Corporate podcasts from the likes of MassMutual Financial Group, General Motors, A.M. Best and IBM arent likely to bump workout music mixes from FitPod.com, comedy from Bill Maher and sports broadcasts from the most-popular list at Apple Computers iTunes store. But corporate podcasting has worked its way into the technology fabric of businesses.
The advantages of podcasts—produced audio delivered to a digital music player—are obvious: They are easy to create and are portable, and users can download them and listen at their leisure without office distractions. A message from the boss? Facts about a new product? Procedures for a new business process? Technology support tips? Download and listen.
"The next age of insanity is using iPods and cell phones," said industry veteran Max Hopper, president of Max D. Hopper Associates, in remarks at the Society for Information Managements recent SIMposium conference in Dallas. "People are used to using consumer technology. Customers will want to deal with their suppliers in the same vein, and someone will have to offer that way."
The issue: Podcasting presents a conundrum for technology executives, many of whom told eWeek they dont have a podcasting strategy or much to do with the practice. For now, business units—say, the marketing department or sales—are leading podcasting efforts. These units may create their own systems or acquire them without consulting the technology department.
Those practices may have to change as podcasting gains momentum. These relatively new technologies, such as wikis and RSS feeds, will appear in a series of stories in eWeek examining how consumer technologies are affecting corporate IT departments.
Simply put, the consumers are leading the suits in technology. Indeed, consumer fluency with podcasting, already strong, is growing rapidly. The Diffusion Group forecasts that the use of podcasting among U.S. consumers is growing at a compound annual rate of 101 percent. By 2010, 56.8 million Americans will be using "time-shifted digital audio files," or podcasts, TDG predicts.
Not all predictions are so rosy. One analyst voiced skepticism. "This is not something thats going to explode overnight, like IM [instant messaging]. Podcasting is far from being a mainstream product," said Forrester Researchs Charlene Li in Foster City, Calif.
Even so, as young, podcast-savvy workers enter the work force, IT professionals face a choice: Keep the encroachment at a distance or lead the parade, whether by ensuring sufficient bandwidth for the influx of MP3 files or by building and outfitting a studio.
As a technology thats being pulled into enterprises by users, podcasting has a lot in common with PCs and the Internet. As with those technologies, enterprises are launching podcast efforts without first calculating ROI (return on investment), but whether podcasting will have an impact of comparable magnitude remains to be seen.
"It evolved as a logical method for information delivery. Looking at the changing demographics of the people were recruiting, we looked at podcasting. [The] iPod is a way theyre looking at receiving information," said Denise Szczebak, director in the national center for professional development at insurance company MassMutual, in Springfield, Mass.
Some users download audio files and listen at their PC, while some burn a CD to play later, perhaps on the way home, Szczebak said.
At MassMutual, which has a long history of producing educational audio and video, it was a short step for Szczebak—who is charged with producing training aids for her companys 4,200 insurance agents—to output MP3 files. Content comes from MassMutuals online university, which helps agents educate themselves by accessing information and sales advice. Each podcast starts with about 3 minutes of news, followed by three educational segments of about 3 minutes each. A page on MassMutuals online university Web site contains a list of each podcasts high points.
A talent search didnt take long. Szczebak tapped one staffer, Dave Buchannon, who had commercial radio experience, to work with producer Karen McMahon. Buchannon writes the script and does the announcing; McMahon plans out the show content and lines up guests. Both have added their podcasting duties to their regular work in Szczebaks professional development department.