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Collaboration: Enterprise social takes root

This article appears in the issue November/December 2015, [Volume 24, Issue 10]
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Enterprise social software continues to make inroads and is now deployed in a wide range of organizations, but with mixed results. Predictions of growth rates range from 11 percent to 20 percent per year, with the global market potentially exceeding $8 billion by 2019. Those platforms generally include employee profiles, community groups, activity streams and communications tools such as chat. No longer just an enterprise version of Facebook, enterprise social software is being used to improve employee engagement and productivity.

The main catch is that although enterprise social software can support collaboration, it is not effective in the absence of a collaborative culture. “A lot of money has been spent on these technologies,” says TJ Keitt, principal analyst at Forrester, “but there is not conclusive evidence that they are having an impact. In addition, workers need some kind of incentive to begin using the software—it has to help them accomplish a task or achieve a corporate goal.”

Metrics such as the number of people signed up for a social collaboration can be readily obtained, but having the application on a desktop or device is not the same thing as using it. In addition, a causal relationship between increased collaboration and positive business outcomes such as increased revenue is difficult to prove.

Collaborative culture

Making a long-term commitment to a collaborative culture was the first step for the Canadian telecommunications firm TELUS in its move to a unified social collaboration platform. “We were going through a major culture change by introducing new collaborative behaviors,” says Dan Pontefract, chief envisioner of TELUS Transformation Office. “Learning to be more open was vital, more so than the technologies we were evaluating.” With 30,000 employees, TELUS faced a significant task in enhancing its culture. However, over several years and with solid support from upper management, the company was able to do so.

“We had been using a variety of social business tools, including a YouTube site, a microblogging tool and so forth,” Pontefract says, “but we could see the value of having everything provided in one application.” To work through the choice, TELUS used an approach called “fair process,” which is used pervasively in the company as a transparent approach to decision-making. “This is part of our culture,” Pontefract explains. “We got a team together that included IT, HR, finance and others, and began looking at options.”

Out of those discussions, the idea emerged of using SAP Jam, a cloud-based social collaboration platform, and from there, stakeholders also agreed on the selection of SAP SuccessFactors HR applications for talent management. “Selecting Jam allowed us to integrate all these functions and decommission a collection of software products we had been using,” Pontefract says. “It also opened the door to thinking about all the other tools we had, such as performance development and learning.”

The development of a collaborative culture did not happen overnight, but progress was steady and ultimately, dramatic. “Once we got the behavioral change down, engagement went up from 53 percent to 70 percent using our original set of collaboration tools,” Pontefract says. “Between the launch of Jam and present day, it rose to 85 percent.” Numerous studies have shown that employee engagement averages around 30 percent, and although participation in a social network alone does not prove genuine engagement, it is a good first indicator.

Positive signs

One of the first groups at TELUS to launch Jam was the Workstyles Community, which was established to support the transition to a workforce that is now almost 70 percent mobile or home-based, with the remaining 30 percent resident in an office. “Team members go to the Workstyles Community to share information and learn how to adapt to that type of environment,” Pontefract explains. “The group now has 20,000 members.”

TELUS does not rely solely on signups to Jam as a measure of engagement. “We believe there is causality between engagement and performance in general,” Pontefract says. “Other things have also changed.” For example, absenteeism is down and customer satisfaction is up. Additionally, in an industry where complaints went up 26 percent, those for TELUS went down 27 percent, again a strong indicator of employee engagement. “Our culture is our competitive advantage,” says Pontefract. Causality between engagement—sustained by both culture and technology—and tangible results may be difficult to prove, but Pontefract is willing to bet that it’s there.

When SAP considered whether it should enter the social collaboration market, the answer was not a resounding yes. “The concept of social collaboration had been around for five or six years,” says Sameer Patel, SVP, products and GTM, SAP/SuccessFactors. “We had to address the hard question of the need for yet another player in this market, considering that when users had access to these tools, 70 percent were not turning them on, and only a very small fraction of employees were actually using them—mainly because as designed, they did not provide context for workers.”

As a result, SAP decided to integrate the functionality of Jam, acquired when it purchased SuccessFactors, into enterprise applications across the board, including customer relationship management (CRM) systems, sales and learning. “If you are an employee looking to learn about how to sell into a new market, you can either take a course or learn from a peer,” continues Patel. “You can access Jam from a learning management system, but if you want to live in Jam, the LMS will show up from there. Jam works wherever people are.”

Many paths to enterprise social

Potential users of enterprise social software solutions have many options to choose from. Leading software providers include enterprise social collaboration as part of their produce line. Examples include IBM with IBM Connections, Oracle with its Oracle Social Networks and Microsoft’s Yammer. Some social software, such as Chatter from Salesforce.com, is integrated into an existing product but can also be used independently or integrated into other applications.

Other products such as Jive are designed to stand alone but can be integrated into other enterprise products. T-Mobile, for example, uses Jive as a hub for its customer service functions as well as for internal communication. Virtualization leader VMWare added Socialcast to its list of collaborative tools several years ago as part of its strategy of providing resources to support the mobile workforce.

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