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.
While many CIOs struggle with the question of whether or not to allow these tools into the workplace, workers have flocked to them in droves, to the point where Facebook now has more than 10 million Australian users.
Whether companies allow use of these tools or not, the reality is that workers know how to use them. And it is for this reason that a new generation of workplace collaboration tools are being so readily adopted.
Enterprise social tools feature the rolling update style of Facebook along with features such as document sharing that are found in more traditional collaboration tools, backed by enterprise-grade security and management.
The market is led by Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2012. The company reported 80 per cent growth in Australia in 2012, with more than 400,000 local users. Other examples include the National Field, Mindjet, Salesforce.com’s Chatter and Citrix’s Podio.
What makes these tools different to more traditional collaboration tools such as Cisco’s WebEx or Citrix’ GoToMeeting is that they are designed to be used on an ongoing basis, rather than for discreet interactions, and have interfaces and functionality that is similar to consumer tools.
According to the research company IDC, these enterprise social tools now make up 11 per cent of the collaboration software market, up from 3 per cent in 2008. Overall, collaboration software sales grew by 15 per cent last year.
What is intriguing about the growth of these tools is the viral nature in which they infiltrate organisations. For example, at the shopping centre operator Westfield the use of Yammer grew from nothing to more than 1000 users in a year, with no formal encouragement from senior management.
A similar uptake pattern has been witnessed at National Australia Bank, which has been using Yammer for four years.
The CEO of NAB’s Health Industry Claims and Payments Service (HICAPS), Simon Terry, first became aware of Yammer while in the role of dean of customer experience at The Academy, which is NAB’s internal business school.
Terry remains a ‘champion’ for Yammer within the bank, and has watched it spread virally from humble beginnings with the banks’ technology innovation team.
“Our innovation team in technology identified Yammer when it was highlighted in the Tech Crunch 50, around the time of its launch,” Terry says. “They began to experiment with it in an early version and were trialling what could be done. Over time, they introduced early business users, around the business innovation opportunities in NAB, and it grew from there.”
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.”
Primarily it has been user-led discovery. It works not because the organisation imposes it, but because users take it up
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.
“Because they are so flexible and can be used in so many different ways they have to be adopted from the ground up and be made sense of by the people on the ground.”