Are You Obsolete?

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

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The open attitude has already led Constellation to try out a novel approach to systems development. When the commodities group recently needed a new application developed quickly, it turned to Glastonbury, Conn.-based TopCoder Inc., which stages regular coding competitions, ranks developers who compete and then makes this talent available to businesses that need systems built.

The work is broken down into dozens of pieces so that developers work in parallel with one another. When coding is complete, the components are integrated. This speeds the job, which has "tremendous value" for the commodities business group, Hayes says.

Despite such results, few advocate opening the floodgates to a huge change for IT and the business. The world of Web 2.0 is messier than any corporation is accustomed to. For instance, traditionally, any information that was published — whether internally or externally — was checked and cross-checked and subject to a corporate approval process. With Web 2.0, that type of governance is completely irrelevant, if not destructive to the very purpose of the blog or wiki, Hayes says. "The last thing we want to do is put governance around it," she says. "It's incumbent on the individual to take responsibility."

So it's not just a question of whether IT is ready. It's also a matter of communicating to other business leaders the changes these technologies imply, ensuring that they're prepared for the autonomy the technology requires, and planning a phased implementation. Constellation is piloting wikis and blogs in its commodities group and exploring their applicability for engineers and IT.

Wynne Hayes
Wynne Hayes

"We want to make sure the culture is ready for the shift — that they're responsible for content," Hayes says. And that also means readers must be responsible for critically analyzing the information they read.

Patterson agrees that collaborative publishing and social networking tools should not be overly managed by IT. Scottrade uses Web-scanning technology from RSA Security Inc. to ensure the accuracy of what gets published on the public Internet, but those processes are handled by business people, not IT.

Achieving Balance

Employees increasingly expect that the technologies they use in their personal lives will follow them everywhere they go — and that they won't need any help implementing them. Given such expectations, IT professionals are struggling to redefine their roles.

They tend toward three approaches, Holbrook says: seek and destroy (shutting down unapproved applications), acknowledge and ignore (doing nothing to manage the situation), or solicit and support (trying to support all the technologies brought in by users). He suggests a fourth way: enabling the creation of online communities for users to share best practices for managing consumer technology in the workplace.

"IT can be involved in these communities and help shape opinion about which tools are best and how they can be optimally deployed, but it only intervenes when an application poses an unacceptable security risk," Holbrook says.

This enables users to bring in consumer technology but mitigates support headaches. "This is a big change for IT," he says, "because it's a move to a communal method of managing end users."

Another big part of the balancing act is user education, Patterson says. "It's about having an open dialogue with the business [people] so they understand what it's going to cause from a compliance or e-discovery or risk perspective," he says. "There's a fine line between being considered a dinosaur and being considered an enabler."

Brandel is a Computerworld contributing writer in Newton, Mass. Contact her at marybrandel@verizon.net.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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