Social-networking tools fuel collaboration

When software engineers at Lockheed Martin Corp. have a bright idea, how do they get the word out? Not by sending a few e-mail messages. That’s old school. They blog about it instead.

“My engineers blog their experiences on a daily basis,” said Shawn Dahlen, Lockheed Martin’s social-media program manager. “When they come across a lesson learned, they capture it in a blog and the other engineers can comment on it.”

Insights captured on the blog often get incorporated into a company wiki.

Lockheed Martin’s social-networking framework is transforming the way its employees collaborate and share knowledge in an international work environment. “Blogging for new insights and using wiki pages for co-authoring content is the way we work today,” Dahlen said.

The company hasn’t just dipped a tentative toe into the waters of social media. It has plunged in, fully merging its internal social network, called Project Unity, with its business processes, said Sondra Barbour, Lockheed Martin’s chief information officer.

“The way we’re doing this is not by having social media as a separate place,” she said. “We have integrated the social tools and techniques with our existing ways of doing business.”

Managing a project or program requires collaboration space for documentation, schedules and action items. “We’ve layered in blogs, wikis and discussion boards to add robustness to our collaborative environment,” Barbour said.

Another company that has enthusiastically embraced the internal use of social media is global consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. The company’s Enterprise 2.0 portal, launched in August 2008, lets employees blog, create wikis and establish themselves as subject-matter experts.

The portal, Hello.bah.com, comprises communities, people, forums, blogs, wikis and bookmarks. In addition, more than 50 technology focus groups have established communities of interest around topics such as wireless communications and emerging technologies.

Walton Smith, a senior associate at Booz Allen, said the portal gives employees a platform through which they can contribute their ideas and comment on issues that shape the firm’s business, no matter where they are located or how long they’ve been with the company.

“If I have a new consultant who is right out of college, is on the ground with one of our clients, and sees a problem and needs to be able to reach out for assistance, [the portal gives him or her] a voice to put that out there,” he said. “And if the consultant has an idea, it allows the rest of the firm to vet that idea and codify it into something we can take to market.”

Nearly 35 percent of Booz Allen’s 22,000 employees have filled out a profile and posted data about themselves, Smith said. About 75 percent have at least visited the portal.

Powerful collaboration tool

As a collaboration tool, Hello.bah.com is breaking new ground for the firm and leaving old ground behind. “The de facto collaboration tool for most organizations is e-mail,” he said. “But it’s just not scalable, and no one has time to answer all those ‘do you know?’ e-mails.”

Tips: Collaborating through social media

  • Adapt social media to your business processes. "Design the tool suite around the way your knowledge workers do business," said Jeff Welaish, director of architectural services at Lockheed Martin Corp.
  • Get senior leaders on board to ensure success. "I had the [top executives] in the firm saying, 'Let us know what you need to make this successful,'" said Walton Smith, a senior associate at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. "That was just critical for our success."
  • Recognize that building a social-networking environment is more than an information technology project. "It's not a technology purchase," Smith said. "It's a method of leveraging the information you already have."
  • Don't be afraid of social networking. "Embrace it," said Sondra Barbour, Lockheed Martin's chief information officer.

By contrast, a wiki lets users tap the entire company’s intellectual capital. “If you’re trying to build a white paper and you don’t know who [the best subject-matter experts] are, you put it out on a wiki,” Smith said.

Social-media tools aren’t just for young, technology-savvy workers. “One thing we want people to understand is that this is not just a tool for folks coming out of school,” Barbour said. “Some of our senior-most [executives] use it to pass along knowledge and answer questions. Our senior leadership uses it for sharing messages — thoughts from the top, if you will.”

Lockheed Martin officials recently experimented with an internal, Twitter-like microblogging technology using a tool called Chatter, Dahlen said. “There’s nothing in production today, but we’re going to go back and think through how it can be stood up from a production point of view,” he added.

Computer Sciences Corp. is using social networking to encourage the company’s 91,000 employees to brainstorm ideas, said Dan Mintz, chief technology officer at CSC’s Civil and Health Services Group and former CIO at the Transportation Department.

“We’ve had a lot of success with that,” said John Glowacki, CSC’s corporate vice president and CTO. “Even the chairman’s office has embraced it.”

Facebook for business

Last year, CSC introduced an internal wiki “that took off like wildfire,” Glowacki said.

Now CSC is ready to launch a six-month pilot program with Jive Software to create what Glowacki called a Facebook for business. “I think this is going to be another one of those things that will help define our collaborative environment,” he said.

“The wiki is the sandbox; do what you want” in it, he said. “Jive is supposed to be more collaborative, getting communities together, having those communities interact more easily, allowing people to reach out across the company more easily and find resources.”

Glowacki said the goal of the project is to make it easy to find employees who can help solve a specific issue or problem or support a complex project. “This is a way of having the formal resource management side being complemented by the informal social-networking side,” he added.

However, introducing social media and building a collaborative culture around it can create hurdles for many companies. “Change management and communication are critical,” Smith said, adding that companies need to shift from thinking that whoever has the most information has the power to thinking that whoever has the most connections and can bring people together has the power. “This is really transforming how organizations look at information.”

Barbour agreed that change management is essential. “It’s a journey,” she said. “The [corporate] culture doesn’t change overnight.”

Part of the challenge involves keeping internal social-media tools focused on business without diminishing their ability to generate exponential peer-to-peer connections, Smith said.

“Nobody wants to know how many beers you had last night,” he said. By its very nature, “there are some social aspects to it, but you have to keep it 100 percent professional. The way we handle that is [we don’t permit] anonymous content. Everything is tied back to you as a user, which has a cleansing effect.”

Unlike social networking on the Internet, corporate networking is not about connecting people from a personal perspective, Barbour said.

“It’s about pulling the chain together, having a common, collaborative space where people can co-create [business content] and help move the mission forward,” she said. “It’s about business and all business.”

Associate Editor David Hubler contributed to this story.

Reader Comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above