Published on 13-Mar-2012
"Social tools used inter-nally with employees can increase productivity by as much as 11–30 percent." - Source: IDC: “The What, Why and How of Social Business Today,” March, 2011
SmartCloud - Solutions, Social Business Framework
IBM Rational, a provider of products, services and expertise for system design and software development.
IBM Rational needed better internal collaboration and sharing of information and expertise across its large, widely dispersed workforce to help employees be more productive and responsive.
IBM Rational adopted IBM Connections social software with profiles for faster access to expertise and with blogging and communities for better information sharing.
IBM Connections has helped transcend communication boundaries within the organization, increase the availability of collective knowledge and expertise, and enable faster, more informed responses to customer needs.
IBM Rational, a provider of products, services and expertise for system design and software development, has spent considerable effort looking at ways to make its employees more productive and to help its customers thrive. One of its goals is to help employees be more efficient and responsive so they can bring innovative products and services to its customers quickly.
After evaluating ways to achieve these objectives, Rational determined that what was needed was more effective internal collaboration. With approximately 3,500 employees worldwide, information was often siloed in various geographic units and organizational departments. It was difficult to share information and expertise across this large and widely dispersed employee population. Successful collaboration required breaking down these barriers. Using social networking software to bring people together was the key to success. In other words, Rational needed to become a social business.
The first steps toward becoming a social business
Darrel Rader, manager of capability and community development for IBM Rational Lab Services, has long been a proponent of online communities, which are a key element of a social business. He believes that by amassing and leveraging the collective knowledge and experience of Rational employees in online communities, Rational can provide more value to customers while drastically reducing the cost of physically bringing people together for meetings.
Rational’s early attempts at becoming a social business included home-grown solutions centered on wikis and websites that contained discussion forums, meeting spaces and asset libraries. Through these means, more than 100 wikis and websites emerged to support employees with shared interests. These communities brought people together around specific topics to have discussions and conversations that weren’t happening before.
However, these communities required a lot of maintenance to stay current, involving significant cost and effort. A full-time professional was needed to update the sites and organize content. Senior-level management had to invest in resources, and more than a dozen community leaders each spent a full day every week overseeing community interactions and updating content. The more communities were added, the more cost and effort were required.
When Rader saw IBM Connections social software in 2009, he knew that he’d found an easy-to-use platform that Rational could use. Communities is one of the key components of IBM Connections, along with support for wikis, blogs, forums, activities, profiles, shared bookmarking and file sharing. IBM Connections also had rich capabilities for fast deployment and limited maintenance.
IBM Connections was launched in 2007, the first enterprise-grade social software in the marketplace. Around this time, consumer social networking applications, such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, started to become increasingly popular, and IBM customers began enthusiastically investing in IBM’s pacesetting social software for business. In 2009, the time was right for Rational’s adoption of this software, because its employees were ready to embrace it. With the full support of executive management, Rational began using IBM Connections as its social collaboration platform for internal community building and information sharing.
IBM Connections adoption and implementation
Rational began by using its tried-and-true wiki model as a familiar baseline for users, linking it to IBM Connections for blogs, discussion forums and news pages as a segue to the new platform. During this phase, Rational focused on supporting the online communities it already had. Today, these have grown to include 15 major communities and more than 400 targeted communities that are focused on organizational groups, interest areas, asset creation and small groups for project work and social learning.
Within a year, Rational transitioned to the next phase of its IBM Connections implementation—using IBM Connections to give every community the same look and feel with similar access to profiles, discussions and blogs.
At the same time, a team led by Rader developed automated capabilities that significantly reduced the time spent on manual content updates and delivered more useful content to users quickly:
· Created a tagging taxonomy that made it easier for users to organize and find blog entries, profiles, content in communities and other information
· Organized really simple syndication (RSS) feeds by interest areas so that people could quickly sign up for multiple RSS feeds at one time
· Automated updates to community pages so that relevant blog posts would become available in communities, enabling users to share the latest content instantly.
· Created a glossary of clearly defined tagging terms to make tagging more efficient and consistent
· Created a community map to help people find relevant communities easily.
With these capabilities, Rader was able to automate over 95 percent of the content updates and infrastructure work for Rational communities, enabling community leaders to focus on creating content, writing blogs and connecting people with one another. A full-time person was no longer needed for ongoing maintenance.
To help support user adoption, Rader encouraged employees to use online profiles to make their knowledge and skills known to a wider audience. He provided profile templates to guide them in creating the most effective profiles with identifying tags. This made it much easier for people to find the exact person they needed—for example, locating an Agile expert in Italy who specializes in the healthcare industry.
Rader successfully encouraged user adoption of profiles by leading frequent, short (10 – 15 minutes) tagging exercises. The exercises led employees through how to tag their online profile, so they could be found quickly. In a matter of minutes, employees participating in the tagging exercises were able to add relevant tags to their profiles; for example, adding a predefined tag indicating a specific industry expertise, such as healthcare.
