Web 2.0: Creating a Successful Enterprise Strategy

By Karen S. Henrie  |  Posted 02-07-2007

Web 2.0: Creating a Successful Enterprise Strategy

 

Opportunity

Opportunity

Web 2.0 technologies have moved into the corporate mainstream, and the impact is real.

If you still think Web 2.0 is the bailiwick of teens and twenty-somethings prowling MySpace and YouTube, you're showing your age. Web 2.0 technologies, including but not limited to blogs, wikis and mashups, are growing up and are hard at work on the Web sites of major companies such as General Motors Corp., FedEx Corp., British Airways plc and Sun Microsystems Inc.

Robert Carter, executive vice president and CIO of Memphis-based FedEx, the $32 billion shipping company, describes the difference between the early days of the Internet and the current Web 2.0 as "a shift from destination to connection. The initial onslaught of the Internet was all about destination. You'd go to FedEx.com or Amazon.com. But Web 2.0 is about connectedness. The Internet is becoming the Global Interconnect." That emphasis on connection is not only translating to more blogging and more wikis, but is also transforming the way software applications are created in the form of Web services. Says Carter: "Web services, the modular components that allow systems to interact and connect with each other, are a primary enabler of this move toward more connection."

Carter views mashups and other Web 2.0 capabilities as significant business opportunities for FedEx. "These new interfaces make FedEx easy to do business with, and they make our customers highly productive." He points to a new print online tool from FedEx Kinko's, where he serves as chairman, as an early example of Web 2.0's potential. The tool lets users upload a file from home, the office, or even a FedEx Kinko's store, and set printing (color, two-sided), binding (stapled or coiled), and other options. According to Carter: "Ajax [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML] provides users with that great WYSIWYG experience as they customize their documents." The tool then calls on a Web service that lets users choose where they want the document printed for pickup (a map will display the five nearest FedEx Kinko's locations). Another Web service lets users place shipping instructions if they prefer to ship or courier their printed order, rather than pick it up. An example of connection supplanting destination? Not exactly. As Carter readily admits, "you still need to go to FedEx.com and click on the FedEx Kinko's tab to access it." But he's working on it.

Of course, these pockets of Web 2.0 progress can be found in many enterprises. But it remains to be seen whether companies can sufficiently rein them in to serve their most strategic business objectives. And can these disparate technologies work in concert to achieve broader corporate goals? There is some fear that doing so could destroy the transparency, spontaneity and simplicity that make the tools so valuable in the first place. At the very least, however, there is now an opportunity for IT departments to exercise a little more control over the dissemination of Web 2.0 products in the enterprise.

Ask your head of e-commerce:
How can we leverage the capabilities found on Web sites such as YouTube, MySpace or Wikipedia?
Ask your IT architect:
How well positioned are we to leverage available Web 2.0 capabilities?

Challenge

Challenge

Can companies create an umbrella strategy that unites Web 2.0 tools toward a common goal? Should they even try?

Enterprises are just starting to understand the implications of the interconnectedness that Web 2.0 affords. David Boloker, CTO of emerging technologies with IBM Corp., predicts it will take 18 months to 36 months for most companies to evolve from research and pilots to wide-scale rollouts of Web 2.0 technologies. Fred Killeen, chief systems and technology officer at General Motors, readily admits it's too early to know which functional areas—product design and development, sales, marketing, assembly—will ultimately be the biggest beneficiaries of Web 2.0, but the tools are clearly gaining momentum because they are more accessible and simpler to use than in the past. For example, mashups forego the deep, complex application integration most enterprise IT departments struggle with daily, in favor of a thin veneer of application and data integration that works just fine for, say, overlaying the locations of Saturn car dealers on a Google Map.

With the possible exception of media and Internet-only companies, few enterprises seem to have developed full-blown strategic plans or daring new business models expressly around Web 2.0. Instead, firms are opting to exploit these capabilities as they become available, to serve their business goals when applicable. At GM, Killeen sees groups that are eager to "grab it, run with it, and show the rest of the company how to exploit it." For example, GM sales-and-marketing groups are using a portal-based collaboration and document management tool to hash out their internal objectives. "They post an idea and get feedback from the global community," Killeen explains. In a company as large and dispersed as GM, any tool that simplifies the global exchange of ideas has great appeal.

Meanwhile, Paul Coby, CIO of British Airways, views Google Maps as "an absolute gift" for an airline. The London-based, $14 billion airline has layered its flights and destinations on top of Google Maps as part of its new World Offers program. "We display the globe and ask customers 'where do you want to go?'" he says. BA.com also uses standard mashups to display hotel locations on maps for their customers who are planning vacations.

Coby says the airline has a history of using technology to stay competitive. "BA.com was an integral part of what we did to save the airline" in 2001, he says, in the wake of Sept. 11 and in response to the influx of low-cost carriers, especially in domestic and short-haul markets. Most recently, British Airways relaunched BA.com with a fresh design that makes it easier for users to do everything from search fares and make reservations to print a boarding pass or check baggage. "We are trying desperately to give end users as much functionality and freedom as possible," says Coby. "The more tactical activities we can hand off to users, the better." Customer self-service applications not only rein in operating costs but also free up IT staff to focus on other projects. The more engaging and interactive the Web experience, the more inclined customers will be to serve themselves.

