Social Networking Behind the Firewall

Tweaking the System

Next, the development team tweaked the system with enhancements such as reporting capabilities and launched it this year to Deloitte's shared services organization. Currently, all 46,000 members of the organization are in the system.

According to Romeo, 400 to 500 employees have been personalizing their profiles each week, meeting a goal of involvement by 25% of staffers in the first eight weeks.

Avinash Jhangiani, a senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting LLP, says D Street has helped him expand his internal contacts at the company, which is especially helpful because he's a mobile worker. For instance, he says, the organizing committee for Deloitte's community service initiative found him on D Street via a simple people and keyword search.

"From there, I was asked to join a volunteer project that allowed me to share my passion with nonprofit organizations and help them build their online presence," he says. "What a cool way to enhance my personal brand within the organization."

A gap still exists between collaboration evangelists and those for whom "it's just not part of their DNA," says Romeo. To encourage reluctant people, the team will continue educating employees about the value of collaborative technology, and it plans to expand the technology to increase D Street's value and utility.

That brings up another challenge: to not be diverted by some users' desire to add new features. "We're going slower than what our users would like, but we want to be strategic" about making enhancements, Romeo says.

Romeo's advice: Continue to build leadership support, even after the early-stage buy-in. "Make sure support is there throughout the organization," she says. Once the platform begins filling with valuable content, she adds, "it's really about viral adoption."

IBM: Beehive

Eight years ago, IBM created BluePages, a Web-based corporate directory that includes profiles with contact information, employee photographs, name pronunciation, experience, self-descriptions, bookmarks and blog entries, as well as "friending" and information-tagging capabilities.

"Very early on, we recognized the importance of connecting people within IBM and moving beyond a static view of the individual," says Jeff Schick, vice president of social software. The heavily used directory includes 450,000 employees and gets 6million lookups per day.

With an initiative called Beehive, IBM is experimenting further. The application uses the code base of BluePages, which is based on Lotus Connections, but it's a separate system.

Beehive is intended as a collaborative platform that emulates the physical work environment, where employees display personal items like photographs and trophies and chat about last night's game. "We've added new dimensions to the profile capability to create the old-fashioned camaraderie of the office," Schick says. The idea is to discover whether what Schick calls "the water cooler effect" will help people build stronger relationships and thus create a more effective organization.

For Michael Ackerbauer, a manager in the CIO's office at IBM, the results are already in. He learned about Beehive a year ago, and "I quickly got hooked," he says, especially since he manages a team of developers who work remotely. "It's valuable for the team to get to know me on a personal level, and I like to get to know them."

Ackerbauer says he can now connect with people on a social level that's typically absent when working remotely. Such connections help his teammates relate to one another like human beings and not just as resources or assets. Just recently, Ackerbauer says, he ended up speaking at a technology leadership conference, thanks to a connection he made with another employee who wouldn't have otherwise known he had expertise in the subject area.

Despite its experimental status, Beehive's user population has grown to 38,000 in nine months, mainly through viral adoption. "People find it through word of mouth, when others blog about it or bookmark it," Schick says. Adoption is strongest in the areas of product management, HR, talent management and the global services consulting business.

Because Beehive is behind the firewall, Ackerbauer says, people feel free to discuss internal business topics. For instance, he has used Beehive to explain his views on the topic of breakthrough thinking. "I've had people come up to me and say, 'I didn't know you knew all that stuff. Can we talk more?'" Ackerbauer says. "The connections lead to collaboration, which leads to innovation, which leads to transformations in the industries IBM serves."

Schick's advice: Be aware that one size does not fit all. To increase involvement, you need to explain the story of social software from multiple perspectives.

"What appeals to some will make others almost cringe," he says. For instance, new employees may want to use social software to increase their visibility, while veterans may be motivated to keep people informed. Similarly, he says, focus more on why than on how in your training program.

"Knowledge workers today have no time to add new activities to their day; they're looking for how to work smarter," Schick says. "Poor user adoption is rarely because users didn't know how but rather didn't see why."

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