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Social networking helps sustain innovation

This article appears in the issue June 2010 [Volume 19, Issue 6]
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Social networking took root in the consumer market with LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Now, the same capabilities have moved into the enterprise environment. One of the most promising areas for social networking is innovation, which often depends on finding and collaborating with the right colleagues. Social networking can help individuals find others in their company who share common interests and answer the important question of “who knows what.” Expertise location software intended for that purpose has largely disappeared, since those dedicated products often were not well integrated into other applications, and profile information was not regularly maintained.

Open participation to as many as possible

Including social networking functionality in an enterprise platform solves both of those problems. Profiles then are part of a collaboration solution that is connected to content and process, and they can be updated automatically when an individual writes a document, participates in a community or comments on a document or project. Adding a robust search tool allows employees to find individuals, communities of interest and documents within their topic of inquiry.

“Enterprise platforms provide an effective focus for social networking,” says Carol Rozwell, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner, “but the organization needs to think through its strategy". One mistake Rozwell has seen is to restrict the categories of individual who can participate. “Especially for innovation, it’s best to be as open as possible. The best ideas and information don’t necessarily come from the top of the organization. They can come from anywhere,” she says.

The merger of two divisions of Multiquip into one administrative unit successfully reduced overhead and improved efficiency, but it also brought together two dissimilar groups of employees who were not familiar with each other’s work. One division produces power generation equipment used in various industries. such as entertainment or telecommunications, and the other produces construction equipment. “Our new management structure focused more on product development,” says Michael Hanken, VP for IT at Multiquip, “which is a very important component of our business. This led to pressure for people to get to know each other and collaborate more effectively.”

Create a collaborative environment

Multiquip began developing a collaboration community based on the Open Text Social Workplace, a collaboration platform from Open Text. Already a user of Open Text’s document management solution, Multiquip tested Social Workplace and found it matched the company’s requirements and was easy to use. Open Text Social Workplace allows users to create individual profiles, establish communities of interest and develop virtual workspaces in which to share documents. “We wanted Facebook for the corporation,” Hanken explains. “We did not want a product that required extensive training.” Deployment was easy and completed within a day.

For many in the Multiquip staff, participation in a collaboration environment was a big step. “Compared to those in a high-tech industry, our employees were relatively unfamiliar with the concept of online communities,” Hanken explains. “So, we started with the executive management staff. They began using the platform for presentations that were collaborative efforts, rather than sending the presentations back and forth by e-mail.” That exercise was helpful in demonstrating what could be done with Social Workplace and also reflected the top-down support that characterized the initiative.

Finding experts and developing communities

An important step in fostering innovation in any organization is finding potential colleagues for team-based development efforts. “We needed all our staff to be able to find experts within the company,” Hanken says. “Each employee can set up a profile and a blog, which provides an active directory of subject matter experts.” A key word search produces links to the profiles of individuals who have been involved in a particular topic, as well as to communities with activities relating to the topic.

As a midsize company, Multiquip has finite resources for  internal product development, so being able to collaborate with vendors and customers was also a desirable capability. “Because Open Text Social Workplace is Web-based, we are able to invite various partners into communities,” Hanken says. “In addition, we can collaborate with our parent company in Japan, which lets us involve all levels of management in one community.”

Multiquip has developed three types of communities. Some are based on static information, such as human resources policy documents. Some are process-oriented, such as the sales department. The third category is project-based, including engineering communities.  The engineering department has a workspace oriented toward improving the design of its new fuel cell light tower, used in highway lighting at nighttime construction sites, or for making movies in outdoor nighttime shots. “We are now able to easily involve vendors in developing technology for these devices,” Hanken says. “It’s an exciting area because these generators are hydrogen-based and environmentally friendly. There is a lot of interest in them, and we now have a way to work together with our partners more effectively.”

Automatic updates

One difficulty inherent in earlier social networking profiles was the likelihood that users would not maintain them or keep them up to date. Open Text Social Workplace addresses that issue by automating some of the updating process. “The initial profile set up in Social Workplace can be integrated with a corporate directory and updated when the individual publishes or comments on a document,” says Debra Louison Lavoy, director of product marketing for digital and social media at Open Text. “This takes the burden off the user, and shows their ongoing work in the organization.”

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