On day one at the SharePoint Conference 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada, Chris Plescia and Jeff Schumann from Nationwide Insurance provided a detailed view into their company's successful efforts to develop an employee portal and social platform based on SharePoint and Yammer. Their presentation presents an excellent case study in how to build out an enterprise-wide social platform that both meets the requirements of the business and the expectations of the end users.

Headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, Nationwide has over 35,000 associates, and works in the financial services and banking industry -- an industry that is known for being heavily regulated. Despite the massive structural and regulatory overhead around every collaborative activity, Nationwide has been recognized as a leader in collaboration and social networking by CIO Magazine, NetworkWorld, Fortune Magazine, Forrester and others.

Nationwide adopted Yammer in 2008 at its launch, quickly recognizing the platform's fit to their collaborative requirements and cultural needs. Since that initial deployment, they have documented over 350,000 messages on the platform, with 30,000 registered members (almost all employees have signed up on their own rather than have it mandated), and a 50 percent contribution rate.

Their leadership recognized the value early on, and have become huge advocates for the platform. Chris commented that their CEO will often interact with people through the platform, which he says is yet another factor in their success, showcasing the importance of having executive buy-in.

Designing a Corporate Collaboration Platform

Chris and Jeff said that one of the primary questions people ask is how their employees use the platform, so they explained: people post ideas, share feedback on projects and other comments, connect with agents in the field, and talk about both business and personal topics, whatever they may be. 

They pointed out that over 400k connections now exist in their Yammer network that did not exist beforehand, and even their CEO can get a direct perspective on what is happening across the company through direct interaction rather than layers of filtered status reports.

Due to the nature of their industry and to the regulations that govern their business, Jeff talked about how Nationwide could have 20,000 to 30,000 lawsuits pending at any given time, making collaboration very difficult within the company, much less outside of the company. They needed to manage who could collaborate and what content was included. Usability was their number one concern for adoption.

As they researched solutions, they noted that experiences across tools were inconsistent, and search was not very effective. They were simply unable to find content and conversations across their many systems. Speed was also an issue -- speed of search, and overall UI performance.

They also recognized that they needed some structure, establishing a governance framework to set strategic direction, policy and priorities. Core teams were created to represent individuals and teams, an Executive governance team was created to align decisions with the business, and the Office of the CEO set overall governance direction and strategy.

As for requirements, end users wanted a simplified, consumer-like experience, a one-stop-shop for knowledge, search that worked, a friendly mobile experience and integration with Yammer, which had become an integral part of the Nationwide culture. As a Lotus Notes shop, they looked at a broad range of solution, but ultimately decided on SharePoint (with 90 percent of respondents requesting it).

Once the company launched their SharePoint portal, they ran a quick poll to ask their employees what to call it -- and received hundreds of responses. They finally decided on "Spot" and created a number of shirts and stickers and activities across the company to help spread the brand. People embraced the branding, which doesn't actually stand for anything -- but people often refer to it as "the one spot for my content."

Since launching the new portal, the company has developed a culture around SharePoint and Yammer (with Chris even dressing up from time to time in a blue bodysuit as their official mascot).

Making the Change

Underneath the marketing activities, what they did was create an environment where people wanted to go and collaborate. The platform was created by employees for employees, and has now become "the" platform for connecting employees around projects, innovation, ideas, personal and work.