Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Web 2.0 changing the organisation

One thought I had attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference was how Web 2.0 would change the nature of organizations. A lot of the presentations at the conference were about how web based social networking could be used to promote a company, get staff or promote products or services. But there was little about how this will change the nature of work itself. If the staff are used to using web based tools to communicate with each other, will that change the way they do work? Will this put an end to meetings?

In some respects the Web may have already changed retail stores. I went into the new Telstra T.Life store in Sydney to look at wireless broadband. The new store looks like something from the TV comedy "Ab Fab". The store seems to be entirely white with almost no furniture, no products visible and no information about products. Staff at a counter which could the reception desk of an upmarket hotel took my inquiry and walked me over to a wall mounted touch screen. They entered my query, almost as if they were part of a voice operated web page. I was then able to read the results on the screen which they explained to me. Unfortunately the store did not have any of the actual products in stock and Telstra did not have a marketable product anyway (Telstra sell their entry level wireless broadband as a per-hour service, which is makes it non-viable).

But how will Web 2.0 effect normal offices? If staff can communicate and coordinate their work on line, will the need for people to be co-located be removed? Will staff be able to work from a serviced office or from home? Previously even independent workers, such as lawyers and stockbrokers, tended to cluster in particular places so they could share gossip. If web based services provide the usual office water cooler, coffee shop gossip, then the need for this clustering is removed.

But as well as removing the need for members of one profession to cluster at one place, it may remove the need for people in one organisation to be collocated or to even work for the organisation. The extreme example of this is Amazon Mechanical Turk. With this a pool of piece workers bid to do tasks. It is conceivable that 21st century organisations, including private companies, government agencies and not-for-profits could consist of a web site with links activating the Mechanical Turk to employ staff to do the work. There would be no staff employed by the organisation.

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