What is the truth about enterprise Web 2.0?

A McKinsey & Company survey into business Web 2.0 adoption sparked an interesting debate, not only about the benefits of new media applications to businesses, but also about the quality of the data used in such surveys.
fter polling nearly 1,7000 executives worldwide, McKinsey said that 69% of respondents claimed to have gained measurable business benefits from Web 2.0 applications, including "more innovative products and services, more effective marketing, better access to knowledge, lower cost of doing business, and higher revenues". It noted that successful adopters not only integrated Web 2.0 technologies with the workflow of their employees, but also create a "networked company" linking with suppliers and customers. Despite the recession, respondents "overwhelmingly" said they will continue to invest in Web 2.0.
So far, so good. But a subsequent BusinessWeek blog questioned not the integrity of the research, but the quality of the answers given. It was argued that "I don't trust the answers execs put on the surveys. I think they feel pressure to say that they're implementing new communications technologies, because to say the opposite looks backward. And of course they insist that they benefit from them, because to confess that they don't would signal ineptitude".
Perhaps the biggest issue relating to business Web 2.0 uptake is that the benefits which can be delivered, such as enhanced communication and collaboration, are difficult, if not impossible, to quantify. While this is always going to be an issue, at a time when the business community remains tightly focused on cost control, this lack of evidence may prove problematic. So when questioned, the instinctive reaction is to be positive, even if this cannot be justified in terms of cold, hard, facts.
BusinessWeek noted that rather than questioning executives to discover the benefits of Web 2.0, it may be better to talk to the workers directly involved in the use of the technology. This would provide a more accurate picture of how it is deployed, and what benefits are delivered, without respondents keeping an eye on how the answers will be interpreted by the board.
Stewart Baines
Stewart Baines

I've been writing about technology for nearly 20 years, including editing industry magazines Connect and Communications International. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Anthony Plewes. My focus in Futurity Media is in emerging technologies, social media and future gazing. As a graduate of philosophy & science, I have studied futurology & foresight to the post-grad level.