Web portal allows CIOs to collaborate

Getting CIOs to collaborate with one another isn’t easy, even when they’re personally motivated to do so. Worries about legal issues, competitive advantage and a corporate culture that has generally valued secrecy over transparency have often stood in the way. But Michael Grove, a longtime veteran in the enterprise collaboration space, thinks he has the answer: Web 2.0, or something close to it.

Grove is CEO of Collabworks (formerly known as Open IT Works), which has created a portal for CIOs and other executives to collaborate and discuss key technology issues of pertinent interest to almost any IT department, including topics such as security, compliance and leadership.

“It allows you to have this organic environment,” Grove says. “CIOs are not always that tuned into collaboration, so you need [a technology] that helps take them through it.”

The portal, which was built by Central Desktop, includes discussion boards, document sharing and the workspaces (whose setup requires no Web development experience). It also allows users to upload presentations to share with peers, says Grove. The site has 30 members who are IT executives, including Max Reiner, the CIO of TravelZoo, a travel site for discounted airfare, cruises and hotels. Reiner has used the portal to share best practices with other CIOs on issues such as security and compliance.

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“It’s worked on both ends,” he explains. “I’ve made contributions and I’ve also received information and tips.”

As an example, Reiner says he and his IT group have been particularly good at deploying secure wireless networks. He shared that information with an interested group in the portal. He also joined a group focused on Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) for additional tips on managing compliance.

Traditionally, CIOs have not been inclined to share very much information with one another, particularly due to worries about the legality of doing so and the fear of divulging secrets to competitors, Grove says. But he believes users of CollabWorks have been able to work past those reservations by focusing on issues that are endemic among IT leaders, and not necessarily discussing issues which are company-specific.

CollabWorks hopes to strike a chord in a market where CIOs seem to be gravitating towards social software more and more. IT executives have begun using LinkedIn extensively and have participated in Facebook forum with CIO magazine.

Andre Mendes, CIO of the Special Olympics, has utilized the CollabWorks portal to help with his organization’s IT security and ERP upgrades. For the latter, he’d normally pay a vendor or consultancy huge sums of money to get the experienced advice required for a such a project. “It was something that’s very painful from a time and cost standpoint,” he says. “I was paying them to guide me through a process everyone had gone through.”

Despite his own success with the portal, TravelZoo’s Reiner says he believes many participants will need more time before they’re comfortable interacting over the medium, especially if they aren’t predisposed to sharing. “Some of my more conservative peers live in fear everyday,” he says. “But saying something is secure because you haven’t told someone is childish and just not grounded in fact.”

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