Are You Obsolete?

How to stay relevant in the world of Web 2.0, Wii and other wonders.

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He cites Apple Inc.'s iPhone as an example. Because it's optimized for short videos, it may be useful for training or disseminating information to sales teams. Kellen's antennae are also up on text messaging, which has become a necessity for basic social interaction among college students who will soon enter the workforce. "I'm not sure what it means yet, but they're used to engaging in textual expression using a language that's not broadly accessible and through which they project their personalities," he says.

Kellen is still a tad tentative about the concept of Enterprise 2.0 — a term used to describe the vision of open, decentralized, community-driven technology platforms. "The Web 2.0 phenomenon is just a tiny bit more smoke than fire," he says, because no one has figured out yet the direct relationship between the unstructured data it produces and increased corporate competitiveness.

"Just having more blogs and wikis isn't the answer," Kellen says. "You have to figure out what the organization is going to learn from this, structure that knowledge and turn it into profit."

And he's trying to prepare for the day that happens. At DePaul, Kellen has formed a team focused on Web 2.0 developments, and he is pressuring vendors to make these technologies more relevant to the corporate market.

In companies where C-level executives may not welcome an IT manager moving too far away from a command-and-control style of leadership, he suggests seeking out key users to harness their passion and talents. "You can build an innovation agenda, staff it and fund it," Kellen says. "Even if it's not something that's immediately productive, in a two- or three-year time frame it will produce something."

Leaving the World of 'No'

And sometimes, all users want is a sense that IT is open to the idea of, say, creating a wiki, even if IT believes a wiki will be useless until it's integrated with the CRM system to produce business intelligence. That means avoiding the perception of what Ian Patterson, CIO at Scottrade Inc., calls "Dr. No" or the "Abominable No Man." "The guy wanting to update the wiki doesn't care about your grand scheme," he says.

One way to provide immediate satisfaction while also performing the due diligence of ROI and risk assessment, he says, is to break grand schemes into smaller parts and let users know what they can expect. For instance, IT might promise to deliver a user-requested wiki within a week while planning to create a business intelligence reporting mechanism two or three months later, knowing that the user would chafe at waiting that long for his initial request to be met. "Start looking at things in 30-day increments, not six-month increments," Patterson says. "There are always projects that are 90-, 180-, 360-day projects, but how do you handle those things that should be done in a week?"

Shorter-term projects may not need the controls and processes that longer- term projects do, for instance. By seeing things less in a "one size fits all way," Patterson says, IT becomes a collaborator rather than an inhibitor.

Take the word "no out of your vocabulary," Patterson says, and start thinking in terms of "That's a possible idea; let's see what we can do with it."

After all, if users perceive IT as a roadblock, they'll just find other ways to accomplish what they want, and Holbrook says they can succeed. He has seen entire sales teams turn to consumer technology to make them more productive, only to have IT shut down the applications because they weren't sanctioned. In one case, he says, the CFO overturned IT's decision because it was seen as inhibiting revenue generation.

Don't Give Up

At Constellation Energy Group Inc., the attitude in the CIO's office is not "We can't do it" but "This is interesting; is there applicability?" says Wynne Hayes, chief technology officer at the Baltimore-based company.

This kind of open attitude can make increasing your business savvy as important as improving your Web 2.0 fluency. "There are kids coming out of school who can run circles around IT in terms of Web 2.0 technology," Hayes says. "That makes it important to become more business-oriented so that we don't become hindrances to getting business done."

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