Results on the use of Web 2.0 in business emerge

From Dion Hinchcliffe’s Blog

The last few weeks have seen a series of interesting new reports, studies, and papers on the past, present, and future of Web 2.0 concepts and applications as applied to businesses. Most notable for many industry watchers have been fairly rigorous new works by McKinsey & Company as well as Forrester, whom have each released the results of broad surveys of executives in various industries. The focus of both surveys was to capture a picture of the interests, activities, motivators for Web 2.0 adoption of several thousand C-level executives in medium to large companies.

While both the McKinsey study and Forrester report have summaries online — and you can read a detailed breakdown of the fascinating adoption numbers in Nick Carr’s excellent roll-up of many of the key numbers in the reports — what stands out clearly from the state of Web 2.0 in business last year is the almost surprisingly high levels interest in some of the more advanced, and powerful, concepts in the Web 2.0 practice set.

Gartner, for its part, had its own take on things last year with their widely covered hype cycle report on Web 2.0, indicating the things like collective intelligence (ostensibly the core principle of Web 2.0) would be a long term, transformational business strategy that they felt at the time would take at least 5 to 10 years for broad industry uptake. However, the report from McKinsey intriguing suggests something much different may be taking place.

The numbers McKinsey provides from actual business leaders seems to indicate that broad, active interest in collective intelligence is rapidly forming in the offices of many company’s CIOs, CTOs, and other executives. McKinsey cites that fully 48% of the nearly 3,000 leading executives surveyed are actively investing in collective intelligence approaches. What makes this interesting is that this number is a good bit more than executives are currently reporting that they are investing in other well known Web 2.0 approaches including social networking, RSS, podcasting, and even wikis and blogs, which come in about 1/3 lower in overall interest. In fact, out of all the Web 2.0 trends surveyed, only Web services has a bigger footprint than collective intelligence in terms of current investment. This strongly suggests some kind of sea change in business thinking since last year.

This is a fascinating outcome since at a grassroots level in the enterprise, and certainly out on the Web, the rise of wikis and in particular blogs, are a much more common phenomenon than apps that focus on collective intelligence, the latter which would manifest itself as any software which aggregates the combined user created input of employees and/or customers, partners, and suppliers en masse to create better knowledge and decisions. And although both wikis and blogs both accumulate collective intelligence (albeit relatively unstructured) via user participation — open group editing of content in the case of wikis, and conversations via comments and trackbacks in blogs — it’s probably the more formal, more structured, and centrally driven collective intelligence model that respondents were likely referring to since blogs and wikis were already represented in the survey.

Collective intelligence leads blogs and wikis in terms of business interest?

Taking a look at these results in general reminds us that many of the outcomes that Web 2.0 technologies enable — the free flow of information, emergent structure, higher levels of social activity, and decentralized do-it-yourself peer production — are sometimes subversive and even somewhat disruptive to traditional corporate structures and management processes. Because I suspect that a survey of these same items taken of the general user community — and not management — would find a different set of answers, and one that would likely emphasize the Web 2.0 platforms that are under more end user control. By this I mean the aforementioned blogs and wikis, but probably social networking applications as well.

Why is this an important distinction? This question takes us to the actual changes that the consumer Web appears to be imposing increasingly on our organization from the bottom up. The diagram I have above shows which aspects of Web 2.0 tools and technologies are primarily created and controlled with relative democratization by users (which is why they’re called peers in this case), and which ones are primarily enabled, in fact are made possible at all, by centralized IT. Web services, APIs, and mashups are classic examples of centrally created things which need governance and management, not to mention good design and architecture, something that is still just not very DIY, at least yet. On the other hand, blogs and wikis are simple, elemental Web 2.0 platforms for self-expression and participation and are as simple to create by anyone — along with the latest best practices — as spending 30 seconds in the setup pages of your favorite enterprise blog or wiki hosting site.

However, as Dion has seen with things like IBM’s promising QEDWiki platform that allows wikis to be the front end of an SOA, the world of end-user powered Web 2.0 platforms like blogs/wikis and the world of enterprise IT infrastructure and SOA — the latter which organizations world-wide have been pouring billions and billions into the last few years — are not separate worlds at all. In fact, it’s increasingly apparent that the Web 2.0 technologies which emphasize the most user control are also the very tools that can unleash the investments the business world has been making in information technology for almost a decade, particularly around interoperability and reuse based on the open Web services model. The best way to exploit and leverage our businesses is increasingly likely to use the combined power, reach, and ease-of-use of platforms such as blogs and wikis to tap into and make use of our vast, and all-too-often underutilized islands of data and IT infrastructure.

As Dion discusses in an earlier post, effective Web 2.0 in the enterprise, whether that’s basic Enterprise 2.0 or a much broader and expansive view of Web 2.0 design patterns and business models which Dion calls Product Development 2.0 for lack of a better term, actually requires the active support of both the users on the ground as well as the top levels of an organization to really take off. Business are structured much differently that the consumer Web and major impediments to use of Web 2.0 production and consumption scenarios exist. This include lack of good enterprise search, mountains of closed legacy systems, the challenge of securing highly open, deeply integrated applications, and conflicting data models (XML, relational data, rich media, and more.) These are all challenges to the ultimate success of Web 2.0 in the enterprise, even to the point that some organizations are increasingly at risk of IT users doing so much themselves that the IT department can begin to lose control. That is, unless they jump into the trenches with their users and help guide the application of Web 2.0 tools without significantly hindering forward progress.

More and more Web 2.0 tools and techniques studies become available

But the true story of what is happening is still very much emerging. Fresh results from organizations like Edelman, Dartmouth, and many others have all been published recently.. To get a sense of the full body of knowledge on the use of Web 2.0 platforms in business (as well as the curiousity driving it), Bill Ives recently did an excellent job summarizing many of the Web 2.0 related studies in the last year alone.

Note that with lack of well-known success stories or famous industry examples, documents such as these become the meat upon which executive decision makers feast to drive and justify their decisions on new technologies and innovation in general, sometimes even betting their careers. And while we don’t have enough information yet to satisfy many that are on the fence, it’s clear that the conventional wisdom is beginning to shift from the wait-and-see of 2006 to the beginning of the adoption cycle in earnest this year.

The list of studies above provide useful information for readers here but also as an example that further shows the contrast between studies like McKinsey’s and the trends in the general public uptake of social media platforms like blogs and wikis. In particular, I’m referring to the wealth of studies around the rise of social media in contrast with general, corporate collective intelligence projects and initiatives, which doesn’t seem to have anywhere near the same grassroots interest. Finally and somewhat surprisingly, being another example of the wide variety we’re finding in early results, even mashups — a very exciting DIY phenomenon on the Web — are not particularly well represented (10-20% investment/interest) both in terms of studies of top down activity by business executives or by the studies coming out. It is better forms of collaboration, knowledge retention, organizational intelligence, and open, interoperable IT systems that currently seem to rule the discussion of Web 2.0 for business at present.

Does McKinsey’s study identify a major new Web 2.0 trend in business? And will it matter if Web 2.0 is going to tend to flourish from the bottom up in many organizations?

Author: Jas

Jas Dhaliwal is a highly experienced International Social Media Strategist. Currently working as AVG Technologies, Director of Communities and Online Engagement, he specialises in building and engaging with social communities across the web. Born and bred in London, he is passionate about technology and social anthropology. Prior to AVG, Jas launched the social media program for Microsoft’s MVP Award program. Jas holds a BSc (Hons) in Information Systems and has an MBA from Brunel University in London, England. You can follow Jas as @Jas on Twitter or on Google+