Tools & Technologies

Where's the Value in Web 2.0?

In response to one of my recent 2.0 Reports, Peter Crow writes:

Michael – good stuff. The real problem is that “web 2.0” is 100% meaningless to almost everybody outside the internet and ICT. Simply, most business men and “normal people” have never even heard of it, let alone know what it’s about. I did a casual survey across 9 senior business executives and found that one (only) had heard that something new was being developed to repalce/sit on top of the Internet, and two only had heard of “wiki”. The real challenge is to convert all this new thinking into something meaningful and relevant to business people. A solution it may be, but unless the people agree they have a problem AND that they want to solve it, then the risk is the solution will remain a back-room thing. Is Web 2.0 that significant that its going to change the way we work? If so, folk better get their heads together and work out how to communicate the value in simple, meaningful language. Start with me please – I’ve read a little and still don’t get it…!

Here’s my initial response to Peter. Feedback on how I could explain it better is very much welcomed.

What’s the Problem Web 2.0 Seeks to Resolve?
I think that Web 2.0 can resolve five interlinked business problems: onsite application maintenance, business user frustrations, cross-organizational system nightmares, desktop upgrade issues, and simpler approaches to collaboration.

Web 2.0 services, applications and tools seek to eliminate the pain experienced by IT in maintaining IT applications onsite. Such Web 2.0 services, applications and tools are delivered from the service provider, directly to the user’s browser. All systems and data are managed and maintained by the provider, meaning that there is minimal back-end configuration and setup work required by IT prior to usage by business users. This definitely means that the function of the “IT person” in a business context will change; the need for those with systems maintenance skills will decline swiftly, and the need for those with the ability to see how current needs can be met by contemporary Web 2.0 offerings will increase.

For the business user, Web 2.0 services, applications and tools can eliminate the day-to-day frustrations experienced due to (a) the time lag in waiting for IT to architect, build and deploy new inhouse systems, (b) the cost of downtime as IT seeks to fix systems that have crashed and burned, and (c) the time-tag in waiting for system upgrades to be rolled out. With respect to the time lag for deployment experienced with traditional systems, this is a non-issue because Web 2.0 offerings are immediately provisionable and ready-to-go via a Web browser. Users can get going with new systems pretty much immediately. With respect to downtime, this is theoretically minimized because Web 2.0 providers have more robust data centers than the average business, a better security infrastructure than the average business, and much more skilled IT administrators than the average business. And finally, with respect to rolling out new system upgrades, the Web 2.0 provider does this “once-for-all”; they upgrade their applications through a series of often ongoing incremental improvements, and every user automagically receives them the next time they log in. The current approach followed by software vendors of major releases every couple of years, along with the attendant planning, testing and deploying work, goes away. Business users get the latest and greater sooner and more often.

The problem of cross-organizational system usage and integration is greatly reduced by the embrace of Web 2.0 offerings. Since the systems are “supra-enterprise” — or above the level of an enterprise — accessibility from multiple enterprises is a given. Businesses don’t have to engage in firewall black magic to permit access from certain enterprises; the systems and data are live on the Internet, and authorized users, regardless of the organization to which they belong, visit shared and common destinations in order to work.

The pain for IT and end users of rolling out desktop updates for applications is significantly reduced or even entirely eliminated. Web 2.0 offerings are delivered in a browser, and so there are no executables that have to be installed on every desktop in turn. Since Web 2.0 offerings come with rich graphical interface functionality and usability, they deliver a “desktop-like” experience without the “desktop management pain”. The alphabet soup of Web 2.0 approaches for rich graphical displays have led many early adopters to conclude that a desktop-like experience is good enough.

Finally, Web 2.0 offers a series of applications that are potentially easier to learn and more simple to use for team collaboration. Blogs and wikis are contenders for team collaboration offerings, verses existing things like SharePoint, eRoom and Lotus Notes. Blogs and wikis are easier to learn and more simple to use because they offer less structured functionality (eg, they don’t have a structured “task” or “calendar” construct) and also because the mental model of each is extremely bare-boned (blogs, “write text and publish it for consumption via a browser or reader”; and wikis, “write text, read text, edit text”). This is definitely a double-edged sword, however, because some teams will definitely need more structured constructs, and the lack of them will cause the gerry-rigging of the software to perform unnatural acts. Equally, some teams will require a mental model with more capabilities. It depends on the context and the needs of the team, but there are a definitely circumstances where blogs and wikis work just as well or better than alternatively offerings.

Conclusion
Peter may well say that I’ve given a techy answer instead of a business one, so let me attempt a one sentence “so what” in order to address his concern: because these issues have been solved, business users will be better equipped to know what’s going on, be better able to work together, be better able to serve customers, and be more efficient and productive in their working hours. And that’s the business benefit.

Next time: What’s the Evidence that the Mainstreet Business User Wants to Solve This?

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