Michael Platt posted a set of observations recently that offered up some troubling conclusions.  In his post, which you should read, he noted that most of the folks interested in creating Web 2.0 sites were not talking to their IT departments to make them happen.  These creative and interested business and marketing leaders were turning to external firms to create their Web 2.0 sites, while the IT departments at the very same companies were reporting that their business customers were not interested in Web 2.0!

I live in an IT department.  I can certainly vouch for the IT side of that story.  I’ve gone to various business teams and asked them about Web 2.0 capabilities, and they appear interested, but not enough to fund a project that will allow their content to ebb and flow, or empower their segment of the community to interact. 

Personally, I find it both frustrating and a little humiliating, but I don’t think it is an IT problem per se.  I think it is the bruising politics of IT – business relations.  In other words, there is so little trust, that over time a kind of “mean politic” has emerged which is fought out mostly in the budgetary space.  No one gets a dime without BOTH teams spending a fortune on “oversight” to prove that the projects won’t fail or will deliver (know what?  Oversight doesn’t deliver projects that meet business needs.  Agile does.  Hard lesson.  Different post).

In the climate of massive oversight, and detailed inspection, there are rituals that MUST be followed in order to make something creative or interesting happen.  Those rituals are governed by people who are, to be honest, tired of following them.  For some reason, we all accept the basic assumptions that these rituals are actually useful or necessary. 

In this climate, if a business user really wants to connect with their community, they have no way to get their project funded.  It takes huge amounts of time and effort on the business side to create a justification for a project, so that the project costing can be fed to the financial teams who perform the budgeting for IT, where senior folks inspect every detail of the business case and rank projects on the basis of net present value. 

No way a Web 2.0 project would survive that.  Heck, it would be laughed out of the process by the business team responsible for submitting projects to IT, long before it gets to an IT group for cost estimation!  And then, it would be slapped with a huge “new stuff” tax that IT groups place on any project that makes them do something new or different.

In our little corner of the company, we wanted to put in Web 2.0 two years ago.  The problem that we faced was this: the portal software we were using didn’t allow REST or SOAP services because of the security model.  As a result, we built a “psuedo-service” so that our Ajax-inspired-but-not-directly-derived-and-therefore-expensively-hand-coded web controls could pull down the data they needed when they needed it.

It’s an excellent first step.  But did the business want to go the extra step, on the same project, and describe what that psuedo-service was and did, and share that information with our end customers?  Nope.  That bit was never suggested, by either side. 

So here we sit, two years later, with no more of a Web 2.0 story than we had when were first inspired to create one.  We got as far as we did, as an IT group, because we didn’t ask if the business actually wanted Web 2.0.  The business wanted functionality, and we could deliver functionality in this way.  The oversight process let us build it because the “mean politic” didn’t realize that we were changing the landscape.  We didn’t tell the funding machine we were trying to build anything radical or new. 

On paper, we looked ordinary, creating a “consistent user experience for our customers.”  So we got funded.  (I had nothing to do with it.  I shine in their reflected glory, but I give credit to key individuals inside the team and one or two consultants who believed in new ideas and made them happen).  Maybe that is how other IT teams can put Web 2.0 to work… by not using the word.

Do we, as an IT group, have the courage to make the next step, and lead the business to a real Web 2.0 world?  Can we convince the brutal, conservative, mistrusting funding process to let a little more innovation to survive?  We shall see. 

Until then, the Web 2.0 boutique companies will not get a lot of competition from IT. 

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

2 thoughts on “Web 2.0 vs. the IT department”
  1. The "business" doesn’t want "web2.0", it wants a system that solves a business problem.  It doesn’t give a crap about the underpinnings of delivery, it just wants it to work the way they want it to work.

    I guarantee you if you strike the term "web2.0" out of your vocabulary and replace it with "making the application avialable over the internet", you would get a different response from the business.

  2. Hi Thomas,

    I said as much in my post, so I’m glad you agree with me.

    There is more to Web 2.0 than "making the application available over the internet."  That’s web services.  It’s a part, but not the entire story.

    Web 2.0 is about community, mashup, extending value, syndication, and empowering information workers.  

    Hit up search.live.com using keywords like Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 to learn more.

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