Whether they like it or not, social networking tools are worming their way into the enterprise so company executives need to just get the heck out of the way.
That was the message today from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston Tuesday morning.
"Younger workers are really tight with their computers, their laptops and gadgets," said JP Rangaswami, CIO and chief scientist at BT Design, which is an arm of British Telecom. "They have better relationships with their technology at home than their technology at work. ... The age of the locked down desktop is coming to an end. It's accentuated and accelerated by the new generation.
"They want to use their own devices to communicate," Rangaswami said. "They don't know why they shouldn't be able to."
And, Rangaswami said, since younger workers love and trust their technology, they're bringing it into the workplace -- whether it's officially approved or not.
"Enterprises now are more likely to say, 'OK, bring your technology to work and hook it up,'" he added. "People have to agree that we've lost control of the device."
What that means, according to several speakers at the conference, is that workers are increasingly using everything from blogs and microblogs, to wikis and social networks to collaborate on projects, share ideas and find colleagues who can help them.
And if company executives want some semblance of control, they better start participating.
"CIOs have to learn to get out of the way," said Rangaswami. "They need to provide an enabling environment and then different departments can build the services they need. Let the departments decide what they need."
R. Lemuel Lasher, a president and chief innovation officer at CSC, a global technology and business services company, said he saw enterprise 2.0 tools beginning to move into his company and, though he wasn't well-versed in them, decided to go with the flow.
"It was really clear that these social networks were going to have a lot of power in the enterprise," he added. "We put in wikis and blogs and then we started to use Jive as platform for social networking. It was just stunning. I got out of the way and said, 'I know this is important and I don't know what to do. I will get out of the way and let this take off.' "
Lasher also said he didn't delve into Enterprise 2.0 thinking about ROI.
"I wasn't worried about ROI," he said. "I was worried about transforming the culture of the organization. As it turned out, there was a lot of business benefit -- reduced time of cycle for proposals, greater ease in identifying employees company wide. The chairman uses it for his communications with employees. We still have Notes. We still have blogs and wikis. But [the Jive platform] has become the language of the organization. It's the way we operate inside the enterprise."
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.