At Heathrow Airport, BA has already achieved an 80 percent rate of self-service check-in with short-haul passengers, and hopes to achieve that same rate with its long-haul passengers by March 2008, when it opens a new Heathrow terminal. The airline recently had its biggest day ever on BA.com (100 bookings per minute) in response to a special fare offer targeted to its 2 million Executive Club Card holders.

Meanwhile, Coby is also rolling out the next generation of employee self-service applications, dubbed ESS 2.0, a system that encourages more employee interaction through wikis and other Web 2.0 communications media. He acknowledges that Web 2.0 is inspiring social change and creating new ways for employees to interact within BA, but he is also mindful that "we need to stay focused on what we are trying to achieve." He must continually ask: Are those employee interactions productive and in line with the missions, values and goals of the company? Cautions Coby: "This is not a laboratory of social interaction. This is an airline that exists to serve customers."

Curtis Sasaki, a vice president at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems, is responsible for all of Sun's Web properties. He says the simplicity of Web 2.0 tools helps explain their appeal. "Sometimes the best tools are the ones people will use," he says. A wiki may not be a sufficient project management tool for very complex projects, such as engineering the latest version of the Sun Solaris operating system, but it is perfectly adequate for many of Sasaki's Web team's projects. "If we can get 70 percent or 80 percent of what we need for project management from a wiki, and everyone is willing to use it, then that's good enough," he notes.

Ask your CTO:
Which Web 2.0 capabilities can we use in the near term for strategic business advantage?
Ask your head of HR:
Could the company benefit from more interactions and conversations among employees?

Implementation

Implementation

Setting up a simple blog, wiki or mashup isn't rocket science. Which is why IT departments need to seize this trend, lest it overwhelm them.

While businesses sort out which tools make sense where, IT departments and Web teams need a more concrete strategy, not only to ensure security and compliance requirements are met, but also to provide users with the underlying IT architecture, components, education and training they need to get the most from Web 2.0. To embed Web 2.0 technologies into the fabric of the company, General Motors relies on a combination of process information officers working in different functional areas, and CIOs working in each of the company's different businesses. Says CTO Killeen: "The combination of PIOs understanding processes and CIOs understanding how they need to be integrated end-to-end across the business helps us globally understand the innovation opportunities."

Sun Microsystems' Sasaki says a big change with Web 2.0 is the speed with which development groups can implement projects. "In the past, most CIOs' development projects took 12 months to 24 months. Now we can get a new Web application out in a weekend. It's okay if it isn't perfect; we can rapidly modify it." He points to Sun's open-source blog infrastructure, called Blogger, as an example. "We found that blogging is interesting to users but hard to sustain," he says. Sun has since modified its blogging platform to add features such as group blogging, which lets more than one user contribute.

Companies can easily avail themselves of existing Web services to set up blogs or other Web 2.0-style capabilities without having to do a lot of development, says Sasaki. "It's the Salesforce.com [software as a service] model," he says. "The company focuses on its core business while utilizing available services for everything else."

One reason so many people speak of Google Maps and Web 2.0 in the same breath is that, early on, Google Inc. published a Web service with application program interfaces to its maps. But Google Maps aren't the only data out there that can be "mashed up," says IBM's Boloker, noting that large IT departments have been building service-oriented interfaces to their data for more than three years. They can take enterprise data, mash it up with data that's publicly Web-accessible, and plot it in a new way. "You couldn't build that kind of application five years ago without a lot of people writing a lot of code," says Boloker. Now with service-oriented interfaces it's fairly straightforward.

Boloker imagines that enterprises will eventually provide an IT-approved catalog of Web 2.0 business components from which users can choose. The IT department will be then charged with ensuring adherence to any security, governance or regulatory requirements.

Forrester Research Inc. analyst John Rymer cautions enterprise IT groups to consider scalability requirements when implementing social-networking sites, and performance issues when rolling out Internet applications using Ajax. "You may wind up deploying an Ajax-based Internet application on a commerce site that has lots of interactivity and a rich user interface, but with such slow performance it chases customers away," he says. He also foresees more work for IT organizations as companies integrate Web 2.0 technologies with older, existing systems.

When it comes to integrating Web 2.0 capabilities into the enterprise infrastructure, GM's Killeen says: "I am less concerned about technology readiness than cultural readiness. We've introduced tools in the past that wound up on the junk pile because they didn't resonate with people's mindset and culture." GM is now using pilot projects to illustrate how Web 2.0 capabilities can help improve collaboration. For example, Killeen says, because vehicle identification numbers will start repeating by 2010, "we need architectural solutions to remediate that problem, and we need to collaborate to come up with solutions." A combination of Web-based discussion groups and a wiki have been enlisted to help.

For Sasaki, the biggest challenge is just how far and how quickly he can move with Web 2.0 capabilities while balancing security and identity management concerns. "I would never have predicted the popularity of MySpace or YouTube," he says. "To get online at midnight and see 12 million other people is shocking. What are the trends in the consumer space, among teenagers and under-25s, that will become trends for the enterprise? CIOs may find it necessary to spin out a new organization just to focus on these issues."

Ask your web development team:
How far have we implemented Web 2.0 to date, and what have we learned?
Ask your chief security officer:
How can we secure corporate and customer data while taking advantage of Web 2.0's interactivity and connectedness?