Donald Rippert’s 13-year-old son asked recently what his father’s e-mail address had been when he was 13. Not feeling like trying to explain to his boy that when he was a teenager, e-mail hadn’t been invented, Rippert just told him it was “Commander Cool.”
These days, having a teenage son probably helps Rippert do his job. He is chief technology officer for global consulting firm Accenture, and in the kinds of things teenagers are doing online he sees the future of computing in the enterprise. And he has already begun making that vision a reality at Accenture.
Speaking at Accenture’s Global Convergence Forum, held last month, Rippert described how he is borrowing ideas from online services such as Facebook, De.licio.us, YouTube, Wikipedia and Second Life to remake Accenture’s employee intranet.
Just this month, Accenture went live with a new global employee network that looks much like Facebook, the popular Web site on which mostly young people share pictures and information about their interests.
Accenture also has visual, context-assisted search capabilities already up and running. Rippert looked at YouTube and wondered why a teenager can find an amateur video on the site quickly and easily, but finding a video of a corporate presentation in a business’s archives is next to impossible if you don’t know the exact title of the file. He picked up on the idea of allowing every user to tag content as the De.licio.us site does, thus creating a co-operative way of classifying material that benefits all users.
There will be more. Other capabilities Accenture has in beta now include virtual employee training, using technology similar to that of the much-talked-about Second Life, in which members can create personal avatars to move around an interact in a virtual world online.
And there will be wikis — cooperatively edited Web pages — to allow anyone in the company to publish material for internal use. “If you make it easy for your employees to publish information, they’ll publish information,” says Rippert.
Some people may be quicker to adopt these new technologies than others, he admits. But his response to that is not to pressure employees to do so. “The younger employees carry it,” he says; they will be the first to publish on wikis, to tag content and so on. Others will follow as they see the value, though Rippert adds that some of the new capabilities, such as improved search functions, will replace the old way of doing things and employees will have little choice about using them.
Rippert expects turning all the capabilities he envisions will take about 12 months.
As with many things that Accenture does, part of the point of the exercise is to explore ways for the consulting firm’s clients to use new technologies. Rippert believes businesses can learn from many of the Web 2.0 services popular with young people these days. In fact, he introduced his presentation at GCF by saying he would talk about what businesses can learn from teenagers.
Of course some businesses see such developments not so much as models for the future of their own internal systems but as business opportunities in themselves. Take Fox Interactive Media, a unit of News Corp. that operates a string of online properties. In 2005 the company paid US$580 million for MySpace, then relatively unknown but now one of the most popular social networking sites on the Web.
At GCF Michael Barrett, executive vice-president and chief revenue officer at Fox Interactive, offered some insights on his company’s vision for making money out of MySpace. In a recent promotion, MySpace members are being offered the chance to increase the number of photos they can include in their sites from 16 to 300.
Along with the extra photo space comes a promotion for — guess what? — the current movie 300. Barrett sees manufacturers gaining exposure on MySpace by offering members incentives to make their brands “friends” and display them on their pages.
On the horizon is a combination of Internet services like MySpace, Facebook and the like with mobile communications. Many of these services are better suited to mobile than stationary use, argues Philippe Chauffard, Accenture’s executive director, network for Europe, Middle East, Africa and Latin America.
“Really, the next revolution is going to be about combining the power of that innovation with the growth in wireless,” Chauffard said during a panel discussion at GCF.
Barrett also sees these services eating into the ubiquity of online communications tools that older generations are used to. “People on MySpace don’t e-mail anymore,” he says. “In fact, they think of e-mail as something their parents did.”
Some day Donald Rippert’s son may have to explain to his children what e-mail was.