Business Adoption of Web 2.0

In the current installment of the McKinsey Quarterly newletter (much recommended for anyone who doesn’t already subscribe) they have released an interactive tool that provides the results of their Web 2.0 and Business survey from this year.

There are some interesting trends that show up in the survey if you look at the trends over the last couple years:

  • Looking at employee use of some Web 2.0 technologies within the workplace there is an increase in the use of video sharing, wikis, mashups and blogs, but a significant decrease in the use of social networks, tagging, and P2P networking for business use.
  • There has been a significant increase in the use of Web 2.0 technologies for internal and customer facing uses, but their use for partner relationships and supply chain has remained fairly constant over the past three years.
  • Over half (54%) of companies still plan to increase their investment in Web 2.0 technologies which is virtually unchanged from last year.  Considering the current state of the economy and the fact that spending in most areas of the corporate budget has been frozen this represents a significant opportunity for corporate Web 2.0 technology providers.
  • The mix of users by type has not changed much in the last 24 months with 2009 numbers showing 72% of technical experts, 64% of middle managers, 59% of front line employeees, and 52% of senior executives making use of Web 2.0 technologies.

This year McKinsey added a few other questions about the type of Web 2.0 technologies that are used for internal, customer facing, and partner communications.  In this section I was particularly surprised to see the level of adoption of microblogging in some unique areas since I have yet to have anyone give me a compelling argument for how microblogging (Twitter) can provide meaningful benefits in a professional setting.

Based on the survey results microblogging is being used for between 10% and 16% of partner communications depending on the application.  Under ‘achieving integration with suppliers’ there is an 11% usage rate.  ‘Lowering purchase costs’ shows 10% usage.  ‘Developing products’ is at 16%.  Finally, ‘solving problems’ is at 14%.

Perhaps I am either naive or uninformed of the capability of Twitter and other microblogging platforms, but I do not understand how any business can reasonably expect to reduce purchase costs, achieve integration, or solve problems in 140 characters or less.  I suppose I can see a potential in the development of products, but even here the unstructured and brief nature of microblogging posts would seem to have limited potential for collaboration on complex products and issues.

I do see why our 21st century culture that favours brief and impersonal communications over deep meaningful conversation would embrace microblogging on a personal front, but from a commercial perspective I don’t understand the real value here.  B2C customer blasts (spam) are the same whether they come to my email box or litter my Twitter search results.  B2B information that is unstructured and/or not easily trackable has limited real benefit within a process (to me a ‘tweet’ is in the same family as a hallway conversation… it can sometimes get things done, but you’re never going to make any money if your business relies on them to function).

Don’t get me wrong, I think that every business should be seeking ways to incorporate collaborative communication and Web 2.0 technologies into their business for partner, customer, and internal communications, but I believe that like any initiative you need to understand a few things before you jump into the deep end:

  1. What is the goal that you are trying to achieve as a result of this initiative?
    Are we seeking lower costs, shorter turnaround, reduced inventory, better transparency, culture improvements etc.  You need to define the goal or outcome in order to provide a measuring stick for the initiative.
  2. Who are the stakeholders that are affected by this initiative?
    Identify all the players that may be touched by this initiative and understand their requirements, restrictions, and culture to ensure that your plan will fit and be adopted for use.  You can design an incredible process or system, but if there is systemic or cultural resistance to adoption then you need to address it effectively through change management or you are destined to fail.
  3. Why is Web 2.0 the solution to achieving that What from #1 for the Who from #2?
    You need to be sure you understand why Web 2.0 collaborative technology could be an effective tool in achieving your goals.  If you are seeking tighter integration between your customer systems and your internal systems for instance, there may be better solutions than Twitter.  Make sure you clearly understand the goal and why collaboration is the answer to the problem.
  4. How are you going to mix the use of the various potential tools to maximize effectiveness?
    Once you understand the why of the what and the who, you need to take a look at all of the potential collaborative technologies to determine which ones suit and in what blend they should be implemented to maximize the benefits.  If you are looking to provide collaborative training and documentation then perhaps video sharing, Wikis, and podcasts are appropriate.  For cultural improvement initiatives you may find social networking, blogging/microblogging, and peer to peer more effective.

Collaboration is vital in a fast moving and competitive economy, but you can’t implement it without understanding the unique issues that face your business before you jump.  I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you are looking to implement Web 2.0 collaborative technologies in your business contact me today to discuss how I can help to maximize your success.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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