Keith Errington

marketing strategy
07860 267155

Web 2.0 – Collaboration vs. Control

THERE seems to be a battle being fought out in corporate cyberspace – between those who see Web 2.0 technologies as positively empowering, powerfully collaborative and potentially game changing, and those who see them as massively time wasting, security broaching, anti-corporate agents of chaos.

Now whilst these two poles may be overstated, there is definitely some debate in corporate circles as to whether Web 2.0 is truly good for business and if it is, how much should be implemented and with what controls?

So which is it? Unfettered collaboration or tight control? Well, like many previous technological revolutions, adoption really isn’t as clear cut as either view seems to suggest.

Adoption of Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis, forums, groupware, and social networking tools really depends on what business you are in, your customer base, your culture and a whole host of other considerations.

Understanding of implications

And this leads us to the more fundamental problem behind Web 2.0 adoption. The people making the decisions at a strategic level, need to understand these technologies, what they mean and what they can and cannot do. Then they have to see how they can be used to meet their organizational objectives. And then they need to implement them to the depth appropriate to the proposed strategy and with the right level of control. They need to understand the implications of the success of such projects to both the budget and the corporate culture.

But one of the strengths of these technologies is that often their effect adds up to much more than the sum of the parts – that they generate new paradigms and evolve into systems that defy strategy and planning. They cross departmental boundaries and break down barriers between the organization, its customers, and its suppliers. And once users get the taste of openness and collaboration, they generally want more – it’s difficult to get that genie back in the bottle.

Even experts find it difficult to predict how these technologies might react with the corporate body, nervous system and mindset.

So how can directors and managers make strategic decisions about these technologies?

Three steps to a strategic decision

Firstly, look at the nature of the business – some businesses will never gain a significant benefit from these technologies – their implementation will be costly and unlikely to contribute to bottom line profit. It’s difficult to see, for instance, how a wiki might radically improve a small package delivery service. (Not saying it wouldn’t – just suggesting that a decent return on investment might be difficult).

Whilst businesses that would gain no benefit whatsoever from Web 2.0 technologies may be few and far between, there are still a significant number out there – and many more for whom the investment would not be worthwhile.

And then there are those companies for whom aspects of social networking would be a clear headache rather than a gain. A financial company may need to keep a very tight lid on communication to meet its legal obligations for example.

Secondly, look at the culture – if there is no culture of openness and collaboration – or a fundamental willingness to embrace those concepts, then Web 2.0 technologies will inevitably fail – probably in a spectacularly costly manner.

Just as a new corporate identity will not miraculously change an organization, so Web 2.0 will not change the culture – unless the commitment is already there from the top down.

Thirdly, look at the organization’s agility – Web 2.0 often results in a changed landscape – can your organization react to that quickly and take advantage of it? If Web 2.0 means new ways of working, can you handle it? If an organization is not able to change and adapt to the radical remodelling that Web 2.0 often produces or demands, then there is little point in implementing the technologies as the benefits will remain beyond it’s reach.

So the question of implementing Web 2.0 technologies follows directly from the bigger questions of organizational strategy, business goals and culture.

Only if board members and senior managers are familiar with the ‘new’ technologies will they be able to make rational and profitable decisions regarding their use at their organization.

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