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How do CIOs deal with social software?

C.G. Lynch | June 1, 2008
Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, two Forrester Research analysts, have a message for CIOs in their new book, "Groundswell," about social technologies: you can't control users looking to utilize Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, wikis and social networks.

Instead, I think you need to think about it as painting a box [for the business users]. You say here's how big the box is that you need to be in. As long as you're inside the box, you can do whatever you want. So the box would have one wall that's about confidentiality. Another one would be authentication. Another one would be single sign-on or not single sign-on. Another one might be information architecture. So as long as you can work inside those parameters, go for it. I might even have a list of pre-approved software that's already in compliance with all of this, so all you have to do is plug and play. But if you want to out and get other tools, go for it, but it'll have to be within this box.

CIO: Often CIOs talk about security when it comes to Web 2.0. But is the real underlying issue that they're not willing to part with investments in the traditional enterprise applications of the past?

Li: Everyone at the table has to realize those are sunk costs. To say you're going to spend more money, time and resources, all to get something that's not working for people, doesn't make sense. So go back to the business objectives.

If your business objective is to drive efficiency and innovation within the organization, are you really going to say, that sounds interesting, but we're going to hamstring that effort because of our enterprise applications over here? The objective here is to drive better customer support and you need to make sure that the information flow is good. Are you going to insist that everyone uses one program that everybody hates? Meanwhile, you have a new [Web 2.0] technology over here that has proven, positive ROI with very little investment. It's much more efficient than your centralized application.

CIO: What will your business users do if a CIO demands they work on that old corporate app?

Li: Many will go and get a software as a service (SaaS) vendor in all of ten minutes using a credit card. It'll go underneath the radar.
CIO: So we've talked about what not to do. How about a company from your research who has gotten this Web 2.0 in the enterprise thing right? And how could they see the success from using Web 2.0 technologies?

Li: One of my favorite ones is around Best Buy. They had an internal site called Blue Shirt Nation. It was two guys in marketing who said we need more intelligence from the front lines in the stores. It was an internal social network with blogs and forums. So they built this as a way for the employees to talk with each other, and therefore they could get more intelligence out of it.

While it turned out not to be that great for marketing intelligence, it was fantastic in terms of providing support for employees. As an example, there was a camera display case that just didn't look right at one store. So an employee takes a picture of it, puts it on the Blue Shirt Nation site, and said, "did you guys get this wacky display case in your store? It doesn't look right. The shelves are too high, or too wide. What do you know about this?" Two hours later, someone posted and replied, "I designed those display cases. You were sent the wrong one. There were two varieties. We'll make sure you get the right one and send it right away. "


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