Published on 20-Dec-2011
"Users are saying that soon after its implementation, SKILLOOP resolved the problem of not knowing whom to ask for advice. This has been helpful in increasing people’s skills." - Akitoshi Oda, chief of technology management, Kurimoto
Mobile, Social Business for Product and Services Development, Social Business Framework
Kurimoto, Ltd. was founded in 1909 as a manufacturer of cast iron pipes for water and gas mains. The company has since diversified into other fields serving the industrial sector. Today, Kurimoto has divisions that provide ductile iron pipes, plant equipment and engineering services, valves and construction materials. Headquartered in Osaka, Japan, and employing some 2,000 people, Kurimoto had an annual revenue of JPY94.9 billion in 2010.
Kurimoto, Ltd. engineers were isolated within their specialties, inhibiting cross-divisional exchanges and product innovation.
Working with IBM Business Partner CSK Corporation, Kurimoto developed SKILLOOP, a social networking service powered by IBM Connections software.
With Web 2.0 features such as profiles, self-introductions and blogs, Kurimoto boosts staff skills and product innovation by allowing engineers to connect with colleagues, find experts and share data.
Engineers isolated across divisions
The Kurimoto mission has always been to provide craftsmanship that cultivates customer satisfaction. The engineering team addresses this priority through technical innovation in product development. The company sought to encourage this innovation through creative exchanges, expertise sharing and collaboration among engineers working in its seven divisions, each focused on a different core technology. This idea is echoed in the Kurimoto motto: “Bring up wisdom and gather many experts together.”
A recent assessment, however, revealed minimal technical exchanges across divisions. Engineers were somewhat isolated in their specialties and not engaged with colleagues working in complementary fields. “We found that there was little interchange among divisions, and we had not succeeded in uniting these technologies as a company,” says Akitoshi Oda, chief of technology management at Kurimoto. “Our thinking was if we could promote mutual understanding of the technologies held by each division, synergies would arise that would enhance our ability to offer solutions that deliver customer satisfaction.”
This kind of thinking led to the Engineer Education System, a formal program to cross-train engineers on the company’s diverse technologies. The training program focused on engineers 35 years old and under who were not assigned to divisions directly involved in manufacturing. The goal over three years was to develop young engineers’ abilities in technology, marketing and problem solving. Some 20 engineers at a time from different divisions were trained off-site in two-day, one-night camps.
“The training program had great impact,” explains Oda, “but the reality was that the interchange among training participants stopped after the training was completed. We realized that to stimulate ongoing technical exchanges across divisions, we had to provide a place where the engineers could continue exchanges and collaboration after the training ended.”
A network powered by IBM Connections software
The solution was a social networking service that would link engineers working in different disciplines. Kurimoto executives first considered a homegrown application developed using open source software. However, there were operational challenges with that approach, including the need for user-by-user security configurations and analytics to assess user involvement as well as ensuring data consistency and maintaining the system. “Instead, we decided to deploy IBM Connections because it provided full security that gave us peace of mind,” says Oda.
IBM Connections software for social business offers Web 2.0 features that help bring together employees across an entire organization. Using searchable profiles, staff members can connect with experts and access expertise through blogs, wikis, discussion forums and histories of problems solved. Online communities of interest, meeting places, frequently asked questions (FAQs) and file sharing make information easier to access and share. IBM Connections software also supports mobile devices such as iPhones and iPads, enabling staff members to network and exchange information from any location at any time.
These features—supported by robust security, centralized management and built-in analytics—served Kurimoto well in developing its collaborative environment. Working closely with major systems integrator and IBM Business Partner CSK Corporation, Kurimoto introduced the SKILLOOP social business network for engineers in August 2011. Powered by IBM Connections software, the network enables engineers to broaden their personal connections, discover technical experts and share information with cross-divisional colleagues. This person-to-person application complements the company’s IBM® Lotus Notes® and IBM Lotus® Domino® messaging and collaboration software, which all employees have used since 1998 for email communications, process workflow and decision support.
The SKILLOOP application initially features engineer training news, study materials and general information postings. The rollout has been gradual, and participation is voluntary. “We are using this approach to encourage the students themselves to gradually notice the many benefits of using SKILLOOP,” says Oda. Engineers learn about the site from messages sent by two imaginary characters: Taro K, a fictional supervisor in his fifties, and Midori Kurimoto, a character depicting a young female engineer who completed the training.
Several months since its introduction, the SKILLOOP network has 172 members, including engineers who have gone through training and their supervisors. The initial target audience was approximately 350. The overarching goal for the SKILLOOP site is to achieve must-use status among all Kurimoto technical employees.
Bringing up wisdom
A key objective for the Kurimoto social network is to increase engineers’ visibility to improve technical expertise. Early returns suggest that the network is having this effect. “Using SKILLOOP, people whom you know only by name and face become better known through self-introductions, their profiles and their blog postings,” says Oda.
To further the acceptance and utility of the network, Kurimoto plans to display its features within the typical engineer’s Lotus Notes desktop environment, which people can easily access from smartphones and other mobile devices. Plans are also pending to tie the SKILLOOP network to internal applications, such as those used in human resources.
Over the long term, Kurimoto executives expect that surfacing of experts and the resulting collaboration will deliver an increase in product innovation. “If we promote deeper understanding and communication among our engineers, new technical developments not found in our product lines should occur naturally, leading to the birth of new products,” Oda says. “Thus the social network will have grown into a platform for creating knowledge.”
Products and services used
IBM products and services that were used in this case study.