Is Web 2.0 dangerous? Headlines might suggest so. A recent study proclaimed that half of all office workers spent up to an hour each day on social networking sites and that this costs UK businesses £1.4bn per year. There have also been examples of employees disparaging colleagues and customers online, and there is well-founded concern about unauthorised release of corporate information in blogs and online forums.

So should we ban access to these sites? Possibly, but there is growing body of evidence to suggest that careful use of Web 2.0 technology can be a real differentiator in today's enterprise. For some years, organisations have actively fostered market interaction by setting up online forums for customers to exchange ideas about their products and services, generally within their own websites but more recently on Facebook.

Many consumer organisations regularly monitor Twitter and the blogosphere to check for comment about customer service, product quality, availability and price - and those of their competitors. Those who do this can turn potential PR problems into opportunities, gain valuable insight into market trends and ideas for new or improved products. Those who don't will miss out on what an important part of their potential customer base is thinking about.

Web 2.0 technologies have their place inside the enterprise as well. They can provide rapid access to a wide support network that is invaluable for maintaining productivity and customer satisfaction, and can be especially useful where employees with years of experience are about to retire and tools can be used to turn employee portals into knowledge management sites. Also, the use of LinkedIn by firms looking for staff is now mainstream.

So how can CIOs maximise the benefits of Web 2.0 technology?
• Provide sales, marketing and customer service teams with access to the tools they need to engage with online communities.
• Form a robust data management strategy which covers unstructured Web 2.0 data. Know what is important, where it is, who can access it, and how long it should be kept.
• Be aware of the pitfalls - educate employees about the perils, personal and professional, of thoughtless posting, whether on company sites or on their own.

And ban access to Facebook? Maybe, but only if you know staff will use that ‘lost' hour of activity for the good of their employer.

About the author:
Dave Pepperell is the chief technology officer of Capgemini Technology Services