Let Freedom Ring

Opinion: New technologies such as wikis, blogs, podcasts and social networks should be welcomed in the enterprise, not ignored.

Is your company flat? Is your company paranoid? Do your managers manage by walking around?

All those terms have always been printed in boldface type in the consultants lexicon, but aside from fodder for Dilbert cartoons, those terms are usually just that, terms instead of actions.

But as the power of consumer social technologies becomes ever more prevalent in business, the days of being able to talk the game instead of playing it are numbered.

Executive Editor Stan Gibson wrote an eWEEK Road Map story on the rise of wikis in the corporation. Add wikis to the world of blogs, podcasts, videocasts and social networks, and the ability for the manager to control the company from the traditional top-down approach simply wont work. Im not the only one thinking this way.

In his upcoming book, "Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything" (to be published in December), co-authored with Anthony Williams, Don Tapscott writes how mass collaboration will change everything.

Tapscott writes, "Smart companies are encouraging, rather than fighting, the heaving growth of massive online communities—many of which emerged from the fringes of the Web to attract tens of millions of participants overnight. Even ardent competitors are collaborating on path-breaking science initiatives that accelerate discovery in their industries. Indeed, as a growing number of firms see the benefits of mass collaboration, this new way of organizing will eventually displace the traditional corporate structures as the economys primary engine of wealth creation."

Although the prose is a little bit too breathless in promising great change right away, Tapscott (who has proved his prescience before in his book "The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence") is onto something.

And this time the changes coming to the corporate world bear a remarkable difference from the ideas propounded in a flat company trying to squash the traditional pyramid chain of command or paranoid companies always on guard for the next competitor that may prove their undoing.

This time around, the users are in charge, and technology managers can have a lot to say about how their companies are structured or risk being left out of the new game.

As a technology manager, you can develop a plan to implement a corporatewide wiki capability, or you can watch your users quickly turn to free, hosted versions sitting outside the companys security confines.

You can develop a capability for podcasts, blogs and social networks, or you can see your users turn to outside alternatives. You can either be a manager who provides robust corporate wikis, blogs and podcasts better than the alternatives, or you can become a digital cop trying to find, track and shut down the profusion of information supplied by your employees, customers and suppliers as it relates to your company and the market your company serves.

Heres a suggestion: Technology managers are better technology implementers than technology limiters. Coming up with a strategy to put your company in the forefront of social, mass collaboration users will be good for you, your career and your company.

/zimages/7/28571.gifClick here to read about the emergence of wikis in the enterprise.

Between now and the end of the year, spend your time understanding how Wikipedia works or what Facebook is all about, or why avatar-based Second Life and its associated sites have staying power. All that education is free and only a browser click away.

The next step is to understand your business sufficiently enough to be able to describe how these social applications can be applied for the companys benefit. If you dont encourage the use of these applications, your users will find access to them elsewhere.

The next big application missing from the corporate environment is a management tool that will allow you to look over all the social applications that relate to your company and answer the following simple questions: What are our customers saying about us? How is our brand perceived? What do our competitors offer that we dont?

Until that application comes along, it is up to you to offer the social applications that will provide the information that will result in the discussions where those answers reside.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at eric_lundquist@ziffdavis.com.

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