Are consumers driving enterprise Web 2.0 applications?

images1.jpgAsk 100 executives to define Web 2.0 and you are likely to get 100 different answers. It isn’t that Web 2.0 lacks meat, but that it can deliver tangible value in multiple forms. While certain elements of Web 2.0 might prove to be a fad as fleeting as the Pomegranate Martini, there is no denying the benefits consumers and companies are deriving from it.

Came across a Web 2.0 speech on YouTube by Cisco Chairman and CEO John Chambers from the Interop Conference in May. Chambers waxed in rapid-fire fashion about how Web 2.0 was changing the way Cisco operated. Most notable from the speech was Chambers’ affirmation that consumer Web 2.0 habits continue to spill over into the IT industry and are in fact driving the Web 2.0 practices of the globe’s largest technology companies.

Chambers repeatedly returned to “collaboration” when citing specific examples of how consumer-driven 2.0 applications have changed the way Cisco operates. As an example, he spoke of the evolution of Cisco’s hierarchical product development structure to the use of wikis and other social networking tools that simultaneously open the innovation process to thousands of new participants and compress the timeline of product concept to store shelf.

Cisco is not alone. Dell created IdeaStorm, an online community along the lines of what Chambers refers to that allows consumers to suggest new products or services they want to see Dell develop, interact with other consumers and Dell representatives and preview what Dell has in the product hopper. I happen to be familiar with a Dell PR point person for IdeaStorm who confirms that the community has been highly successful in fostering a “storm” of ideas and enthusiasm.

Another example of consumer Web 2.0 habits driving IT industry practices is with the 8.8 million member strong virtual world Second Life. Federal Computer Week ran a story earlier this month about how NASA has an intern exclusively tasked with working on the agency’s CoLab island in the virtual world. The story reports that the intern spends as long as 10 hours a day on the virtual island, focused on such tasks as building a model of Mars’ Victoria Crater and a one-to-one model of the International Space Station. The same reporter followed up that story a few days later with news that the CDC spent $2,000 of real money to purchase its own island in Second Life, part of a growing segment of industry and government who believe that – despite hit and miss results so far – these virtual worlds will increasingly be the vehicle Internet users choose to navigate the Internet.

These specific success stories are a useful reminder that Web 2.0 is in fact more than teenagers relaying the minutia of their lives on Twitter, creating buddy lists in MySpace or reviewing local restaurants on Yelp. In Chambers’ speech he spoke of how collaborative technologies enabled billion dollar acquisitions to close in days and weeks rather than months. But it is simpler than that: the very speech in which he preached Web 2.0 was viewed by over 1,000 YouTube visitors who could respond and react in a way not previously possible. This is the disruptive capability of Web 2.0 Chambers preaches, and unlike the Pomegranate Martini, it isn’t going anywhere.

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