The meteoric rise and popularity of Web 2.0 tools and technologies presents several business and technical challenges for corporate IT. Before the benefits of Web 2.0 can be fully realized in the enterprise, IT needs to accept and embrace them. Following are what I see as the four overarching IT challenges from a business perspective.
Challenge 1: Technology in the enterprise comes from consumers. Applications such as email and voicemail traditionally sprung from the enterprise itself, with user adoption neatly controlled by IT. Today a lot of technology is coming from consumers directly. Consumers who have been using Web 2.0 tools such as instant messaging, wikis, and discussion forums in their home and social life for years are now the employees expecting the same types of applications in the workplace. What’s more, they expect the same levels of performance and ease of accessibility.
Add to this the rapid pace of technology, the varied forms of Web 2.0 communications, the sheer amount of content being moved, the increasing mobility of employees, realities of a global workforce (e.g., accommodating varying time zones), and the impact all of this has on your network . . . well, the challenge becomes even greater. How do enterprises keep up with this demand?
Challenge 2: Users will take matters into their own hands. I’ve seen this happen many times at Cisco. When I started, for example, we didn’t have an instant messaging client. Employees were downloading AOL Instant Messenger and using it openly on a widespread basis. Before Cisco implemented an enterprise solution for wikis, employees set up their own wikis or used wiki boxes in the lab or in their cubicles. Several of these wikis were growing knowledge repositories that didn’t or couldn’t communicate with each other. A more recent example of users taking matters into their own hands: employees using Yammer as their microblogging site.
These actions of “rogue” employees not only put Cisco’s network at risk and compromise intellectual property and the security of sensitive corporate information, but also undermine the benefits that open communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing can bring in a Web 2.0 environment.
Challenge 3. The role of IT has to change. IT must balance demands of the enterprise with consumer demands. On one hand, we need to maintain control of intellectual property, run a high available network, comply with regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley, etc. On the other hand, we want to implement technology that’s relevant and productive to the business without the chaos and security breaches that can come from employees adopting applications ad hoc. Balancing these demands requires that IT be flexible and open to new ways of doing things.
The best example of where I’ve seen this happen at Cisco is with the use of Macs. For a long time, we didn’t support Macs, even though many employees wanted to use them. Not surprisingly, the Mac enthusiasts took matters into their own hands. They bought Macs, hooked them up to Cisco’s network, figured out how to get their email and other corporate applications working on them, accessed the intranet, etc. And in doing so they established a Mac wiki to provide each other with support and advice. Instead of trying to police or squash this self-help behavior, Cisco IT eventually embraced it. Now we officially offer the Mac as a corporate alternative to the PC and point employees to the flourishing Mac wiki for self-service support.
Challenge 4. Beta testing requires a new approach. Deploying a technology or application in beta has historically been a no-no for corporate IT. Beta testing is typically conducted by a small group of engineers, developers, or analysts who put an application through the rigors of regression and user acceptance testing, as well as QA, to a limited audience before presenting it to the business.
Not anymore at Cisco. Today we deploy an application in beta within a sandbox environment using a framework that mimics production, asking users for their feedback on the basic features and functionality, and making adjustments, fixing bugs, and adding enhancements along the way. This back-and-forth beta process between users and IT is called “agile development,” and it results in a business-relevant application that employees actually want and will readily use versus an application dictated solely by IT. The process of agile development also produces champions throughout the company who have tested and contributed to the development of an application. These champions will assist others with using the application, which in turn helps IT deploy applications faster.
What are the challenges that you see? I look forward to your comments. I’ll talk more about our Enterprise 2.0 journey and Cisco IT’s role in my upcoming blog postings.