Open to Openness
Alfresco’s Newton believes that in addition to mandating an enterprise that is more horizontal and more adaptable, the influx of Web 2.0 technologies into the business environment will foster—and perhaps necessitate—more openness as well. This take might not come as a surprise coming from one of the co-founders of one of the leading open source alternatives to enterprise content management.
Newton draws a bright line between what he calls “first generation” technologies—those that subscribed to a linear way of thinking about software, which he describes as being “left-brained”—and the second generation of technology that caters to the right brain. “The right side of the brain is about extroversion. Second Life, YouTube, Facebook—these appeal more to the interest in people and images and connections. It’s about complex spatial and conceptual relationships. It’s more future-looking than backward-looking,” he says.
The more a business embraces technologies and practices that foster extroversion, the more open those companies are likely to become. Extroversion creates less fear of collaborating and sharing, especially outside the organization. “We can try to blame it all on Sarbanes-Oxley,” Newton says, “but it’s really the internet and ubiquitous access to information that makes companies more open. The more you give in information, the more you get back in trust—from your employees, from your customers, and from other organizations.”
Alfresco’s free, open source, open standards, enterprise-scale content management system is geared toward users who require a high degree of modularity and scalable performance. It includes a content repository, an out-of-the-box web portal framework for managing and using standard portal content, a CIFS interface that provides file system compatibility on Microsoft Windows and Unix-like operating systems, and a web content management system capable of virtualizing web applications and static sites via Apache Tomcat. Alfresco’s goal is to surpass commercial offerings such as Documentum and Microsoft SharePoint. Alfresco recently announced the integration of Alfresco with Facebook to deliver a platform for developing content-centric applications. This integration will make publishing content to Facebook as controlled and effective as publishing to a corporate website.
Opening the enterprise up to a social network is not merely an attempt by Alfresco to attach its name to one of the most frequented websites on the internet. Newton sees a seriousness of purpose in social networking. “This isn’t just about Web 2.0 and the younger generation,” he says. “We want to know how the enterprise is connected to users, customers, and partners. Who knows whom is important! One of the fundamental pieces of Facebook is its news feed. What are your friends doing? The notion is that what’s really happening is that we’re witnessing an object-centered social network. Interaction with objects is what catches our attention. And there’s no more important object in the enterprise than content. Content is the embodiment of knowledge and contribution.”
By being able to see who is working on what and when they’re working on it, Newton believes that everyone in the enterprise has a lot to gain. “All that stuff we’ve always had—audit trails, workflows—we can now see it slightly differently. Now we can know in real-time that the CEO updated the strategic plan, or that the VP of sales has reviewed the sales forecast. This now gives us a proactive view of what’s happening in the enterprise.”
From the back office to the front office, Newton is seeing a continuous layer of collaboration that has eradicated the old barriers in the enterprise. And he takes this philosophy one step further, saying that businesses should extend this principle out to customers and the entire market as well. The farther the door swings open, the more insight is allowed to get in.
Prepare to Prepare
Web 2.0 has been around long enough and been written about enough for even the least tech-savvy CEO to know that it’s out there waiting to be implemented in the enterprise. The potential benefits are limitless, but there are pitfalls as well. Web Crossing’s Krieg alludes to the difficulty of getting everyone to come around to use new technology to its full potential. “In times of change, some people are less comfortable with increased communication and new information channels,” he says. Sometimes the best way to do business is through the old channels. Krieg says, “Web 2.0 doesn’t always lend itself to getting instant answers in the way that you need them. Every now and then you just have to call someone and say, ‘Dude, what’s going on here,’ rather than waiting for them to update a blog.”
While Web 2.0 in the enterprise is not the answer to every business need, it will continue to gain influence in the way business works as more and more companies begin to adopt it. Those organizations that stand ready to be flexible, adaptable, and open are likely to be the trailblazers as these next generation business practices evolve and mature.
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