A recent white paper from Parity presents some conclusions from a survey undertaken by Bournemouth University. Web 2.0 – More than Social Networking looks at current levels of Web 2.0 adoption and understanding across UK industry, and reveals that almost half of UK senior managers do not understand the business benefits associated with embracing Web 2.0 technologies; almost a third of IT managers admit a lack of Web 2.0 understanding.
The white paper’s descriptions of Web 2.0 office tools could almost have been written about the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)-based construction collaboration technologies now increasingly deployed on major design and construction projects:
“… file sharing features such as document history, comments, discussion and alerts, as well as advanced search, are standard.
“The inclusion of configurable approval workflow processes supports the information management process cycle, taking information from its raw state through authoring, amending and publishing – roles undertaken effectively by multiple individuals within a secure, audited and tracked environment.
“… standard security practices still apply and technology exists to impose control, limit information views to authorised personnel, protect document libraries and provide a full audit trail. …”
Sadly, I think some of the findings regarding less-than-enlightened reasons for adopting the technology also apply to the construction industry (think about how many construction businesses have been slow, if at all, to embrace ‘partnering’, integrated teams or collaborative working, despite the efforts of organisations such as Constructing Excellence to show that such strategies deliver better performance across a whole range of key performance indicators, KPIs):
“… the primary business reasons for the technology’s adoption are content and document management (44%), followed by search (27.8%). … the majority of organisations are simply buying what they perceive to be the latest document management and search technologies, rather than adopting an entirely new way of working that can transform business practices.”
The white paper goes on to point out that the biggest benefits achieved from Web 2.0 relate to the way workers interact with each other:
“Over half of respondents cited working together more efficiently (55.6%) and uniting workers across different locations (52.9%), whilst 50% rated more openness in the organisation.”
But such intangible measures on their own were insufficient for organisations to justify investments in Web 2.0:
“Organisations are simply not prepared to buy in to the concept of an open, collaborative working environment, either through misunderstanding or disbelief in the potential benefits.” [Sounds just like many construction project teams to me!]
Delivering Web 2.0 into the construction industry
I have been a Web 2.0 enthusiast for some years, and have sought to apply the tools in my day job working at BIW Technologies (by writing blogs, using RSS feeds, collaborating on Wikis, contributing to discussion forums or social networks, etc), and – as mentioned above – it is easy to identify some Web 2.0-type features in our SaaS-based construction-oriented services – not least because the industry has always been reliant upon secure sharing of information among fragmented, geographically-dispersed team members (file-sharing? – the starting point for today’s collaboration platforms; discussion forums? think about the dialogues built up through online commenting tools; RSS feeds? – think automatic alerts generated when files are published for a user’s attention or when a user needs to respond to a process request).
However, there isn’t (yet) a deeper embrace of Web 2.0 concepts across the construction sector, partly for the reasons identified by Parity/Bournemouth University’s research (ie: adherence to hierarchical structures – as opposed to more fluid ‘adhocracy‘ environments; perceived irrelevance; and security concerns). With little or no demand from customers, this has meant the technology vendors have not been pushed to incorporate more explicit Web 2.0 features into their services. Instead:
“The vision of adhocracy is being delivered by default; as organisations increasingly embrace flexible and distributed working practices and cooperation with partner organisations, the desire and opportunity for fast, effective yet secure collaborative working is growing. People are no longer working in isolation; huge structured and unstructured information resources are dispersed across the business and must be harnessed to deliver corporate value via secure sharing and collaboration.”
Maybe, as the Parity authors suggest, the IT vendors have got to change their approach, messaging and attitude. The “product based ‘collaboration suite’ message is not hitting the mark”, they say, with the result that “Web 2.0 looks set to remain a consumer-only tool – at a significant cost to business.”