To reinforce learning and adoption, under the direction of Rader, a small team created how-to blogs and short, internal videos about profile tagging, tagging of conversations (in blogs and discussion forums) and tagging of assets. Blogs from early adopters were also useful in spreading the word.
To provide real-time collaboration and access to experts, Rational complements its IBM Connections deployment with IBM Sametime® software for instant messaging and IBM LotusLive™ services for virtual videoconferencing.
The business impact of IBM Connections
The value of social business became apparent almost immediately in employees’ ability to solve problems faster. IBM Connections allowed geographically distributed teams to share information and work collaboratively across time zones. For example, a technical consultant in the United States could post a customer question in a community, and the next morning she would find that a colleague in India had answered the question online. Although conversations were not live, they were time sensitive and effective. Richer conversations were taking place inside com-munities through discussion forums and blogs, replacing email threads.
Greater transparency has led to increased visibility of project work and a breaking down of organizational silos. Someone in the United States could start a project and discover that a colleague in Latin America was already working on the same task. They could then work together, eliminating redundancies. Likewise, a support person could blog that a product checklist was helpful to a customer in India, and a colleague in Germany could discover and reuse this checklist for his customers. This transparency has saved Rational valuable time, money and resources by reducing duplicate efforts.
However, the most valuable impact of the organization’s successful IBM Connections implementation is a new frame of mind that Rational has cultivated. The organization now thinks about knowledge, skills and assets differently. Instead of focusing on libraries, asset repositories and organizational hierarchies, it thinks first in terms of connecting people with each other to create relationships. These immediate connections help locate any information or expertise required, enabling Rational to share more of the organization’s experiential information that exists in peoples’ heads.
Operational practices for social business success
Here are some lessons that Rational learned during its transformation to a social business using IBM Connections software:
· Set your expectations and prepare for a cultural shift. Rational did not try to tackle everything at once. It implemented a few IBM Connections capabilities first, such as online communities and profiles, and then added others. It also prepared users for a cultural shift in thinking about how people connect with each other and share information.
· Don’t expect everyone to be involved. Not everyone will be a content producer. It’s important to let passionate and engaged social business leaders lead the effort. Rational found that approximately 10 percent of its people produced blogs and actively entered comments in forums, whereas 90 percent were consumers of that content. Community leaders who love their work will engage at the highest level and create business value.
· Help community leaders succeed. Content producers should be supported in productive ways. Rational provided community leaders with ideas for blogging about specific topics and proposed standard content formats to make posts faster and easier to develop. For example, blog templates for customer success stories were provided in a problem—solution format that included tags for organizing and posting content quickly. Rational also created templates to blog about upcoming webcasts.
· Focus initial efforts on areas that are easy to understand. Rader suggests that companies start by using profiles, which are similar to familiar Facebook pages with wall posts and microblogs. Profiles may provide the easiest transition for people to move from personal social media applications to IBM’s social software for business. Employees can see the benefits of finding experts within the company quickly and having conversations with them to find information or solve problems.
· Establish a community architecture. Establish common patterns for differ-ent types of communities and common practices. Establish a tagging taxonomy or “tags-onomy” to establish a common language for identi-fying people and sharing knowledge. Establish a community map so employees can locate communities quickly. By having a community architecture, you can then automate as much as possible to bring communities together. For example, the Rational Communities use preconfigured sets of RSS feeds called Smart Feeds that allow people to easily keep up with what people are sharing across communities they are interested in.
· Listen to users’ challenges. Employee concerns should be addressed with easy-to-use training tools, such as Rader’s tagging workshops and how-to blogs. Online workshops, how-to blogs and internal videos were essential for user adoption. For example, it may take some time for people to appreciate how ongoing conversations can be moved out of the inbox and into collaborative communities. Companies should provide training to demonstrate how this approach reduces inbox overflow and provides more useful messages, such as notifications.
· Use IBM consulting service. Rader believes that the time to value could have been shorter if Rational had purchased some consulting services from IBM to guide them in the adoption and implementation stages. Rational learned many things through trial and error, but other companies may want to streamline this part of the process.
A proven path to becoming a social business
IBM Connections software enables an organization to become a social business. This social software has helped Rational transcend former com-munication boundaries within its organization, increase the availability of collective knowledge and expertise, and enable faster, more informed responses to customer needs.
By transforming to a social business, Rational can easily connect people with ideas and solve problems more quickly. This translates into more business value for its customers and fosters greater success for Rational.
A recognized leader in social collaboration technology, IBM offers a simple, efficient way to help your organization embrace social business. IBM Connections enables you to quickly integrate social business technologies into your business processes.
For more information
To learn more about how your organization can become a social business using IBM Connections software, visit these areas on the web:
- IBM Connections page ibm.com/software/lotus/products/connections
- Social Business page ibm.com/social
- Twitter #ibmsocialbiz
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