TechWorld

Study: Enterprise 2.0 generational divide largely a myth

Older workers champion Web 2.0 as often as younger counterparts

Don't blame the old fogeys if your enterprise Web 2.0 efforts fail to launch. Young people may be demanding more collaborative Web technologies in the workplace, but the young/old divide is largely a myth, researchers said Tuesday at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston.

"Some zealots say if you don't have young people in your company you won't get it. Our survey found that's not true," said Carl Frappaolo, vice president of market intelligence at AIIM. The nonprofit content-management research firm presented findings from a survey of 441 workers of all ages and from many industries.

Ironically enough, TechWeb's Enterprise 2.0 conference was just about the only place in Boston where collaborative Web technologies were hard to access Tuesday morning and early afternoon. The wireless network set up for the show suffered problems for several hours, limiting Internet connectivity for many attendees.

But Frappaolo and colleague Dan Keldsen, AIIM's director of market intelligence, needed only their voices and a PowerPoint deck to describe their 90-page report titled "Enterprise 2.0: Agile, Emergent & Integrated."

People ages 51 and older are just as likely as their younger counterparts to champion Web 2.0 technologies inside enterprises, they said. While this could be because of older people more often being in leadership positions, Frappaolo and Keldsen found the percentages significant. About 56 per cent of "boomers" -- those age 51 and over - consider themselves champions of Enterprise 2.0 within their organizations, compared with 45 per cent of "millennials," those people ages 25 to 35. Among Gen Xers (ages 36 to 49), 58 per cent consider themselves Enterprise 2.0 champions.

"Survey analysis confirmed that generational affiliation does impact attitudes and experience with Enterprise 2.0, but not as much as one might be inclined to believe," the AIIM report states. "Unlike Web 2.0 - which is very 'social' in the purest sense - Enterprise 2.0 is about 'socialness' in support of specific business goals and objectives. Thus, in situations where Enterprise 2.0 can illustrate a potential benefit to the success of an organization, tenured business professionals are more apt to place a premium on it."

More proof that age doesn't matter as much as people think comes from a survey question asking how critical Enterprise 2.0 is to an organization's success. About 38 per cent of boomers said collaborative Web technologies are "significant" to achieving business goals, compared with 35 per cent of Gen Xers and 31 per cent of millennials.

However, none of the boomers think Enterprise 2.0 is "imperative" to success, or a must-have, in other words. One out of 10 Gen Xers call Enterprise 2.0 an imperative to having success, and 6 per cent of millennials agree.

The biggest differences found by AIIM are based not on age but corporate culture. Organizations are more likely to bring Web 2.0 inside the firewall when they are already devoted to so-called "knowledge management" principles such as information sharing, user empowerment, distributed decision making and open collaboration.

But few organizations are approaching Web 2.0 with any kind of strategy. It's common for an executive to say "I hear a wiki is cool, let's do that," Keldsen notes. "That's not a great approach."

The biggest obstacle is lack of education and understanding, but slow progress among vendors is frustrating early adopters, the AIIM researchers said.

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Vendors were eager to demonstrate new and updated products at the show, taking place June 9-12. At least a dozen vendors made announcements, including Microsoft, which is unveiling a podcasting kit for SharePoint; LiquidPlanner, which launched online project management software; and Blogtronix, which is releasing a social media platform called BTX Enterprise.

Socialtext co-founder Ross Mayfield discussed his company's product SocialCalc, a spreadsheet designed for collaboration. But the Web 2.0 conversation has to be elevated beyond the types of tools you use, Mayfield said during his presentation. Wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, social bookmarking and mashups are all well and good, but they need to be used to enable business processes and improve productivity, or users will end up with "a thousand dead wikis," he said.

"There are different ways to apply these tools rather than just deploying them freely as a service, which I do encourage," Mayfield said. "It can't just be about knowledge sharing. It has to be about solving problems. Let's talk about solving problems and creating opportunities for competitive advantage."