Virgin America used Salesforce Chatter to revamp its ancient intranet, and employees love it
When your company's founder boasts a resume that includes hot air ballooning across the Pacific, signing the Sex Pistols to their
first third* record deal, and starting one of the very first space tourism businesses in history, style is definitely a core value.
Such is the case at Virgin America, the airline that's earned the praise of frequent flyers across the country for its in-flight entertainment selection, comfortable seats, and overall luxurious flight experience. Virgin America's mission is to "make flying good again," and that means a rock star experience for customers.
But for Virgin America's employees, that showmanship didn't always translate to the behind-the-scenes intranet experience. It took VXConnect, a custom employee portal built by systems integrator Appirio on top of the Salesforce.com Chatter social platform, to unify the airline's cross-continental workforce under the company's banner, says Amy Cisneroz, Program Manager at Virgin America.
Most of Virgin America's 2,700 employees operate remotely from the airline's Burlingame, CA headquarters -- working as gate agents, pilots and flight attendants all over the country (and beyond). Getting documentation, company resources, or essentially any information to this remote workforce required the use of an ugly, eight-year-old content management system (CMS) that only pushed data out, never pulled it in, and which was a pain to use besides, Cisneroz says.
Worst of all, there wasn't even a rudimentary mobile version of this intranet, meaning that Virgin America employees couldn't so much as log in from their smartphones and tablets.
Cisneroz's background in acting as a liaison between IT and management made her the natural choice to oversee the modernization of Virgin America's intranet -- which meant getting a full-immersion course in the cloud. When Cisneroz first joined Virgin America in mid-2011, she jokes that all she knew about the matter was that "clouds were in the sky."
She consulted both executives and employees alike, trying to get a sense for what they expected from an employee portal. Even Verizon, a Virgin America business partner, had some input on how best to go about it. Predictably, the major theme was that everybody wanted access from their iPhones and Android phones, in addition to a generally more user-friendly experience.
The company audited solutions from social business provider Jive and human resources management solution developer Saba Systems, but Virgin America executives eventually decided to purchase licenses for Salesforce.com Chatter, the SaaS giant's much-touted social enterprise platform (perhaps not a huge surprise, given Sir Richard Branson's friendly relationship with Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff).
Interestingly, Microsoft SharePoint was barely even considered for this undertaking. Cisneroz says that the team was looking for something really new and cool -- tapping Microsoft for this project would hardly be worth the effort of replacing the legacy CMS.
"Everything we do is big and over the top," Cisneroz says, and going with the established marketplace leader for internal collaboration would be too much like following the herd for Virgin America's taste.
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