What Web 2.0 Means To You
Web 2.0. Manufacturing 2.0. Enterprise 2.0. These terms point to the same goal: Using the web to promote collaborative work.
Forget about SOA (service-oriented architectures) and SaaS (software as a service), pretty web browser interfaces and Facebook, EDI and B2B, CIM and collaborative product development. Web 2.0 is all about people and tapping into what they know and want to know. It's all about people working collaboratively and sharing knowledge. It's all about making such collaborations easy and the information being shared relevant and easier to access. Web 2.0 is the entirety of technologies, products, and websites that promote two-way communication and information sharing. Web 2.0 replaces the passive surf-shop-click interaction in the "old" web with the interactivity that comes with people creating web content about all sorts of topics for all sorts of other people to surf, click, and add more content.
Business has a unique interest in Web 2.0. First, organizations are themselves networks, consisting of people and machine-based data sources. Second, organizations both produce and consume enormous amounts of information so finding the information that's needed is a continuing problem. That's why the push to scorecards, speedometers, traffic lights, and other simple, readable graphics and reporting tools in business applications.
An incomplete guide to Web 2.0
Business-grade Web 2.0 technologies are basically just sophisticated versions of their home- and personal-use counterparts. However, they typically need more IT support, partly for security considerations (e.g., user access, privacy, and firewall protection) and partly to integrate to applications that are not readily integratable. Here are some of Web 2.0 technologies.
Blogging is just another form of publishing. It keeps a running sequence of comments, descriptions, and other content, whether text, images, or video, available for all to see. The content is usually pithy; the postings from multiple participants fast-paced. Social networking, a form of blogging, centers on online communities and special interest groups, such as Digg (special interest: news), Facebook, Flickr (photography), LinkedIn (business), MySpace, and YouTube (video). (Twitter merges constrained text-based IM with blogging.)
Two factors make social networking attractive in the corporate setting. First, there's the whole collaboration thing. Second, there's crowd-sourcing—the ability to extract the "wisdom of crowds." The theory is: People know things, and people often turn to people they trust for recommendations. Crowd-sourcing compiles reviews by anonymous (and not-so-anonymous) people regarding anything: restaurants, car rentals, consumer electronics, dentists, plumbers, cars, and so on. In business, people are paid to know things, and to apply that knowledge toward generating profits. Consider the manufacturing issues that can benefit from crowd sourcing: product designs, material selections, production processes, workflows, suppliers, logistics, and even the expertise of colleagues, consultants, and contractors. In all these cases, rating content helps business people find things—services, products, information, and people.
A wiki is the popular form of the business-oriented application called "content management system." Both let people add and edit content on a webpage. The content is often supported by content on other webpages, all interconnected by hyperlinks. Generally, the webpage modifications are ongoing, the webpage continually evolving, and the evolving work is a collaboration by a diverse group of people whose shared interest is the content on a particular webpage. (Think Wikipedia, probably the most famous of wikis.) In a manufacturing setting, anyone can have a shared interest, from the maintenance worker in charge of a group of machine tools, to the Ph.D. in manufacturing engineering, to the president of the company. Their shared interest: running the plant. While blogs display a running patter of expertise and commentary, wikis can lead to documenting designs, procedures, and other forms of intellectual property. Because this documentation is editable, it can incrementally improve over time. In a way, a wiki can become a company's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. It can also be the basis for initiatives such as ISO 9000 certification.
Instant messaging (IM), a form of communication between two or more people over a data network, is based on typed text. (IM technologies now often let people embed and attach images, documents, and other static or animated files to a message.) IM differs from email in that because it facilitates real-time, two-way "conversation." This synchronicity comes in handy in the business setting where multiple experts—operators, maintenance, and schedulers—across multiple locations and time zones are diagnosing, say, a faulty production line on the spot.
Mashups are a form of integrated tools. They combine data from multiple sources to create a single tool that excels in synthesizing and presenting data graphically. Telematics that combine Google Maps, traffic data, and the "yellow pages" are a good example of a mashup. Together, these data sources provide more information than they do individually. Mashups, as opposed to portals, are usually created to answer a tactical need for a specific user or users. This is why mashups are popular for ad hoc research. Users can pull data from both different departments and web-based sources (such as Google Maps) to perform all sorts of data analysis.
Show us the products
Web 2.0 is coming to business applica-tions near you: Social networking is in the customer relationship management system from Oracle (Redwood Shores, CA; www.oracle.com). The SAP NetWeaver Portal from SAP AG (Newtown Square, PA; www.sap.com) includes wikis, social networking, and photo, chart, and video sharing to support enterprise-wide collaboration. Lotus Connections from IBM (Burlington, MA; www.cognos.com) provides social software for business, including communities, blogs, social tagging and activities. Lotus Sametime provides IM, email, telephony, and both web and video conferencing. Windchill ProductPoint from Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC; Waltham, MA; www.ptc.com) merges product lifecycle management with Web 2.0 by providing a foundation for blogs, RSS feeds (Rich Site Summary), wikis, IM, and video conferencing. FactoryTalk VantagePoint from Rockwell Automation (Milwaukee, WI; www.rockwellautomation.com) is a mashup for real-time production and historical data from Rockwell and third-party controllers and history data sources.