Web 2.0: Choice of the Next Generation

By Lawrence Walsh  |  Posted 2008-02-21 Print this article Print

Enterprises better get used to wikis and facebook; they're here to stay. 

J. Chris Scalet recognized the future of the information-based workforce in the eyes of his college-age daughter, when he found her squirreled away in his home office studying for a test during a weekend visit.

When Scalet cracked open the door, he immediately heard the music from her iPod. She was sitting at his desk with her cell phone at the ready for calls and text messages. On her computer, she was sending and receiving a steady stream of instant messages and actively monitoring her Facebook page. Oh, and she appeared to be scanning a textbook.

“It dawned on me that in two and a half years my daughter is going to be in the workforce,” says Scalet, senior vice president of global services and chief information officer at pharmaceutical giant Merck. “Her ability and what she’s going to look for in tools and how she’s going to work in the future are going to be very different from today. She’s going to expect these [collaboration] tool—what we have today and what we’re going to have in the future.”

Scalet is one of many conventional IT executives grappling with the rapidly expanding culture clash between those who embrace Web 2.0 collaboration and social networking tools and those who remain steadfast with their conventional business applications, staid lines of communication and dated management hierarchies.

At Merck, Scalet oversees an IT organization that’s divided on this subject. He has some employees who believe that Web 2.0 tools are the wave of the future and that enterprises should embrace them. Others are more conservative and don’t see the benefit of these tools. In fact, they see lost productivity, declines in quality and greater risk of exposure from sharing proprietary information with untrusted parties. The very thought of flattening traditional organizational hierarchies is terrifying to conventional executives because it’s more difficult to quantify outcomes and benefits.

Take the experience of Capgemini at its new Junction City, Kans., call center. The IT integrator decided to drink its own Kool-Aid by adopting the enterprise version of Google Apps, the free Web-based productivity suite. Since the call-center employees didn’t need a lot of functionality or mobility, the $50-per-seat Web-based package was more cost-effective than Microsoft’s $400 Office equivalent.

What surprised Capgemini management is how employees used the flexible collaboration features and customization options to share information—sometimes in violation of corporate policies. Rather than clamping down and stifling this innovation, the company embraced it and found that it resulted in productivity and efficiency gains.

OgilvyOne, a global interactive marketing firm, estimates it will need to hire 5,700 people over the next five years to replace departing and retiring employees and facilitate growth. Not only is the company using social networking and collaboration technology to find these employees, it’s tapping the next generation for insights as part of its strategic planning, says chairman and CEO Brian Fetherstonhaugh.

OgilvyOne has discovered that it faces the same marketplace challenges as its clients, so it’s embracing Web 2.0 to find solutions to its own and its clients’ needs. It has opened collaboration labs around the world and instituted collaboration and tech-training opportunities for its workforce.

Fetherstonhaugh admits it’s a challenge to find the right combination of openness and productivity, but he believes the companies that unlock that secret will be the ones to succeed. “We haven’t figured it out, but we’re learning every day,” he says.

Risk or not, Merck’s Scalet sees the need to shift strategic IT thinking to meet the expectations of the people—like his daughter—who will populate tomorrow’s workforce. As the baby-boomer generation recedes over the next 10 to 15 years, it will be incumbent upon enterprises to adjust their thinking about how they deliver resources and tools to employees, partners and customers.

Enterprises have fought and lost battles against peer-to-peer networks and instant messaging. Social networking and wikis will inevitably triumph in the workplace too.

“I’m not sure what the platform will look like in the future, but I know it will be very different from what we have today,” Scalet says.

Lawrence Walsh Lawrence Walsh is editor of Baseline magazine, overseeing print and online editorial content and the strategic direction of the publication. He is also a regular columnist for Ziff Davis Enterprise's Channel Insider. Mr. Walsh is well versed in IT technology and issues, and he is an expert in IT security technologies and policies, managed services, business intelligence software and IT reseller channels. An award-winning journalist, Mr. Walsh has served as editor of CMP Technology's VARBusiness and GovernmentVAR magazines, and TechTarget's Information Security magazine. He has written hundreds of articles, analyses and commentaries on the development of reseller businesses, the IT marketplace and managed services, as well as information security policy, strategy and technology. Prior to his magazine career, Mr. Walsh was a newspaper editor and reporter, having held editorial positions at the Boston Globe, MetroWest Daily News, Brockton Enterprise and Community Newspaper Company.

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