IT wrestles with workplace blogging

How are IT departments dealing with the advent of the blogosphere?

Xerox allows all workers access to blogs, but Johnson says the company is looking at whether there should be tighter restrictions and security to accommodate proposed blogs that might contain sensitive and confidential information. Xerox is also looking to expand its use of blogs so that all employees could set up their own blog starting next year.

This sounds like a large investment, but Johnson says it's relatively small. Without disclosing actual figures, he says the costs associated with searching and storage are "trivial" compared to the information that blogs can capture.

On-the-ground advantages

Others are already seeing worthwhile returns.

Frank D'Agnese, president of Earth Knowledge Inc. in Tucson, Ariz., has been using blogs for about a year to serve clients in the environmental science space. D'Agnese says the low cost of blogs, along with their ease of use and ability to contain all kinds of data in one place, makes this technology an optimal choice.

For example, Earth Knowledge is creating blogs for the Central Nevada Regional Water Authority, allowing officials from a half-dozen rural counties to easily and quickly share crucial data without having to drive to meetings.

"We had people who said, 'I know that stuff is all out there, but who has the time to get in and link it in?' But we're getting the recipe on how to bring it all in in real time," D'Agnese says.

As a result, Nevada officials have been able to reallocate the days they used to spend driving every week to more productive endeavors, D'Agnese says.

But such successes shouldn't imply that there aren't challenges and potential big costs associated with blogs.

"From a technology standpoint, blogs are easy to implement. The major cost comes [from] using them properly and having employees use them properly," Young says. For instance, managers may fear employees will use blogs as their own personal diaries. "But if a company is worried about employees wasting time, that's an HR issue, not a technology one. Companies need to define what they want from their blogs."

Marriott International Inc. is doing that now, with its IT team partnering with the business units already using blogs to help determine actual costs and the return on investment.

Marriott first had an externally accessible blog owned by its CEO -- a blog that was successful enough to prompt the company this summer to pilot three blogs to serve three distinct business areas, says Eric Scholz, editor and chief of Intranet Marriott Global Source.

Karla Gill, information resources vice president for enterprise end-user workplace solutions, says the Bethesda, Md.,-based company opted for a hosted application from Awareness Inc., an on-demand social media platform company headquartered in Waltham, Mass.

"Because this is a new and emerging area and we still have lots to learn, we thought this would be an easier entry point," Gill says, although she declines to release how much Marriott pays for its services.

Gill says her team worked with other business departments to craft objectives and goals for the blogs, such as "engaging the associate community in new and more dynamic ways." Gill says they're also using the pilot program to better understand the features and functionalities of the technology.

When the pilot ends later this year, Marriott plans to look at statistical trends -- everything from number of unique visitors to the number of readers per blog post -- to help determine whether the time and money spent proved valuable.

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Mary K. Pratt

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