From Facebook to true internal collaboration at this 13,000-person company

Credit: Petr Kosina via Flickr

With more than 13,000 employees around the globe, business analytics software and services giant SAS had plenty of internal talent and knowledge -- and no good way to bring it all together.

But with the rapid adoption of social networking platforms for people to connect and share, SAS senior director of internal communications Karen Lee in 2010 saw an opportunity – and the future.

“One night when I was out on Facebook with some of my colleagues, it occurred to me that I was on an external platform talking about things internally going on at SAS, and I really didn’t think it was such as great idea,” Lee says. “But that was the easiest platform, it was something that everybody was into, and I knew a lot of my colleagues were on at night, so why not get on and chat with them?”

From there, she adds, “It was an easy transition for us to say, ‘Let’s try something like that inside SAS.’”

This being a company that makes analytics software designed to help enterprises make better business decisions, SAS approached the project in logical and thorough fashion, gathering 35 people from various departments and business units and asking them for a wish list of features and functionality in a social platform.

Armed with about 150 requirements, Lee says, “a project manager brought back some ideas about resources, time, different types of tools and technologies that we should look at, and how much it’s going to cost us to do this.”

After considering several other competitors (and even a roll-your-own project), the project manager suggested Socialcast, an enterprise social platform developed by a start-up of the same name (and which was purchased by VMware in May 2011).

“The more we looked at Socialcast, the more we realized it was exactly what we needed,” Lee says. “It was an out of the box platform. By the time we decide we wanted Socialcast, which was mid-January (2011), we had it up and running by February 14. We knew we could not do that with any of the other paths we had researched or looked at.”

Socialcast includes a number of communications and collaboration features in one interface, such as conversation streams (based on topics relevant to the user), groups, worker profiles, document and file sharing, polls, analytics, recommendations, notifications and mobile applications.

SAS’s slightly customized version of Socialcast, dubbed the Hub, was an immediate success. Lee’s team discovered that by the end of a 10- to 12-day beta period, more than 1,000 employees had opened accounts.

Today, just two years later, slightly more than 10,000 of SAS’s 13,300 employees have Hub accounts. Further, more than 1,000 groups have been formed, with topics ranging from work- and project-related to personal.

“There are groups for hiking, photography, car enthusiasts -- even work-life topics such as adoption and elder care,” Lee says.

 In a world where many enterprise social platforms gather cobwebs, a 75% adoption rate is impressive, especially since signing on to the Hub is opt-in and not mandatory. Lee says SAS employees embrace the Hub not only because it’s familiar to them from their own social networking experiences, but also because it helps them be more effective and valuable.

“What the Hub is doing for our employees across the globe is offering a new way for them to work,” she says. “It’s giving them the ability to bring information into their jobs and job responsibilities that they probably never would see through an email or through some other channel of communication. It’s just like going out on Facebook, and you’re learning things about people that you never knew or you never had the opportunity to because you didn’t have this type of tool.

“We’re seeing our R&D groups, which are some of the biggest groups on the Hub, posting information,” Lee says, “and they’ll get reactions -- comments and suggestions, solutions, sharing of code -- within minutes, within seconds. And it’s being shared around the world.”

It’s this kind of collaboration and knowledge sharing that Lee says makes the Hub a transformative tool for SAS. “You’re finding experts around the world who have answers, and you’ve never met them before," she says. "It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Socialcast claims more than 20,000 global customers, including 3M, Human, Philips and FactSet. The platform is free for up to 50 users and $5 per user per month for a minimum of 100 users. It can be deployed on site or in the cloud.

From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
View Comments
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies