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Enterprise 2.0 finds its place in big business

Blogs, wikis and social networks may be changing the world, but they won't happen at your company without a business case.

BOSTON -- The Enterprise 2.0 conference being held here this week is a beehive of big ideas and heavy-duty pondering about the impact of Web 2.0 technologies. Amid the buzz about how wikis, blogs, Real Simple Syndication, social networks, etc., are changing human culture (and, yes, eventually your company) came some practical advice from the banking world. Pete Fields, senior vice president of the eCommerce division at Charlotte, N.C.-based Wachovia Corp., explained how he made the business case for cool at the nation's fourth-largest bank.

For Fields and other like-minded colleagues in the e-commerce division, the business benefits of building an employee network that would incorporate wikis, blogs, tagging, videoconferencing and other social networking tools made "intuitive" good sense. "The real challenge," he said, "was digging into that intuition and understanding why" these Web 2.0 technologies were relevant to the bank and its 120,000-some employees. He spent 18 months coming up with a business rationale for making a substantial investment in this space. Here are the four arguments that really stuck:

1. Work more efficiently across time and distance.

Wachovia for many years was North Carolina-centric, tracing its beginnings in that state to the late 1800s. When the bank expanded nationally, it was "flummoxed" about how to work across a one-hour time zone, let alone across the globe, Fields said. He envisioned a comprehensive communications network that incorporated the full panoply of networking tools, from wikis to instant messaging and videoconferencing. The idea started to take shape when business unit heads offered to take money from their travel budgets to fund the network -- and to push their employees to use collaboration tools.

2. Better connect and engage employees.

Wachovia has a rich tradition of intramural activities that build camaraderie, from baseball to bowling leagues. Fields knew that employees who play together cover for each other in the workplace as well as on the field. But as Wachovia grew, it was becoming impossible to form those relationships across the company.

Fields showed how tools like Facebook and LinkedIn can be gathering spaces for employees to form meaningful relationships. The touchy-feely benefits of networking eventually resonated, but Fields said the argument was a bit of a hard sell at a workplace dominated by Myers-Briggs thinking style.

3. Mitigate the impact of a maturing workforce.

A biggie. Harvesting the "knowledge capital" of aging baby boomers before they retire is, in Fields' view, perhaps the most important reason for putting communication tools in place. While the information can be gathered and posted on a company intranet site, most employees are "more likely to reach out to a colleague" when they need information about how to do their jobs. "There is no better way to capture these knowledge assets than by a wiki or blog," Fields said.

4. Engage the Gen Y worker.

Fields didn't embrace 2.0 tools in order to appear cool to Generation Y workers, but he quickly realized how important these social networking tools are to retain and engage these cohorts. Gen Y workers come into work believing they can make a difference. "They are confident they will change the world," Fields said. Stick them in a cubicle under a thicket of bureaucratic processes and they quickly become disillusioned, indeed, eager to bolt.

There is no better way to capture these knowledge assets than by a wiki or blog.

Pete Fields, senior vice president, eCommerce division, Wachovia Corp.

In extensive polling of this age group, fields found that a year after entering the bank the high-flying, deeply engaged Gen Yers "dropped off the charts" in terms of disaffection because they "did not understand how they can make that difference in this corporate hierarchy." Giving them tools -- and plenty of them -- to interact with their work environment is important. Fields said Wachovia's communication network will position the bank well to attract and keep the growing demographic of Gen Y workers.

Stephen Swift, enterprise architect at Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., the plane and train manufacturer, said he was listening closely to panelists like Fields, who detailed how they got 2.0 tools up and running at their companies. Swift said he hopes to do something similar at Bombardier.

"We have none of this, that I am aware of," he said. Bombardier does have an enterprise portal, but "it is not authenticated, so it is difficult to participate." But there is a big push at Bombardier for participation. Senior executives are putting out video of quarterly meetings. Swift said he plans to make a case for some of the tools when he returns, at least for the company's office workers. (Of the 27,000 people in aerospace at Bombardier, some 15,000 work in the shop and are not connected to the network.)

"I work closely with some of the people in HR and will push back to them on this. 'Look, this is potentially a way to engage, maybe not everybody … but for our knowledge workers in the office, these are some of the tools we could make use of.'"

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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