Fresh from the SharePoint Conference in Las Vegas, my overview of a great session looking at how one multi-national company created a vibrant knowledge sharing culture using SharePoint.

I think that along with the analyst sessions, the customer showcase sessions at SharePoint conferences are the most valuable. I was particularly looking forward to this session as Unisys has long been at the forefront of collaboration and social computing with SharePoint.

I covered a session on Communities at Unisys at last year's SharePoint conference here on CMSWire. In this session, Gloria Burke, Director of Knowledge and Collaboration Strategy and Governance, took us through the three year journey to develop a global social intranet at Unisys.

To add a little extra spice, Gloria had this week been named as one of the top 7 Social Business Leaders of 2012. The stage was set.

Challenges

Speaking to an audience of over 300 people, Gloria opened the session by setting the scene at Unisys, a worldwide IT Services company with over 22,500 employees in 100 countries, dealing with both commercial and government clients.

The challenges that the business faced in 2010 would probably be very familiar, Gloria told us. They included knowledge silos, employees struggling to locate subject matter experts, an inefficient on-boarding system, a disconnect between ideas and innovation, and an inconsistent approach to the capture and re-use of knowledge. Everyone seemed to agree that this sounded all too familiar.

Vision

Gloria described her approach to dealing with these challenges. She had begun with a series of leadership interviews to assess internal views. For the external view, she had engaged analyst organizations such as Forrester Research and Gartner who provided external benchmarking. She used these inputs to define an end state vision for both tools and culture over a three year period.

The key elements of that vision included the development of a knowledge sharing culture, enabling employees to build a professional online persona, leveraging social tools to streamline access to information, integrating social tools into core business processes and empowering employees.  To realize the vision, the program would have to have five key work streams:

  1. connection and collaboration
  2. intellectual capital capture, repurpose and reuse
  3. knowledge access, management and governance
  4. infrastructure and application
  5. culture and transformation.

Tools

We were shown a timeline which illustrated the Unisys journey over the past three years. The journey began in June 2010 with the deployment of SharePoint MySites, which included integration to import skills from employees from PeopleSoft into MySite Profiles.

This was followed by the launch of a center for Communities of practice. The center provided information and features to help users find, join and organize communities, and included a community manager tool. Gloria emphasized that there had been a focus on both strategic -- or top-down communities, and organic -- or bottom-up communities.

Communities at Unisys are categorized as know what, know how, know who, and know more. Variations on classic knowledge management definitions I noted. Employees are hard aligned to communities relating to their business unit, but also have the option to self-subscribe to communities in which they are interested.

Avid followers of my work will know that I've long been an advocate of using a community service or center to manage communities of practice. You can read my thoughts on the subject in the Art Of SharePoint Success and the Executives Guide To SharePoint 2013.

Next came the deployment of Newsgator, the implementation of Yammer, and then, the redesign of the corporate intranet. The intranet was branded as, “Inside Unisys.” Key elements of the intranet included global news, leadership use of social tools such as blogs, video podcasts for news from inside business focus areas, and a blog center showing recent blogs from across the enterprise.

Transforming Company Culture and Influencing Behavior

Gloria told us that she can't speak enough about the importance of leadership for the social intranet. To underline this we were shown a short video from the Unisys chairman Ed Coleman in which he told us that he uses his MySite newsfeed and blog every day and that the social intranet was instrumental in giving market agility and fueling innovation through enabling employees to connect, share and learn.

Other examples of leadership support for the social intranet at Unisys included the use of a closed group for executive communications, and managers using open blogs to disseminate their management reports.

Measures used to encourage adoption of the social intranet included monthly theme posters, contests for best practices identified and shared, and a knowledge scavenger hunts. There is also a cross organization knowledge and collaboration advisory council that holds regular virtual meetings and annual in-person meetings. The aim was to drive 6 key employee behaviors:

  • Build a profile
  • Build a network
  • Lead by example
  • Visit and use newsfeed
  • Subscribe to newsfeeds
  • Engage in community activities.

One of the key challenges I see in my work with clients is that employees find concepts such as collaboration and knowledge management very abstract; I particularly liked this focus on driving very specific employee actions.

I was also impressed by Gloria's approach to encouraging responsible use of the social intranet. This was done by producing a 2 minute video called, "The Way We Connect," which featured Unisys employees talking about acceptable and unacceptable behavior using social tools.

Results

Gloria told us that usage or adoption rates were the key measures of success, based on the Everett Rogers adoption curve. You can read more about the Everett Rogers work on the diffusion of innovations in the Art of SharePoint Success. Gloria shared some impressive figures with us:

  • 91 percent of targeted 16,000 employees were regular users of the newsfeed; this is 78 percent of the total number of employees.
  • 100 percent of senior leadership were regular users of the blog and newsfeed features.
  • 18 company sponsored communities had been created.
  • 50 organic communities had been created.
  • 6,700 employees had joined one or more communities.

"Social tools and processes are transforming the way people work," we were told. The high-value knowledge transfer amongst employees was producing a variety of business benefits including market agility, quality of customer service, effective workplace collaboration, increased innovation and enhanced employee on-boarding and development processes.

Key Takeaways

To wrap up, Gloria listed her key takeaways which included:

  1. Know where you are going -- have a vision
  2. Focus on changing culture and behavior
  3. Adopt a leadership down model to change
  4. Keep tools and processes intuitive and simple to use
  5. People support what they help to build
  6. Don't allow customization of the tools.

This was a great session, providing a fascinating insight into one of the world's most successful social intranets, and packed with useful tips from a practitioner named as one of the Social Business Leaders of 2012.

Editor's Note: Read more of our coverage of the SharePoint 2012 conference.