Social networking behind the firewall

Microsoft calls it TownSquare. Deloitte hosts D Street. IBM has its Beehive, and Best Buy its BlueShirt Nation.

Since few employees personalized their profiles initially, early adoption was slow, Romeo says. "People aren't going to go in as readily when the well is 75 per cent empty," she explains. But with the encouragement of leadership, more people got involved, and they were soon demanding access to the rest of the organization.

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 per cent of staffers in the first eight weeks.

Avinash Jhangiani, a senior consultant at Deloitte Consulting, 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 6 million 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.

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Mary Brandel

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