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Web 2.0 boot camp

Why traditionally minded execs need a little basic training to conquer their mistrust of social networking and document sharing

Globe and Mail Update

If you haven't figured it out already, Facebook isn't just for socializing teens, and blogs aren't just a handy soapbox for a fringe element of radical thinkers. High-profile business and political campaigns are proving that blogging is a powerful and effective communications medium. Social networking is turning out to be just about the easiest and cheapest way to get employees, colleagues and customers in touch. And wikis can be
a godsend in eliminating countless hours spent on e-mail distribution tasks.

But coming to the realization that Web 2.0 is good for business is one
thing. Getting on board the tidal wave is a whole other story.

Kathleen Gilroy, chief executive officer of the Otter Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of a growing number of consultants who delivers
Web 2.0 workshops to senior executives and managers at large organizations.

She says not all senior personnel are willing to make the leap. "Someone in these sessions always has their knickers in a knot," Gilroy says. "One session I did for [a department within] the Pentagon turned into a free-for-all."

What Gilroy faces is not unusual for consultants delivering Web 2.0 basic training. There are lots of senior management teams who find wikis and blogs as foreign a concept as rotary dial phones would be to today's teens. And they don't have the intuitive grasp of the technology that younger people who cut their teeth on social networking do.

But companies are quickly realizing that their top teams need to figure out the Web 2.0 space because it has catapulted from the realm of consumer "fun stuff" to being a business enabler. Jeremy Wright, a consultant and CEO of the b5media blog network, says change may be painful, but it's necessary. "There's nothing worse than seeing a Fortune 500 company react [to Web 2.0]. It's like seeing an 80-year-old at
the prom," says Wright. "After all, these are big ships with very, very small rudders, and they're trying to deal with a concept that most companies were starting three or four years ago."

The fear factor
The problem, says Gilroy, is that many senior managers are simply afraid that Web 2.0 will wreak havoc with management hierarchies, security and corporate intelligence. "Web 2.0 is hugely disruptive to power structures within organizations," she says. "These technologies are based on flattening organizational structures. So many companies have a group that wants to advance it, while those in charge want to maintain control." Or, as David Carter, CTO of Burlington, Ontario-based Awareness Inc., a consultant in enterprise social media, puts it: "The notion of giving everyone a voice scares the crap out of executives."

Frightened or not, senior executives have to get on board, says Anthony Bradley, managing vice-president of application and Web technologies for Gartner Inc. in Washington. "One of the really interesting things is that those senior and middle-level management members who don't take [social networking] seriously are the ones whose jobs depend on it the most. At the same time, they can be the major impediments to cultural adoption."

Most executives just want to make sure they're making the right move, according to Dion Hinchcliffe, president and CTO of Hinchcliffe & Co. in Alexandria, Virginia. "They're generally worried something will go wrong if they don't do it right. What happens when everything in the organization is so much more public? What's stopping everyone downloading information and walking out the door?"

Hinchcliffe founded his executive boot camp program, Web 2.0 University, specifically to help Fortune 500 companies come to terms with the whole phenomenon. To date, he has trained more than 4,000 executives in North America, Europe and Asia.

What he's found is that even the most forward-thinking companies—ones that believe they're ahead of their workers—have been in for a rude awakening. When one of Hinchcliffe's clients decided to roll out Web 2.0 tools to 65 departments, they found that more than 40 of the departments had been using them already. "That's pretty typical. I've come across dozens of stories like that," he says.

At Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc. in Toronto, Web 2.0 training has been pretty much front and centre for the management team for the past year, says Sean Taggart, executive director of marketing for Fairmont. "In our industry, if we didn't do it, other websites would talk about us. We can't afford to let Web 2.0 get away from us."

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