Canadian CIOs shun blogs, wikis and virtual worlds

CIOs across Canada say plans to incorporate wikis, blogs and virtual worlds are slim, according to survey results released this week.

Recruitment firm Robert Half Technology interviewed 270 CIOs at Canadian companies with 100 or more employees. CIOs were asked, “Which following technology tools does your firm use or plan to use in the next five years for internal employee communication?”

Seven categories were presented: online training, video conferencing, collaborative workspaces (including Microsoft SharePoint), blogs, tagging software (including Digg), wikis and virtual worlds. Three answers were provided: use now, plan to use in the next five years, and do not use / do not plan to use.

According to the survey results, the majority of businesses either “do not use and/or do not plan to use” four of the seven tool categories. Tagging software received a no from 56 per cent of respondents. Wikis were snubbed by 62 per cent, with blogs following closely behind at 63 per cent. Virtual worlds were the least popular tool, unused and unwanted by 79 per cent of CIOs interviewed.

Even the top three tools are currently used by less than 50 per cent of businesses surveyed. The most popular tool category, online training, is “used now” by 47 per cent. Video conferencing ranked second, at 39 per cent. Collaborative workspaces fell third at 33 per cent.

Reasons why businesses aren’t quick to embrace Web 2.0 tools include security challenges and usage rates, said Igor Abramovitch, branch manager at Robert Half Technology. Implementation costs are another factor, he said, such as purchasing equipment for videoconferencing or development time for wikis.

Due to their collaborative nature, some tools aren’t easy to measure, he added. “When a company does go to technology, they are looking for some sort of ROI numbers and sometimes it’s hard to calculate right away… it will take a while to make sure enough people in the company use the tool to be able to measure it.”

But according to tech blogger, futurist and Firestoker co-founder Thomas Purves, the problem might be finding the right tools to use. Virility doesn’t work in the enterprise space as easily as it does on the open Web, said Purves. “If you have firewalls in the way, what one business is using internally, the business right next door to them has no idea…what’s going on there or what value they might be getting out of it. So it’s really hard for ideas, when they do work, to spread,” he said. “I think also some of the best tools are coming out of companies who aren’t the established IT providers…smaller startups who don’t have the distribution and the marketing reach necessary to get their story out there.”

Another obstacle may be the tools themselves, added Purves. “It’s been really slow for businesses to discover some of the values of social technology, but at the same time, a lot of social technology providers have had a tough time marketing to business or even necessarily adopting their products ideally for business as opposed to a consumer environment.”

“On the consumer side, blogs have definitely been here for a while and have been used a lot, but on the business side, not a lot of companies are doing it. I see a lot more companies using blogs internally, for maybe their collaboration tools or for their projects, but not necessarily externally communicating to their customers or their clients,” said Abramovitch.

“Blogs and wikis were version 1.0 of Web 2.0,” said Purves. “They were like direct, ‘Let’s take a few tools that have worked in Wikipedia with the blogosphere and let’s just bring them straight into the enterprise.’ I think you have to do a little bit more work than that to make tools that really work in a business environment.”

Canadian businesses embracing new communication tools have some advantages, said Purves. Smaller companies using Web-based tools (like those offered by Google) can work faster, smarter and spend less on technology, he said. Larger enterprises building Facebook-like internal systems can provide global resources and help employees find expertise within their organization, he added.

In addition to cutting down on travel expenses, online training can be a good retention tool for staff, said Abramovitch. “Companies, before they implement something, they try to make sure that it’s going to be useful and there’s some sort of ROI in time saved or travel saved.”

Businesses that refuse to accept the new tools face risks to productivity, bottom-line costs and the ability to attract and retain new talent, said Purves. “Anyone under the age of 30 these days is used to using social tools on the Internet. To come into an enterprise environment where everything runs through Outlook is just strange and it’s an alien experience for them.”

According to Purves, online collaboration tools should be a top consideration. “Tools that empower employees and let the leadership emerge within organizations is going to be important.”

“We definitely see a lot of SharePoint out there…there’s a lot of implementation going on, at least in the Toronto market,” said Abramovitch.

While in-person communication remains very important, there’s more to it, said Purves. “In order to have those interactions, you have to know who in your organization you should be talking to or what conversations to be having…being aware of what’s going on in your organization and knowing who to pick up the phone and call is just as important as having that conversation.”

“Inevitably, in organizations, you’re working on a project that someone was working on three years ago and you just had no idea. There’s so much reinventing the wheel and so many resources are trapped within people’s heads. Unless you have some of these social tools to expose knowledge that’s out there and get it exchanged, you don’t necessarily have those rich interactions,” said Purves.

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