The IT group at tech services company Unisys has been thinking about a social networking platform for two years now. But some recent factors finally put a plan into action: the arrival of a new CEO two years ago who believed strongly in social networking technology and the arrival of Microsoft's SharePoint 2010 with new social features.
Another motivator for Unisys, which provides various IT services for large corporations and government agencies and has over 25,000 employees worldwide, is that employees and clients have come to expect a "Facebook for the enterprise" as more people use social media outside of work.
"Employees are expecting these social tools in the workplace," says John Knab, director of IT applications at Unisys. "Our senior leadership recognized this, and wanted to apply social tools in a way that could help the business."
Indeed, Facebook-esque features like status updates, microblogs, wikis, community pages, and the ability to tag and share content are spilling into the enterprise. It can be done through corporate microblogging site Yammer and "enterprise 2.0" social software suites from vendors such as SocialText, Jive, Atlassian and NewsGator.
All of these companies' suites stand on their own but they are also compatible with Microsoft's sprawling content management platform, SharePoint.
SharePoint 2010 better, but not social enough
Microsoft, well aware that nimbler enterprise 2.0 companies are selling social software to enterprises, added more social networking features such as wikis, blogs and tagging into SharePoint 2010, released in May.
These enhancements caught Unisys's eye, a SharePoint customer for six years, and inspired an early upgrade from SharePoint 2007 to SharePoint 2010 through Microsoft's Rapid Deployment Program that began in January and wrapped up in June.
Yet although the social enhancements in SharePoint 2010 are an improvement, Unisys felt that SharePoint's MySites - profile pages that include social networking features - were not quite Facebookish enough, and called on enterprise 2.0 vendor and Microsoft partner, NewsGator, to fill in the gaps with more dynamic microblogging, tagging and RSS feeds.
A true microblogging platform
"When you get SharePoint 2010 out of the box, it does not create real microblogging. It's just a wall that doesn't broadcast out," says Unisys Community Manager Gary Liu.
NewsGator's Social Sites create a "true Microblogging platform" similar to Twitter and Facebook, adds Liu.
Also, Social Sites distributes a user's posts more widely and it doesn't matter where a user does the posting. In SharePoint 2010 only content that is posted on your profile page gets distributed, but if you post something on a community page, that post would not get distributed.
Social Sites in SharePoint 2010 also offer a Web page that aggregates everyone's RSS feeds where people can tag, rate and comment on sites.
All of this adds up to give Unisys employees what Liu calls "a real Facebook-like experience." Liu is counting on Social Sites features to improve productivity by letting employees easily share what projects they are working on and stop relying on sluggish e-mail correspondence.
Unisys layered the NewsGator Social Sites 1.0 on top of the SharePoint 2010 social components in August and is in the process of upgrading to the just-released Social Sites 1.1. Integrating Social Sites into SharePoint's MySites costs in the range of $10-$100 per user depending on the size of the implementation and includes a 22 percent annual maintenance fee.
Though Unisys employees are just starting to use Social Sites within SharePoint 2010, Knab and Liu envision that the social tools will soon be part of the daily workflow of all employees.
"We want everyone to arrive for work and go to their personalized news feeds. We want them to have everything in front of them," says Knab, adding that getting social tools on mobile phones and available to partners through an extranet are also on the roadmap.
Knab predicts all of this will come together quickly because employees are accustomed to social media.
"Of course microblogging and social networking are not new to employees," he says. "What's new is they'll be doing it for work."
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