Business innovation will be increasingly driven by collaboration with external partners and customers, exploiting Web 2.0 technology Gartner analysts have predicted.

IT will be crucial to enabling the new “organisation without walls”, the analyst firm believes.

Speaking at Gartner’s ITxpo in Cannes France, research director Nikos Drakos said: “Businesses have long understood the value of growing and supporting the business environment in which they operate.

“Collaboration can be supported in new ways, among customers, partners and teams and IT has a fundamental role in embedding these practices in the business.”

Six out of 10 IT collaboration projects will link businesses with their suppliers, customers and other partners by 2009, Gartner predicts.

But collaborating outside the traditional boundaries of the business “will not be without risks” Drakos said. He urged “an active, managed approach to open innovation”. Companies should assess the social culture and processes in the workplace and exploit IT to prioritise openness, he said.

Gartner research vice-president Jeff Mann acknowledged that many IT managers fear the consequences of opening up their organisations and the use of social networking as a business practice.

But he urged: “In order to innovate, businesses cannot concentrate solely on controlling what the users do and remain a ‘closed shop’. IT needs to loosen control without losing control, to allow good things to happen.”

IT departments must accommodate the need for openness while protecting the organisation from excessive risks, he said. “Businesses must accept that they will experience some inevitable failures to enable innovative projects to flourish.”

Businesses also face the prospect of employees who are familiar with Web 2.0 introducing software illicitly if IT departments do not move to deploy the technology themselves, Gartner believes. At least 70% of organisations without an IT-supported deployment of blogs and wikis will face unofficial deployments by 2009, the analyst firm said.

Gartner estimates that the enterprise social software market will hit revenues of more than £113m this year, increasing to more than £354m by 2011 – a figure that would mean a 41.1% compound annual growth rate over the five years from 2006.