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Web 2.0 and the Enterprise

Create systems that people want to use

Ever since the term was first coined in 2004, Web 2.0 has generated an incredible amount of interest and momentum around Internet services. Web 2.0 services empower users to combine all relevant information into a single location so they can be more productive in their work environment. In addition, Web 2.0 enables users to form ad hoc associations with users inside and outside their organizations as part of a “social network.” To do this, users need tools that allow them to quickly and easily assemble these services in a meaningful way.

Understandably, many enterprise developers want to find out how they can leverage the exciting new Web 2.0 services within their companies. A key challenge for IT is that social networks are traditionally unstructured and uncontrolled, whereas IT applications are inherently controlled and structured. To inject Web 2.0 services such as wikis, blogs, and discussion forums into the enterprise, organizations must have structured and secured interactions that don’t impede the ad hoc nature of this new user model.

In this article, we investigate the key drivers for the adoption of Web 2.0 technologies within the enterprise and examine the impact of these technologies on the existing enterprise software infrastructure. We focus on some of the key technologies, tools, and related standards that are emerging.

Web 2.0 is the latest buzzword among IT professionals. What is Web 2.0? According to Tim O’Reilly, “Web 2.0 is the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. Chief among those rules is this: Build applications that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.”

In other words, Web 2.0 is the concept that the next generation of applications must combine the latest achievements in technology with the latest cognitions in the behavior of Web users and the ever-growing popularity of social networking services.

Is Web 2.0 something enterprises should be interested in? If you look closely at today’s work environment, there’s a strong dependence on contextual relationships, which today’s IT infrastructures can only poorly represent.

‘Generation I’ – The Users Who Are Driving Web 2.0
An interesting aspect of the Web 2.0 discussion is the question of who is driving Web 2.0 in the enterprise. In the past, corporate IT departments, especially at the executive level, defined the working environment and decided which tools the company’s employees should have at their disposal.

Today, however, IT environments are increasingly being shaped by individual users and the tools that they employ in their personal use of the Web. Power users, realizing the potential of the technology they use in their free time, tend to slip “unauthorized” implementations into their workplace, below the radar of the IT department. Furthermore, this new generation of workers, having used various Web 2.0-style services as youths and later as university students, have come to expect (even require) Web 2.0-style services as part of their work environment. Now enterprises and IT departments are pushed to provide the environments and services that their employees demand.

This grass-roots approach, in contrast to the traditional top-down implementations, poses significant challenges for enterprise IT, but at the same time ensures that applied technologies and services gain broad acceptance almost as soon as they are implemented by the IT department.

But Is Web 2.0 Relevant for an Enterprise?
Over the past several years, technologies such as Web logs (or “blogs”), wikis, discussion forums, and RSS-based news aggregation gained instant popularity the minute they were introduced. In every case, the technology was introduced on the consumer side, not as part of a broad enterprise-wide implementation. In fact, often these technologies and services were originally dismissed as irrelevant to the enterprise environment.

But the growing popularity of these and other services has made them quite relevant for enterprises, which now regard Web 2.0 features and services as the solution for delivering flexible, next-generation user experiences that result in increased collaboration and productivity.

Web 2.0 Challenges for the Enterprise
Introducing services from the bottom up, based mainly on consumer-grade infrastructure and software, poses significant risks for the commercial and organizational success of an enterprise. Major concerns emerge about issues such as availability, professional management, and security.

It usually takes some time for consumer-introduced services to become mission-critical for daily business. Ten years ago, e-mail was just another communication channel; today, it is considered essential – sometimes crucial – for day-to-day business. Today, nobody would dream of running an e-mail server “under the desk,” so why should new services from the Web 2.0 world run unofficially on individual user machines?

Web 2.0 services need to be tightly integrated into the IT infrastructure of an enterprise, where they can be effectively managed to provide the availability and reliability expected from an enterprise service. However, most Web 2.0 services are built on heterogeneous technology stacks so they must be integrated into the enterprise infrastructure. Typically, integrating products and maintaining their integration incurs significant overhead. Thus, improved out-of-the-box integration means lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

Implementing Web 2.0 services poses more than just IT-related challenges. After disparate new services are brought into the mix, users soon realize that the full power of these services comes from the integration between them. Today’s business is driven by a tight Web of semantic connections between technically unrelated artifacts. It is common for users to switch between different applications – and hence change context multiple times – while working on a particular business case. Connecting unrelated services is usually a challenge for the IT department and significantly increases the TCO, unless the services are pre-integrated – an advantage that business software vendors entering this space can bring to the table.

The Service-Oriented World
As existing systems are re-architected and new applications are developed, Web 2.0 and service-oriented (or rather Web-oriented) architecture, which clearly separate functionality from the user experience of a service, assume an important role in application design. In addition, the social aspects of Web 2.0 – which are mainly driven by the requirements and expectations of the “Generation I” workforce – are exerting influence on new applications.

Let’s take the example of a discussion forum. Within an enterprise, discussion forums provide an ideal way to discuss topics and share ideas in an unstructured manner over time; participants can be geographically dispersed, living and working in different time zones. In most cases, discussions revolve around a particular topic – a piece of information, a document, a customer case, and so on.

In today’s systems, the connection between the discussion thread and the topic being discussed is documented only informally within the discussion thread; most participants discover that the discussion exists only by opening the discussion forum. But what happens when someone approaches the same topic from the other end – for example, a customer who accesses the topic via the CRM system or a document in the document management system?

More Stories By Philipp Weckerle

Philipp Weckerle is principal product manager, Oracle Portal Product Management. He leads both the product management efforts on Oracle Reports as well as content lntegration, located in the Oracle Austria office in Vienna. He has been a featured speaker at industry conferences including Oracle iDevelop, Oracle Development Tools User Group, and Oracle Open World.

More Stories By Vince Casarez

Over the past 12 years, Vince has held many key positions at Oracle. Currently, he is Vice President of Product Management for WebCenter, Portal, and Reports. He also has responsibility for managing the WebCenter development team handling the Web 2.0 services. Prior to this, he focused on hosted portal development and operations which included Oracle Portal Online for external customers, Portal Center for building a portal community, and My Oracle for the employee intranet. Previously, he was Vice President of Tools Marketing handling all tools products including development tools and business intelligence tools. Prior to running Tools Marketing, he was Director of Product Management for Oracle's JDeveloper. Before joining Oracle, Vince spent 7 years at Borland International where he was group product manager of Paradox for Windows and dBASE for Windows.

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