Computerworld

Top executives suggest options for adopting Web 2.0

Say end users, not executives, can be biggest barriers to Enterprise 2.0 projects

Conventional wisdom says that the new Generation Y work force is demanding access to Enterprise 2.0 tools like wikis, social networks and other collaboration tools at work while stodgy, baby boomer executives stifle those requests. In fact, said a panel of executives whose organizations already widely use Web 2.0 tools, the biggest challenge is convincing end users of all ages to use the new technology.

To offset end user resistance, the panel at the Web 2.0 Conference here suggested that companies replace systems that users don't like with Web 2.0 tools, let the end-users control Web 2.0 projects and find Enterprise 2.0 champions among rank and file employees and middle management.

Don Burke, doyen of Intellipedia, the Central Intelligence Agency's Wikipedia-like project, noted that the spy agency faced resistance from middle managers to its effort to provide Web 2.0 tools to internal employees.

"Middle management is about making the trains run on time," Burke noted. "Their job is to do today's job. Change is extraordinarily disruptive. The incentives in our hierarchy are not designed to leverage these kind of fundamental changes. The incentives are designed to reward the people who are making the trains run on time."

Companies should proceed cautiously down the Web 2.0 path because adoption will be far slower in the enterprise than the lightning-fast consumer adoption in recent years, noted Pete Fields, director of eBusiness at Wachovia Bank.

The bank has an Enterprise 2.0 project now underway that will provide all 120,000 of its employees with access to wikis, blogs and social profiles by the end of this year.

While the bank turned to organizational psychologists, corporate communications personnel and other employees to identify potential problems and minimize potential resistance to the project, "we still underestimated the change impact," Fields said.

"Change management is the biggest threat."

Simon Revell, manager of enterprise 2.0 development at Pfizer, said that backers of the technology must remember that not all users want the same thing -- that one size does not fit all employee needs. He noted that workers in all companies have different functions, such as development, research and manufacturing.

He noted that Pfizer sought out early adopters that can function as "Enterprise 2.0 consultants" for the various lines of business within the drug company. "The trick for us is to provide them the support needed to get this off the ground," Revell noted. "The biggest challenge for me is expectations management. I sense there is a frustration that [the project] is not moving more quickly."

The CIA's Burke added that to successfully implement Web 2.0 technology, companies must let users control the tools. That can be a daunting task for many companies, he said. "Give up control, and your employees will do you right," he said. "Fight for all your life against locked down, closed spaces. For two years we have fought against that. Every other call was, 'How do I lock a page or how do I create a private page?'"

At the CIA, some managers have helped to nurture the use of the tools by offering incentives to internal users, Burke added. One manager, for example, started a contest that provided creators of the best topical pages built on Intellipedia with a free dinner or other tokens, Burke said. Contests also award prizes for pages with the most edits and pages with the most views.

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Wachovia has successfully implemented a "reverse mentor" program, where managers pick employees from so-called Generation Y era to help older colleagues to learn and use the new technology.

Ned Lerner, director of tools and technology at Sony Computer Entertainment, noted that while the company's game designers have heavily used wikis in development projects for some time, the company is now moving to convince other employees to use the collaboration tools.

Lerner advises that companies try to recruit their "best and brightest" employees to become early adopters and champions of the tools. "Once people see the best minds at your company are using the tools they are a lot more likely to at least get interested," he noted. "Anyone who respects that person is likely to copy them."

Lerner also advised that companies replace older, hard-to-use technologies with Enterprise 2.0 tools to overcome employees' natural resistance to orders to use new systems.

Burke agreed with that advice, noting that non-users will take notice when important information is sent only to users of a new technology. For example, he noted that it took instant messaging several years to take hold at the CIA. "Eventually the bosses were on it, and if you wanted to get to your boss the only way to get to your boss was from an IM," he said.

Burke acknowledged that using traditional metrics to forge an ROI for an Enterprise 2.0 project might not work. "The best answer I have for [Intellipedia's ROI] is vibrancy," he noted. "It is living and breathing and growing. That is a healthy environment. People wouldn't be using the tools if they weren't getting value."