Web 2.0, the Enterprise and Blurring Lines

March 14, 2008 Christian Sepulveda

Enterprise’s interest and adoption of Web 2.0 technologies grows each day. Much has been and is being written on this trend; simply google “web 2.0 enterprise” and you will have lots to read. My interest is the significance and impact of this trend.

I think enterprise systems have historically worshipped data: ERP, CRM, knowledge management, and data warehousing are applications that capture, mine and organize data. While of course such information is important, data and the “system” tend to be the first class citizens at the expense of the interests of users (i.e. people).

By contrast, I think Web 2.0 applications are people-centric. Social networking has informed many new models of how to organize information and anchor it to people. The data exists to support the person, whereas the reverse feels true at times in enterprise. Furthermore, user experience and satisfaction are emphasized, if for no other reason than pragmatic market survival. Enterprise software rarely makes user satisfaction a primary goal.

I think enterprise software will evolve to reorient data modeling around people and focus on the quality of user experience. The legacy of being data-centric is based on the assumption that workers are more productive if provided better information. While I don’t challenge that assumption, I think the implementation of said principle has presumed volume and completeness of information was the key. I think Web 2.0 has shown that data accessibility, which is driven by data structure and usability, is more important.

Application integration has been challenging in enterprise. At times it was just expensive and in other cases simply didn’t work. Technologies like CORBA or DCOM and the more recent SOA/ESB/SOAP approach, while ranging in adoption, haven’t delivered great results, in my opinion. But most IT shops have tried to implement these standards nevertheless.

Mashups have demonstrated application integration can be relatively cheap and simple. Where numerous enterprise integration have spent tens of millions of dollars for mediocre results, it is fairly common place for Web 2.0 applications to share data, expose API’s and leverage other applications based on modest effort. REST, JSON and simple XML/HTTP APIs are proving more effective and attractive than the presumed standards of SOAP in enterprise.

Integration has always been a pain point in enterprise and I think Web 2.0’s approach can provide some insight for tactics that make it more economically and technically viable.

Many enterprise IT groups and ISV’s are already looking to exploit and borrow Web 2.0 technologies and experience. While I think this will result in lower development costs, better applications and probably higher productivity, I don’t think the trend will simply consist of enterprise visiting the land of Web 2.0 and bringing back trinkets from its travels.

I think the line between consumer Web 2.0 and enterprise will blur and fade, though not completely. Many of the same people who are users of enterprise software at work, are users of Web 2.0 at home. And they already use the same applications in both arenas; Google Maps and Wikipedia are just two examples of such applications.

Many sales groups already use LinkedIn to generate and pursue leads. (The salesforce.com AppExchange has applications to integrate with LinkedIn.) Google Apps is frequently used by office workgroups to collaborate on documents instead of using Microsoft Office.

Ten years ago email was typically a discrete application; at the millennium “Send As Attachment” functionality was commonplace in applications. Web 2.0 technologies such as RSS feeds are already being integrated into many applications and I imagine the ubiquity of other Web 2.0 elements will continue. I think we are quickly approaching a world where the tools used at work and at play will frequently be the same.

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