BOSTON—Despite the obvious differences in technology interests between Gen X, Gen Y or the upcoming Gen Alpha, there seems to be a common thread in getting just about any aged employee to use Web 2.0 technologies: Build it and they will come—for the most part.
Following the rule that if it takes more than two pizzas to feed the team, the teams too big, Toby Redshaw, corporate vice president of IT strategy, architecture and e-business at Motorola, took a few developers and built a Web 2.0 platform for Motorola employees.
The concept began with the notion of fixing a disastrous electronic filing system (employees had to hire a detective to find anything in it, according to Redshaw) and ended with a platform that enables the creation of blogs, wikis, tags and enterprise search. The result has been nothing short of a communication breakthrough at Motorola.
“The whole company runs on Web 2.0. We have 4,400 blogs and 4,200 wikis,” said Redshaw. “It really does work. It actually lets people see new relationships…and see what other smart people have done. The key is that it just has to be so easy to use that the adoption curve goes [straight up]. People vote with clicks. We didnt have to train anybody; we didnt have to explain it.”
Redshaw said that rather than an age bias, he noticed more of an executive level bias to collaborative efforts: the higher up in the companys hierarchy the less social networking technologies get used. “Thats a good thing,” he said. “The real work gets done not in the board room.”
Redshaw along with Mike Fratesi, communications product manager turned solutions marketing manager at Cisco, and Oliver Young, an analyst with Forrester, participated in a June 20 panel discussion at the Enterprise 2.0 conference here in Boston.
The topic of discussion: How to build an Enterprise 2.0 platform that employees will actually use. The discussion set out to test the theory that only younger people—the twenty-somethings just entering the work force—are more likely to utilize Web 2.0 technologies than the older “leathery veterans” of business.
Cisco, which acquired WebEx earlier this year, is putting a huge emphasis on Web 2.0 technologies, both as an employee imperative and a sales team product. From the top down the company—backed by CEO John Chambers—implemented a new development group to focus on collaborative software (where WebEx will live) and is funding IT to implement collaborative technologies internally.
From the bottom up, Cisco is encouraging employees to create wikis for better project management, for example, and appointing knowledge managers to share their knowledge of Web 2.0 tools and techniques with their less in-the-know colleagues.
“We are fundamentally restructuring the company to a collaborative model,” said Fratesi. “We are a large company; we are growing fast; and the only way to be successful is to delegate tasks.”
While Motorola and Cisco both found that “old school” employees —those 40 and older—are some of the biggest adopters of Web 2.0 technologies, Forresters Young pointed out that there is a real age dichotomy among less tech savvy companies.
Young described a large insurance company working to get its employee base — 30 percent of whom are near retirement age — to adopt Web 2.0 technologies as facing a real struggle. He pointed out that among 18 to 21 year-olds in general, 37 percent of them are creating content either through a wiki or a blog. Conversely, among 41 to 50 year-olds, only 12 percent are creating content.
Next Page: Winning over the Leathery Veterans.
Not Just for Kids
“I think Cisco is dead on with knowledge champions,” said Young. “You need people to show you [how these things work]. It is really just a matter of seeing these things in business processes that will make this thing spread. Having someone see why tools are valuable in their business context is really the way it works.”
Young told the story of another company, a law firm, where older employees were not interested in using a Blackberry — until they saw what it could do for them. “Now you cant pry them out of their cold dead hands,” he said.
Cisco and Motorola have taken very different approaches to implementing a Web 2.0 strategy and technology.
While the telecom rivals get it — that communication among colleagues is an enabler — they have taken decidedly different approaches to getting there. While Cisco is addressing Web 2.0 throughout the company, it has taken a more ad hoc approach to letting employees start and manage blogs, wikis and other technologies. Motorola, on the other hand, built its Web 2.0 platform first, and then let employees have at it.
“We didnt even tell anybody,” said Redshaw. “We just built this great platform and turned it on.”
Redshaws suggestion for companies: if you allow things to progress at an ad hoc rate without first implementing a platform underneath to centralize technologies, youre doomed.
“If you dont build a platform youve got spaghetti, and then meta spaghetti,” that youll never get a handle on,” said Redshaw. “Building in pockets may work out. But its very rare that someone has time to synch up systems that are under God knows whose desk. If you do roll out in pockets you miss the opportunity to keep things centralized.”
Young pointed out that companies also have to be aware of governance, risk and compliance issues when it comes to employees using collaboration tools. Even if a company chooses not to address Web 2.0 initiatives directly, he warned that policies should be put in place to address potential use. “Any corporate policy that does not address blogs is outdated,” he said.
Young referenced two ways Web 2.0 is making its way into the enterprise—whether or not IT departments are aware of its encroaching presence: SAAS (software as a service) offerings and SharePoint.
A sales manager using on-demand software from, say, Salesforce.com can spend $20 to get her entire team up on SocialText, and IT will have no idea the wiki-type service has been implemented.
At the same time vendors like Microsoft and SAP are making big headway into social networking and bringing those tools into the enterprise — whether IT likes it or not, according to Young.
Motorolas Redshaw jokingly said he has developed a strategy to dissuade employees from bringing in outside social networking capabilities. “Its called IT for adults,” he said. “We hunt down and kill people that bring in technology from the outside. We have one IT staff. You just cant do that.”
Redshaw conceded that he did get some wiki technology from the engineering team.
Editors Note: Toby Redshaw is corporate vice president of IT strategy, architecture and e-business at Motorola. His title was incorrectly reported in a story June 20 on eWEEK.com.