Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Web 2.0 - Challenges in Enterprise Deployment

Web 2.0 offers business opportunities, but brings challenges in how corporations embrace community, approach the sharing and protection of proprietary information, and identify and exploit its value. The challenges and issues that web 2.0 presents to enterprises can not ignored before deciding on adopting it. Web 2.0 still inherits all the challenges of traditional web application development and delivery. That includes project management challenges i.e. requirement, budget, schedule, resources, qa etc. and also technology limitations like scalability, interoperability, security, development methodologies etc. But if the challenges would have been same as that of any web application development, why web 2.0 applications have not yet been widely deployed in the enterprises.

After working with some of the large enterprises in last few months on web 2.0 initiatives, I have some ideas on challenges that have been faced by these companies. These challenges are very specific to web 2.0 and its principles, and can not be applied to traditional web development.

The biggest challenge of web 2.0 application delivery is adoption. Adoption by the corporate, technology and people.

Every corporate has it own culture, way to doing things and getting the things done. The culture is deep routed and depends upon the how old the company is. The old corporate houses have more issues with the culture and the changes in comparison with new startups. The new initiatives face cultural resistance from some class of users, for example, clinging on e-mail and other traditional tools for collaboration rather than switch to new Web 2.0tools. The biggest challenge is overcome this cultural resistance. Some employees feel insecure whenever there is change, be it fear of loosing their job or working additional hours on new technology, while some do not want change since they fear it may be effect their efficiency or they are contented with their way of working. Now question is how to overcome this resistance. Web 2.0 evangelist and proponents have suggested both top-down and bottom-up approaches for corporate adoption.

Technology selection plays an important role in any application deployment. Which technology should I use? What is life span of this technology? Am I locking myself into a vendor proprietary technology? One needs to answer these questions before selecting any technology. Now in last few years there are two distinct perspectives that have emerged and are conflicting. One perspective is selecting technology from a vendor who has not only pioneered but also has sustained business, for example, say Microsoft or Oracle. Other perspective is using open source technologies and building stack of products on top of that. Both have pros and cons, depends on where and how it is being used. Thanks to web 2.0, now more and more products remain in perpetual beta. Would you choose a tool or technology for an enterprise that is in perpetual beta? Would I be able to convince my management to invest in technology that is not yet officially released? Companies are confused in selection of technologies, option to choose from vendor proprietary or open source applications and frameworks.

The second biggest challenge is adoption by the employees of company. These days employees spend more time with web 2.0 applications, for example, FaceBook, Linkedin, MySpace outside the office environment than they do within the office. They are smart and intelligent people. They are aware of social networking application features and are also aware of engaging user experience that consumer web 2.0 applications provide. Their expectations have gone up and now they want similar applications to be deployed in their office environment. They will not accept anything that is not close to the application they use.

Web 2.0 advocates moving away from command and control towards collaboration and teamwork, from push to pull model, from process-centric to people-centric business model. The organizations that believe in command and control culture would require self assessment and strategic change toward collaboration and teamwork culture. It requires executive sponsorship and corporate cultural change.

The popularity and adoption of web 2.0 and agile development methodology happened around about the same time. There is a reason for it. In the Web 2.0 era, products and services are really never finished and must continuously improve to compete. They remain in perpetual beta. This is against the definition of the project, it has a starting date and fixed end date. Web 2.0 applications are continuously evolved and improved and end user are part of large testing team. This requires change in development methodology of web 2.0 applications. Some call it web development 2.0 but it is nothing but agile or scrum methodology. The scrum methodology has become very popular in last few years and has seen widespread adoption in the enterprises.

Security is also a major challenge in web 2.0. The issues around privacy information, corporate asset protection, spam protection and digital rights management are very critical and need to be addressed. This requires additional budget and policy formulation, which are additional overheads for the company.

The question that is asked so often is, what will happen to the existing applications and how those can be leverage in web 2.0. It is not possible to replace all the existing applications with web 2.0 and it does not make any sense. Not all applications needs to be upgraded to web 2.0 since they do not add value of the network effort. But there is possibility where the data from these applications may be required in new web 2.0 apps. The challenge is how to integrate these applications. The mashups and API integration are two ways in integrating existing applications besides conventional url integrations.

I am sure there are other challenges in web 2.0 deployment within the enterprise. These are some which I heard from clients and web 2.0 pundits. Please let me know if you know of others.


igamer said...

Thank you for a well written post .

It really help me to understand the challenges companies face in adopting web 2.0.

As you wrote about the perspective of the a specific company. What about specific industry? Does it apply to all industries or there are some industries doesn't need to adopted it ?

Ravi Govil said...

thanks igamer

I have worked with many industries including high tech, pharma, semiconductors, research and more. I have seen high level challenges remain the same, the solution may vary based on the culture, intertia, awareness, commitment, and budget. The confidence in web 2.0 has grown tremendously and technology too has been evolving and maturing. The managers are being challenged by executives to innovate and bring more values to employees, customers and partners. This has led to more self learning, awareness and adoption.

You can also judge from the fact that number of web 2.0 enterprise application have doubled in last few months. Many companies are targeting enterprises rather than the consumers.

Do you have any specific industry you want to discuss here?