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Monday, February 4, 2008


Indian Companies are finally waking up to the potential Web for engaging employees It has come a full circle. Just a few years back, Anna Lee Saxenian, professor of University of California, Berkley, studied the success of immigrant entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, and concluded that their natural ability to network socially was a major reason behind their success.

Social networking was not such a hot phrase when Prof Saxenian attributed Indians' success to it. Times have changed. Social networking has become the biggest idea on the Internet since then. Social networking as a manifestation of Web 2.0 technology is not only about popular sites like Orkut, Face book, LinkedIn and others that have given freedom to users to connect socially. Utility of social networking as a business tool for enterprises has been debated for the last several years. Most companies that viewed social networks as a time waster are now waking up to leverage the opportunities they offer in terms of productivity. Info-Tech Research Group suggests there are companies that are not objecting to their employees accessing these sites from office. The data goes on to suggest that only 46% IT heads in the 200 companies were for blocking access to these sites. In fact, 3% companies were found to encourage their employees to be part of social networking sites. This is also a fact that most employees are members of popular social networking sites, but most of the information shared on this is a mix of personal, professional, and, at times, non-serious in nature. This is further substantiated by a global study of CEOs done by IBM Institute of Business Value which showed that 75% CEOs considered collaboration was one of the key factors that would help them to innovate. Cisco CEO John Chambers believes that social networking concepts are very relevant for enterprises. "Many of the things that our children and consumers started such as the wikis, the Wikipedia, and You Tube will now go into the business. We think that will drive a decade of productivity."

The Relevance

Companies have started seeing value in having an infrastructure within the company that allows its employees to collaborate and use it as a tool for furthering their professional needs and requirements. Talking about the relevance, Jai Ganesh, head, Web 2.0, Infosys, which has created for information sharing, says, "Organizations are increasingly looking at social networking as an effective mechanism to encourage formal as well as informal collaboration, knowledge transfer across geographically distributed employees, and discussions with partners and the community at large." Chetan Yardi, country manager, Lotus, SWG, IBM India, sees this in the context of changing demographics within an organization: "The demographics of the workforce in enterprises have been changing from what it was ten years ago. Most industries are doing well and they are hiring in large numbers. On one hand there are new recruits who are very young and on the other are very senior people with very rich functional and technical expertise. This is where we see the Web 2.0 in the form of social networking or social software helping people make connections cutting across hierarchy." Echoing a similar sentiment, Akshay Aggarwal, head, Systems Engineering, BEA Systems, says, "The idea behind Web 2.0 is that people should contribute and share information which earlier used to reside in their desktops and is now available to the world outside. They can interact with the outside world to see what kind of inputs or feedback is coming in." Says Sanjay Manchanda, director, Information Worker Business Group, Microsoft India, "The reason why the concept of social networking has been lapped up by enterprises is that wikis and blogs are so easy to use in terms of publishing. It doesn't require any training."

Bringing Web 2.0 to Intranet

Intranet has been there in most companies for a long time, but there were doubts on its efficiency. It remained a resource pool of static content relating to the company's policies. It was rarely used as a medium of collaboration among employees.But, things have started changing with several companies embracing Web 2.0 technologies to overhaul their Intranets to make it more collaborative and useful. Efforts have already started to show results. For example, Infosys' Intranet, called Sparsh, won the Nielson Norman Award 2007 for being one of the top 10 Intranet sites in the world. Sparsh connects about 69,000 employees across eighteen countries and has become the primary networking for Infosys' employees. For the external world, there is, whose tagline is "discuss the business of technology and the technology of business in the flat world". With more collaboration tools being added onto the Intranet, drastic cut down on number of face-to-face meetings could happen.

Alternatives to Intranets

A recent study by IDC India revealed that out of around seventy Web 2.0 companies, more than fifty-five have a consumer focus, while a select twelve show varying degrees of enterprise focus. Websites like Zoho, Cynapse, Techtribe, and Uhuroo are among the few sites that have a considerable degree of enterprise or business focus. These companies offer hosted services to companies that want to avoid spending on the existing or new Intranets to connect their employees by going in for the hosted model. There is a heated debate regarding whether social networking sites like Face book can act as an Intranet for companies. In fact, most recently, the US-based Serena Software announced that its 800 employees around the globe would participate each week in a company-wide program, called "Face book Fridays".

Google's Gameplan

Google's social networking site, Orkut, has caught everybody's imagination through its features and ease of use. It does have several community profiles, which are around companies, technologies, etc. Google has managed to diversify its offerings to include Google Apps, which offers communication and collaboration tools to publish information in a hosted environment. In a nutshell, Google has integrated offerings for enterprises. Google's BlogSpot though hosts several blogs set up by the employees of the companies based in India, refused to participate in this story and share their perspective on Web 2.0 and its plans for enterprises in India.

Addressing Security Issues

The fear of leaking of confidential company information is the biggest fear among enterprise managers. According to Sanjay Manchanda of Microsoft, "Security can be looked at from two angles. One is a customer facing blog and on the internal side, the worry is more about the ability to publish any info to the outside world. The issues are more around managing the content for accuracy and avoiding a situation where customers or other people are misled through these blogs. The administrator can control the accounts and information that is published and monitor who gets to see what and also whether they can contribute or not. Not everybody has access to the same set of information." He adds that some companies even encourage free sharing of information or airing of opinion that may be, at times, in conflict with the company's official position. This gives a lot of credibility to the blogs.

The Vendor Landscape

Traditionally, Microsoft has had the largest mindshare of offerings in the form of MySite, which allowed companies to set up an Intranet through the portal site in which employees could collaborate with co-workers. Microsoft has managed to gain a good market share for its product, SharePoint Server 2007, which includes capability to create blogs, wikis, chatterbox ajaxs, and tag clouds. IBM launched 'social software', called Lotus Connections, in June 2007. The product allows creation of profiles, communities, blogs, dogear, and activities for organizing work and utilizing the professional network. BEA, on the other hand, has also entered the fray with what it calls enterprise social computing products which revolve around BEA AquaLogic Pages, BEA AquaLogic Ensemble, and BEA AquaLogic Pathways. These products are aimed at collaboration and social software to improve knowledge, worker productivity, and user-driven innovation. SAP is collaborating with Microsoft to offer Web 2.0 solutions. Networking leader Cisco is also making forays, and offers software platforms to enable social networking sites besides focus on unified communications. Then there are companies like Awareness, Jive, Near-Time Social text, and Six Apart that are offering hosted environments for enterprises to start collaborating.

The Outlook

The trend of enterprises opening their doors to Web 2.0 is likely to accelerate due to obvious business advantages and productivity tools that it offers. There are even suggestions that traditional Intranet's days are numbered and that it will finally get integrated with new set of tools that Web 2.0 offers. One thing is clear that for the next few years it would be technology companies that will be the early adopters of this technology due to the urgent need to harness the domain capabilities of their employees spread across various geographies and their collaborative culture as well as comfort with technology per se.

- Dataquest
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