Web 2.0 scores successes in the enterprise

Best Buy, Serena, and Oracle tout their social networking projects

Incorporating Web 2.0 social networking concepts into enterprises offers great benefits but also challenges, implementers of these technologies, including Best Buy, Serena Software, and Oracle, said Tuesday evening during an industry event in Silicon Valley.

Social networking in the enterprise, also referred to as Enterprise 2.0, increases collaboration and idea sharing amongst employees as well as customers and can even lower employee turnover, panelists said at a Churchill Club presentation entitled, "From Dilbert to Dude: Succeeding with Web 2.0 Within the Enterprise," given in Santa Clara, Calif.

But implementers also may need to be concerned with risks such as legal issues that could arise and what to do if inappropriate material gets posted on a social networking site, according to the panel.

Best Buy has set up a social networking site for employees called blueshirtnation.com, which has attracted 20,000 users, said Steve Bendt, Best Buy senior manager for social technology. Persons can participate in activities such as using audio files or blogging.

The impact has been "pretty huge," enabling the company to listen to and better understand employees, he said. Barriers are being broken down.

"It was about giving up control right away," Bendt said. "Now, they have the means to connect with people they've never met before," such as a store in Las Vegas talking to a store in North Carolina.

An employee can put an idea on the site and get funding for their idea anywhere in the company. The site does not challenge the hierarchy but complements it, Bendt said.

Turnover appears to have been impacted as well as employee morale. The overall turnover rate at the company is 60 percent while turnover of people using the site is just 8 to 12 percent. The site itself has not required a lot of investment and leverages open source software. Currently, the site is restricted to employees only and customers are not able to access it.

Serena Software has taken a different approach to social networking, conducting its collaboration on Facebook. While seeking a better way for communication than the company's intranet, the company pondered rebuilding it but instead looked toward "millenials," the 20-something people and how they communicate, said Rene Bonvanie, a senior vice president at Serena.

Serena officials made Facebook the new corporate intranet, resulting in improved communications. Employees speak with each other and with customers more openly Customers know where to find representatives and technologists.

"Through Facebook, they can find where people are," Bonvanie said.

To acclimate employees to Facebook, Serena brought in people familiar with the site -- 16-year-olds -- to enlighten Serena employees in the 40-to-45-years-old age bracket.

"We started out with this phenomenon called Facebook Fridays," which is when the 16-year-olds would instruct Serena employees.

The project is paid for by using funds no longer needed for other software. "I funded it by no longer paying Microsoft for their stuff," said Bonvanie. Facebook is free, he noted.

Oracle built a social networking site that features rich profile support, integration with the company's LDAP directory system, and the ability to make contacts with people, said Paul Pedrazzi, vice president for strategy and innovation at Oracle.

An hour after launching the site, there were 270 people using it. "The next morning when I came in, we had about 8,000 people on the site," Pedrazzi said.

Participants are from around a globe; Russia is a heavy user, he said. "It was kind of fascinating to see that go," said Pedrazzi.

Now, about 10,000 people a week use the site. The social network is about the social fabric of the company and applying it to information. Users can share information such as news articles, PowerPoint presentations, and budgets.

Avenue A/ Razorfish has added a wiki built on the Wikipedia platform, said Shiv Singh, vice president for social media and global strategic initiatives at the company.

"The question was, how can we create a tool that would encourage people to share," and feel safe doing so, Singh said. The wiki is viewed as a marketplace of ideas, with persons contributing and getting something in return, he said.

Users can, for example, find an interesting article, bookmark it using del.icio.us tags, and have it appear in the wiki. "That alone was the single most popular feature, Singh said.

Companies must recognize and reward collaboration, which is a challenge since educational systems are set up to reward individualism, said Singh. "Companies need to rethink how they motivate and how they reward. It needs to be based on teams and collaboration," he said.

Through the wiki, people begin to view other persons as experts on particular subjects.

Like Best Buy, the Avenue A/Razorfish wiki currently is only for internal use.

Approaches to security and privacy also were shared at the presentation. Serena took the opposite approach from firewalls, which have everything placed behind a firewall with some data trickling out to the public just to protect 3 percent of a company's information, Bonvanie said. "We said everything goes on Facebook and a few things don't," he said.

To guard employees' private data, employees are not forced to participate and they are given guidance about posting of information, according to Bonvanie.

Avenue A/Razorfish recognized that vandalism that could happen on the wiki, but found that persons who are professional in the office will conduct themselves in the same way on the wiki, Singh said.

Oracle acknowledged the potential legal issues. Enterprises have to be open to the concerns of the legal and HR departments, Pedrazzi said.

"In Enterprise 2.0, people can get sued," Pedrazzi said. For example, a person might be pictured wearing a religious headdress on the site and then could claim denial of a job because of that headdress, he said.

Best Buy has only had to take down three posts out of 30,000 to 50,000 posts.

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