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

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.


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