin adopting these standards, integration between systems is going to become easier and easier. See a post I wrote last week about cutting out the middle ware. As this happens, the work required to integrate data points gets smaller and smaller, and this would have been absolutely earth-shattering to me. We used Salesforce, but prior to their API being released getting data in and out of it would have been an extreme challenge. Not to mention trying to interact with our internal ERP system. Good-bye ODBC, and good riddance.
- Instant content. If you're building an Intranet or related site, you instantly have all the content of the Internet at your disposal to work with.
- It's the closest thing we have to front end standards. Admit it--internal development efforts suck when it come to usability. It's a rare company that has the resources to dedicate a developer to making the user interface really hum. User interfaces for internal development projects are usually awkward at best, unusable at worst. The libraries that are emerging particularly from Yahoo are going a long way toward standardizing AJAX-style interfaces, and give developers plug and play functionality that they can insert into their applications without building it from scratch. Maybe I should call this one "your users will love you".
- It is FREE. As one who spent a lot of time explaining expenses and technology to people who didn't have the background to understand it, this is the biggest pro for me personally. It doesn't cost a dime to start using this technology, but yet you get all of these perks almost instantly. This is one of the few times where you get to have your cake, and eat it too. Put another way, Web 2.0 is open source development.
I'm truly excited about the possibilities in this area. I believe we're on the verge of a software revolution, and it's going to be interesting to see who the players are. The IT leadership of companies will have some interesting choices to make, and those choices will show who the leaders and followers are in this area. Not necessarily difficult choices, in my opinion, but it will definitely reveal who the leaders and followers are in the IT world.
Peter Rip has an interesting related post about what Enterprise 2.0 will actually look like. I think he's pretty well on target with his predictions, especially regarding the permeation of Web 2.0 ideas throughout all of the software a typical employee uses.
Web 2.0, AJAX, SaaS, SOA, Enterprise 2.0, RSS, ATOM, ERP, .NET, Social, Collaboration