Web 2.0: Just say yes

Web 2.0: Just say yes

Execs say social networking and other next-gen tools can provide competitive edge

Not wild about wikis? Not big on blogs? Not sold on Second Life? IT execs who ignore Web 2.0 collaboration technologies could be hurting their company's bottom line.

That's the message from enterprise IT leaders and industry analysts who are convinced that Web 2.0 technologies are the real deal.

"Not embracing social networking is like saying I'd rather hide my money under the mattress than put it in a bank. Companies make a big mistake when they prohibit these tools out of the sheer fear of what employees will say when they communicate with one another," says Rene Bonvanie, senior vice president at Serena Software, a maker of application life-cycle management tools.

Like some of the big corporate names in America today, including Accenture, Cisco, HP and Berkshire-Hathaway's CORT, Serena is betting big on the benefits of open collaboration.

As proof of its commitment, the company has instituted "Facebook Fridays," where executives encourage their 900 employees in 18 countries to connect with customers, business partners and each other over the company's group portal on the popular social networking site. They are also using Facebook as a recruitment tool to attract young talent to the growing company.

"Students who are just coming out of universities live online. Their photos are on Flickr; they have a profile on Facebook; they even do their banking online. They aren't going to go to a company where there is a huge wall where they can't communicate with anyone," Bonvanie says.

Irwin Lazar, an analyst at The Nemertes Research Group, says companies such as Serena have the right idea. "University students are on sites like Facebook and when they come into the workforce, they expect to use similar technology for their projects. They want a virtual place to share documents, have events and swap notes with each other. They don't want to have to schedule face-to-face meetings or use e-mail," he says.

Already, Serena has seen more than 90 per cent of its employees create a Facebook profile and reach out to co-workers and clients. "There are some customers who only talk to us via Facebook. They've given up on e-mail because it's such a horrendous technology," he says.

Tom Austin, vice president and fellow at Gartner, says that although penetration for social networking tools is less than 10 per cent today, he is seeing a shift in the industry and predicts it will continue. "Companies are scratching at the surface of what they can do with these tools," he says.

For instance, organizations can create a mash-up, a combination of multiple applications, of their CRM database and their employees' Facebook contacts to identify personal links among sales prospects. "Companies should think about that kind of potential," he says.

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