Looking beyond the hurdles to the digital natives

The CeBIT technology fair in Hanover, Germany, started last week and runs until March 21.

CeBIT is the world’s largest trade fair showcasing digital IT and telecommunications solutions for home and work.

I’ve not paid as much direct attention to it as I have in previous years. I have a couple of RSS watches enabled via Google and Technorati and of course I’m seeing what some of my favourite bloggers are saying.

One news item in my RSS feed did catch my attention today, an article in CIO magazine which begins:

Company leaders are being urged to embrace blogs and other “web 2.0” technologies to improve their businesses, but some executives say it’s easier said than done. Peter Sondergaard, global head of research for Gartner, told chief executives at Cebit that blogs and online communities like MySpace may have started in the consumer realm but they’ll have a big impact on businesses in the coming years.

Many executives already use blogs to talk with customers, CIO magazine says (which is true enough), and companies like Microsoft and IBM are offering tools to let employees work on projects using blogs and wikis.

There is plenty of commentary out there about executives who blog and the pros and cons of their doing so. At the same time, there’s really little that addresses some organizational realities which CIO magazine illustrates well with quotes like this:

“He’s a consultant and I’m a CEO. He doesn’t have to worry that if you have a community network in your organisation and you disclose financial information, you go to jail,” said Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of BT Group.

And this about HSH Nordbank, a credit investment bank in Luxembourg, where Manfred Reif, a managing director, asked his IT department a few months ago to create a blog where the company’s 130 employees can discuss how the bank is run:

[…] Labour laws in Luxembourg have required him to go to the employees’ union for approval before the blogging can begin.

Mr Reif has a pragmatic view about some of the regulatory and other barriers affecting companies operating in his industry sector:

[…] Reif said he must think about ways to innovate first and consider the compliance implications second. “If you think first about regulations, you’ll never do anything,” he said.

I wish there were more with a mindset like Mr Reif’s!

Speaking of mindsets:

A top executive with a management consulting company in Germany said his clients, which include traditional manufacturing companies, are not using web 2.0 technologies today. Manufacturers don’t have the right mind-set, he said, because they are too focused on products rather than services. “It will be at least 10 years before they are ready,” said the executive, who preferred not to be identified.

And a lot will have changed in ten years, so they’ll miss a boat or two.

The article concludes with Gartner’s Sondergaard’s view that most chief executives today are “digital immigrants,” struggling to understand consumer technologies that are being popularized by the young and creeping into business:

“The digital natives are the 16-year-olds, your sons and daughters,” he said. Companies need to experiment with web 2.0 technologies internally today, he said, because in a few years they will determine which companies those digital natives want to work for and do business with.

CIO magazine | Chief execs grapple with web 2.0

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.