Brad Grissom, Southwest Airlines

Brad Grissom’s career path exemplifies how the separate skillsets of business and IT can meld harmoniously together.

His background in business continuity and disaster recovery planning has proved very helpful in his current role as senior manager of communication and collaboration solutions at Southwest Airlines. “In a way, I was studying my customers for years,” he said, albeit with a different set of objectives but using the same skills such as building business cases and creative problem solving.

Set Smaller Boundaries to Realize Digital Workplace Success

For Grissom, the digital workplace is a subset of broader digital transformation. That said, organizations looking to make specific, measurable progress in their digital workplace should “set smaller boundaries” for their projects. For instance, Southwest currently defines the digital workplace for its 50,000 employees as including enterprise-level communication and collaboration platforms.

Grissom will be speaking at CMSWire and Digital Workplace Group’s Digital Workplace Experience taking place June 19 through 21 at the Radisson Blu Aqua hotel in Chicago. He and his colleague Mandy McBride will lead a session June 21 titled “From Early Birds to Enterprise: Southwest Airlines’ Adoption, Communication & Education Program.” 

We spoke with Grissom about his thoughts on social portals including SWALife, his employer’s own redesigned intranet.

Focus First on Adoption, Then Adaptation

CMSWire: What do today’s employees need most from an intranet?

Grissom: Connection. The intranet or social portal needs to provide a common place for connections to be made whether with other employees, information or other resources like applications. The social portal needs to be the hub where an employee can connect with what they need to be successful. Cognitive platforms will hopefully play a big role in making it easier for employees to juggle all of the information and interactions that come at them on a daily basis.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for executives who want to convince their C-Suite of the merits of internal digital transformation?

Grissom: Firmly establish the problems you are trying to overcome. Remember that many executives don’t use these internal systems on a regular basis. They typically get information presented to them in a manner that is tailored to them and on their timetable. Executives don’t pour over out-of-control inboxes trying to pick out important emails.

CMSWire: What is one of the major challenges facing organizations keen to change their internal communication and collaboration systems?

Grissom: In general, I think digital literacy — even for Millennials and Gen Z. How we use apps in our personal lives doesn’t always translate one for one with how we use enterprise applications. We also need to address the disparity between consumer and enterprise grade applications.

We need to start partnering more with internal learning organizations to plan and execute concerted efforts to raise the digital literacy of our workers from top to bottom.

CMSWire: What led to the decision to redesign Southwest’s intranet and replace its content management system?

Grissom: The biggest factor was technical need. When EMC announced they were no longer going to continue developing Documentum Web Publisher, we had to do something. While that helped with the approvals, the desire to provide a simplified, modern, social intranet was already there. 

We knew, and confirmed through usability studies, that we needed to provide our employees with a better mobile experience, improved search, more collaboration abilities, and an improved experience for consuming video.

CMSWire: What are the main benefits in the integration between IBM Connections, IBM WebSphere Portal and your Four Winds Interactive-based digital signage solution?

Grissom: We want to provide our employees with a connected experience. We want to make it easy for them to weave in and out of our SWALife intranet and Connections. We are looking at how we can continue to build on those integrations by surfacing Connections content on SWALife pages. 

At a high level, we want the more static, non-interactive content to live on SWALife and the dynamic, interactive content to live in Connections. Our digital signage that we use for communication, SWALife TV, is an extension of sorts of our intranet into the break rooms and common areas across our facilities and airports. We use it as a way to quickly connect with employees and entice them to find out more on SWALife or other channels.

CMSWire: Based on the experience of rolling out SWALife, what lessons learned and advice would you give to other organizations?

Grissom: Brace yourself for feedback. You have to have thick skin when you are introducing change that is visible to your entire company. There will always be naysayers, no matter how much effort you put into addressing everyone’s needs. The reality is you can’t address them all.

The launch of an enterprise collaboration platform, no matter how long the journey to launch was, is just the beginning to changing the way your employees work. If it is a new tool for them, you have to focus a lot of effort on adoption — getting them to use it — and then really focus on adaptation — changing work habits and processes — to gain the most benefit from it. Be in it for the long haul.

My advice is start now. Whether you have an old intranet, no intranet, a collection of tools that are sort of cobbled together, or even a bright and shiny new implementation — you need to keep planning for what is next and improving upon what you have.

CMSWire: Who is your favorite fictional character and why?

Grissom: Can I pick Tony Stark, Iron Man? He has tons of cool toys. Or Batman? Yeah, I’d be Batman. What I like about either of them is that they started off as just regular people. They aren’t imbued with super powers or abilities. Yet, they find a way to make their worlds a better place. That is something we should all strive for.

Editor's note: Learn more about the Digital Workplace Experience hereRegister today.