IT depts. should embrace – not eschew – Web 2.0, says expert

A blogger, authority on social technologies and business, and senior consultant with Cutter Consortium, Stowe Boyd has strong opinions about Web 2.0. “I say what I feel, not what I think I should say,” said Boyd early in his Web 2.0 presentation at the 2007 Cutter Consortium Summit in May. He made clear that he believes Web 2.0 is a revolution, with effects growing more powerful; ignoring them is analogous to ignoring the coming of the Internet not so long ago. His presentation and the panel discussion afterward electrified the room. Fear of open information-sharing and unknown security issues mixed with intrigue about the possibilities of Web 2.0 turned the session into a powerfully divisive brew. So I met with Boyd the next day to see what his thoughts were on all the emotion surrounding Web 2.0 in the enterprise.

Why does Web 2.0 arouse heated emotion in some IT professionals?

Web 2.0, like other things that come along, challenges a lot of base assumptions people, particularly IT professionals who work inside big businesses, have about how to operate in the world.

First of all, they don’t know anything about it. So they’re starting at a personal disadvantage. There’s this technology that’s just sweeping out there in the consumer space and it doesn’t fit in with their world view, they don’t understand it.

They’ve been working on Microsoft Exchange and Outlook and they’re using the Microsoft stack in most of the places in their business. They use the Internet, but mostly they think about it in terms of security issues–that is, how to secure themselves from it.

All the sudden you have this renaissance happening on the Web and with such technologies as open source challenging the established software players. It’s all very destablizing, and the natural tendency for a lot of people is to say, I don’t like this and I’m going to resist it for as long as I can and I will try to rally people around me to help me resist the invasion of these new ideas.

I hate to say it but that change-resistant behavior is, for many, human nature.

Do you think that people who are suspicious of Web 2.0 can be convinced otherwise?

When I was young and green, I thought that I could make some great persuasive argument to convince people [to embrace a change], but now I know that’s impossible.

When people are not ready to be convinced, they have myriad techniques at their disposal to deny. Web 2.0 is a technological revolution, and the technological elite who are not a part of it will resist. “It’s illegitimate, it’s insecure, we don’t understand it, what we’ve got works already. If it’s so good, why am I not doing it already?”

That reminds me of some of the angry feedback CIO has gotten on articles about “shadow IT” and the thought that users are bringing into the enterprise various technologies. What are your thoughts on that?

I was at a big energy conglomerate a few years ago to talk to the CIO. I started my presentation. When the first slide–which was about instant messaging–went up, he said, “That’s all very interesting but we don’t allow instant messaging here. ”

I went in the hall, and I got the AD guy who had set up the projector to come in, and asked him, “So how many people in the building use IM?” He said, “Oh, 50 to 60 percent.” A lot of people just want to wish it away. Beyond that, it’s very difficult to plug all the holes.

So what will change the receptivity to Web 2.0 tools in the enterprise?

People like JP Rangaswami can revolutionize major corporations. It needs to be a person like that. You have to have people who are incredibly strong, incredibly visionary and are willing to embrace the benefits of openness and transparency.

This is a guy who has an open e-mail policy; he gives access to his outgoing e-mails to everyone on his staff. They can read everything. His staff learns a tremendous amount about what’s he’s thinking from reading his sent e-mails.

Now that’s a revolutionary approach to e-mail. There aren’t very many JPs in the world, but you compare him to the typical CIO of large corporation, and they’re exactly the opposite, they are more worried about control.

Worries about control, that’s the more the typical thing I would expect. But isn’t security important?

Security issues are important, but you don’t want fear to dominate everything; it will stop innovation. It reminds of that science-fiction story in the future where the robots wouldn’t let humans do anything. All humans could do is sit in a chair with our hands folded, robots did everything else for us. If you live like that, you don’t get anything done.

JP proves how good it can be. In the best organizations, leaders will adopt the technology and figure out how to mitigate the risk.