Web 2.0 will take on an increasingly important enterprise role in 2008, but CIOs have a ways to go before harnessing the full value of collaborative technologies like blogs, RSS feeds and wikis, commentators have warned.
"If I look at the Web 2.0 space in the enterprise, I see a lot of experimentation right now, and a lot of frustration," said Forrester analyst Oliver Young.
"Are enterprises ready to deliver on the value the businesses are asking for? Probably not yet. But I think in 2008 they're going to get much closer."
When a company has a globally distributed workforce with tens of thousands of employees, workers can't collaborate effectively via traditional methods – for instance by meeting in person with colleagues.
That, say the analysts, is where new Web 2.0 technologies come in handy.
Out of all of them, wikis will probably have the biggest positive impact, says Paul Gillin, a writer and commentator on the tech industry and former executive editor of Computerworld.
"If you have a large number of people who have to share information, email is a horrible way to do that," Gillin says.
With a wiki, you can set up a blank page workspace, and leave it up to users to decide whois involved, what the tasks are and how the work will be organised, Young said.
RSS feeds also have a lot of potential. Young said lawyers at one law firm he knew of used feeds to stay up to date on cases, rather than e-mailing spreadsheets and documents all over the place.
But achieving successful collaboration isn't as easy as flipping a switch or installing a piece of software (although a proliferation of open source Web 2.0 software certainly makes it less expensive).
"The challenges are getting people to use it," Gillin says. "People are accustomed to email, they know how to use email." On the other hand, it's sometimes hard to get funding for Web 2.0 projects, because management teams at some companies aren't convinced the new tools deliver real business value, Young said.
Web 2.0 brings its share of problems: One Forrester survey found that enterprises are not prepared for security threats posed by Web 2.0 usage, particularly employee use of social networking and other applications for non-business purposes.
"Web 2.0 can make it easier for employees to share data, and in doing so make it easier for employees to abuse data," Young says. "The best way companies are starting to approach this is through strong permissioning, compliance and archiving," as well as education to make sure employees know what constitutes acceptable sharing of data.
Enterprises must carefully perform a balancing act, he says, erecting technology barriers to prevent data leakages while giving employees the freedom to collaborate effectively (compare collaboration products) and without undue restrictions.
But Gillin said security concerns were overrated. He forecast a growing reliance on current Web 2.0 tools and adoption of new ones. Some corporations are interested in deploying social networking applications, sort of like an internal Facebook for employees, he says.
"The promise of intranets has never really been realised because of complexity and the difficulties managing them," Gillin says, noting that Web 2.0 technologies will help businesses take full advantage of intranets.
"It's kind of a no-brainer for CIOs who spend a lot of money putting in these highly engineered proprietary applications to do stuff they can now do with wikis and blogs at a tiny percentage of the cost," Gillin says.