Switching to Yammer let this company slash helpdesk calls and save $1.5 million a year

The Spot collaboration app is inspiring Nationwide's employees to collaborate and get to know each other better. Credit: Nationwide

In 2011, Nationwide Insurance wanted to build and popularize an enterprise collaboration platform for the use of tens of thousands of its employees. But despite using an in-house collection of well-known collaboration tools at the time, including IBM Connections, Xerox DocuShare, and Atlassian Confluence, none of them was particularly catching on with Nationwide's diverse workforce.

"The tools that we had were disjointed, the user experiences were bad, and people just didn't use them consistently across the board," Chris Plescia, Nationwide's enterprise collaboration leader, told CITEworld. "Ultimately, what we were trying to build was a system that built associate productivity, engagement with other associates, and corporate pride."

The goal, said Plescia, was to create a collaborative environment for the company's workers that allowed them to easily communicate and effortlessly help them find key information that would assist them in doing their jobs. What Nationwide's IT team already knew at the time was that employees found that the existing in-house applications were too hard to use and that a new direction was needed to ultimately help any kind of enterprise the project succeed.

"That's what we were trying to solve," said Plescia. "We wanted an enterprise social network for employees that included elements of Facebook and LinkedIn," as well as the ability to share conversations about a wide variety of work-related topics.

The answer came in early 2012 when Nationwide decided to bring in Microsoft SharePoint as a document repository and tie it in with Yammer, a real-time, private enterprise social networking tool that the company had also been using since 2008. "We built a user experience on top of the SharePoint platform that integrates Yammer and SharePoint."

The combined system, Spot, "pulled it all together for people," said Plescia. Employees use it more and more since it was created and first launched in December 2012. Quickly it became a place where Nationwide employees would place their data and share it easily with others. "People here say they'll 'Spot it,'" which means that they'll put their information on Spot, he said. "People can look for things there. They go there as a destination."

The impact of the application has been impressive. In the first month after the roll-out, calls to the internal help desk dropped from thousands of calls per month to less than 50 calls, according to the company. What Spot has successfully delivered is a way for employees to help each other and learn more about the company and their work in the process, said Plescia.

Spot can be accessed by employees through desktop computers or through mobile tablets and smartphones. Yammer was incorporated because Nationwide already was using it and SharePoint was brought in because it was an industry-leading product with a good track record that would easily integrate with the Microsoft Office applications that were already central to Nationwide's business processes, according to Plescia. "As an insurance company, we live by Microsoft Office documents."

Spot has become incredible popular and valued within the company, growing from about 15,000 users who previously were using Yammer alone, to about 30,000 workers who are now using Spot, and the numbers are still growing, said Plescia. It's also saved Nationwide a lot of money. Before adopting the cloud-based Spot, Nationwide was spending $3 million annually on the unpopular collaboration tools that they had at the time, but by eliminating them and replacing them with Yammer and SharePoint, they save about $1.5 million annually.

A second generation Spot desktop application is expected to launch in November with a myriad of new features and capabilities such as user-customizable desktop color palettes, background images and icons. Also new will be a private, in-house app marketplace where employees will be able to create their own useful work apps and upload them to share with their Nationwide co-workers, said Plescia.

"In one case, a developer built an app to figure out employee time off, and people use it as a helpful tool" as they accumulate work hours. "It is saving our associates over 20,000 hours of productivity in a year because there previously was no easy way to determine this based on the hours they worked each week and year. It was painful. Now it is easy."

Another useful and cool app created by an employee is a conference room locator that covers the company's office buildings in five core locations, said Plescia. Visiting workers often don't know how to get to conference rooms in unfamiliar buildings, so they can use the app on their mobile phones or tablets to find the rooms, learn about audio-visual capabilities that will be on hand and see what floor the rooms are on.

Leadership support is critical

Much of the progress and push that has made Spot a success happened due to the company's collaboration services group, which is responsible for educating, communicating and driving adoption for key projects, said Plescia. "They created that momentum, showed people how to use those tools and showed why they are good and useful for people. They also got a couple senior leaders to advocate and use the tools. We just created a groundswell of positive energy."

And that, he said, was critical to success. "Spending time to do that is a huge part of that change. Getting leadership support is the second part of that change. And then also when we launched it, we [set up] a user group base of about 500 people to test drive the tool and tell us what was missing. We let them help craft the experience and they told us about any problems, like when they couldn't get to the home page, etc."

Another key was that Spot is truly created "by associates, for associates" of the company, said Plescia. "That's what really drove the energy and the success."

Gamification also contributed to its success: People who answer lots of questions from co-workers get T-shirts or laptop decals identifying them as Spot Ninjas, and they can use the title of Spot Ninja as part of their official company titles.

The changes at Nationwide since the introduction of Spot are palpable, said Plescia. "The shift that we've really seen is that people can now finish stuff and they now have a place where they can store and share things for the projects they are working on. You now have a more open environment because of the social network. You know the power of the organization."

That adds incredible incentives to management to use Spot, too. "If there's a problem, senior leaders can see it and do something about it," because it's right there in Spot. "It's made it more open and a more collaborative conversation."

Postscript: The Spot project was just selected on Oct. 30 as one of seven winning disruptive technologies for a 2013 Connected Enterprise Award, given by Constellation Research at its Connected Enterprise Innovation Summit. Plescia and his team won the award in the Consumerization of IT & The New C-Suite category. Some 300 entries were received for this year's 2013 SuperNova Awards. 

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