Ten years ago, employees used the tools and services that employers installed for them to get their jobs done. Today, they still use what they are given, but many are downloading and installing nonapproved applications or signing up for outside services. The reason: corporations aren't keeping up with Web 2.0 technologies that can help employees get their jobs done more quickly. The result: employers have less control than they did in the past, but even more important, they're not creating a culture of employee loyalty and satisfaction.
"Employees are trying to get their jobs done within the organization, and they don't have the tools they need. Either the tools don't exist, they can't be found, or in some cases they are just not usable enough. Whatever the reason, employees feel stuck," explains Paul Pedrazzi, the founder of Oracle's AppsLab. "So they're saying, 'I need to get this job done. I'm going to go use this other tool or service that's available, and I'm going to get my job done.' Employees are not doing it to be malicious, to break IT rules, or to be hip with Web 2.0. They're doing it because they want to be more productive. I think that's the perspective that executives should have."
Riding Ahead of the Wave
Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn help people connect with each other, while tools like wikis, blogs, and other collaboration and document-sharing products help share thoughts and ideas. These solutions are seeing exponential rates of user adoption, and not surprisingly, people are bringing them into the workplace—with or without permission.
Today, Oracle employees don't have to go outside the firewall for their own Web 2.0 applications. Oracle AppsLab, an internal think tank designed to explore and implement consumer-driven Web 2.0 technologies in the corporate world, is delivering the apps to their desktops. For example, Oracle AppsLab has launched a new internal site called Idea Factory. "Anyone can post an idea, such as a product feature or a way to improve an internal process to the site. Other Oracle staffers can then read those ideas and rate them. They can also add comments or share their own ideas," says Pedrazzi.
"The power is in the transparency. Great ideas are now visible to the 65,000-plus people at Oracle. Now they can see it and say, 'That's a good idea, but it'd be better if we added this other element to it.' So the idea grows and gets better," Pedrazzi says. "In a typical month, we have more than 15,000 visitors reading, commenting, and posting their ideas; but even more importantly, people are excited about making a difference," he adds.
The second recent addition to the Oracle internal community—Connect—takes social networking into the corporate space. So now Oracle employees can stay connected to their internal network of people, view and share extended contact information, provide kudos to each other, and keep track of the ideas and projects their colleagues are working on. But unlike MySpace or Facebook, everything resides in a secure environment. This allows users and Oracle's executives to share control.
"People are more interested in connecting with people rather than just content devoid of any personal connection. It's the people that make the content interesting and valuable. Which articles do you read most, the ones posted on the intranet or those links e-mailed to you by a friend? Connect was built in about two-and-a-half weeks. Within three days, with no internal marketing, there were more than 10,000 users," says Pedrazzi.
Navigating the Waters
So how is it that a Fortune 100 company like Oracle is embracing Web 2.0 technology? Its executives and employees know it's going to make the company stronger and keep it ahead of the technology curve, says Pedrazzi. His advice: other companies need to do the same or risk falling behind.
"There's this mashing together of the enterprise world and the consumer world. How to do this has not been completely figured out. That is one of the key challenges for management today: How you view the new Web—is it a threat or an opportunity?" he says. "Some organizations will stick with that older command-and-control model, but it will become very clear very quickly that if you don't embrace the new Web, employees are going to revolt, either by moving to more-innovative organizations or by staying put and quietly doing it themselves."
Finding the right balance, however, isn't easy. This fall, Oracle will give customers and partners a boost when some of its new Oracle Web 2.0 applications migrate from behind its firewall. In the meantime, says Pedrazzi, you don't have to throw open your infrastructure and let anyone run anything. Instead, start small, looking at ways you can improve your employees' day-to-day activities. This could be as simple as offering a collaboration tool or a solid Web-based project management tool that can reduce bureaucracy and red tape, he says, and making sure you have executives' buy-in in the form of their own participation. If the rank and file see their executives diving in, adoption will be easier.
"People growing up, fresh out of college, are on MySpace and put their photos on Flickr," says Pedrazzi. "Then they come to the enterprise, and they say, 'All we have is e-mail? This is not the way I want to work.' When you look at your employees and you think about employee satisfaction, retention, when people are the core of your business, you're going to pay attention and make these modifications, not because you want to be cool and embrace Web 2.0 but because you know that it's the best thing to do to maintain the competitiveness of your business."
For More InformationOracle Fusion Middleware
Photography by Shutterstock