Australian businesses struggle to get social

Training ICT staff to cope with Web 2.0 is a whole new ball game

Often touted as the inevitable next generation of the Internet, Web 2.0 technologies are fast gaining pervasion beyond the stereotypical MySpace teen. The question now is not if, but when, new social computing trends become an absolute realisation in the workplace, and the worry for businesses is: can we keep up?

With applications in marketing, customer support and problem solving, opportunities for Web 2.0 technologies are abundant in the business world, according to Sheryle Moon, Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA).

"There's no doubt that everyone is very engaged with the sites that allow interaction with people," she said. "If you put a business spin on that, then there's an opportunity to develop communities that support business. I think there's a huge opportunity for organizations to develop communities of practice that can work on some of the bigger issues."

But a lack of training, as well as recruitment issues in attracting young, fresh blood into the industry, may currently be keeping social computing at bay, Moon said, explaining that the adoption of new technologies often requires a change in mindset as well as new technical skills.

"The ICT industry is an aging industry, so there's a bunch of people who have grown up in an industry which operated under completely different business models," she said. "And so of course they need to be retrained and brought up to date, and we need to continue to be able to attract young people who will bring those new ideas and the familiarity with different models for interacting and influencing other people."

"It's much wider than just the technology. We almost need degrees or courses in marketing in that online environment, because you're looking at completely different ways in connecting with people, and influencing them, than most marketing people in most marketing organizations are used to," she said.

Moon's observations are in agreement with those of Susan Barnes, a professor of communication at the U.S.-based Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) who was recently awarded a two-year $US149,786 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop an undergraduate online course in the new discipline of social media.

"The introduction of social media software programs is a major change in the way that people communicate on the Internet. It is both a social and technological change that deserves academic attention," Barnes said.

RIT's new social media course debuts early next year to a trial group of 90 students, and will double as a case study of technology and social networking that is expected to further Barnes' research into the potentials of social computing in learning.

"A focus of our course will be to introduce students to career possibilities," Barnes said. "Social networking combines IT with communication, so we need students from both Liberal Arts and computer backgrounds ... the types of skills that are needed in industry."

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