Westpac reality check on Web 2.0

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Westpac reality check on Web 2.0

Westpac has revealed that changing business conditions and poor adoption forced it to abandon or shelve some of its highest-profile Enterprise 2.0 projects.

The bank has abandoned the Second Life presence it used for employee induction, has re-evaluated the use of blogs within the company and has pulled back on desktop video.

In a candid presentation at Future Exploration Network's Enterprise 2.0 conference in Sydney today, the bank's former chief technology officer and now general manager of application development, David Backley, outlined the difficulties enterprises face when embracing new technologies.

"Failures can become expensive," Backley said. "We do massive systems rollouts and we expect huge paybacks."

Westpac was among the earliest Australian big organisations to grant its workers access to social networking. Its internet banking site has three million users logging up to 700,000 sessions a day and 6000 users at a time. And it handles more transactions on the internet than from its branches and call centres combined.

But it has seen its share of project failures too, Backley reminded the audience.

Such as its early leap into blogs. Bank management at the time was too risk averse and the technology too new, he said.

 "Parts of the organisation were too scared to put comments in because they didn't know what the consequences were," he said.

But he said its Second Life trial had forged ahead, initially - "It worked. We had great feedback."

The project was abandoned once its project sponsor moved to a new job. Backley said that without them, decision makers thought it just as easy to fly people to inductions.

Westpac also invested in a desktop video overlay that ran on top of the bank's IP phone system. The system again found favour - particularly among those process areas that work with external offices.

But for most users, it was made redundant when Westpac consolidated 10 of its Sydney city offices into one tower; they didn't need a tool to communicate face-to-face with relative ease.

Backley told delegates there were some important lessons they could learn from Westpac's experience.

"You need to ask yourself, can the organisation support the technology?" he asked. "It is no use if nobody will give up headcount or budget to support it."

Large organisations need to get better at "moving faster" when projects are working better than expected and putting a stop to projects when things aren't going so well, he said.

"Also, if you do a pilot, do a pilot," he said. "How many of you have done a pilot that somehow becomes a production system? We put out a BlackBerry pilot to 50 staff, when it got to 1000 staff, questions were asked. It was a pilot you couldn't turn off."

And he recommended organisations treat an internal system with the same emphasis on ease-of-use as one that faces customers. Backley said that no one trained Westpac's internet banking users; the service was just designed to be easy to use. Organisations needed to provide their staff with applications and services that had the same qualities, he said.

Before his speech, Backley was asked whether "anybody ever got fired over Web 2.0".

"Well, I was a CTO, and now I am GM of application development," he joked with the audience. "Read into that whatever you will."

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