Corporate Web 2.0: The coming cultural clash

Web 2.0 is a tired, old term - but like it or not, it is a common description of the current state of internet and web technologies. Although many of the technologies have existed since the beginning of the "internet" (such as the Weblog - commonly referred to as Blog), their use has exploded over the last few years. So without getting caught up in a debate over whether they are new or old, let's start looking at realities.

Reality 1 - Web 2.0 and popularity of many of these technologies first started with "techie" people and moved on from there. This is a reality - all services and products follow a fairly defined path of adoption - and with the web, technical people usually find them first (or develop them first) and then they begin to move through other groups - but these people are the first ones to use them.

Reality 2 - For the most part, these techies are under the age of 30. Is that a hard and fast rule? No - they can be any age, but as a general rule, the early adopters of web technology are younger than 30 years old. One of the reasons this is true - this is the same group that has grown up with the internet. I'm not in this group - in fact when I started my first job - Apple had not introduced the Mac and MS-DOS was still the dominant operating system. I have seen lots of changes in technology - both personal and business - and my first exposure to the internet was through a character based dialup program. But, those under 30 have not had to "learn" through these cycles - they see PCs, Macs, iPods, PDAs, Smart Phones, Gaming Systems as a single platform that "ought" to work together and connect together. They don't really see Web 2.0 as anything special - it's just the way it is - it is their reality.

Reality 3 - Corporations (I'm talking the big ones here) are run by people over the age of 30. Is that always true - No. But it's the majority of them on a global basis. And those over 30 may or may not have kept pace with technology trends. They may or may not be comfortable using standard corporate tools such as email - let alone instant messaging, twittering, blogs, boards, etc. And WHAT we don't understand, we don't value - and if there is not perceived value by those that lead the organization, there will no real "need" to spend corporate money on them.

Reality 4 - Those under 30 will be leading Corporation in the near future. Time moves on, super stars rise within the corporate culture, people retire, people get rich and leave, people move on with their lives - in other words, we are all marching down a timeline and Corporations are not immune to this simple law of nature.

So what happens when those comfortable with the Web 2.0 culture (and in fact have been using them all their lives) show up in a Fortune 500 culture of SAP, Oracle, Microsoft Office, Firewalls, Identity Management and Controlled Access? How about dealing with a simple thing like that old Nortel phone system (and voice mail). How about being told they can't bring their camera phone to a meeting (because of security concerns) or having their iPod at work is a big no-no? Oh and by the way, that blog (or YouTube, Facebook, MySpace) account you have - you can't say anything about where you work (or who you work with) or what you do during your "work day".

Do we believe these people are going to change their lives? Are we going to begin seeing clashes between the "old guard" and the new? You bet, it is happening already and it will continue. There are concerns about security and data leakage - but many of these "younger workers" have lived in a world that is out there, open and viewable by anyone. They have MySpace accounts (and have had them for years) - they have posted pictures of themselves "partying" with their friends - they have blogged about intimate details of their lives - they have IM'd friends. Their lives have been exposed for years - with many personal and intimate details published to the world - and still out there for anyone to see. Are they going to change because they work for "the man"?

Now - take a CIO that has grown up with this technology (or any other C-Level executive) - what is their opinion about corporate IT? What do they view as requirements versus what is viewed as requirements today? Open communications will become common place - the rule not the exception. "Good enough" technology will begin to work it's way into the standardized software model - and completely secure, totally bullet-proof - is not in the good enough mentality. [think Fort Knox vs. a safe room in your house]

How about the old guard companies of the past 40 years of technology, are they going to be changed by all this? Will there be new leaders of the tech world? You bet. Google is emerging as a viable corporate partner. Amazon is moving into the "payment and retail" space. is already displacing some of the corporate CRM/Sales Force Automation giants. Emerging companies such as Zoho hold promise in the "workplace software as a service" market. And consulting companies such as 37Signals are getting "invited to the party" with these corporate titans.

So is there a coming clash? You bet there is and it is happening right now within corporate offices around the world. Right now, it's in small, almost unnoticed skirmishes. But I believe by 2010, it will be a full-blown war - and if history has taught us anything - the new usually beats the old. Or put another way, it isn't about the "Big eating the Small, it will be the Fast easting the Slow" -- and at the end of the day, Web 2.0 is more about speed than anything else.


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