Monday, August 20, 2007

IT Managers and the Web 2.0 Challenge

Web 2.0 is important to records and information management professionals because it is accelerating and changing the way people work and the way records and documents are created. In fact, Andrew McAfee, an expert on technology trends, and others have suggested an even more dramatic term, "Enterprise 2.0."

The tremendous surge in Web-based services and applications, known as "Web 2.0," and their corresponding influence on how people create, exchange and use information are producing an array of new challenges for records and information management (RIM) professionals -- including how to use these tools effectively and how to manage the creation, integrity, storage Learn how SAN/iQ technology works with VMware., access and dissemination of such dynamic information.

The term "Web 2.0" originated about three years ago and still lacks a formal, agreed-upon definition. Wikipedia Latest News about Wikipedia defines it as "a perceived second generation of Web-based services -- such as social networking sites, wikis, communication tools and folksonomies -- that emphasize online collaboration and sharing among users."

How to Spot Web 2.0

Web 2.0 is participatory, collaborative, inclusive, creator-/user-centric, unsettled and very information-intensive. It has these traits:

* Workstyle: A style of collaborative working through online communities that stresses encouraging knowledge workers to be creative and innovative, to contribute to initiatives and projects, and to build on each other's work toward an outstanding collaborative end product or service
* Applications: A set of agile, versatile tools/platforms/applications that support interaction by online communities, such as blogs and wilds
* Software: An array of software that connects people and applications to help draw out and organize collective intelligence; some of this software has been produced by small to mid-sized companies, but larger firms such as Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Latest News about Microsoft, IBM (NYSE: IBM) Latest News about IBM and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Latest News about Google also offer new or refined products.

A 'Massive Phenomenon'

Over the past few years, at least four trends have accelerated the upsurge of Web 2.0:

1. The development and popularity of online social networks for exchanging personal information, photos, videos and other information (e.g., MySpace Latest News about MySpace, YouTube Latest News about YouTube, Flickr, and Second Life).
2. The broadening availability of easy-to-use software. This and the first trend, in particular, led Time magazine to declare the user to be 2006's "Person of the Year." According to Time's cover story, "you control the information age." Jeff Howe's article "Your Web, Your Way" described three types of online collaborative communities:
1. The toolmakers: users building and customizing their own tools for convenience and versatility. Examples include Wikipedia (an example of "crowdsourcing"); Google (search engine built around a "social function" -- counting links between Web sites -- and adding features like maps); MySpace (120 million users, maximization of individuality); and eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY) Latest News about eBay (online sales Email Marketing Software - Free Demo; customer ratings weed out dishonesty).
2. The gatherers: users gathering, filtering and commenting on blog posts and photographs and finding an audience for them. Examples include Technorati (searches and ranks topics in the blogosphere); (allows users to share their Web-browser bookmarks; Digg (the crowd rates news stories); Flickr (sharing photos); and Bloglines (lets users subscribe to various sites and receive updates from them).
3. The entertainers: movie, music, book, and video-game industries on the Web. Examples include (Nasdaq: AMZN) Latest News about (customer reviews/evaluations of books); YouTube (anyone can be in the entertainment field); and Second Life (imaginary world where users interact and can spend real money).

3. The search for techniques to foster more productive use of information. A recent study by the research/consulting firm Basex asserts that overwhelming amounts of e-mail and other information frustrate knowledge workers and distract from more productive work. Managers, weary of spam, employee time lost dealing with unneeded or inappropriate e-mail and other problems, welcome the potential benefits of the new tools' self-organizing, self-policing aspects.
4. The rising importance of knowledge workers, who, according to Tom Davenport in Thinking for a Living, "have high degrees of expertise, education or experience, and the primary purpose of their jobs involves the creation, distribution and application of knowledge." Knowledge workers are heavily dependent on information systems and tools to create information and also to access, analyze, exchange and synthesize the information that is the essential precursor of knowledge.

Web 2.0 Tools
Three types of Web 2.0 collaborative tools are particularly important:

1. Blogs: user-generated Web journals that offer opinions and information and that may include text, images and links to other blogs and Web pages. Some blogs are confined to personal expressions, but others make provision for reactions and comments from readers.
2. Mashups: Web sites or other applications that integrate content from more than one source into an integrated application (e.g., combining data on a topic of interest with geographical data).
3. Wikis: according to Wikipedia, a wiki "is a Web site that allows visitors to add, remove, edit and change content, typically without the need for registration. It also allows for linking among any number of pages. This ease of interaction and operation makes a wiki an effective tool for mass collaborative authoring. The term wiki also can refer to the collaborative software itself ... that facilitates the operation of such a site."

