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Enterprise 2.0: New Opportunities for Companies

For many industry managers, this may still be unimaginable. Online activities in which employees represent their own company on the Internet consume time, be it blogging, twittering or using social networks. One often-sounded argument is that there is no time for leisure during working hours.

Web 2.0 and its interactive capabilities are growing in significance and are particularly relevant for medium-sized companies. Internet applications can produce perceptible competitive advantages when used as solutions for marketing, corporate communication or knowledge management. Westaflex GmbH, located in the Westphalian city of Gütersloh, shows particular commitment in this regard.

Gütersloh, Germany. Anyone who enters the name Ph.D. Peter Westerbarkey in the Internet search engines Google or Yahoo will see countless entries about a person who can be found in the widest variety of places online. This man twitters, blogs, chats, podcasts, is on LinkedIn, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube and many other Web 2.0 platforms. Furthermore, he is extraordinarily active in the open source community, which is all about free software – in short, we are talking about a full-blooded netizen.

That, however, is just one of the sides to Dr. Westerbarkey. In real life, he is the managing director of Westaflex GmbH, headquarted in Gütersloh. The company was founded over 75 years ago by Ferdinand Westerbarkey, who was inspired with a new business idea by a patent that was new at the time. With his brothers Leonhard and Lorenz working with him as technical consultants, he used that patent as the basis for developing technically sophisticated, flexible pipes that could be marketed and used in numerous applications. Even today, this remains the core business of the company, which expanded to become a holding in the 90s and founded two further companies in Salzwedel, Germany.

Westaflex systems are used in applications such as automotive production, train technology (ICE ventilation), for the air supply and ventilation of living spaces, exhaust technology and water treatment, to name but a few. The company places particular emphasis on sustainable, environmentally compatible processes and products, which are exclusively available from authorised wholesalers (exhaust technology and building services) or through two-stage distribution (vehicle production, project business). “We provide good air and clean water. With use products made from aluminium, stainless steel and plastic to create living space” says Dr. Westerbarkey, citing the company’s slogan.

Now, what does this business have to do with Web 2.0? Dr. Westerbarkey is certain there is a connection there, and market studies have also proven it: “Web 2.0 and open source software are not short-term hype, but rather are among the most important trends for the upcoming years.” This is why medium-sized companies should significantly increase their usage of these new World Wide Web mechanisms and turn their great potential for the future it into a component of their business model.

According to Professor Manfred Leisenberg of the FHM in Bielefeld, a university of applied sciences specialising in small and medium-sized companies, “Web 2.0 can help medium-sized companies to use a highly valuable company culture as a competitive advantage by connecting customers and employees via the Internet and generating enthusiasm.” Even now, companies like Westaflex GmbH are increasing their use of weblogs, wikis or videocasts as solutions in marketing, corporate communication or knowledge management. Furthermore, market pioneers are also using Web 2.0 for improved product development, automated trend research, meaningful market analyses and more efficient marketing.

“In contrast to the traditional Web 1.0”, says the academic from Bielefeld, “the new ‘collaborative Web’ means that technical measures alone, such as search engine optimisation, cannot influence the popularity and presence of companies, products or services. Moreover, even today Web 2.0 users are already producing more marketing information than the companies themselves.” Leisenberg says that these new challenges have to be addressed, which can, for example, be done by integrating “social media optimisation” into a medium-sized company’s Web 2.0 implementation strategy.

Dr. Westerbarkey, too, stands confident: “We believe that the days of monologue on the Web have ultimately given way to dialogue, which, on the other hand, means that we have to react correspondingly.” For more than five years now, all employees in Gütersloh have been encouraged to become familiar with and understand the Internet’s capabilities. “Communication on the Internet”, says Dr. Westerbarkey, ”has its own laws; the customers and users of our products exchange information, and complaints go public. One doesn’t have to find everything good, but one does have to have an opinion about it.” Employees should also actively participate in this exchange of information. Whoever so wishes, for example, will receive premium membership on LinkedIn, a network for companies, for free.

For many industry managers, this may still be unimaginable. Online activities in which employees represent their own company on the Internet consume time, be it blogging, twittering or using social networks. One often-sounded argument is that there is no time for leisure during working hours. Dr. Westerbarkey, too, admits that this kind of online culture isn’t for everybody, but rather has to be a good match for the respective company. One stipulation is that there be an open corporate culture in which employees have plenty of room to make their own decisions.

However: it is not easy for creativity to come on demand, says Dr. Westerbarkey. That’s why some of the contributions made to Web opinions are made in a calmer setting, outside of working hours. Nonetheless, the tasks of a brand manufacturer also include monitoring the opinions communicated over the Internet, such as those expressed in blogs or forums. Those kinds of contributions are indeed made during working hours. Above all, the principle of voluntary participation is important. The company director emphasises “that over all the years in this process, we have yet to fall on our face”. Rather, communication with customers as a whole has progressed positively. There have, although, been changes made in internal communication as well. There are more or less no more mails being sent internally. With “Westatwitt”, the Twitter principle has been applied to develop a service in which nearly all internal communication runs in a manner that is quicker and less complicated.

For Dr. Westerbarkey, having a uniform electronic solution for order processing is a component of customer communication. To this end, the entrepreneur is a proponent of electronic data interchange (or EDI). For Dr. Westerbarkey, the myOpenFactory standard offered by RWTG Aaachen University is a simple way to make profitable savings in order processing, particularly for medium-sized companies. He is greatly committed to promoting this open source software, as he believes that interchanging PDF or Excel files has long since been an aspect of “the Stone Age”. Automated updating of all relevant data means that manual employee entry is no longer needed – this saves time and hinders transfer errors. As an advocate of electronic order processing, Dr. Westerbarkey is convinced that EDI is lucrative for smaller order volumes as well – both for one’s own company as well as for customers.

With all of this online activity, is there time left over for the actual entrepreneurial duties? That, too, says Dr. Westerbarkey, is all a question of organisation. He says he spends no more than half an hour a day with Web 2.0 tools. After all, he doesn’t have to do it all himself. He says it is at its most authentic “when the team does it”.

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