Editor’s note: WRAL Local Tech Wire has added another feature with the launch of the "Innovation Exchange." Noah Garrett, former executive director of communications for the North Carolina Technology Association, is a creative spirit, from writing music to news stories, who owns and operates NGC Communications. The focus of the Innovation Exchange is just that – creating a Web community through which people can exchange ideas and foster creativity.

Participate in the Exchange. Send ideas and feedback to: noah@thinkngc.com

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Is Web 2.0 really that important to your business?

The Internet has changed drastically since the burst of the dot-com bubble in 2001. That marked a turning point for the internet and the birth of Web 2.0. Today, many businesses have adopted Web 2.0 applications in order to stay relevant and successful. Let’s face it, social networking is now a full-fledge business occupation, carefully managed like a new relationship.

Companies are using more Web 2.0 tools and technologies than they were last year, sometimes for more complex business purposes, according to Companies that are satisfied with using these tools are starting to see changes throughout the enterprise as well, according to a content brushstroke provided by the authors of the report, Jacques Bughin, James Manyika, Andy Miller, and contributor Michael Chui.

This year’s survey reveals continuing and ongoing investments by companies in Web 2.0. Companies that are deriving value from these tools are now shifting from using them experimentally to adopting them as part of a broader business practice. They are using Web 2.0 both within and outside their corporate walls – to forge tighter relationships with customers and suppliers and to engage employees more successfully. These companies are not only using more technologies but also leveraging them to change management practices and organizational structures.

Web 2.0 is now familiar at many companies, but the mix of tools and technologies companies use is changing. Blogs, RSS, wikis, and podcasts are becoming more common, the survey results indicate, perhaps because companies have a greater understanding of their value for business. At the same time, even more technologies are in use – the average rate of adoption is 2.5 tools per company this year versus 2.2 in 2007. Overall, companies are using an average of 3.4 technologies from an expanded list within the survey.

However, the use of Web 2.0 tools remains uneven among the workforce at many companies. Only about one employee in four uses Web 2.0 tools, with the exception of Web services. A higher level of usage is found at companies that encourage it by using tactics such as integrating the tools into existing workflows, launching Web 2.0 in conjunction with other strategic initiatives, and getting senior managers to act as role models for adoption. As might be expected, companies whose respondents are satisfied with the overall results of Web 2.0 employ more tactics to encourage its use.

On the flip side, I do run into a fair number of people who are skeptical about the actual business value of Web 2.0. Many agree it’s a remarkable new movement that encourages social collaboration, two-way use of the Web, Web-based applications and services, and much more. But can you really build and grow a successful business with these ideas?

The McKinsey report’s findings suggest that after an initial period of promise and trial, companies are coming to understand the difficulty of realizing some of Web 2.0’s benefits. Only 21 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied overall with Web 2.0 tools, while 22 percent voiced clear dissatisfaction. Some disappointed companies have stopped using certain technologies altogether.

The report also notes that there are some notable regional differences in the importance of tools: for example, a larger share of respondents in North America rated social networks as important compared to other areas of the world. Satisfaction, like importance, varies by geography. The developed countries of the Asia-Pacific region had the largest percentage of respondents expressing the highest level of overall satisfaction with Web 2.0 tools, and Latin America had the lowest. At the other extreme, a larger percentage of North American respondents indicated the lowest level of overall satisfaction.

As we look ahead, the survey results distinguished four items that will affect Web 2.0 now and in the immediate future:

• Tougher competition. Almost 60 percent of the respondents said they were satisfied with Web 2.0 initiatives and see them as a driver of competitive advantage. Expect these companies to become more aggressive in the marketplace against rivals that are slower to get on board;

• Higher investment levels. Satisfied or not, all companies plan to spend more on Web 2.0 tools, creating a valuable opportunity for software developers;

• Building Web 2.0 success. There are few differences in size, region, or even tool use between companies that are satisfied with their Web 2.0 experience and those that are not. This suggests that today’s barriers could be overcome through the adoption of managerial methods that satisfy a companies use of these tools, and

• Innovation. Successful companies already use Web 2.0 for business applications such as communicating with customers and suppliers; soon they may use it to drive innovation.

As Web 2.0 continues to gain traction and business value, it may completely transform the way companies organize and manage themselves, leading to what many have dubbed Enterprise 2.0. Sometimes the relentless democratization of content and open source atmosphere makes the Web look like everything is becoming free or inexpensive. Or, it’s so distributed and decontrolled that there’s no place to create value. That makes the value proposition in this brave new world seem pretty shaky indeed.

Yet the truth could not be more different.

Participate in the exchange via email at noah@thinkngc.com. We would love to hear about your Web 2.0 success stories and/or disappointments for future posts.