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Web 2.0 tools used to harness knowledge of CIOs

A Web 2.0 collaboration project is helping one CIO tap into the power of many.

Until recently, enterprise IT organizations dismissed Web 2.0 tools like wikis, Really Simple Syndication (RSS), blogs and mashups as playthings for consumers. However, many have changed course this past year, as more and more knowledge workers have adopted such tools as flexible, location-independent, cost-effective means of collaborating, sharing and accessing information within and outside the company.

CIOs, in turn, have been forced to take Web 2.0 seriously, if only to ensure that their organizations use such tools in a safe, secure and reliable fashion, notes Ray Wang, a principal analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc.

A Forrester report, "Top Enterprise Web 2.0 Predictions for 2008," predicts that by year's end, deployment of Web 2.0 tools will be a top priority for the majority of enterprises. For example, RSS "publish and subscribe" architectures grew in 2007 as a means for companies to make internal content, such as blog postings and customer relationship management data, easily accessible to internal employees and key partner organizations. While only 9% of enterprise IT respondents to a recent Forrester survey expected to consider using RSS this year, the consultancy predicts that number will be close to 20% by year's end.

Forward-thinking CIOs are evaluating the potential benefits of Web 2.0 tools for their own IT organizations -- and even for themselves, as a means of sharing information and best practices for key IT projects.

André Mendes is one such CIO. His organization, Special Olympics, hosts sporting events worldwide for more than 2.5 million athletes with special needs. It has 250 paid staff members and more than 100,000 volunteers.

About a year ago, Mendes was approached by Michael Grove, founder of CollabWorks Inc. in Redwood City, Calif. "His basic premise was that CIOs very often solve the same problems over and over again in our own little silos," Mendes said. "We end up paying consultants for knowledge which, once identified and catalogued, can be shared, saving everyone money and aggravation."

This made eminent sense to Mendes. About two months ago, he signed Special Olympics up as a full member of CollabWorks' Enterprise Network. The first project for which he is seeing the collaborative help of other CIO members: updating the organization's security infrastructure.

"Say I'm looking at how to implement security while deploying a social network site," Mendes said. "I am positive that companies with far more resources than ours have looked at the specific issues, and have created white papers and best practices. Just by being able to download some of those papers, I've saved hours and hours of research producing the same type of document."

Mendes said he initially plans to tap CollabWorks members' knowledge in order to upgrade Special Olympics' security infrastructure, "while spending as little money as possible." He expects to do the same thing with enterprise resource planning upgrades, in the next year or so.

Founded in January 2007, CollabWorks currently has 10 full members. They include Travelzoo Inc., Guittard Chocolate Co., Photon Dynamics Inc., Ricoh and Sun Microsystems Inc. Grove said he expects to have more than a thousand members by 2010.

CollabWorks provides a Web-based collaborative infrastructure that enables members to share intellectual property and actively collaborate on specific projects. A member portal, built by Central Desktop Inc., provides discussion boards, document sharing capabilities, collaborative workspaces and a knowledge base.

CollabWorks also provides oversight, nurturing and guidance, ensuring that members meet their obligations and projects hit their goals, Grove said. Members earn credits for contributing ideas and white papers, which they can then spend on others' contributions.

Mendes said he sees great potential value in this concept. "Through the portal, you can interact and share information with people who are recognized for innovation, leadership and understanding," he said. "You're leveraging economies of scale over a body of CIOs. At the end of the day, would I rather pay $100,000 to a consultant, or $5,000 to get access to a huge body of knowledge?"

CollabWorks has defined a formal set of processes and best practices for setting up a collaborative project, defining its scope and who is responsible for what, as well as for dealing with issues like intellectual property rights, Grove said.

You're leveraging economies of scale over a body of CIOs.

André Mendes, CIO, Special Olympics

Grove frequently brings in vendors and consultants with specialized knowledge, like Mark Egan, Symantec Corp.'s former CIO. Many of these experts would be difficult for a company to cost-justify on its own, Grove pointed out.

Not every IT project fits the CollabWorks model. "A project needs to be important enough to gain people's commitment, but not so urgent that there's limited time to collaborate," Groves said. It also must have enough commonality across different organizations, and not involve sensitive information that CIOs would resist sharing with a competitor.

Security is a particularly fruitful area for the CollabWorks model, Grove said, "because it is pervasive, touches all aspects of organizations, and is pretty independent of size."

While CIOs have always hashed out problems on the phone and at conferences, CollabWorks provides "a more formalized process, with an organized place for doing it," Mendes said.

The CollabWorks community will start to achieve its potential when it reaches a critical mass of around 75 to 100 members, Mendes said. "Then you'll have a big, organized yard sale of ideas where everyone can benefit."

Elisabeth Horwitt is a contributing writer based in Waban, Mass. Write to her at

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