Wachovia set to give 120,000 users access to wikis, blogs and social networks

Enterprise 2.0 project aims to help satisfy Gen Y workers while slowing boomer brain drain

The agenda for last year's Enterprise 2.0 Conference was vendor- and analyst-heavy, since, at the time, few end-user companies were widely using the Web 2.0 technologies that were nurtured by the consumer market.

The agenda for this year's conference, which opened today in Boston, indicates that the technologies have spread through some top companies over the past year.

For example, in a keynote speech Wednesday, Pete Fields, e-business director for employees and corporate services at Wachovia Bank, will talk about the firm's rollout of wikis, blogs and employee social profiles to 60,000 users to date, and its plans to double that total later this year.

In an interview with Computerworld today, Fields said that the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank has moved to embrace Enterprise 2.0 technologies to meet the needs of the its young Generation Y workers, who grew up continuously "connected"; to capture the knowledge of retiring workers to avoid brain drain; and to provide all its employees better ways to work together.

Fields said Wachovia began its Enterprise 2.0 journey two years ago, when some of its enterprise systems — including its content management and knowledge management systems — were aging and needed to be re-architected or replaced. In addition, the company had been eyeing some of the maturing consumer-based social networks and theorizing how the tools could be applied in the business, he said.

The project was launched by replacing Verity search tools and a Documentum content management system with an integrated system based on Microsoft Corp.'s SharePoint technology, now the core of Wachovia's Enterprise 2.0 effort.

After a proof-of-business case to test the concept with a small group of users, the bank rolled out the technology to 1,000 employees in December 2007 and has since gradually provided access to 60,000 — half of Wachovia's entire workforce.

The system lets users access wikis, blogs and profiles that include photos and information about the roles of employees. It also allows users to access a corporate directory for contact information and can note whether an employee is available via instant messaging or phone or is in a meeting, Fields added.

Later this year, the company plans to add features to the social networking profiles, along with the ability to track some user activities, such as content tagging, Fields said.

In addition, Wachovia plans to allow employees to create their own ad hoc wikis and blogs. "We expect to stand up thousands of wikis around processes, policies and products. That will allow 120,000 people to contribute their knowledge," Fields said.

One of the main drivers behind the company's Enterprise 2.0 project is the desire to provide a way for the newest generation of workers to have a voice in the company.

"We're still working like first-generation enterprises," Fields said. "We are run by boomers who are very comfortable with that. [The next generation of workers] has grown up with reality television, where they not only see themselves as involved with the programming but they all vote [on the outcome]. In a traditional company, there is no way for a new-generation worker coming in to have a voice and to be heard."

Even younger workers who come to a company and assimilate well can become "disenfranchised in a systematic and pervasive way" if they don't have access to Web 2.0 tools, he noted. While they may enter a company excited and eager to contribute their skills, they often quickly "get bludgeoned by bureaucracy and risk management" and eventually leave, Fields added. But if the company provides workers with the ability to post to blogs and wikis, they get the sense of having a voice.

While the bank can't stop the imminent departure of baby boomers who are reaching retirement age, it can use such tools to better capture the knowledge those workers will take with them, he added. "I don't think business has ever seen the loss of knowledge capital that we are starting to see now to see now. [Enterprise 2.0] is a way of capturing knowledge and assets and mitigating the impact of a maturing workforce."

Still, as with any technical paradigm shift — the company soon will be giving 120,000 users the ability to create content for the corporate intranet, whereas only 1,500 had that ability with the legacy system — proponents had to overcome some negative perceptions, in this case associated with consumer use of Web 2.0 tools.

"Executives came to this topic assuming that what holds true on the public Internet today would also hold true for the corporation," Fields said. "Those really are faulty assumptions, in that context really drives everything. The context for the workplace is so different than the context of the home and the consumer market."

Fields also acknowledged that the tools can create a disruption for the corporate communications staff in a company where the communications paradigm has been top down instead of allowing conversations bubble up from any employee. "[Enterprise 2.0] is thrilling to our Generation Y workforce … but it is definitely daunting and scary to corporate communications," he said.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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