Starting in the Trenches

By Elizabeth Bennett  |  Posted 2008-02-21 Print this article Print

Procter & Gamble and other mainstream companies aim to overcome their hierarchical, individualistic ways to make room for flexible, open and unstructured technologies.

Starting in the Trenches

As with many big companies, Web 2.0 efforts at P&G began in the trenches, with IT workers blogging about technology on Six Apart’s free Movable Type software for consumers. The rogue operation eventually gained some attention when the Innovation team, the IT division that supports emerging technologies at P&G, began hosting the enterprise version of Movable Type on a company server.

Staffers in other departments latched onto the idea and started their own blogs. P&G now has more than 300 blogs, with authors at all job levels, from summer interns blogging about their research, to senior executives commenting on design and creativity.

Despite the warm welcome social software gets from many mainstream companies and the hype it receives from vendors and media, it remains to be seen whether businesses will reap any tangible benefits from the tools, which promise open, collective and spontaneous communication and collaboration.

Social computing platforms aren’t much different from previous collaborative applications and are no holy grail for business, according to Tom Davenport, professor of information technology and management at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass., and author of Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning. “I don’t see any major change [with these tools],” Davenport says. “The technologies are interesting and it makes sense to experiment, but the [activities they’re used for] could be done with other technologies.”

Electronic forums and bulletin boards—the antecedents to blogs—have been around for years, says Davenport, who characterizes the new breed of enterprise collaboration tools as “old wine in new bottles.” What may be changing, he concedes, is that some companies are paying more attention to the organizational elements required to support collaborative software applications. “With these new tools,” Davenport explains, “unless the right culture, behaviors and organizational structures are in place, they’re not going to be successful.”

Senior Writer
Elizabeth has been writing and reporting at Baselinesince its inaugural issue. Most recently, Liz helped Fortune 500 companies with their online strategies as a customer experience analyst at Creative Good. Prior to that, she worked in the organization practice at McKinsey & Co. She holds a B.A. from Vassar College.

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