How Huddle replaced spreadsheets at Sega of America

Before video games get released to players like the four in this photo, they undergo a collaborative development process that is still being refined inside Sega of America. Credit: Flickr by AnaleaGwendolyn

Sega of America had a problem as it worked to develop cool new video games for its clamoring fans around the world – the company's developers and staff needed to work more collaboratively over long distances to push exciting new games onto the market more quickly.

With the main Sega offices in Tokyo, a European headquarters in London, and an American headquarters in San Francisco, developers, marketers, and other staffers in the company's digital group were still using emailed spreadsheets to keep abreast of the creative process that leads to new games. Those spreadsheets had to be manually be noted and then emailed among teammembers one by one.

By mid-2012, it became clear that the old ways had to change, said Chris Olson, vice president of digital business at Sega of America. 

"We were faced with many of the challenges a large international company has, such as having to coordinate things across the continents," said Olson. "We were using email servers on an intranet which were difficult for people who were away from their offices to check the latest spreadsheets. The mother ship is based in Japan and they love their Excel, so a lot of information comes over in spreadsheets."

Olson and his team checked out about four different products last spring, then did some tests with the applications to see how well they performed.

"Some were very customizable but unwieldy in their own ways," said Olson. They considered Yammer, but  after Microsoft purchased the company they dropped it from consideration.

Instead, they went with Huddle, a cloud-based enterprise collaboration service that started in the U.K. and has found some legs -- particularly among government agencies there -- as a replacement for Microsoft SharePoint.

After Huddle won the bake-off, they started a test project with several users at Sega, including some who were not very tech savvy, to see how they would like it. That was a critical experiment, he said.

"Adoption is the key problem to solve, because you can get the best tool in the world but if not a lot of people use it, it isn't effective," said Olson.

The Huddle tests "saw good traction" with users, and by November of 2012, his digital unit signed a contract with Huddle to bring the service initially to approximately 50 users. Eventually, about 100 to 200 Sega employees will use it to collaborate around the world for the department's work.

The Sega IT staff became involved early to ensure that security was tight for employees who were using Huddle, but IT signed off on the project after a security audit and several security steps were taken, said Olson. "It's password-protected and just as secure as logging into your corporate network."

Olson said he wasn't specifically looking for a cloud-based solution. "It just kind of happened, but if you think about it, it makes sense. It's more flexible and having the cloud enables us to be able to log in from anywhere without having to worry about firewalls and VPNs."

The Sega developers and other workers using Huddle can access it using apps on smartphones and tablets, which makes it easier for them to check project statuses and work assignments. "People can look there and see what's on their list before they get into the office," he said. Some of those mobile devices are issued by Sega, while others are owned by Sega employees and brought in to work.

All the features of Huddle that are available through its browser-based cloud portal are not yet available through the mobile apps, but future releases are expected to bring additional mobile features. And Huddle's calendaring feature isn't yet a match for the more extensive calendar options available through Microsoft Outlook, but it is continuing to evolve, said Olson.

"It's not causing people not to use [Huddle], but it's a little bit of a gripe factor" right now, said Olson.

Notably, Sega just launched its new Sonic Dash video game for iOS users, which stars Sonic the Hedgehog in a running game. The March 7 launch of the mobile game was the first Sega product to be created using Huddle from start to finish, said Olson.

"Everything from the initial concept would be put up on Huddle and we would collaborate," he said. "People out feedback there and that spawned discussions much more than if we were to do it using emailed spreadsheets. I think it helped us get to market in a more timely fashion."

An added bonus: The app is customizable, so the team "skinned it with a blue Hedgehog graphic for their users."

If Huddle continues to be a success, he could potentially recommend its use throughout more of the company around the world, said Olson.

"We want to reach an organic growth for users of Huddle in our group and then show results before showing it to more of the company with any recommendations for it in future," he said. Sega has more than 2,000 employees around the world.

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