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Sometimes it's nice to take a break from the high level view of SharePoint and dig into a real case study to get the best perspective on the latest version of the platform. Today, we are looking at how SharePoint 2010 (newssite) helped Canadian telecommunications giant TELUS take a first step towards providing their 35,000 employees with an informal and social learning environment.

Along with a look at how SharePoint 2010 helps TELUS change its learning model, we also spoke with Jeff Dunmall, Principal and Co-Founder of imason, a Toronto, Canada-based consultancy firm that specializes in SharePoint and .NET solutions and services. imason was the Microsoft Gold certified Partner that worked with TELUS on the Social Pilot.

Let's Start With The Business Need

Any smart organization has some kind of learning initiative to keep its employees knowledgeable and up to date on the latest policies and practices in their field. TELUS, a Canadian telecommunications company is one of those organizations. In 2009, it spent $28.5 million on a learning budget of which 90% was some kind of formal classroom training. This training was primarily outsourced and TELUS was concerned they were limiting their team's development to the knowledge level of the trainers.

“Our learning methods were expensive, unscalable, and created the false impression among team members that they needed to attend an event to learn,” says Dan Pontefract, Senior Director of Learning for TELUS.

Wanting to provide better training and more informal and social learning, TELUS decided to adopt a new approach that used SharePoint 2010 as their base platform. They set a budget of $21 million for learning in 2010 and aimed for a 60/40 split between formal training and informal/social learning. A couple of reasons given for the change in learning approach:

  • They had a growing number of younger team members who were used to the newer social computing capabilities.
  • 40% of their workforce consisted of employees between the ages of 50 and 60 -- so retirements were on the horizon. 

The Decision To Use SharePoint 2010

TELUS has a number of different technologies in house, SharePoint 2007 was one. Others included Confluence, MediaWiki and Oracle WebLogic. The fact that SharePoint 2010 is a platform that provides integration capabilities was a selling point for the company. They also cited the new social networking capabilities, the rich end-user interface and the improved multilingual capabilities as other reasons.

The plan is to make SharePoint 2010 the single point of entry to the shared knowledge within the company. According to TELUS, the enterprise architecture team will use the platform as the "enabling nucleus" that will connect all their other systems.

The Approach

There is a pilot project in process to help TELUS understand how SharePoint 2010 and a more informal/social learning environment can work for the company. Jeff Dunmall, Principal and Co-founder of imason, the partner who worked with TELUS on their social pilot spoke with CMSWire about the project and SharePoint overall.

Dunmall said that many social initiatives are largely driven from IT, but with TELUS, it was driven out of the business (learning department). According to Dunmall, social software doesn't fit well into how enterprises typically think about software projects. He said social solutions evolve over a long period of time and a pilot is a great first step.

It's more productive to get something out and use it, refining and enhancing as you go. This is not an approach typically used by enterprises when they implement new software.

Social Pilot

The first pilot which launched in April was comprised of two primary features:

  1. Out of the box My Sites -- An internal social networking solution, enabling team members to show their expertise and special skills. This included blogs that allowed employees to discuss experiences and share advice and information.
  2. Team Sites solution called My Communities -- A place where project teams, departments or other groups can work together, share documents and gain access to each others' knowledge.

The pilot included 1000 users from across the company. This pilot is expected to launch to the enterprise sometime late this year. 

As defined within the company’s “Learning 2.0” initiative, informal learning would include webcasts, books, mentoring, coaching, and job rotations, while social learning would comprise videos, blogs, microblogs, and wikis. “We set the goal of making team member education more continuous, collaborative, and connected,” says Pontefract.

Slimmer is Better

Not launching with every single feature enabled is a plus for the TELUS pilot. It's better, Dunmall suggests, to turn off capabilities and introduce them slowly. Many companies will deploy it all and then wonder why it's not used.

We asked what features of SharePoint 2010 typically get turned on first. Dunmall said the initial focus is often on the implementation of My Sites and My Profile. Things like Tag Clouds/Tagging should come later on. 

Dunmall also told us that the default SharePoint 2010 experience is overwhelming and it's better to turn features on over time. TELUS's objective was to make the experience simpler and you'll notice that many of the default tabs are gone.

imason TELUS Microsoft SharePoint 2010 Social Video Case Study from imason on Vimeo.

Video Pilot

A second pilot, called TELUS Tube, is expected to launch late this year, going to production in January 2011. This pilot will enable users to post and view user generated videos.

In addition to the two pilots, TELUS is also replacing an existing learning management solution with an application that will be tied closely to SharePoint 2010. This application will enable members to track and show their formal training and see what formal training others have taken.

A Cultural Shift Doesn't Happen Overnight

TELUS has been clear that a cultural shift from formal learning to depending on the participation and collaboration of its employees isn't going to happen overnight.

This is not a scenario in which we can flip a switch and have everyone change their work habits overnight,” notes Pontefract. “Going from expert-led instruction to a more casual, pervasive model of team member–led social learning represents a major adjustment for a telecommunications company that’s been around for 100 years.”

They have adopted several approaches to demonstrate and encourage participation, including:

  • An internal site to show tangible examples of this new approach
  • A wiki to encourage discussions on the changing environment
  • Pontefract's blog covers the Learning 2.0 initiative

Overall, the new approach is being well received by employees. Initial surveys show a clear understanding of the different types of training that will happen and positive comments on the new methods.

SharePoint's Social Capabilities

imason avoided SharePoint 2007 for social -- Dunmall said it just didn't provided the needed capabilities. SharePoint 2010 has closed the gap, although not completely. The terminology differences from other solutions we are used to, such as Facebook, is one issue. Disjointed navigation between My Profile, My Site, Team Sites, and Portals and the lack of an interactive ‘wall’ feature are others. The best thing to do is implement functionality via pilots to decide if the gaps are show stoppers.

Community capabilities have also come under criticism in SharePoint 2010. Dunmall says it depends on what kind of community you are talking about. What SharePoint 2010 does well is project-based communities. Where it still lacks is in the creation of ad-hoc/informal communities.

He also points to expert search and phonetic matching within search as nice features for the upgraded platform.

The Benefits of Learning 2.0 

TELUS points to a number of benefits from the new SharePoint 2010 implementation for their Learning 2.0 initiative:

  • Cost Savings of around 20% (or $5m) for 2011 are expected and the company anticipates that in three years formal training will account for 50% of member learning.
  • Faster access to specific skills and knowledge.
  • Increase in both the attraction and retention of employees.
  • Improved governance over document sharing and storage, and user-generated content.

SharePoint 2010 For Knowledge Sharing

There is a big difference between knowledge-based solutions and social solutions. Many organizations tend to overlook the differences between the two. Dunmall says the governance angle needs to be considered -- organizations need to be conscious about tools and how employees use them.

SharePoint 2010 is still maturing. Dunmall doesn't think that companies are putting the proper time and money into SharePoint planning and infrastructure. He believes SharePoint needs the same level of rigor as other enterprise technologies.

Another area that organizations need to focus is on training and communications. TELUS clearly understood that they were changing the way employees work and needed to support that change. Without proper support, training and communications, employees are not apt to use a solution the way it is intended. 

TELUS is just one of many organizations that have adopted SharePoint 2010 as their platform of choice for specific initiatives.  Informal learning and social sharing are great examples of how SharePoint 2010 can be leveraged in positive ways.