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04:26 AM
J. Nicholas Hoover, InformationWeek
J. Nicholas Hoover, InformationWeek
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Wells Fargo Taps Web 2.0

For all the mind-numbing buzz about Web. 2.0, most business collaboration and information-sharing remains mired in endless e-mail strings and conference calls. More than half of business technology pros surveyed by InformationWeek Research, a CMP Technology property, are either skeptical about tools such as blogs, wikis and online social networks, or they're willing but wary of adopting them.

Business technologists are concerned about security, return on investment, and their staffs' skill in implementing and integrating new Web 2.0 tools. As a result, widespread adoption still looks well off: 74 percent of organizations "widely use" fewer than three of the 13 technologies in the InformationWeek Research survey (see chart, below). For Web 2.0 tools to get anywhere in an enterprise setting, businesses must first ensure that these apps are secure and don't expose them to regulatory or legal action. In fact, nearly two-thirds of survey respondents (64 percent) cite security as a challenge.

Despite the challenges, some financial services firms are actively entering the Web 2.0 landscape - with mixed results. Wells Fargo & Co., parent company of Wells Fargo Securities, for example, is experimenting with blogs, wikis and RSS feeds. Wells Fargo employees are embracing hundreds of blogs to brainstorm with one another and interact with customers. "We were building tools to share information inside the company, but they were always these very structured things," says Steve Ellis, EVP of Wells Fargo's wholesale solutions group. "A blog is informal - a great way to get away from the corporate thing and let people inside our heads." The company's hundreds of blogs have become the most-read nonbanking pages on Wells Fargo's site. A few groups within the company have even started experimenting with video blogs. Further, the EVP of the bank's Internet services group holds weekly office hours for team members to discuss new ideas submitted to a wiki.

Not All Tools Are Created Equal

However, the company's attempt to build a presence inside Second Life - a virtual community called Stagecoach Island - to get young people involved with the brand and learn about personal finance, had all of 11 people logged on one recent afternoon. And on yet another Web 2.0 front, integrated search, the company has limited employees' ability to search across data repositories because of the complex authorization schemes needed to keep people from accessing information they shouldn't. About 80 percent of development and deployment time for customer-facing and internal tools is spent on security measures, such as authentication and authorization, says Ellis.

And security isn't the only barrier to adoption. Ellis says the tools will matter and get adopted only if they're delivering information people need. "When I look at the intranet and what's going to bring people there every day, it's real-time information," he says. For example, the company is using RSS to deliver news feeds that employees can customize to see the business news that matters most to them on the job.

Most companies, however, haven't caught the Web 2.0 enthusiasm of Wells Fargo. More than half of companies don't use blogs at all and 41 percent don't use wikis, InformationWeek Research finds. And more than 20 percent make these tools available, but they're not widely used.

An Expanding Web 2.0 Toolbox

The tools exist, however. Business versions allow for a professional to post background, projects, expertise and other information to selected networks, such as colleagues. Business social networking site LinkedIn says membership doubled in the last year to more than 9 million individuals. IBM recently announced plans for Connections, social-networking software that companies can use internally and with partners. And elements of Microsoft's SharePoint collaborative content portal, such as the My Site personal site feature, do some of the same work.

At Wells Fargo, IT and business departments work together to develop only those applications employees need most. But is it all worth the effort? Collaboration technologies are notorious for their soft ROI. Wells Fargo's Ellis says he doesn't bother to cook up a dollar value for each collaboration app. "I can just go out and tell our boss I know we'll be better off," he explains.

Yet Ellis and his team must have a case for how it will make the bank's customers better off. Wells Fargo is only now experimenting with Voice Over IP, and Danny Peltz, EVP of the company's wholesale Internet and treasury solutions group, says he's not yet convinced of the value of all Web 2.0 tools. "Is it going to make me build faster? Is it going to make me perform better and service my customers better?" he asks. "Those are the things I'm trying to figure out."

They're the same questions a lot of IT pros are asking. They know well enough not to chase technology just because it's got the buzz of a Web 2.0 label. But they also know better than to ignore an opportunity from which their competitors might be gaining an edge.

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