On Balance, Web 2.0 Is Bigger than Corporate I.T.
On April 12, John Milan, in Read/WriteWeb's Web 2.0's Future All Depends On IT's Future, discussed recent research reports from Forrester and The Leading Edge Forum. The reports address corporate adoption of "web 2.0" technologies.
Milan says the Forrester report describes corporate IT as risk averse and preferring that web 2.0 technologies be supported by well established vendors. The Leading Edge Forum report, on the other hand, gives a picture of how corporate IT is changing and is moving towards a more web based architecture that appears to be more receptive to web 2.0 technologies than what is suggested by the Forrester report..
While I have not read these two reports, having done some research on corporate adoption of web 2.0, I understand how two different assessments can arise from considering how related technologies will -- or will not -- be adopted by corporations.
Many corporate IT departments maintain complex network and computing infrastructures that must provide assured access to many legacy applications as well as to normal day to day network and communications functions. As a result, IT management look with favor on reliable suppliers whose offerings fit these requirements.
Still, business management, increasingly tech-savvy, can see how increasingly cost effective it can be to adopt externally provided IT based services. In this world, "middle management" sees the benefits of the newer web-delivered services and expresses impatience when the IT department seems to be throwing roadblocks by emphasizing traditional concerns such as security, reliability, and ease of integration.
Which of these views is correct? I've concluded that they both are.
Corporate IT has to be risk averse. It must maintain a complex infrastructure to support business critical corporate computing and communications operations. Adding more complexity to a corporate IT architecture -- especially when there are questions about ROI and corporate control -- is, not surprisingly, not looked on with favor.
Middle managers working within individual lines of business, on the other hand, don't have the same concerns as IT. They have to make their numbers. Accomplished web surfers, they may view newer web based service offerings as one way to move rapidly and cost effectively to improve their business processes and their agility.
Despite corporate IT's need to keep the lights on and the networks and databases humming, IT must find ways to engage with the businesses to help them make the right decisions about what mix of internal and external services is appropriate. Failing to engage with business on such important matters will further marginalize IT.
In addition, blaming web 2.0 foot-dragging on IT can be short sighted, unfair, and unproductive. IT is not always the culprit. Upper management can be very conservative when it comes to adopting business practices that it feels might jeopardize control, security, and privacy.
In some cases, these concerns are justified. Making corporate business operations more open, collaborative, and web-oriented may require some significant -- and expensive -- changes to corporate culture and business processes, changes that IT may simply not have the management bandwidth, budget, or expertise to deal with.
But just as it would be bad for coporate IT to ignore the needs of the businesses it supports, it is just as wrong for the businesses to ignore IT's legitimate concerns. Business management needs to realize that IT management involves more than just signing up and paying for for a remotely hosted application. IT needs to realize that many web 2.0 based projects are much more about the people and processes than the technology.