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When social tools go viral

Brad Howarth | April 4, 2013
It says something when powerful and popular social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter become the template for an entirely new form of workplace collaboration.

Terry says that once Yammer was identified as a key tool within the bank its technology security team conducted a full review, and subsequently adopted an enterprise licence. Today more than 13,000 users are registered to use Yammer, although Terry says this translates to between 2000 and 3000 active users at any one time. Usage stretches from senior management to the bank's operations and technology teams.

Most commonly it is used to solve common search tasks and connect people with others who have required expertise, as well as to share messages out across the organisation. One of the benefits of Yammer is that all conversations are recorded and searchable, meaning the same conversations do not happen over and over.

In a large distributed organisation such as NAB, Terry says that Yammer creates a sense of connection for people to know what is going on.

To this day the use of Yammer has not been promoted or mandated within NAB beyond a handful of business units, with users generally finding their own way to it.

"And we are still seeing growth in the kinds of things they are using it for," Terry says. "Primarily it has been user-led discovery. It works not because the organisation imposes it, but because users take it up."

The fact that Terry does not occupy a technology role is not atypical among the managers that are driving the use of enterprise social tools within large organisations.

According to University of Sydney Business School's associate professor and chair for the Business Information Systems discipline, Kai Riemer, it is common for sponsorship of these initiatives to come from functions such as communications and Human Resources, as well as other lines of business.

"In some cases it can come from the oddest of places, because they were the ones who took an early initiative."

He says it is also common for social enterprise implementations to spread rapidly even without a formal executive mandate, as has occurred with NAB and Deloitte, where uptake is close to 100 per cent. However, Riemer says early legitimisation by senior executives is crucial, as this gives certainty to workers that it is OK to use the tools as well as providing models for ideal behaviour.

He likens the approach to successful uptake as less like building a house and more like gardening, as it must be allowed to grow. Riemer says, however, there are many ways that senior management can encourage and help in the adoption process, such as by collecting and sharing good examples and success stories.

"What it takes is many baby steps and a lot of experimenting, which is letting it happen rather than driving it and being in charge. We see a lot of attempts to engineer from the top, and a lot of these attempts to use technology are not very successful because largely these technologies have to be placed into the work practice in a way that makes sense to the people carrying out the actual work.


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