Among the sessions at the Advanced Intranet +Portals conference in Amsterdam today was a talk by Lars Mielke of Allianz about the development of its intranet and the process of moving its social networking application from Yammer to Jive.

Normally, we wouldn’t look at this in the context of a single company, but there were some insights here that apply, or should apply, to enterprises globally. That Allianz is an enterprise with 141,000 employees worldwide will suggest the scale of difficulty involved in the project. Today, the pilot is not finished, but it's close and there a number of business units already committed to implementing the "Allianz Social Network".

Developing a Social Network

Mielke, who is the social media manager at Allianz, said the current project was something that happened rather than something that was planned in advance.

Yammer was initially adopted by the company as a way for the IT department to communicate internally, rather than a means of communications between the different departments in the company.

However, while there were only 20 people on day one, by Day 30 there were 200 people on it and by Day 90 there were 2000 people signed up, creating a security headache due to lack of controls that could only be solved by closing the network down and developing a new and more disciplined system.

One of the interesting facts that came out of the Yammer use was that of all the content running across the social network, only 5 percent of it was related to non-work based topics, putting an end to the idea that if you provide a social network, employees will just use it to socialize.

To develop the new social network, Allianz created an Enterprise 2.0 team made up of people that had a vested interest, such as power social users, early adopters, as well as a number of people outside of the company.

Social Network Criteria

The process of setting it up was understandably convoluted -- too convoluted for here, but the criteria it hit for adoption are telling:

  • On-premises: It had to be on-premises as there were fears around sensitive information landing in the cloud.
  • Maturity: The company needed a system that was adaptable and that had grown feature-wise.
  • Use Cases: It could live up to all company use case scenarios.
  • Price: It had to come in within a set budget.

The three Enterprise 2.0 vendors that survived the selection process (out of the 80 that were assessed) were the only vendors who met all the requirements. While to some extent the final decision was based on personal taste, it was a diligent process that closely examined:

  • availability of requirements,
  • ability to deliver on Allianz's tight schedule, and
  • Other "discussions".

(Editor's note: A few changes were made based on the corrections provided by Lars Mielke in the comments below).

Working on Social Networks

Once it was created, what happened was interesting and something that many enterprises and management teams should note.

People started communicating; workers at all levels started talking to each other and -- most important -- to managers and enterprise leaders.

Enterprise directors began to see what was happening across the organization; working ideas and scenarios that might have taken a long time to filter up and down the hierarchy were moving up and down the organization at a rapid pace.

The idea that social networks are all Facebook and games was replaced by the view that this was a working, productive tool that gave employees access to information they needed to carry out their own jobs, but also to collaborate on other jobs that other employees were working on.

Another issue that needed to be addressed was mobility and whether users should be able to gain access to the network from outside the company firewall.

After noting that managers and executives were using it from home and that they were making better use of their time with the remote network access, IT introduced security protocols that currently work with passwords and user names, but will probably be layered with SMS or emailed passwords in the near future.

The bottom line here, Mielke says, is that had the network not been mobile-accessible through iPads or other tablets, it wouldn’t really have worked.

There is a lot more to be found in this study, but one of the key takeaways was the fact that employees were not spending their time on the social network playing, but using the tool to actively work and collaborate with each other.