Web 2.0 is important to RIM professionals because it is accelerating and changing the way people work and the way records and documents are created. In fact, Andrew McAfee, an expert on technology trends, and others have suggested an even more dramatic term, "Enterprise 2.0," to describe platforms that organizations use to "make visible the practices and outputs of their knowledge workers." A recent Information Week survey confirmed the rising popularity of instant messaging, collaborative content tools, wikis and blogs: "Within a few years, rich, collaborative software platforms that include a slate of technologies like wikis, blogs, integrated search and unified communications will be the norm. ... Employees will expect to work that way, and it'll be up to IT to solve the significant problems and deliver."

An international study by consulting firm Booz Allen called Web 2.0 a "massive phenomenon," based on interactive and participatory applications such as blogs and virtual meeting places that engage virtual users as content codevelopers and urged businesses to adopt the new tools where strategically advantageous.
Management Issues

Collaborative, social networking technologies and platforms require appropriate management strategies that balance spontaneity with structure, encourage and reward originality, but also foster pooling of knowledge and information and team approaches. These information-sharing devices can promote efficiency, reduce costs, broaden business applications, and provide competitive advantage. In some settings, blogs and wikis are already upstaging e-mail as internal communications, tracking and management tools, but management needs to ensure that the newer tools work compatibly with the older ones.

Software investment costs may be modest, but metrics for return on investment have not been developed. Managers need to be concerned with training and upgrading employees' skills and expertise to make optimal use of the new Web tools. Some managers worry that employees need incentives and motivation to use the new Web 2.0 tool.

Others assert just the opposite: The tools are so relatively easy to use, the software so relatively easy to get, and the advantages so obvious, that employees may adopt them on their own, download software, share files and set up collaborative systems outside of the regular business structure if managers delay too long.

Euan Semple, a British consultant on social computing, writes:

"The 100-percent guaranteed easiest way to do Enterprise 2.0? DO NOTHING ... your bright, thoughtful and energetic staff will do it for you. Trouble is, they will do it outside your firewall on bulletin boards, instant message exchanges, personal blogs ... and you will have lost the ability to understand it, influence it and integrate it into how you do business.

"The second easiest way is to find ways of allowing this to happen inside the firewall, which can be as simple as sticking in some low-cost or free tools and then making sure your existing organization can GET OUT OF THE WAY [and then] KEEP THE ENERGY LEVELS UP."

Managers prefer to purchase and install a full suite of Web 2.0 tools for entire programs or the enterprise as a whole to having individual employees or groups procure their own, which would introduce the potential for silos and incompatibility. Managers worry about security Webroot AntiSpyware 30-Day Free Trial. Click here. with so many online participants. Confidential information needs to stay behind the firewall and be used appropriately within the company. There is a broader issue of monitoring content for accuracy Free Trials. eCommerce Data Solutions, Tax Rates, Address Verification & more. and appropriate language. It is useful to require that every entry contain identifying information on the creator, set guidelines and assign editors to monitor content and weed out inappropriate material when needed.
Web 2.0 Challenges for RIM

Web 2.0 poses several issues in the area of records and information management. Records are created in the course of business, document transactions, decisions or legal obligations, and have other traits, regardless of format. However, applying these and other records criteria to the applications of Web 2.0, with its population of "live," organic documents, is a challenge. Records management focuses on retention/disposition, classification and appraisal issues -- all are a challenge in this volatile environment Some issues require the creative application of traditional RIM techniques; others may occasion the invention of new approaches.

Eight of these issues are discussed below.

1. Assigning responsibility for managing and being custodian of the information. Web 2.0 applications are multimedia and information-intensive; they may demand unprecedented bandwidth and storage space on servers. Their products have multiple creators from across the enterprise and even beyond, when customers and users are involved, necessitating a policy on custodianship of the information when the work is complete. There is a broader set of responsibilities involving integrating the Web 2.0 work into enterprise information policies and the organization's strategies, developing performance measures to assess return on investment, and developing debriefing and assessment procedures to learn from both successes and failures. All this involves, at minimum, close cooperation among the organization's program offices, the chief information or technology officer, and the records management office.
2. Managing the creation, collection, storage, and dissemination of vast amounts of unstructured and constantly changing information. Web 2.0 applications such as wikis and blogs encourage creativity and innovation, including using multiple formats, platforms and media. Changes to a wiki over the course of a couple of hours, for instance, might include a text posting, additions to that posting, edits of the posting and its additions, links to multiple Web sites, excerpts from books and journal articles, links to sites on YouTube or MySpace, and a mashup involving, for instance, customer and geographical data. Policies must be developed to determine:
* How much of this is a "record" and how to accommodate that information in a record keeping system
* How much metadata or other detail should be captured for retrospective analysis of who-contributed-what
* Whether there is a need to refer back to the information in the application as it was on a specific date in the past
* How to deal with copyrighted material
* How to deal with hyperlinks (including the situation where the Web site linked to changes or becomes defunct)
* How long to retain the information

