Jacques Bughin and James Manyika at McKinsey have just published another thought-provoking report, “How Businesses Are Using Web 2.0.” They’re working with a beefy survey (2,847 executives worldwide, 44% who hold C-level positions), supplemented by an online discussion. Their conclusions:
“Expressing satisfaction with their Internet investments so far, [respondents] say that Web 2.0 technologies are strategic and that they plan to increase these investments. But companies aren’t necessarily relying on the best-known Web 2.0 trends, such as blogs; instead they place the greatest importance on technologies that enable automation and networking.” Companies that are using Web 2.0 technologies “have developed a new way of bringing technology into business . . . This new approach is easier to implement and more flexible than traditional top down approaches.”
Wow, so at the end of the day, our focus on Collaboration 2.0 is all about developing new, more flexible models for deploying business applications! Could it be that this year’s two-dot-oh rave is all about light-weight development models?
Well, perhaps — this is certainly the underlying logic of Google’s $625 million acquisition of Postini, an email security and management company, consumated today. As today’s NYTimes observed, “The deal underscores Google’s ambitions to become a serious player in the business of selling software to companies and organizations, in competition with Microsoft and others.” But as much as I am a fan of Gmail, I don’t think it is going to be the Exchange killer. There’s still going to be a big market for enterprise applications, enterprise email included. (I’m not sure how I would feel about my doctors using Gmail in the hospital when discussing my health and well being.)
Here’s the issue. We can rely on the Internet and the Web to provide an ever increasing set of business services. Some are advertising supported (such as Gmail); others are subscription based (such as Salesforce, Foldera, and Longjump). The savvy Web 2.0 vendors — including Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo, and various startups — are rapidly exposing their APIs for meaningful mashups, each promising to anchor a vibrant ecosystem for content sharing and collaboration. We’re going to have a lot more flexibility. Yet as business leaders and technology visionaries, we are going to have to plan very carefully how we will use the Internet’s power of instant connectivity for our strategic business advantage.
We often forget the amount of infrastructure we have readily available when we go online and exchange email. DNS, TCP/IP, some basic security, SMTP, HTTP — it all works now; earlier generations of technologies limited the scope of these services to enterprise islands. (Remember DECnet, PROFS, and WangNet.) Now we’re concerned about privacy, security, findability, records retention, manageability, and a whole host of knotty systems infrastructure issues.
The challenge facing the collaboration ecosystem vendors for the enterprise (whoever they may be) is to build the infrastructure required to support the “automation and networking” environments that the McKinsey execs have in mind. The jury is still to be convened.
I bet that we’re going to be hearing a lot from the mainstream enterprise vendors–Microsoft, Oracle, IBM, SAP, EMC, Cisco–by the end of the year. With our continuing focus on enterprise collaboration and social computing, we are going to have to pay even more attention to the infrastructure services available over corporate intranets, partner extranets, and the public Internet. It remains to be seen how flexible these loosely coupled core services can be–and how they can be packaged into vibrant business propositions.

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