Global car leasing company LeasePlan, with more than 6,100 employees spread across 38 different units in 30 countries, enables its workers to engage in social business collaboration using a platform based on IBM Connection. As explained by LeasePlan's Senior Global Project Manager Corporate Strategy & Development, Wim de Gier during an interview with CMSWire at this week’s Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston, his company sees social business as being far more than creating an internal version of Facebook.

Adding Knowledge to the 'Corporate Brain'

“Social business is about creating a ‘corporate brain,’” said de Gier. “We make sure knowledge is captured so that we don’t reinvent the wheel every time a problem comes up. The corporate brain is automatically growing as data is added.”

LeasePlan’s corporate brain is an enterprise social networking platform called LinkedPeople, and it is built on the IBM Connections social networking software/services suite. The initial pilot lasted from January to September 2009 and included 170 employees from three units in 30 countries, although according to de Gier about 1,000 employees wanted to take part.

Ninety-four percent of pilot participants said they wanted to continue the project when it was completed. LinkedPeople began developing a full launch in Q1 2010 and went live with initial entities in November 2010.

“LinkedPeople makes it easy to find people with specific expertise,” said de Gier. Employees create personal profiles that include information such as their background, expertise, and links to articles or papers they have written. By searching tags, users can locate specific information and find colleagues suited to answer particular questions. Users can also find questions relating to their expertise that they can answer.

To start, de Gier said LinkedPeople focused on daily activities, such as publishing meeting minutes and asking questions, rather than on user blogs or communities. “We just started and said let’s see what happens,” said de Gier.

Since that time, LinkedPeople has evolved into an open social collaboration platform where users can review threads of previous discussions to obtain information and join communities based around different functions and areas of expertise. de Gier said certain communities, such as finance, are closed, and some communities also have read-only access, but most are completely open to anyone in the company.

Cultural Challenges

In terms of challenges to adoption, de Gier estimated 80 to 90 percent of issues relating to LinkedPeople’s deployment were “about adoption and cultural change, not IT.”

He ranked the chief challenges as language, employee skepticism, cultural issues and transparency. While local LinkedPeople discussions can take place in local languages, any data that is distributed across the enterprise and becomes part of the “corporate brain” must be in English. de Gier estimated 70-80 percent of employees across the company are proficient in English.

One critical step de Gier recommended for any company preparing to launch an enterprise social network is to engage in structured project planning. “Create a social business strategy upfront,” he advised. “It’s something we didn’t do.”