3. Controlling access to particular levels and types of information. The spirit of Web 2.0 is diverse and inclusive; the strengths of its applications come, to a large degree, from willing contributions of people's knowledge and insights. The posting and pooling of ideas generate sparks of creativity as others react, reflect, have their insights deepened or changed and, in turn, contribute something new. This process necessitates broad, easy information availability. However, that, in turn, imposes the need for policies about making available sensitive internal documents and proprietary information.
4. Protecting the security and integrity of the information. This is a related issue: ensuring that the information is not changed (either inadvertently or deliberately) so it becomes inaccurate or misleading or destroyed through human action or natural or man-made disaster such as arson or terrorist attack. Organizations need well worked-out policies to determine who can access systems and change information and means of tracking who changed or added what, if appropriate. Web 2.0 applications not only embody critical information, they are also a platform for everyday work in many settings, so downtime means not only potential information loss but also interruption in enterprise work. There need to be secure, robust servers with off-site backup and other security measures as part of an overall disaster prevention/preparedness/response plan that covers all critical information, not just Web 2.0 applications. All this must be embodied in a plan with clear assignment of responsibilities.
5. Providing access tools. Web 2.0 platforms are useful -- and used -- only if they are easily accessed. A versatile, sophisticated search engine is essential. Generating access terms that flow out of the information, rather than being imposed on it as in traditional indexing and taxonomies, is another challenge. The new-style access term sets are called "folksonomies" -- literally, taxonomies generated by the "folks" who collaborate in the Wikipedia, which defines a folksonomy (at the time of this writing) as "a user-generated taxonomy used to categorize and retrieve Web pages, photographs and Web links, using open-ended labels called tags. Typically, folksonomies are Internet-based, but their use may occur in other contexts. The folksonomic tagging is intended to make a body of information increasingly easy to search, discover and navigate over time. A well developed folksonomy is ideally accessible as a shared vocabulary that is both originated by, and familiar to, its primary users."
6. Assessing the legal implications of vast amounts of information in scattered systems and databases. RIM professionals recognize the critical nature of this because they are attuned to the issue of the use of information in litigation, particularly during the early or discovery phase when, under court rules, opponents in litigation are required to turn over to each other documents and other information pertinent to the issue at hand.

Precedent-setting court cases over the past few years and new guidelines (e.g., the December 2006 amendments to the U.S. Federal Rules of Civil Procedure) provide for broad discoverability of electronically stored information but with a counterbalancing provision for exclusion of material that can be shown not to be reasonably accessible because of undue burden or cost. The new rules were developed through a careful, deliberative process, but their development process time approximately parallels the upsurge of Web 2.0 with all the attendant complexities of its applications. Legal implications need to be considered as applications are planned; consultation among organization counsel, IT experts and records managers is essential. How much of the information in Web 2.0 applications such as blogs and wikis is discoverable in litigation? It will require court cases over the years to answer this question.
7. Deciding how much information to make public. This issue arises, for instance, with blogs: some are internal, for project management, information exchange, and other purposes, but some may be public, meant to share information about the company's products and strategies, explain policies, enlist assistance with particular research/development initiatives, demonstrate thought leadership, contribute to professional dialog and forums, or for other purposes. Allowing, or even encouraging, creative employees to have a public blog can be a positive factor when recruiting new staff and a motivating factor for existing staff. Encouraging a dialog and openness is laudatory, but protecting the organization's secrets and shielding it from public embarrassment are also worthy goals. Many large corporations, consulting firms and news media companies now have public blog sites -- IBM, Sun Microsystems (Nasdaq: SUNW) Latest News about Sun Microsystems, Microsoft and General Motors (NYSE: GM) Latest News about General Motors are outstanding examples.
8. Using the tools and techniques for RIM programs. Web 2.0 tools boost productivity and efficiency. RIM professionals should find ways of using them for their own programs. A blog may be a useful way for a program director to share and receive information. A wiki may be a versatile tool to keep track of a records management project or initiative, develop a retention schedule, or draft new policy guidelines.

Familiar Challenges

RIM professionals will recognize in the Web 2.0 phenomenon some familiar challenges:

* Hype sometimes overshadowing reality
* Technology outdistancing policy
* Defining a "record" in a complex electronic environment
* Putting information to work for the enterprise
* Getting the right information to the right people when they need it
* Deriving measures of efficiency and return on investment
* Gauging legal responsibilities
* Cooperating with other offices to get things done

Addressing these challenges and capitalizing on the benefits of Web 2.0 will add one more dimension to the excitement of RIM work in the years ahead.