Web 2.0 means different things to different people, yet it isn’t just about the web, but is also about how your organisation works. Think intranet, as well as internet. Does your organisation work in a 2.0 way?

At the moment there seems to be three primary focuses around Web 2.0:

1) there are the technologists who are figuring out new technologies (there are many libraries and frameworks out there already).

2) there are the marketers and entrepreneurs, who are trying to figure out how use new 2.0 technologies and principles to generate profits, or help empower consumers (call them business people for now) in some way.

3) and finally, there are the users, who are increasingly using and enjoying the results of these new technologies. 

But how does all that filter into your organisation in a useful way, feeding into your own innovation cycle?

When you look at your organisation, are you using Web 2.0 tools and processes to foster and sustain innovation? After all, innovation is what will keep you one step ahead of your competitors and keep your customers / clients coming back for more.  

Sure, there probably loads of people out there who can speak of using AJAX to develop new applications within their organisation (or for their clients), but that’s not really living up to the promise of what Web 2.0 is all about (or at least missing the point – AJAX is not the be all and end all of Web 2.0).

This whole social software revolution has, at its core, really been about a bunch of newer technologies created by the technologists, and about new ideas and approaches dreamt up by entrepreneurs, business folk, and marketers.

But if you’re working in a large organisation it can be difficult to embrace innovation and to speed up the development cycle. Marketers with great ideas for new features often tell us how frustrating it is to roll-out new ideas that they’re sure will make a difference. 

The entrepreneurs running tiny startups do not suffer from this problem of course. But what if you’re working in a marketing department for a company as big as British Airways? Making yourself heard isn’t going to be easy. Getting things done is even more difficult.

We all know that nimble, reactive organisations work best on the web. That’s because they move swiftly, aren’t shackled by paperwork and politics, and perhaps most importantly, they take an iterative approach. Rather than planning everything to the Nth degree they simply launchnew features on websites and watch user behaviour to see if they like them or not. Amazon is one ‘startup’ that is now huge and still adopts this approach.

So what can the Big Corps adopt Web 2.0?

  1. They can recognise that somebody is responsible for taking a decision to do this. The marketing director. The CEO. It doesn’t matter. Just do it.
  2. They can learn to listen to their colleagues.
  3. They can react, and react more quickly.
  4. They can embrace experimentation and innovatation.
  5. They can stop worrying about risk, and start worrying about missing opportunities.
  6. They can fast-track feedback, and streamline development cycles and processes.

Machines don’t innovate, but humans do

One of the themes of Web 2.0 is user-centricity. Now, simply replace ‘users’ with ‘colleagues’ (or ’employees’, if you’re in charge) and you can place your human assets at the very heart of your web strategy. Employee-centricity!

To illustrate:

Instead of people waiting for 6 hours for support feedback, they get feedback much quicker.

Instead of waiting for weeks or months for a new feature, they get the new feature much quicker (urban web legend has it that at one stage Flickr was releasing updates to their site every half hour) and it actually works.

Instead of waiting for weeks for the corporate PR agency to come out with a response to an issue, the response is handled quickly, efficiently and painlessly through a post on the corporate blog, by the person responsible for the issue.

At the end of the day users / employees realise that we’re all just human – so they want to interact with humans, and be treated as humans.  Bottom-up vs. top-down.

In a large organisation, it is up to senior managers and directors to create an environment where innovation is encouraged and rewarded. You should provide your employees with the tools they need to be productive, share knowledge and really innovate.

Are you focusing on giving your employees (who should really be your best customers) access to your internal and external knowledge ? Do they have free(ish) reign to harness that knowledge, so that they can innovate?

When you do that, Web 2.0 isn’t so much about cool AJAX widgets on the desktop, or about service mashups that deliver geo-location information to your mobile, but rather about making feedback loops easy to use, and making it work simply and easily where it really counts – with your users / employees.